I’m part of the generation that came up with the term ‘ghosting.’ It’s not lost on me how this happened or why; I’m both a therapist and a millennial, so I deeply understand the change in social structure we’ve experienced (the anxieties, fears, dangers, rules, needs, and desires). But as a therapist, I have seen such a dangerous shift happen. And I’m not talking about how ghosting hurts the ghosted; I’m talking about how it actually hurts the ghoster. What are the psychological effects of ghosting and why am I CERTAIN this is hands down one of the most harmful habits we have developed?
1. You’re developing habits of non-confrontation.
Why is non-confrontation a harmful thing? People who are confrontational in a healthy and balanced way (think calm, cool, collected) tend to have their needs met more often. People who are willing to say what they need and how they need it (in a non-defensive and open manner) are likely to get just that. Being honest about your needs allows others in your life to know where you’re at and it gives them an opening to share things you may not have previously known. In addition, because it’s so easy to just stop communicating all together, never to be heard from again, I’m seeing people begin to translate this habit into the workplace, at home, and in meaningful friendships as well. Again I emphasize: If you aren’t communicating, you aren’t having your needs met. Developing non-confrontational habits and allowing them to seep into multiple areas of your life is a guarantee to feel less satisfaction in all of these areas.
2. The surface level becomes too easy.
The habit of ghosting becoming more common means that you are never held accountable to a deeper level of communication and thus meaning in relationships. If ghosting has become a pattern, you run the risk of staying on the surface in your romantic relationships and never getting to reap the reward (closeness, bonding, trust, intimacy to name a few) of staying when things get tough. Don’t get me wrong, there is a time to end relationships and leave. But what I’m seeing is that instead of asking for our needs (more space, open relationship, different dates, different intimacy), we stop all together.
3. You’re selling yourself short.
Therapists sometimes get ghosted as well (I could write an entire article on this), so I’m going to speak to personal experience here. When I have clients who drop off without so much as an email, what makes me the saddest is that they don’t get to hear how great I thought they were. In all closing sessions, it is customary for your therapist to tell you what progress they saw you make, what strengths they saw in you, and some therapists even share what impact you had on them or what they learned from you. When you don’t give your therapist a warning that you are leaving, you are denying yourself the opportunity to hear how awesome you are! And in romantic relationships, you never get to hear the impact you had on them. You could be missing out on understanding yourself as others see you.
4. No goodbye means there’s always an open end in the back of your mind.
There’s a reason why in pop culture and folklore, ghosts come back to haunt when they have ‘unfinished business.’ That’s because having open endings can be psychologically damaging! We never get to completely move on and heal, because we don’t get to wrap it in a bow, place it in a category, confront our feelings about it, then go forth into the world a wiser and more self-actualized person.
Yehuda Borg said, “Words are singularly the most powerful force available to humanity. We can choose to use this force constructively with words of encouragement, or destructively using words of despair. Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate and to humble.” Let us all choose to speak- that is, choose connection and meaning- today, tomorrow, and every other day.
Emily Wagner, trauma expert and mental health counselor provides education for anyone looking to improve their mental health.