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Why Ghosting Can Be Considered a Form of Emotional Abuse

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Editor's Note

If you have experienced emotional abuse, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

Mental health experts now believe that ghosting is associated with negative mental health effects on the person on the receiving end of the ghosting. Ghosting has also been described by some mental health professionals as a passive-aggressive form of emotional abuse or cruelty.

This is because ghosting shatters self-esteem, and the hurt can be as sharp as physical pain. This is also due to the fact that the same areas of our brain become activated when we experience rejection as when we experience physical pain. Therefore, being ghosted can feel like a knife through the heart or a punch in the chest that leaves us feeling winded.

So what is ghosting? It isn’t going on a hunt to spot a ghost. Ghosting is a form of emotional abuse using “the silent treatment.” It means disappearing without a trace or cutting all responses without a reason and with no warning. Even when the “ghostee” tries to contact the person who ghosted them for an explanation or for closure, they receive no response.

Ghosting therefore deprives the “ghostee” of any chance to work through what went wrong in the relationship or to get closure of any kind, and because of this, it’s all too easy for the rejected person to blame themselves and draw troubling conclusions to try to understand why they were ghosted.

Ghosting can seep into other wounds of abandonment one may have and in doing so, may contribute to their sense of worthlessness, aggravating their emotional pain and strengthening core beliefs such as “I’m unlovable,” “I’m not enough,” or “I’m worthless.” It can therefore give a strong voice to a self-critical part of ourselves.

Ghosting can be harder still when we may have been hurt, ignored, or disrespected by more than one person or when we may already feel that we are alone and forgotten. We may feel like we are living a life where we already may feel like a ghost — unseen. Considering this, ghosting can feel traumatic and open old wounds or create new wounds we need to sew back together. It can most certainly affect a lot of people who carry unresolved childhood attachment wounds from narcissistic caregivers, who have been bullied at school, or who have felt unseen, unheard, or ignored.

Ghosting can happen in any form of relationship, even if many may just think of the ghosting in the dating arena. Whilst this is true, ghosting can also happen with friends, family, and even work relationships.

Ghosting can be equivalent to emotional cruelty because it is just that. The “ghostee” is left feeling powerless and silenced — unable to make sense of the experience or have the opportunity to express the feelings that will then need processing. The effects it leaves can be long and lasting.

Some people consider those who ghost to be emotionally immature or to have fears of intimacy, but ghosting is also a tactic used by abusers and manipulators who tend to have narcissistic traits and seek power and control over others. This is because ghosting goes hand-in-hand with another form of manipulation common among abusers: gaslighting, or making someone doubt their sense of reality. It is for this reason that extreme ghosting can be considered gaslighting.

If you are ghosted, it is important that you don’t blame yourself and that you practice self-care and show yourself a lot of self-love and self-compassion. It is OK to feel pained — that pain is real, it pain belongs to you, and it is valid.

Ghosting doesn’t refer to going “no contact” — when someone has no choice but to cut off an abusive person. In this case, going “no contact” is an act of self-preservation for one’s own mental health and is not the same as ghosting someone.

As we have seen, rejection and emotional abuse can be painful, and it can have the same effects as physical pain. The impact of ghosting is real, so let’s not downplay emotional abuse and how ghosting can affect people’s mental health. Ghosting may be normalized, but this is frightening. When will forms of abuse stop being normalized, and when will emotional abuse be recognized for the detrimental effects it has?

If you have been ghosted, please remember your worth isn’t defined by those who cannot see it.

Image by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash.

Originally published: January 19, 2022
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