Ghosting in July?
Could it have been the “Christmas in July” commercial I caught a glimpse of? Or, the ad for Halloween candy and costumes? Maybe it was my ambitious nature urging me to plan ahead for my October blog post. Nope. It wasn’t any of these things.
As a psychotherapist and coach, I tend to contemplate human nature more than most people. Lately, I have been thinking a lot about the phenomenon of “ghosting” which has become more and more prevalent over the past several years. In case you’ve missed it, “ghosting” refers to simply ceasing to respond to someone without any communication or explanation. It is a practice that can be very distressing for those on the other end of a “ghost”. It’s common to hear single people, who have been dating someone for a period of time, bemoan the fact that they were (suddenly and without warning) ghosted by their partner. Ghosts tend to rationalize their behavior to themselves. They tell themselves that they are justified in ceasing communication because they knew the partnership wasn’t going to work out anyway or they didn’t like the behavior of the other person so they don’t owe them any explanation or closure.
Impact on Society
But, not so fast! I see it very differently. It seems to me that we have allowed this toxic practice of “ghosting” to become normalized within our culture to the point that it has become perfectly acceptable. The flip side, which people seem to excuse away, is the damage we are doing to humankind. How are we teaching the next generation to treat each other? Human relations require basic decencies to be commonplace and expected. In the current state of affairs, anyone can simply leave someone emotionally stranded (and often physically stranded) without blinking an eye or experiencing any remorse or sense of responsibility. Without some sort of active refusal to accept this sort of behavior, society can only go further downhill from here.
My interpretation is that “ghosting” is really a not-so-cute euphemism for the practice of stonewalling (often demonstrated by antisocial personalities). John Gottman refers to stonewalling as one of the four horsemen [of the apocalypse of relationships] – factors that predict divorce. (The other factors include criticism, contempt, and defensiveness.) Not so cute, is it?
Of course, there are psychological reasons why people stonewall or “ghost”. For the sake of brevity, the behavior tends to indicate that the stonewaller is emotionally flooded or overwhelmed and does not have the capacity to communicate in a productive manner (at least in the moment) and/or makes a conscious, passive-aggressive decision to “blow the ghostee off”. It can be infuriating to be on the other side of stonewalling behavior because, while you try to explain your feelings or rationale or address an issue, the ghost has checked out, ignores you, and actively pretends you don’t exist.
While I do not purport to have all the answers (and each situation is unique), I would like to bring awareness to the need to address the psychology behind “ghosting”. Continuing to brush such behavior under the rug is not helpful and only creates self-righteous monsters, if you will. If you are the unfortunate ghostee, it’s a normal reaction to feel haunted by the experience. Please understand that the ghost has issues of their own that need to be addressed. It may not have been that anything you said or did was so egregious that you should have been disposed of, like a used candy wrapper, without explanation. What it does say is that the ghost did not have the emotional wherewithal to handle the situation differently and with more respect for you. Healthy relationships require active, two-way communication.
Formula For Excellence®>>
A life of excellence is founded on excellent character. We can all take steps, on an individual basis, to become part of the solution instead of part the problem. What steps will you take in your own life to show more respect to other humans? Are you in the habit of “ghosting” others? How might you address relationship issues differently going?
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