Podcast: Ghosting – Psychological Pros and Cons
Ghosting isn’t just about Halloween! We’ve all had it happen, and many of us have done it, or at least wanted to. You went out once, maybe even a few times, but it just isn’t right. And having to actually break up is such a hassle. Plus it will probably be unpleasant. Best thing to do is to ghost, right? Just drop off the face of the earth as far as the other person is concerned.
But is that really the right choice? Join us as Dr. John Grohol tells us about the surprising psychological benefits of talking things out. Plus, is it okay to ghost your therapist?
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Guest information for ‘Psychology of Ghosting’ Podcast Episode
John M. Grohol, Psy.D. is a pioneer in online mental health and psychology. Recognizing the educational and social potential of the Internet in 1995, Dr. Grohol has transformed the way people could access mental health and psychology resources online. Pre-dating the National Institute for Mental Health and mental health advocacy organizations, Dr. Grohol was the first to publish the diagnostic criteria for common mental disorders, such as depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. His leadership has helped break down the barriers of stigma often associated with mental health concerns, bringing trusted resources and support communities to the Internet.
He has worked tirelessly as a patient advocate to improve the quality of information available for mental health patients, highlighting quality mental health resources, and building safe, private support communities and social networks in numerous health topics.
About The Psych Central Podcast Host
Gabe Howard is an award-winning writer and speaker who lives with bipolar disorder. He is the author of the popular book, Mental Illness is an Asshole and other Observations, available from Amazon; signed copies are also available directly from the author. To learn more about Gabe, please visit his website, gabehoward.com.
Computer Generated Transcript for ‘Psychology of Ghosting ’ Episode
Editor’s Note: Please be mindful that this transcript has been computer generated and therefore may contain inaccuracies and grammar errors. Thank you.
Announcer: You’re listening to the Psych Central Podcast, where guest experts in the field of psychology and mental health share thought-provoking information using plain, everyday language. Here’s your host, Gabe Howard.
Gabe Howard: Hello everyone and welcome to this week’s episode of the Psych Central Podcast. Calling into the show today we have Dr. John Grohol. Dr. Grohol is the founder of Psych Central and the editor in chief. John, welcome to the show.
Dr. John Grohol: Always a pleasure to be with you, Gabe.
Gabe Howard: It is always a pleasure to have you back. As longtime listeners of the podcast know Dr. Grohol is our resident expert in almost all things psychology. We’re obviously very very happy to have you to discuss ghosting.
Dr. John Grohol: Yes ghosting. We’ve all been ghosted at least around Halloween time now.
Gabe Howard: Now Dr. Grohol, most people are familiar with ghosting in terms of a romantic relationship. You’ve dated somebody for a couple of weeks, maybe a couple of months and suddenly your text messages go unanswered your phone calls unanswered. You don’t know what’s going on and that person has dropped off the face of the earth.
Dr. John Grohol: Yep exactly. Ghosting. It’s the end of a relationship usually a romantic relationship and one person ends the relationship without really telling the other person or having very minimal conversation about it and then suddenly they just cut off all contact with the other person. And that’s really frustrating for most people who are the ghostee, the person who is being ghosted, because suddenly this thing that you believed in that you had trust in another person, a person that you may have even loved, has cut off all contact with you and you’re not entirely clear why.
Gabe Howard: But not all ghosting is considered equal, right? There’s a big difference between going out on one date and ghosting somebody and ghosting your spouse after ten years of marriage.
Dr. John Grohol: Yes absolutely. I mean that’s a key difference is that in today’s world online dating and dating via apps there’s not a very high expectation that a person has a right to additional communications after a single date or even a series of dates. I think it’s more hurtful and painful when it’s actually turned into a dating relationship, a stable dating relationship, over the course of weeks or months that when this sort of behavior happens it becomes very difficult for the ghostee to understand, accept and to move on with.
Gabe Howard: I think you’d be hard pressed to find somebody who has been ghosted themselves who doesn’t think, Hey why didn’t that person give me a reason or even a heads up? Because you know I had to wonder if the reason that I didn’t hear from you today was because you were busy or if it’s because this was day one of the ghosting.
Dr. John Grohol: Yeah. And you have to balance being actually ghosted with just usual insecurity that comes in with almost any relationship. Lots of people have some insecurities about the relationship and the newer the relationship is the more insecurities a person generally has because they’re not as familiar and comfortable with the other person in the relationship. So I do believe that ghosting carries more weight and carries more pain as the relationship develops and matures over time.
Gabe Howard: I think the concept of ghosting as we’ve discussed really solidified itself in pop culture with dating, the romantic relationship, the ending the romantic relationship. But as life goes on it’s sort of expanded out and we talk about you know are we ghosting our hairdresser? Are we ghosting our grocery store? Are we ghosting our insurance agent? And one of the things that we want to talk about in this show is it okay to ghost your therapist?
Dr. John Grohol: Absolutely. That’s a key question and one that has a surprising answer. And the answer is yes it is OK to ghost your therapist. It is not the preferred method of leaving the professional relationship that you have with your therapist, but it happens to therapists every single day of the week. And the good news is, unlike a person in their romantic relationship, therapists are actually trained and have experience with ghosting. So they know what it is and they kind of have built coping mechanisms, they know how to deal with it.
Gabe Howard: Let’s back up for a second. One of the things that you said is that they have training in the ghosting. So that sort of makes me think, OK well but then if they’re trained to deal with this then doesn’t that still make it a negative and just because something is commonplace does that actually make it OK.
Dr. John Grohol: Well it’s a little bit more nuanced than that. You’re paying for the professional services. So in that regard you’re paying for all of their expertise, all of their training. And a part of their training and with any good therapist is how to deal with the fact that some clients some patients are just going to leave the professional therapy setting without any further contact with the end of the relationship either pending or not.
Dr. John Grohol: It usually happens as a therapy relationship is kind of winding down anyway. In most cases in some cases it doesn’t. And it happens because of greater stress and demands on the patient’s life in the rest of their world and they just can’t deal with going to therapy at that time and they often go back. They’re taking a break but they don’t actually tell their therapist that they’re taking a break but they end up you know showing up on the therapists doorstep again six months later. For patients where the therapeutic relationship is ending anyway, they’re just kind of getting out before the very last session because that’s just feels more comfortable to them. They don’t necessarily know what to expect in the last session. And some people I think are just a little insecure or scared about what might happen.
Gabe Howard: It’s interesting to think about because if you replace therapists with grocery store. Is it OK to ghost your grocery store? Nobody thinks that you need to call up your local grocery store that you’ve been going to once a week for a decade and say hey I’m moving or I’m switching over to Whole Foods because I’m on a health kick. We understand that you can move in and out of businesses with little to no explanation. But when it comes to a therapist it seems more personal. We’re telling them in some cases you know very very personal and deep dark things about ourselves. And we feel that we have this personal relationship. Do you think that plays into some of this struggle on whether or not you owe the person an explanation?
Dr. John Grohol: Sure. I do believe that that plays into the struggle a bit. I also believe that the fact that you don’t necessarily want to end the relationship but the relationship might be ending because you’ve basically been treated for the symptoms that you came into therapy for and the therapist is basically done the treatment with you. And even though you still have that close emotional bond, it doesn’t make sense to sort of continue therapy. Maybe the insurance company won’t pay for it anymore, maybe the therapist doesn’t want to continue therapy if there’s not a specific treatment goal to work toward. I think it’s a very close emotionally intense and personal relationship. It feels that way to most patients and because of that it’s a little scary and a little difficult to leave. It’s kind of like saying goodbye to a best friend or a loved one that you’ve known a good portion of your life and that you feel very close to. Such goodbyes are hard.
Dr. John Grohol: They’re really really hard and we don’t we aren’t taught the skills necessarily growing up from our parents from our peer relationships with our friends. We don’t necessarily have the language or the behaviors to know how to end such a relationship in a positive productive manner.
Gabe Howard: I think one of the things that we should touch on is that while it is ok to ghost your therapist because ultimately it is a business relationship and you have to do what’s best for you. That is why we go to therapy to improve our lives. There is benefit in not ghosting your therapist. As you just said, we can we can learn these skills. It’s a safe way to say goodbye because your therapist is not going to overreact. Your therapist is not going to say but you were the one or I’m in love with you. It’s very different from a romantic relationship. Would it be a good idea to practice not ghosting people while utilizing your therapist for this manner?
Dr. John Grohol: Yeah ideally and obviously I think most therapists would agree they prefer patients who don’t ghost them. They prefer to have that last session with their patient because I hate to use this word because it’s so overused in our culture but it’s an opportunity for closure. It’s an opportunity to end this sometimes very intense relationship on a positive note even though it might be an emotional ending. Person might be afraid that they’re going to cry that they might want to ask for a hug from the therapist or something of that nature. And so for all those reasons a lot of people are wary of that last session and yet that last session can provide that that necessary ending that that helps kind of complete a nice perfect circle because life is full of beginnings right. But we don’t always know how to have those good endings. And I think your relationship with your therapist is a prime opportunity to test out one of those how to have a positive ending how to end a very intense or emotionally positive relationship in a way where you feel good about it that you come out the other side of it and you feel like wow you know we did some good work over those past few months — it stinks that it’s ending. But at the same time, I understand why it needs to end and the therapist talked to me in such a way during that last session that it really helped me feel good about the ending and be able to move on.
Gabe Howard: We’re going to step away and we’ll be right back.
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Gabe Howard: We’re back discussing ghosting with Dr. John Grohol. Dr. Grohol, we’ve spent a lot of time talking about the negatives on the ghostee. What are the benefits to ghosting? What does the person who is doing the ghosting get out of it?
Dr. John Grohol: Well the benefits for someone who’s doing the ghosting is that they put an end to a relationship that for whatever reasons they were not they didn’t want to continue. And in some areas that might be a very pro-social positive behavior. For instance, if you’re in an abusive relationship if you’re if you’re in an unhealthy relationship if you’re in a relationship that feels like it’s bringing you down more every day and the person acts in a in a very sort of abusive way toward you. Those relationships maybe don’t deserve the benefit of a proper ending because they are so negative and they are so hurtful to the individual. And I think any time when a person in an abusive relationship it’s to their benefit to get out of that relationship once they have all of their ducks in a row and that they feel like they can do so in a safe manner. So ghosting in a situation like that is perfectly acceptable and the norm and is where I think it’s OK.
Gabe Howard: But let’s talk about ghosting when it’s not so great. Let’s set up a scenario, you’ve been in a relationship with somebody for six months you’ve gone out on dates, maybe you’ve met each other’s parents and the reason is not abusive. You’ve just realized after six months this is not the person for you. Why would somebody do it in that situation? Because it seems like a very mean and negative act. But I imagine that the average person who is ghosting somebody wouldn’t describe themselves as a bad person. They’re not trying to hurt the other person. It almost seems like they’re avoiding conflict or..
Dr. John Grohol: I think you hit the nail on the head. I think it’s primarily conflict avoidance. I think that a person who ghosts but is generally otherwise a good person may have a fear of rejection. They want to be the person who does the rejection and ghost in that way first. They may never have had a healthy role model for what a good relationship looks like how it begins the middle part and how it ends all of their relationships may have ended poorly. And so they just don’t even know they don’t have the skill set or the understanding that in a healthy relationship this is the way you end it they may think oh well I’ve seen my peers do this I’ve seen my friends do this this must be the way you end relationships they just don’t have anything else to go on there’s lots of other reasons they may not have ever felt very comfortable talking about their feelings with the other person and they may feel like the other person never really listened. The other person wasn’t ever comfortable talking about feelings and so they feel like what’s the point of trying to have this conversation because I’ve just gone through six months of trying to talk to them and it’s it’s never ended well or it’s never gone anywhere. So they may feel frustrated like this is just one more conversation I don’t need to try to have and in some cases, it may be a form of like procrastination, of hiding.
Dr. John Grohol: They keep putting off wanting to deal with the messiness that is sometimes you know the end of a relationship. And so procrastinators will keep putting it off putting off. I’ll text them back later. I’ll text them back later. They just never text them back. And before you know it’s three weeks later. And finally some people probably do it out of a feeling of not maybe deserving a positive relationship in their life or deserving a healthy relationship in their life. So they sabotage the relationship because they just don’t feel like they’re worth it. They need to move on before they feel like something else will sabotage the relationship. So it feels somewhat empowering to ghost the other person and that way they can be the they can ensure that they leave their relationship before anything bad happens to it.
Gabe Howard: I think that’s a really interesting point that you brought up. I think that a lot of people, especially the ghostee, they see it as a very malicious act, that it was done willfully to hurt them because the person doing the ghosting didn’t care enough to end the relationship quote unquote properly. But you’re saying that it can be much deeper than that the person might not have intended to do the ghosting or they might be too scared to tell you the truth and it really has more to do with the person doing the ghosting, and it’s not necessarily this cruel act, but it’s deeper than that.
Dr. John Grohol: I think probably even in most cases it’s not meant as an act of cruelty. It really isn’t. It probably speaks a lot more to the person who’s actually doing the ghosting than the ghostee. And I think it doesn’t necessarily mean it was a really bad relationship or that the person who was who is being ghosted is a really bad person. I think it is more often than not an issue with the person who is doing the ghosting.
Gabe Howard: Dr. Grohol, it’s always great to talk to you about these things. Do you have any final words on ghosting? What should the takeaway be for our listeners?
Dr. John Grohol: Relationships are messy. A good relationship doesn’t necessarily just go up up up and up. Any really good strong relationship has a lot of ups and downs in it. And I think sometimes there is this belief that that’s very unrealistic belief that relationships should be good and when they stop being good that’s when you need to end it. And if you don’t want to deal with bad feelings, ghosting is one way of getting out of the relationship without having the messiness of having to deal with those bad feelings. And I think it’s beneficial for people to realize that sometimes relationships go down for awhile. And if you both parties are willing to work on it they can go back up. That’s the roller coaster of a relationship and even the most positive beneficial relationships in the world have their ups and downs. If you do need or want to end a relationship the mature thing to do– if it’s not abusive, if there’s not a legitimate reason for ghosting a person — is to have a conversation about with your partner and I know that’s difficult. I know you feel like it’s gonna be hard and it’s going to be negative and maybe parts of it will be but it’s what people do when they want to show some respect for both the relationship and the other person that they’ve been involved with and had involved in their life for for many months or even years. So I think it’s not always gonna be easy but it’s a thing worth doing.
Gabe Howard: I could not agree more. Dr. Grohol, thank you for being on the show. We always love having you.
Dr. John Grohol: I love being here.
Gabe Howard: And remember, everyone, you can get one week of free, convenient, affordable, private online counselling anytime, anywhere simply by visiting BetterHelp.com/PsychCentral. We’ll see everyone next week.
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Central Podcast, T. (2019). Podcast: Ghosting – Psychological Pros and Cons. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 28, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/podcast-ghosting-psychological-pros-and-cons/