by Inger Sjogren, LPC, NCC
Getting “ghosted” means that your romantic partner suddenly disappears with no explanation. Your phone calls are unanswered. Your texts ignored. Your emails unreturned. Poof! That special someone vanishes without a trace.
You are left wondering what you did wrong. You ask yourself why you didn’t see the signs. You are tempted to self-flagellate while trying to figure out why you’ve been kicked to the curb. What have you done to be undeserving of a face-to-face breakup?
Breakups are tough enough. But ghosting is absolutely demeaning. It is psychologically diminishing. Why? Because you have been denied the opportunity for discussion and closure.
How could someone with whom you have been intimate, shared secrets and dreams and fears, treat you in such a way? You oscillate between righteous anger at the spineless culprit and self-directed blame for your (choose one: stupidity, vulnerability, obtusity….).
Why has ghosting become so common? The impulse to disappear from an unsatisfying relationship has likely been in our DNA since the first caveman and cavewoman decided to share a cave. However, the proliferation of dating venues such as Tinder, Match, Bumble and Grindr creates a prime environment for daters to act on this impulse without facing social consequences. The ghoster incurs no cost.
Dating has become a commodity-based business. Dating apps create a marketplace in which users are both consumer and product. Choosing a partner has become a shopping cart experience.
The transformation of love life into a commodity changes the way we view and treat (and are viewed and treated by) potential partners. We are more willing to cast away partners when our expectations are not met. With so many choices out there, it must be possible to find that one great relationship by discovering the right profile. One quick swipe to the right and we are on our way with the next potential love interest.
So why were you ghosted? Is there a personality trait that makes you more likely to be a victim of ghosting? Or to be a subscriber to ghosting? The answer lies in the benefits that come from the act of ghosting.
Ghosting is an indirect breakup method (as are dumping someone through email or text message) that benefits the dumper by eliminating confrontation and lessening the emotional difficulty of initiating the task. Such an impersonal strategy is favored by individuals who fear commitment, avoid intimacy and shun emotional closeness.
Who are these individuals? These are people who have an avoidant attachment style. Attachment refers to the particular way one relates to other people. There are three widely recognized attachment styles: secure, anxious and avoidant.
An individual’s attachment style is formed within the first two years of life and is derived from the extent to which that individual’s emotional needs were met by primary caregivers (generally mom and dad). It is most likely that the avoidant individual experienced parents who were emotionally unavailable and detached or negligent. Their childhood need for nurturing and positive emotional input went unfulfilled. Once established, an attachment style persists and plays out in future intimate relationships. (It is important to note that a person’s attachment style also affects how they parent their own children.)
So, about that ghoster…a person with an avoidant attachment style tends to suppress their feelings and struggles to be vulnerable with a partner. Some psychologists suggest that an individual with an avoidant attachment style is emotionally unavailable and, as a result, is insensitive to the needs of others. Ghosting is a viable choice for this person. If you aren’t the perfect love match for an avoidant, you are unceremoniously dumped and the relationship shopping continues. Perhaps the ghoster is vaguely aware of the disposed of partner’s emotional state but it is inconsequential to them. The detachment they have from their own emotions makes it improbable that they be capable of an empathetic response.
Does this mean that the ghoster doesn’t really want an honest and true relationship? Not necessarily. An individual with an avoidant attachment style desires relationships and is comfortable in a given relationship until they reach a level of emotional closeness. Boom! At this point the trigger is pulled. The feelings that were repressed in childhood begin to undermine the present romantic relationship. Ghosting is the symptom of a learned response: reject and detach before being hurt. Ghosting is the avoidant’s response to vulnerability because it allows the avoider to maintain emotional distance while negotiating what could have been a stressful situation.
How can you spot a ghost? Ghost spotting is almost impossible until it is too late. There is yet to be an app that sends out a “ghost is in the house” alarm. The more important question is how to avoid being damaged by this type of emotional cruelty. One answer is to consider your own attachment style.
If you have a secure attachment style then you find it relatively easy to become emotionally close to others. You are comfortable depending on others and having others depend on you. You don’t worry about being alone or feeling unaccepted. Securely attached people feel at ease with both intimacy and independence. A securely attached person has a low risk of being thrown into emotional turmoil by ghosting because their healthy self-esteem protects them from feeling powerless due to lack of closure. Also, it has been observed that avoidant attachment types are not as likely to pursue an intimate relationship with a secure attachment type as they are with an anxious attachment type.
People with an anxious attachment style are prime targets for ghosters. An anxious attachment type seeks complete emotional intimacy with a partner and often works hard to overcome perceived reluctance on the part of the partner. They are uncomfortable being without a romantic relationship and often become overly dependent upon their love interest. Ghosters are drawn to this type because it satisfies their need to have control over their own emotions.
The anxious attachment type is so focused on pushing the emotional intimacy button that they pose no threat to the avoidant’s highly protected vulnerability. The low self-esteem characteristic of this attachment style renders the individual susceptible to emotional dysregulation and plummeting self-worth when the avoidant takes the ghosting route. This individual suffers immeasurably because the ghoster did not provide the information necessary to emotionally process the experience. Sadly, what could have been a disappointing or hurtful experience is catapulted into the realm of trauma.
The final word on ghosting: being ghosted is not a statement about you or your worthiness for love and respect. It is an exclamatory statement about the ghoster: “I don’t have what it takes to be in a healthy intimate relationship with you and I don’t have the courage to deal with the emotional discomfort of ending our relationship.” Poof! Gone.
The good news is that you have the ability to make sense of “what just happened?” Through Attachment Therapy I can help you process the emotions that come with being left hanging with no explanation. And, more importantly, I can help you understand your own attachment style to help prevent it from happening again.