The Cowardice of Ghosting

In the 10 months Growth Catalysts has been active, we have received 11 messages regarding ghosting. Ghosting as a mental health question. One message last week caught my heartstrings: “I feel soo desperate that he doesn’t reply, so I keep contacting him. I cannot seem to be able to stop myself. Can you give some advice on how I can stop myself?”

A few weeks ago, another person wrote “today, I woke up with the decision to go to her work and confront her! I can see she is active on WhatsApp and posted on Insta. I don’t understand why she would just ignore me, even if  have done/said something wrong! Can’t she just say what I have done and we can sort?”

The history of Ghosting

This has reminded me of mama Vinnie. Mama Vinnie arrived in Komarock one December morning with her 2 children. She had travelled from Busia on the night bus. Her husband and father to her children had been silent on her for over a year. He used to send parcels, messages and visit every 3 or 4 months, and then he had suddenly stopped without warning. After 10 months of silence, she had eventually sent her brother to look for him – see if he was still alive. Maybe he had lost his job and was homeless. If he had been attacked by thugs, and ended up in a hospital – alone, penniless.

Mama Vinnie was not prepared for the reality of him being alive, healthy and at a new job where he earned more. She was definitely not prepared to hear that her very own husband had met Wanja, a beauty from Embu, and moved in with her. They were expecting their first child. Mama Vinnie’s brother did not spare her when he told her that her beloved husband had told Wanja that he had never been married – had never found the love he was looking for until he met Wanja.

Mama Vinnie’s husband had ghosted her and the children but that is a story for next time. So, you see, though ghosting was identified as a social and communication disruptor and mental illness trigger in the mid-2000s, it has existed longer than that. The shape of it has changed due to technology’s speeded reply loops, but the process, intention and outcome are still the same.

People ghost you by breaking off a relationship without notice or explanation. They stop all communication and contact without any apparent warning or justification. This is often achieved and sealed by ignoring the partner’s attempts to reach out or communicate. It can happen with friends who just disappear, family members who even move towns and stop all communication, but it most often happens in intimate relationships

The Psychology of Ghosting

The reason psychologists started to interest themselves with ghosting, about 10yrs ago is most probably because they met a new kind of patient, one who had been ghosted and did not know how to move forward with life. Or a ghoster who treeated people as if they could be discaded without explanation. Ghosting has been described as emotional cruelty, and compared to other forms of emotional abuse such as passive-aggressive behaviour.

However, some ghosters have explained that they used ghosting as a self-defence mechanism; especially by women who have tried to reject a mate and the mate does not take no for an answer. Ignoring messages and all contact attempts from this kind of person is a way of saying NO, without having to face a potentially harmful personality.

Regardless of how ghosting is executed, it is especially hurtful for those being ignored because it leaves the feeling that you have been disrespected, ostracised and rejected. By the time we reach adulthood, most of us are used to rejection, but almost all of us would like to have an explanation for the rejection.

I think this is basically because at first, ghosting feels like silent treatment. In relationships, we all know that the silent treatment and/or stonewalling are used to punish us. We all hate being put through silent treatment because it is it as a form of manipulative punishment and manipulation often drives us crazy with worry, confusion and resentment.

  • What did I do?
  • Can I change your mind?

I have been running the question of ghosting on Twitter and the replies have been eye opening:

Karena in SA:

“The first time I was ghosted, I thought the person was injured or sick or something awful had happened to them. So I made an effort to go check on them and make sure everything was ok. I was totally surprised and confused to find them well – healthy, laughing – you know, going about their daily business as if nothing. That is when the hurt came. I felt so stupid! Like I did not matter at all? I made nice for the hour I spent with the person, but when I got home, I cried.

I had never been ghosted before. People always had replied to say no when they couldn’t meet. Guys had broken up when they were no longer interested. However, once I was ghosted for the first time, it continued to happen and I realized it was the same kind of people who ghosted.

You know the flaky insecure types who never commit to things and who cancel last minute because they cannot really commit to things?Those are the same ones who ghost. I realized, it may be easier for flaky individuals to go off the face of the earth than confront and explain face-to-face.

Nowadays, I am glad when someone ghosts. The ghoting tells me that it would’ve been a difficult relationship anyways. Prone to miscommunication or total lack of communication.”

Lincoln in KE:

“There are multiple reasons for ghosting,” Lincoln writes and goes on to list:

  • Cowardice
  • Peace of mind
  • Changeof fortune
  • Death
  • Avoiding responsibility
  • etc

Lona in UG:

“Maybe people ghost when they lose interest and they want to avoid confrontation? Or maybe they are busy and would communicate when they were less busy if we gave them time?”

Unfortunately, or fortunately, I am old fashioned and would like to be surrounded by old-fashioned people when it comes to relationships. Tell me in words when you:

  • are no longer interested in our relationship
  • have to cancel our appointment
  • are too busy to be kind
  • change your mind
  • lose respect
  • are afraid
  • feel overwhelmed
  • Etc

If a person ghosts me, I lose respect for them. Because what they are really saying is: “I cannot defend, explain or stand up for my feelings, choices, decisions, time, failures or relationships.”

That is exactly the kind of people I avoid. It is hard to accept when you are in the heartbreaking midst of ghosting, but it is important to remember that it is not about you who is being ghosted, it is about the ghoster.

What do you think of ghosting?

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