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What to Do When You've Been Ghosted

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Seth J. Gillihan, PhD - Blogs
By Seth J. Gillihan, PhDClinical psychologistDecember 20, 2019
From the WebMD Archives

If you’ve been ghosted, you know how painful it can be. Suddenly the relationship is over, and the person is nowhere to be found. Maybe you didn’t want to continue the relationship yourself, and wonder why they assumed you’d be hurt if they told you directly. You have so many questions—most of all, why?—but no way to ask them of the person, much less get answers.

Why People Ghost

There are many reasons why a person cuts off contact with you. Some of the most common include:

  • They’re not that into you. The most likely reason a person disappears from your life is also the most straightforward: they don’t want to continue a relationship with you. Maybe you liked them more than they liked you, or the timing wasn’t right, or they didn’t sense the right chemistry, or they didn’t like something you said—who knows? For one reason or another, they’ve decided to end the relationship.
  • They’re afraid of commitment. Or maybe it was the opposite: they really liked you—even thought they loved you—and the power of their emotions was overwhelming. Perhaps they’re scared of growing close and then getting hurt.
  • They met someone else. They might have been really into you, and were interested in a long-term relationship, but they met someone they’re more interested in. It could be an ex who returned, or a friend who became a lover.
  • They’re playing games. It’s possible that the ghosting is part of a longer game: disappear and ignore you until you’re feeling desperate, and then reappear just as you’re about to lose hope. The push-pull dynamic keeps you off balance and under their control in the relationship.
  • They’re really busy. It may even be that their ghosting has nothing to do with you. Maybe they suddenly became incredibly busy, too busy to reply to your texts or take your calls. Or it could be a personal crisis, such as legal trouble or a medical emergency. This one is often easy to rule out when you see them posting many times a day on their social media accounts.   

In short, wildly different factors can lead to ghosting, from not being attracted to you to being too attracted. You’re unlikely to find satisfying answers by going to great lengths to figure out why they cut off contact and disappeared. The most likely explanation is that they wanted to end the relationship without having to do the uncomfortable work of telling you directly, and dealing with the emotions (yours and theirs) that might come up.

What to Do

  1. First, I’m not going to tell you “not to overthink it.” You’re going to think about it. A lot. Our minds are built to make meaning, and we don’t like puzzles we can’t solve. So accept that your mind is going to turn it over and over, trying to figure out what happened based on scant clues.
  2. That said, you do have some control over how much energy you invest in detective work—things like reviewing your text messages or scouring their social media for clues. Most likely you’re going to be left with more questions than answers from this kind of sleuthing—for example, She's posting multiple times a day on Facebook but can’t send me one text?! Why suffer more than you have to?
  3. As much as possible, spare yourself and your friends repetitive explorations about what the ghosting could mean. Do get the support you need if it’s a difficult ending, and share what you’re feeling with people who can understand. Just take care not to enlist your friends to solve the riddle, which probably won’t help you and will likely irritate them.
  4. If the person reappears after a ghosting period, be very cautious about resuming the relationship. Chances are they’ll do it again, and next time you’ll be more upset with yourself than with them. Of course, it’s a different story if they actually had a medical emergency (though you might want to ask for a doctor’s note).
  5. Watch out for thoughts like, They owe me an explanation or I deserve a response. These kinds of statements reinforce a sense of injustice and outrage, and they’re also just not true. We might want an explanation or a response, but others are free to act as they choose—just as you’re free to ghost if you want to in other situations.

The hard truth is, you can’t control others’ behavior—even if you’ve shared intimate times with them. All you can really control is how you respond when a relationship ends. If you’ve been ghosted, focus your efforts on treating yourself with kindness.

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About the Author
Seth J. Gillihan, PhD

Seth J. Gillihan, PhD, is a licensed psychologist and host of the weekly Think Act Be podcast. He is author of The CBT Deck, Retrain Your Brain, and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Made Simple, and co-author with Dr. Aria Campbell-Danesh of A Mindful Year: 365 Ways to Find Connection and the Sacred in Everyday Life. Dr. Gillihan provides resources for managing stress, anxiety, and other conditions on the Think Act Be website.

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