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Is ghosting toxic behavior?

Ghosting, the act of ending a relationship by suddenly cutting off all communication without explanation, has become increasingly common in the digital age. While some defend ghosting as an easy way out of uncomfortable situations, many argue that ghosting can be harmful and even considered emotional abuse. In this article, we’ll explore whether ghosting qualifies as toxic behavior.

What is ghosting?

Ghosting refers to when one person in a romantic relationship or friendship ends the relationship by suddenly and permanently withdrawing all communication without explanation to the other party. This lack of closure or explanation often leaves the ghosted person confused, hurt, and searching for answers.

Ghosting can occur in:

  • Romantic relationships – One partner stops responding to calls, texts, and messages from the other partner unexpectedly.
  • Friendships – One friend cuts off the friendship by no longer communicating or responding.
  • Professional relationships – An employer stops scheduling shifts or communicating with the employee unexpectedly.

While ghosting may seem like an easy way to end a relationship for the person doing the ghosting, it often leaves the ghosted person with unanswered questions and difficulty moving forward.

What are the signs of being ghosted?

There are a few common signs that you may have been ghosted:

  • Your messages and calls start going unanswered
  • The person stops making plans with you or initiating communication
  • You notice you’ve been blocked on social media and other platforms
  • The person cuts you off suddenly without explanation

You may be left wondering what you did wrong or searching your last interaction to try to make sense of why you were suddenly abandoned. It can be hard to get closure when someone disappears from your life unexpectedly and refuses to communicate.

Why do people ghost?

There are a variety of reasons someone may resort to ghosting, including:

  • Wanting to avoid confrontation or an uncomfortable conversation
  • Losing interest and wanting an easy way out
  • Feeling anxious or overwhelmed
  • Wanting control or feeling empowered
  • Wanting to force a reaction from the other person
  • Having mental health issues like depression or anxiety
  • Having a busy schedule and unintentionally drifting away

While ghosting can feel like an easy short-term solution for the person doing it, it often causes more harm in the long run. Healthy relationships require communication, even when it’s uncomfortable.

How common is ghosting?

Research suggests that ghosting is quite common, especially among younger demographics:

  • A 2020 YouGov survey found that 25% of millennials admit to ghosting someone.
  • 37% of those surveyed by YouGov report being ghosted by a partner.
  • A 2017 study published in The Journal of Social and Personal Relationships found that out of a survey of 765 adults aged 18-24, a quarter had been ghosted within the past year.

The ambiguity of online relationships and digital communication seems to partly enable this pervasiveness of ghosting. However, being on the receiving end of ghosting can result in emotional distress and trust issues that impact future relationships.

Is ghosting considered emotional abuse or manipulation?

Many psychologists argue that ghosting qualifies as emotional manipulation and can be classified as a form of emotional abuse, especially when there is a power imbalance in the relationship. Signs that ghosting is a form of emotional abuse include:

  • It leaves the ghosted person constantly anxious about the state of the relationship
  • It is intended to hurt or provoke a reaction from the ghosted party
  • It leaves the ghosted person blaming themselves and their worth
  • It is a pattern of behavior rather than an isolated incident

By suddenly removing intimacy and affection without explanation, ghosting can degrade someone’s self-esteem and cause them to doubt themselves or become clingy in future relationships. Many mental health experts consider it a form of emotional cruelty.

What are the effects of being ghosted?

Being ghosted can seriously impact mental health and self-esteem. Common psychological effects include:

  • Lower self-confidence and self-blame
  • Trust issues
  • Symptoms of anxiety and depression
  • Constantly checking devices for replies
  • Difficulty moving on
  • Feelings of worthlessness

These effects can linger and damage future relationships. Someone who gets ghosted repeatedly may live in constant fear that it will happen again.

Short-term effects

Ghosting often results in an initial period of constant distress and confusion as the ghosted victim searches for answers. Short-term effects include:

  • Extreme preoccupation with the relationship
  • Compulsively checking their phone and accounts
  • Difficulty focusing on other tasks
  • Racing thoughts and loss of appetite
  • Frantic efforts to reestablish contact

Long-term effects

Being ghosted can have a lasting impact on mental health and relationship patterns. Long-term effects include:

  • Trust issues that impact future relationships
  • Searching for faults within themselves
  • Becoming clingy and desperate for affection
  • Withdrawing from relationships as a defensive mechanism

Learning to overcome these effects often requires professional counseling to rebuild self-esteem, process the emotional trauma, and reestablish healthy relationship habits.

Is ghosting ever acceptable?

While there are always exceptions, most psychologists argue ghosting is rarely justified. Ghosting may be situationally appropriate if:

  • You fear your safety is at risk
  • The person was abusive or chronically toxic
  • It was only 1-2 dates or very early in the relationship

However, in the majority of cases, it is still recommended to provide closure directly rather than ghosting. If you are being harassed, abused, or stalked, seek help from authorities instead of ghosting.

How can you deal with being ghosted?

If you have been ghosted, here are some tips to help you move forward:

  • Give it time – The initial shock and pain usually improves with time and distance.
  • Avoid obsessive thoughts – Constantly reflecting on the situation can feed negative thought patterns.
  • Limit social media contact – Resist the temptation to stalk their accounts.
  • Talk it out – Confide in trusted friends and family for support.
  • Don’t make assumptions – Don’t blame yourself without full understanding.
  • Focus inward – Spend time on self-care and personal growth.
  • Get professional help – Seek counseling if you struggle with self-esteem.

While painful, ghosting can be a chance to build resilience and learn. With time, its impact usually fades.

How to avoid ghosting people

To avoid ghosting others, consider these tips:

  • Reflect on your motives – Make sure ghosting is not a passive-aggressive reaction.
  • Have the conversation – Provide closure through a direct conversation.
  • Offer an explanation – Provide context about why you are ending the relationship.
  • Suggest alternatives – Propose going separate ways if needed.
  • Be empathetic – Treat others how you would want to be treated.
  • Match the medium – Break up through the same communication forms you used in the relationship.

Even if it’s uncomfortable, speaking directly can provide the closure needed to minimize harm. Consider if you would want ghosting used on you in the same situation.

Are there legal consequences to ghosting?

While immoral, ghosting is generally not illegal in most regions. A partner abruptly cutting off contact generally does not qualify for a legal case. However, there are some cases where legal consequences can come into play:

  • If you cohabit or share finances, you may need to go through formal eviction processes.
  • If you have signed contracts or formal partnership agreements tied to the relationship.
  • If the ghosting partner spreads false information or tries to sabotage the other partner.
  • If the ghosted partner stalks or harasses the person who ghosted.

It’s recommended to tie up any joint living, financial, or legal arrangements to avoid complications. But in most standard dating cases, ghosting itself does not break laws.


Ghosting often leaves the abandoned person with long-lasting feelings of being devalued, insecure, and unworthy. While ghosting may feel like an easy short-term solution, it frequently causes damage by dismissing someone’s worth without explanation or closure. Providing context and formally ending things can minimize harm done. With the exceptions of abuse, danger, or very new relationships, there are usually more ethical alternatives than ghosting.