Rejection stings, especially when you have no idea what went wrong. So, we polled experts on the most common reasons for ghosting.
Breadcrumbing. Benching. The slow fade. These days, there’s more than one way that people signal their disinterest in someone they’re dating or talking to. But perhaps the most painful of all? Ghosting.
Maybe you felt sure there was a spark between you two, or they showered you with attention and affection, and now all you hear is crickets.
While ghosting may hurt (a lot), it doesn’t have to leave you powerless. By learning why people do it and how to respond with grace, you can recover and move on.
Research shows that 13% to 23% of people have been ghosted in the United States.
There are many reasons why being ghosted may have happened to you, but chances are that you weren’t talking to a cruel, uncaring person — they simply lacked the skills to be upfront.
“If you’ve been ghosted, it is more than likely not about you,” says Dr. Lori Lawrenz, a licensed clinical psychologist in Honolulu, Hawaii.
Ghosting people is a coping mechanism, she explains. “It’s often done as a psychological tool to protect the one who is ghosting. Often, it’s a shortcut to avoid difficult relational dynamics.”
There’s no single reason why people ghost, which can make it all the more irritating. Here are a few reasons why it may have happened.
Convenience of technology
With every new technology, there’s a cost. But it’s hard to remember that when we’re presented with an abundance of connections right at our fingertips.
Digital access at all times can make us forget that there are real people on the other end. Using our devices as a shield, we become desensitized and do things that we normally wouldn’t — like leaving someone high and dry.
It’s as if we’ve commercialized the dating experience, not unlike going to the grocery store and deciding between an infinite variety of kombuchas. When we pick up one we don’t like, we put it back without explanation, then move on to the next one. We’ve lost our sense of formality.
Fear of hurting you
“Common reasons people ghost each other are not feeling a chemistry or connection and not being able to communicate that due to fear of hurting the person’s feelings,” says Hannah Tishman, a licensed clinical social worker in New York City, New York.
Low emotional intelligence
Emotional intelligence (EQ) is the wisdom to apply different emotional responses in nuanced situations using empathy. Those with low EQ may have a hard time understanding how their actions hurt you.
Emotional unavailability due to a mental health condition
Those who live with depression may feel like they lack the energy to maintain connections. They may self-isolate and avoid contact with others, causing them to cut off the relationship abruptly.
Those who live with bipolar disorder may increase contact during a high mood and ghost during a low mood.
People living with avoidant personality disorder crave connection, but when relationships are new, an internal push-pull based on an intense fear of judgment and rejection can cause them to stay away. This isn’t something you can change through reassurance or charm — it requires therapy to manage.
Trauma can also be a factor, says Dr. Holly Schiff, a licensed clinical psychologist based in Greenwich, Connecticut.
“They may be processing a trauma and still recovering,” she says. “Part of the trauma response is the inability to feel a full range of emotions and a diminished sense of self.”
Someone who experiences anxiety may worry about the outcome of the relationship and cut it off without warning because that feels safer.
If someone doesn’t believe they deserve someone like you, they may self-sabotage.
You can take a deeper dive on the link between self-sabotage and self-esteem issues here.
Insecure attachment style
If your love interest has a fearful-avoidant attachment style, they may oscillate between wanting intimacy and avoiding it when you start to get too close.
“The avoidant attachment style tends to go into ‘turtle mode’ and enter their shell, which can be manifested as ghosting behavior,” Lawrenz says. “This can be a protective means of guarding their heart.”
Some other mental health conditions are associated with lowered empathy or reduced ability to pick up on social cues.
This can make it difficult for someone to understand how to properly discontinue contact with you or communicate if you both want different things. Some of these conditions include:
- alexithymia, a personality trait where logic overrides emotions
- antisocial personality disorder (what some refer to as sociopathy or psychopathy)
- borderline personality disorder
- narcissistic personality disorder
In addition, people who’ve been diagnosed with symptoms of autism spectrum disorder may have a harder time knowing how to end a relationship.
Know that you’re allowed to take the high road, even if they can’t meet you there.
What to say to someone who’s ghosted you
The best ghosting responses are honest ones. To get closure, you may find it healing to stand up for yourself.
How to avoid being ghosted
Dealing with being ghosted can make you question yourself. While it’s probably not about you, it’s still a good idea to check in and take an honest inventory of how you show up with others.
The next time you meet someone, you may find it helpful to try:
- taking good care of yourself
- asking thoughtful questions
- being upfront about your expectations
- learning about your attachment type
- making more in-person plans
- becoming familiar with your love language
- pacing the early part of the relationship
- decluttering your relationship queue
Tips to handle being ghosted
It may hurt for a little while, but remember that you’ll get through this. Here are some tips to help along the way:
Allow your feelings
No matter what you feel, it’s all valid. You may find it helpful to cry it out, journal, scream into a pillow, write a “spew letter” (then trash it!), or call a friend to vent.
Amp up your self-care
Now would be a good time to indulge in a bubble bath, take it out on the green and golf, or dive into that movie you’ve been wanting to see.
“For some people, ghosting can create a shame spiral, where we question if we’re good enough or worthy and may ruminate on past conversations and scenarios with the ghoster,” says Sara Makin, a licensed professional counselor in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania.
“Remember, it’s not about you,” she says. “It is all about their lack of capacity for close, intimate relationships.”
Don’t contact them
If it’s been a couple of weeks and you’ve tried one last message to clear the air without hearing anything back, it’s time to stop reaching out and let go.
Talk with someone
“If you are struggling to cope, reach out to a mental health professional,” says Makin. “There could be more underlying these feelings, such as an abandonment wound from childhood or a past relationship.”
Don’t isolate yourself
“Don’t be scared to get back out there,” says Schiff. “Don’t let this deter you from dating again. You’re a great person, and the right person will see all that you have to offer.”
Need a pick-me-up? Here’s another take on handling being ghosted and unlearning your own ghosting tendencies.
Getting ghosted is probably not about you, but it sure can feel like it.
There are dozens of reasons someone may have ghosted you, from a lack of communication skills to a mental health condition.
“If someone is not going to give you the time of day to discuss how they’re feeling, then this person is probably not someone you actually want to be with,” says Tishman.
“It’s important to have direct and clear communication in forming a relationship — and ghosting is a red flag on that person’s part,” Tishman adds.
Try this mantra on for size: Rejection is just redirection.