Disappearing Act: Why some ghost & what to do

It happens to most of us and can be a gut-punch.

You have a strong relationship with someone and suddenly they disappear. Poof.

It’s called ghosting and occurs when a person stops communicating with another without warning. They disappear into thin air like a ghost.

When the person who is ghosted reaches out, wondering what happened, they are completely ignored. Dead silence. Naturally, it’s upsetting.

Is ghosting on the rise? Judith Rabi, LCSW and psychotherapist in private practice, thinks so and it might be related in part to our digital lives. “It’s happening because we have something called social media, which makes it that much easier to run away from things. You can block someone from your Facebook or Instagram so there is no avenue to get in touch with the other person,” she says.

Many of us have either been ghosted, have ghosted or both. In some situations, ghosting may be deemed acceptable, but, more often than not, it’s rude and hurtful.

From the ghostee’s point of view, the ghoster shows a lack of compassion, communication skills, trouble managing their feelings and an inability to consider another’s feelings.   

Why does someone do this when a heart-to-heart conversation could at least explain why they want to end a relationship? Rabi feels that those who ghost are a bit cowardly and fear explaining will put them back into a relationship they don’t want. Furthermore, they might think there’s no point since it’s hard to change anyone. Why waste time doing so? Instead, disappear for good; all is over, fini.

When you are ghosted, it’s a serious knock to one’s self-esteem. Most also take the action as a message that you’re the one who did something wrong, Rabi says. “It’s the sense of not knowing that creates a great deal of anger and self-criticism. How could that person do that to me? It’s a true blow to the ego,” she says.

Here are a few good examples of ghosting. Rabi gives a common one today. “You date someone you met online. He sweeps you off your feet. You think all is going well until suddenly six months later he abruptly cuts off communication. You text. You call. You email. No response. He’s disappeared, and you never find out why,” she says.  

Another example is that of a father and son who work together in a family business and get in a tangle over losing a client. The father is a control freak and sabotages his son’s ability to do his job autonomously. Yet, the son is constantly blamed for any mistakes and mishaps. The father-son imbroglio reaches a boiling point where the two men barely talk civilly to each other.

One day, the son can’t take it anymore, quits and cuts off communication with his father. The pair doesn’t speak for 10 years. Although the son was smart to leave, not speaking to his father is unacceptable in our view. We think they should have tried to find a mediator or family therapist since it’s family!

Here's another scenario. You see a therapist virtually (during Covid) because you need to work through issues. The therapist is in her home office where cats are running constantly in front of the screen. You say something like, “The cats are distracting,” and she answers, “No one else ever complains.”

You give her a second chance. The next session she is outside watering her lawn while doing your therapy session. Again, you tell her that it’s distracting and ask, “How can you be focused on what I’m saying while you’re doing that?” She gets defensive and takes no responsibility. That’s when you ghost her and find another therapist.

In some cases, it’s impossible to sustain a healthy relationship. Perhaps you’re being harassed or stalked. Maybe, a parent sexually abused you. Now that you’re an adult, you decide it’s healthier for you to sever all communication. This type of ghosting is healthy and self-protective. Rabi concurs. Perhaps, if the abuser were to get help, admit the act and say, “I’m so sorry,” you might be willing to let them back into your life with strong boundaries. Maybe.

If you are ghosted, is there anything you can do when you’re the victim of such a cruel rejection? Rabi explains, “It’s very painful; a terrible loss and involves a kind of grieving of that relationship. Talk to friends or a therapist. Getting over this type of rejection can take some time and might involve looking back at the relationship, noting the red flags and then saying to oneself, ‘Hey, it’s not about me.’”

Let yourself off the hook. Although someone might have ghosted you, most likely this isn’t about anything you did per se. It says more about the ghoster than you, the ghostee. Here are tips to help get over the feeling of being abandoned:

  1. If the ghoster is frequently on the internet and visible to you but not available, it might indicate it’s time to get off Facebook, Instagram or Twitter until you feel stronger or healed. Or at least de-friend the person on FB so you don’t see their posts. No one wants to be reminded constantly of the person who ghosted you.
  2. To wash that person out of your life, as the song goes, get rid of reminders such as photos, texts, emails, videos, letters, gifts. If someone brings up the person, speak up kindly and say, “I’d rather we not talk about him (or her).” And don’t go to the places you went to with the ghoster.
  3. Find a distraction. Start a new hobby, do some volunteer work that gets you outside yourself. Call up a friend or family member who makes you feel good about yourself, that’s the bottom line for a good friendship.
  4. Fully understand what’s happening. Accept that the ghoster may not be able to commit to discussing the situation. In the end, it’s really their problem, not yours. But you ultimately win since you can take control of your life and not let this other person mess with your head.

And if you consider ghosting someone, think long and hard about what it may do to that person, unless it’s because it represents a form of self-protection. Walk in the person’s shoes before you act and ghost.

One alternative is to try and go “higher” and speak up by phone, send a letter through the mail, email or ask to meet in person. Preface any conversation with, “I’m sorry but this has to be the end because….” Explain why and hold to your decision.

1 comment

  • Merri Rosenberg

    really insightful and helpful—thanks!

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