You have a great vibe with someone, meet them a couple of times and then poof!
They’re gone. Radio silence.
That’s what you call ghosting. This pattern has many forms that have become TikTok discussions, including ghostlighting and zombieing.
Zombieing is when someone ghosts you and they resurface several months later to check on you. It’s a thing, apparently.
Ghostlighting is when you get ghosted and they convince you that you were the problem. As if the pain of ghosting wasn’t enough.
There’s Caspering too: You ghost, but in a friendly way. That means, you don’t reply to a text immediately, but send a vague text 10 hours later.
It goes on. Yet, it comes back to the bare bones of ghosting: Avoiding difficult conversations. It’s now a norm. It’s not just in relationships and friendships; millennials and Gen Z ‘ghost’ workplaces too. According to a new study by the New York-based Thriving Center of Psychology, more people are resorting to ghosting than ever before. Eighty six per cent in the survey admitted to feeling relieved after ghosting someone. One in four have quit a workplace without notice or explanation. People don’t want to have a conversation, says the research.
Ghosting: A heartless act of self-defence
Yesterday was my last day. Please consider my resignation.
British Dubai-based marketing manager Lindsey Hurst was perplexed when she received an email with these opening lines from her employee. A rather disinterested employee, the person had been there the previous day, without any sign of leaving. “Even the Human Resources didn’t know that she was resigning. We still don’t know why she left us,” explains Hurst, who is still rather baffled. “I never thought a person could ghost a workplace, but turns out, that can happen.”
Ghosting is confusing. It’s also usually viewed as heartless and inconsiderate. It hurts and leaves the other person rather bewildered and hurt, explains Eidde Francke, a clinical psychologist from South Africa at Dubai-based Lighthouse Arabia clinic. “However, when it’s viewed as a self-defence mechanism, it’s clear that ghosting says more about the ghoster than ghosted,” she says.
She describes it as an “invisible barrier” that one presents, so that they can protect themselves. “The person who ghosts may not be doing so out of malice, but as a way to guard themselves against emotional vulnerability or harm. It’s a tactic to avoid confrontation, difficult conversations, or the emotional labour involved in resolving conflicts or ending relationships,” she says.
The person who ghosts may not be doing so out of malice, but as a way to guard themselves against emotional vulnerability or harm. It’s a tactic to avoid confrontation, difficult conversations, or the emotional labour involved in resolving conflicts or ending relationships
"This behaviour is not entirely unique to today’s generation as similar concepts such as receiving the ‘silent treatment’, share similar common characteristics," says Louis Fouri, a psychologist at the German Neuroscience Center. "People that have reported to have experienced being ghosted, saying that ghosting hurts more than direct rejection. They often feel left in a state of uncertainty, leading to feelings of confusion, unfairness and without the opportunity for closure," he adds.
A person who is overwhelmed, insecure and is incapable of handling the situation in a more direct manner, resorts to ghosting, explains Francke. She emphasises that understanding ghosting as a self-protection strategy doesn’t necessarily excuse the person, but it does offer insights into human interactions. “It shows how people cope with emotional challenges,” says Francke.
‘Ghosting saves a person from explaining themselves’
Vanishing completely is just easier than having the painful conversation, for most people.
“It’s easier than facing a conflict or a potential confrontation,” says Ross Addison, a Dubai-based psychologist. “It saves the person from explaining themselves. It’s the easier way out. It’s extremely disrespectful, but people seem to have grown used to the idea of what ghosting is. It also speaks volumes about the person’s deeply embedded issues, so sometimes it might actually be a boon for the other person to get away,” he says.
People that have reported to have experienced being ghosted, saying that ghosting hurts more than direct rejection. They often feel left in a state of uncertainty, leading to feelings of confusion, unfairness and without the opportunity for closure
Leave before you’re made to leave?
Addison also believes that the person is so fearful of being abandoned, that they prefer to exit first. Leave, before you’re made to leave, is a motto that many like to follow.
“So, by detaching early, it preserves their own notion that they ended the situation. It would also satisfy their mind that they are wanted and desired, despite the underlying low self-esteem that drives the ghosting behaviour. It’s easier to try and convince ourselves of our worth, than reflect on the absence of worth,” he says. It can also be a manner of control, as people tend to ghost, believing that they’re in control and desired in a relationship.
So, by detaching early, it preserves their own notion that they ended the situation. It would also satisfy their mind that they are wanted and desired, despite the underlying low self-esteem that drives the ghosting behaviour. It’s easier to try and convince ourselves of our worth...
When is it justified?
However, Addison doesn’t believe that it’s always a defence mechanism. “There may be justifiable reasons why someone restricts contact with another person or an employer. When we feel pain or we feel hurt, we tend to want to protect ourselves from feeling this pain. Therefore we will do, what we think is best to prevent further harm,” he says.
When does ghosting really feel justified? Twenty-six-year-old Abu Dhabi-based Nithya Dave admits that she has ghosted occasionally, but emphasises that she doesn’t endorse it. “I had to ghost a friend who grew so toxic, that it was difficult to be around her. I was also going through problems at that time, and I didn’t have the bandwidth to cope with her toxicity. So, I just stopped replying to her text messages and calls. I know it wasn’t the best way to handle it, but hopefully one day, I can have that conversation with her,” says Dave.
Thirty-two-year-old Dubai-based Mala Nair reveals she has ghosted acquaintances or strangers when she felt particularly uncomfortable with their behaviour. “I wouldn’t do that to someone who matters to me, though,” she says.
The long-term ramifications of ghosting
Everyone might have their reasons for ghosting someone or a situation.
However, the problems burgeon when ghosting becomes the answer to everything. The ghoster slowly experiences a disconnect between their emotions, says Addison. They lose meaningful friendships that could have easily been repaired. They resort to superficial relationships and ties, which leads to stronger feelings of loneliness.
“It leads to emotional avoidance. It prevents people from developing healthy communication skills,” says Francke. “Over time, it becomes a devastating pattern of inability to form meaningful and constructive relationships.” Ghosters experience feelings of guilt and shame, which adds to their emotional baggage. It weighs down their own self-esteem, explains Francke. Moreover, word begins to spread in social circles and ghosting tarnishes one reputation as an unreliable and inconsiderate person.
“The most frightening ramification of ghosting is that long-term avoidance of emotional discomfort and confrontation prevents personal growth. It dilutes the person’s capacity for self-awareness,” says Francke.
How can a ghoster stop ghosting?
Well, do we want to have that difficult conversation? Are we ready for it?
“While it is one way of coping with stress to avoid friendships that are toxic in nature, it becomes an area of concern should it become a pattern or habit,” says Rose Kamath, a Dubai-based psychologist from the wellness platform, Chearful. “It becomes important at this point to take stock of the situation and raise questions that are empowering both parties,” she says. Otherwise, a person stews in the feelings of rejection, hurt, confusion, anxiety, isolation, loneliness, depression and insecurity.
While it is one way of coping with stress to avoid friendships that are toxic in nature, it becomes an area of concern should it become a pattern or habit. It becomes important at this point to take stock of the situation and raise questions that are empowering both parties
In order to break the cycle of ghosting, a person first acknowledges the harm done by this behaviour, says Francke. “Developing healthy communication skills, empathy, and conflict resolution abilities can help both ghosters and the ghosted heal and grow,” she says.
From the perspective of the ghoster, ghosting provides temporary relief from a fear of emotional discomfort or confrontation, but its long-term ramifications are hair-raising, says Francke. “The ‘cult of convenience’ is a major contributor to our society's low tolerance for discomfort and is a complex issue influenced by multiple cultural, technological, and social factors. By acknowledging this trend and actively working to embrace discomfort as an essential aspect of human existence, we can promote emotional resilience, personal growth, and achieve healthier well-being,” adds Francke.
Here are some essential strategies that you could try:
• Think about why you are ghosting a situation: What are the difficult emotions that you want to avoid? Why do you want to avoid it?
• Work on being honest with yourself and others. You need to cultivate the habit of honesty, even if it feels as if you’re disappointing someone.
• Practise communicating, even when it gets uncomfortable.
• Treat others how you would like to be treated yourself. That may be different to how others actually treat you, but still treat them as you would 'like' to be treated.