It may be cruel to end a relationship by simply refusing to answer any of the other person's messages or calls, but ghosting, as we call it, has become fairly common. A study from earlier this year published in Journal of Social and Personal Relationships found that out of about 1,300 study participants, 25% had ghosted people, and 20% of respondents had been ghosted themselves.
And it isn't even exclusive to romantic relationships. You can just as easily be ghosted by a best friend or even at work. But no matter who's cutting you off, it almost always stings, at least a little bit.
"When we are ghosted, we don't really know why, and there is nothing to hold on to," says Carolina Castaños, PhD, founder of MovingOn, an online healing program. "Then we start filling in the blank with the worse-case scenarios, making the whole experience all that more painful."
Because the nature of ghosting means that you usually don't know why someone has suddenly cut you out of their lives, it's hard to know what to do or how to react.
If you're able to reach out to that person and actually get a response, the best case scenario is that there was just a misunderstanding, and the two of you get a chance to clear the air. You might even find out that they didn't intend to ghost you, or that they've been withdrawn because they're dealing with some extenuating life circumstances.
We start filling in the blank with the worse case scenarios, making the whole experience all that more painful.
Carolina Castaños, PhD
The worst case scenario, however, is that they don't respond to you at all, and you just end up even more frustrated and hurt. And trying to get answers will likely be fruitless if they've already decided to cut off all communication in the first place. But as cliché as it sounds, when someone's reaction to a conflict is to cut off all communication, it usually says more about them than it does about you.
"There might be many things we do not know about this person, but there are some we do: We know that this person shuts down and cuts off relationships," Dr. Castaños says. "This tells us that this person is scared of getting hurt (and most likely has in the past), has difficulty trusting and being vulnerable."
With that in mind, you might be able to get closure by reframing how you think about the situation, instead of trying to get an explanation that might never come.
"When this is the go-to way of responding of an individual, and if they do not work on themselves, this will most likely not change," Dr. Castaños says. "This tells us that this individual has difficulty establishing relationships that are too close and that have a degree of intimacy. Think about what you want, what you want in a relationship with your partner or a close friend."
Chances are, you wouldn't want someone in your life who can't communicate with you when they have a problem. And while that probably doesn't lessen the pain of being ghosted (at least not initially), you're probably better off in the long run.