The Relational Impact of Ghosting: A Clinical Perspective
"Ghosting" can be defined as abruptly ending communication without providing the person(s) with an explanation (verywellmind.com). As a therapist working with college students, folks in their early 20's and those utilizing dating apps, I have watched as my clients have stopped dating or been too fearful to date due to the emotional impact of being ghosted. Additionally, many college students and those in their early 20's have integrated the experience of being ghosted or ghosting into their relationship dynamics causing them to struggle with establishing and holding boundaries. Using ghosting as the "easiest option" to end a relationship that doesn't meet their needs, wants or expectations. Clinically, the impact of ghosting on maintaining and establishing relationships falls into 2 categories: communication and boundary setting.
The impact of ghosting on communication is illustrated by a fear of expressing emotion, difficulty with vulnerability and trouble communicating needs/wants/concerns. As ghosting involves a lack of communicating when the relationship has changed or when someone would like to end the relationship, many folks who have been ghosted learn not to express emotions or vulnerability. This occurs because the person fears that if they express themselves the other person will feel uncomfortable and they will leave without explanation. Additionally, many individuals who would like to end the relationship and fear hurting the other person will choose to ghost rather than express themselves and have to experience the discomfort of hurting someone else. In therapy, this often appears as a client using words like “fine”, “okay”, “good” to describe how they are doing. Displaying a lack of emotional expression and guardedness. Therapeutic interventions that build trust in self and trust in others can be helpful to reduce fear of communication and expressing oneself post-ghosting.
Setting and maintaining boundaries in various kinds of relationships is an issue that comes up in therapy often. Ghosting can make those forming new relationships fearful of 1.) setting boundaries,2.) become overly boundaried, and/or 3.) can create a lack of clarity about how people behave in relationships. Fear of setting boundaries can be formed post-ghosting because some individuals equate the reason they were ghosted with either having boundaries or attempting to set and hold boundaries. This may contribute to reduced or overly flexible boundaries in future relationships. For others, ghosting can cause them to become overly boundaried in order to protect themselves. Creating the belief that if the individual does not give much of themselves, is not overly flexible and remains distant, they will not be hurt by being ghosted in the future. In therapy, those whose boundaries have been impacted by therapy are often overly flexible or rigid in their relationships. Learning and understanding how, when, and why to set boundaries in all relationships can be a helpful intervention. Those who have experienced ghosting can benefit from learning about what they need in terms of boundaries and how to pursue relationships that uphold these boundaries. As ghosting becomes more commonplace in the dating world, it can be helpful to gain support about and discuss your experience with it if you feel it is affecting your relationships.