When You're Ghosted (and Other Difficult Conversations)
Updated: Nov 20, 2020
What do you say when they stop saying... anything?
On my journey to grow into myself, I've been ghosted more times than I can count, oftentimes by people who I felt a really strong interest and connection to.
For the uninitiated, being "ghosted" is when you're talking to someone regularly, and feel you can trust the consistency and connection of your relationship, then suddenly, as if almost out of nowhere, they drop off the face of the earth, never to be heard from again.
But of course, you already knew that - I bet dollars to donuts that everyone reading this has been ghosted at least once in their life, and is familiar with the confused, frustrated, and hurtful emotions that it can arouse.
You and a fun new person start talking back and forth, maybe you go on a few dates. You feel that chemistry, you're vibing, there's that little spark of a childlike curiosity, and you feel giddy and excited to explore the nooks and crannies of each others' personalities (and/or bedsheets).
There's a comfort in the level of reciprocation of interest you feel from them, making it feel safe to be open, vulnerable, and share deeper parts of yourself that you otherwise compartmentalize.
Then suddenly... *poof*, GONE. No more texts. Every call goes to voicemail. Sometimes they block you across all social media platforms, and other times they add insult to injury by leaving you on read, or peeping your Instagram story without ever saying anything.
A sinking pit in your stomach starts to gnaw at you; the confusion, the self blame, the frantic stories that you retroactively tell to rationalize and make sense of how terrible this all feels.
My generation seems to be a bunch of jaded and disillusioned skeptics of love and trust; "commitment issues" is the status quo, and we've normalized just not talking about it beyond passive aggressive memes.
I've handled being ghosted and otherwise poorly treated in a variety of unproductive ways, typically resulting in a gradual reinforcement to my growing walls of mistrust and moat of commitment-avoidance that I've built around myself.
Something bothering you in your personal life? No problem at all, just remind yourself that the personality is an illusion, that the appearance of manifest reality and individuality is a distortion of the 'Infinite One', and that you can vibrate your way out of any situation by completely dissociating from your personal experience! Good vibes only, you don't want to manifest more heartbreak by being sad and putting out the wrong energy to the universe, right?
Yeah, just one problem with that:
you still are a person, and you're using spiritual principles as rose coloured glasses to make your experience of being a person more pleasant.
It's not even that the spiritual principles you're pasting over your experience are untrue, it's just that you're using them in reaction to your own suffering, and not dealing with your very human reality of challenging emotions.
It doesn't resolve anything, it's just suppression. Which brings me to my next coping mechanism....
Numb Out/Totally Ignore That it Happened
You were fine before this person came into your life, so why bother feeling emotions about them leaving your life? Just go back to the way things were before you were enthralled and excited about the possibility of intimacy and connection with another human being in any way. If uncomfortable emotions come up, remind yourself: IT. NEVER. HAPPENED.
Make a mental note that trying to get close to people is a distracting waste of time that will cause more trouble and drama than it's worth, and isolate yourself more and more from anything resembling deep bonds with other people.
If the emotions are too hard to suppress without assistance, use external aids like pot and alcohol, or fervently distract yourself by making yourself so busy, that you don't have time to feel a damn thing.
Grind Harder and Make Them Regret It
Oh, you're going to ignore me now? Good luck with that when I'm busy being the coolest, fittest, most successful happy person that's ever walked the face of the fucking planet. Enjoy watching what you missed out on and wondering "what if" for the rest of your life.
Nothing motivates a good workout or drives you harder towards success than good ol' fashioned pettiness.
Supplicate for Attention
On the flip side of vengeful pride is the pathetic insecurity and borderline begging for attention that literally does nothing but repulse your object of departed affection. Going on about how much you like them, how you much want them in your life (despite being treated poorly and dropped more suddenly than an iPhone shattering on pavement). Ignore all the hurt feelings and indignation that you feel - you will pretend that everything is fine, and that you just want them to come back.
Even if you get a pity response from this desperate outreach, there's no way that you'll actually be able to respect yourself after this. You wouldn't even want them coming back in your life, because it's the ultimate symbol of how poorly you think you deserve to be treated. Rest in peace healthy boundaries, you've officially given your power and happiness away to someone else.
Get Some Consolation Attention
Okay, so it didn't pan out with this person you were really into, were vulnerable with, and trusted... there are plenty of ways to feel valid, most of which involve sleeping around with other horny, insecure, emotionally unavailable people who want that same validation without the risk of emotional intimacy. Doesn't matter if a few people get hurt along the way, after all, you were hurt first, right?
And thus, the cycle continues.
So what actually helps in this situation?
What do all these piss-poor coping strategies have in common with one another?
They all leave your emotions, needs, and boundaries unaddressed and unexpressed.
There isn't a single honest conversation about how the experience made you feel - in most cases, there isn't even an honest personal acknowledgement about how the experience made you feel.
The reality is, you were disappointed. You felt hurt. You got angry. You were confused, and felt like your trust was violated. You felt all these things, all of these feelings are valid, and real. Yet because authentic communication is not normalized in our society, being honest with your own experience doesn't feel like an option.
You can't just express these emotions - because that would mean that you have to deal with them. We weren't really taught how to do either.
Yet, they're still there. Even if we suppress them, the reality of how the situation affected us still stands, and instead of dealing with them and healing through the experience, we allow them to subconsciously inform our future decisions when it comes to connecting with other people in an intimate way.
This doesn't just happen when someone ghosts us. This can be in the context of any interpersonal friction that causes uncomfortable, unexpressed emotions.
So what's a better way?
In the case of being ghosted, it's unlikely that the outcome you're looking for is to re-invite this person back into your life after feeling disrespected. However, the quiet stewing in your own unexpressed emotions isn't productive, either.
I truly believe there is depth and truth to the saying "an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind". Instead of matching the energy of being ghosted with more shut-down, non-communicative energy, there is something profoundly healing about simply acknowledging, expressing, and releasing the emotions around the situation.
Even if you never hear back from the person, the act of expression is, in itself a healing experience and can help process what you're feeling in a very healthy way.
It also demonstrates to your subconscious mind that you respect yourself enough to acknowledge and validate your own experience and emotions. This will help you become clear on what your boundaries and standards are, help you define and communicate your needs, and set you up for healthy relationships where expectations and standards of trust are clearly established.
Okay, so expressing yourself is good. Got it. How though?
A little while ago, I was introduced to a book by my friend and coach at the time called Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg.
Marshall Rosenberg is a straight G when it comes to communicating effectively. He taught seminars with puppets (a jackal puppet to demonstrate ineffective communication, and a giraffe puppet to demonstrate effective nonviolent communication). You don't get much more gangster than teaching grown-ass adults with puppets.
Nonviolent Communication (or NVC for short) is a method for clearly defining how you are being emotionally affected within relationships to others, and how to clearly communicate your needs in a way that inspires empathy and incentivizes the other person to meet your requests, because they feel heard and understood themselves.
It's a powerful method of communicating and coming to common grounds, and has even been used successfully as a mediation tool for conflict resolution between warring countries.
Since beginning to practice it, I've felt myself become way more open, and feel way more equipped to show up authentically in tougher, confrontational conversations in my relationships. One tendency I have is to be a people-pleaser, and will deny myself the right to my own emotions and needs in order to avoid making others (and myself) uncomfortable by expressing them.
I've since witnessed the productivity of leaning into the discomfort of expressing my own emotions and needs in a clear and vulnerable, nonviolent way. It's more authentic, it builds trust and empathy because the other person isn't guessing what you're feeling, and there's no undertone of subconscious/suppressed resentment in your dynamic that lingers around.
Nonviolent communication makes the process of difficult conversations much less anxiety-inducing as well, because it removes the confrontational/combative element of it.
NVC is practiced both from the angles of expression, and empathetically receiving (listening) in a 4-step process; it's incredibly easy to follow.
I'll run through it here using the example of someone who was ghosted expressing their experience and their needs.
Step 1: Non-Judgemental Observation
You make an assessment about the situation, without antagonizing, blaming, criticizing, or otherwise judging the other person. You just observe as much as you can about the situation in as objective of a way as you can.
When you're feeling hurt or angry, this can be trickier than it sounds. It's tempting to say something along the lines of "you disrespected me and disappeared like a dishonest coward after stringing me along for weeks", but that wouldn't be an effective way to communicate the situation to inspire empathy. It's coloured with antagonism and blame, and doesn't clearly communicate the situation.
Instead, you might hypothetically observe the following:
"We went on a few dates, and it seemed like we really had a good time. You were calling me every day, and we were talking often over text as well. We shared a lot of laughs, and we told each other some intimate and vulnerable things about one another's lives.
Recently you stopped answering my messages, and aren't taking my calls. I see you're still looking at my social media accounts, I see that you're online, and I get notifications that you've seen my messages. We haven't talked in almost a week now."
This is just a clear laying out of facts, as they are, without any personal interpretations of what's happened - simply what's happened.
Step 2: Expression of Feelings
Next, you'll express your emotions brought up by the situation that you just described. It's important to talk in clear, non-blaming emotional terms. How can blame disguise itself as emotional expression?
Instead of making it about the emotion you feel, you would make it about how you feel slighted by the other person. Instead of saying "I felt hurt", you would say "I felt disrespected/lied to/cheated", etc. The insinuation being that the other person disrespected you, etc. It's not an emotion - it's an accusation.
The aim then is to talk clearly in terms of emotions in relationship to the situation, and make it about your experience.
"I was really excited about our connection, and felt really happy to be talking to you every day. When you stopped answering my messages, I felt confused, hurt, and angry...."
Step 3: Clear Communication of Needs/Values
You obviously won't just leave your emotions out in the open with no direction of where to go from there. Why are you expressing these emotions? Where did they come from? How can you feel more profoundly understood by expressing them?
Continuing from the last sentence, you would explain the root of the emotions you felt, based on either your needs, or your personal values.
"When you stopped answering my messages, I felt confused, hurt, and angry, because I value communication, and need to feel like I can rely on a person being open with me to feel safe and respected. I felt insecure because I shared personal details about my life with you, and I need to know what is appropriate and safe to share with others, so that I can respect their boundaries as well."
From there, your needs and expectations are clearly laid out. You've set boundaries for what your own standards are, and how you need to be treated in respectful relationship to others. In this situation though, your needs have obviously not been met. That leads to the final part of the expression phase:
Step 4: Make a Request
The key here is a request, not a demand. Marshall Rosenberg describes it as "clearly asking for something that would enrich your life". To avoid demanding anything aggressively, it's suggested you being the request with "would you be willing to..?" and then stating what would enrich your life.
In the case of being ghosted, it might not be clear what you want from the situation; do you want to have a conversation for closure? Do you want to know that the other person is okay, and that there wasn't something horrible that happened to them? Do you want an acknowledgement that they read and understood your message?
Whatever it is, decide what you feel would help you move forward, and make a clear request for it.
"Would you be willing to send me a reply acknowledging that you got this message, and that you understand that even though I'm expressing disappointment, that there's no bad blood between us? If there is anything you need to express or share, would you be willing to share that with me as well?"
Again, you might not get that from them, but what you'll find is a certain amount of peace from knowing that you did everything that you could to respect yourself through honest, respectful, nonviolent expression of your emotions and needs.
Receiving the Response with NonViolent Communication
One thing you may find is that even if someone's been ignoring you for an ongoing basis, communicating in this way tends to inspire empathy and a sense of connection. Because you have communicated so honestly with the intention of being understood (not with the intention of antagonizing), it motivates others to match that energy, and communicate back.
The reality is though, not everyone uses NVC to communicate, so when receiving a response, it's important to be compassionate of the fact that the reply you get might not be as clear, or consciously delivered.
You can use the same four steps in the NVC process to receive someones response:
Observe what you see their expressed emotions being caused by
Reflect back what you think they are feeling
Tell them what you are hearing their needs are
Make a suggestion for something that you think would enrich their lives ("would you like..?")
When the other party feels understood and received empathetically in this way, it builds trust, and it often opens doors of deeper communication because both parties feel safe to go there.
The other person might tell you that they experienced a terrible breakup that they hadn't told you about, and was afraid of being emotionally manipulated if they got too close to someone. Maybe they have an ex that gives them grief when they start trying to see other people, so they stopped talking to you to protect you from dealing with that. Maybe they simply never learned how to manage and communicate their emotions, and this is the first time they've felt like it's safe to do so in a way that they feel heard and understood.
While the intention/expectation shouldn't be to lure the person that ghosted you back into your life (seriously), communicating in this way might just foster enough trust and add a new layer of depth to your relationship with this person if you can both work through it.
One of the closest most intimate relationships that I've been in was as loving as it was because we thoroughly and compassionately communicated our emotions, triggers, traumas, and things we felt hurt by. We came to know that we could trust each other, to meet each others' needs, and to reconcile when we hurt the other person through communication.
The intention behind this method of expression for me is to get peace of mind through expression, ultimately leading to freedom from my own emotions and attachments. It allows me to express my needs and boundaries in a way that doesn't feel overbearing and gives space for the other person to understand me, and to be understood in turn.
It's one of the most effective ways I've used to communicate with others, and I learned it from a straight-up G teaching me how to do it with goddamn puppets
Don't let the emotions from being ghosted be a phantom that haunts you and gradually makes you more jaded. Practice authenticity, openness, and let that shit out, regardless of the outcome. You'll feel more free, and come to respect yourself more deeply because of it.
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