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What does ghosting do to mental health?

Ghosting, which refers to abruptly ending communication without explanation, has become increasingly common in our digital age. While ghosting may seem harmless on the surface, it can have real consequences for mental health.

What is ghosting?

Ghosting is when someone you are dating or in a relationship with suddenly stops responding to any of your texts, calls, or social media messages without explanation. The “ghoster” essentially disappears from the life of the “ghostee” by ceasing all communication.

Ghosting differs from a mutual slow fade in that there is no discussion of ending the relationship. The ghoster unilaterally decides to disappear without giving the ghostee any reason or opportunity to discuss the issues. This leaves the ghostee confused, hurt, and often wondering what they did wrong.

Why do people ghost?

There are a few common reasons why someone might ghost another person:

  • They’ve lost interest in the relationship and don’t know how to break things off
  • They’re too anxious or conflict-avoidant for an awkward breakup talk
  • They met someone new unexpectedly
  • The other person said or did something offensive or inappropriate
  • They’re going through personal issues and are withdrawing from all relationships

Regardless of the reason, ghosting is often seen as taking the “easy way out” of ending a relationship by avoiding direct communication and leaving the other person without closure.

How common is ghosting?

Several studies in recent years have gauged how prevalent ghosting is:

  • A 2019 survey of online daters found that about 25% had been ghosted before, while 20% admitted to ghosting someone themselves.
  • In a 2016 survey of millennials, 25% said they had been ghosted in a romantic relationship, while 10% said they had ghosted someone.
  • Among adult Americans under 45, 22% said they were ghosted by a partner, while 21% admitted to ghosting someone in 2020.

So while exact numbers vary, it’s clear that ghosting has impacted a sizable percentage of today’s dating pool. Some demographics, like younger millennials, gay men, and online daters seem especially likely to experience ghosting.

Why is ghosting hurtful?

Being ghosted can take a serious toll on mental health because:

  • It leads to feelings of rejection and not being “good enough” since the ghoster disappears without explanation.
  • It creates uncertainty and prevents closure, causing ruminating thoughts.
  • It invalidates the meaning of the relationship and time invested.
  • It violates expectations of mutual respect.

In a 2019 study, being ghosted was rated as more emotionally distressing than other dating rejection scenarios, such as being stood up. Ghosting also leads to trust issues in future relationships.

What are the stages of being ghosted?

Psychologists have identified common emotional stages that the ghostee goes through after being suddenly abandoned:

  1. Confusion: They are puzzled when calls and texts go unanswered, often checking their phone repeatedly.
  2. Self-blame: They rack their brain trying to figure out what they did wrong to make the person disappear.
  3. Denial: They cling to the hope it is just a temporary silence and the ghost will reappear.
  4. Anxiety: As time passes, they grow increasingly anxious as communication stays cut off.
  5. Anger: They feel frustrated and even enraged at being ignored without explanation.
  6. Acceptance: Finally, they accept the relationship is over, though still plagued by doubts.

These stages resemble the five stages of grief, showing how traumatic ghosting can be for being dumped in this ambiguous way.

How does ghosting impact mental health?

Studies have uncovered various psychological effects that stem from being ghosted:

  • Lower self-esteem and self-worth. Ghosting can severely damage self-confidence and make people question their worth.
  • Increased anxiety, stress, and depression. Ruminating over what went wrong can worsen existing mental health issues.
  • Trust issues. Ghosting undermines ability to trust others, creating lasting relationship difficulties.
  • Symptoms of PTSD. A small 2017 study found ghosting can result in some PTSD-like symptoms, like flashbacks.
  • Insomnia and poor sleep quality. The constant wondering about ghosting can make it hard to fall or stay asleep.
  • Obsessive behaviors. People may compulsively check their phone or stalk the ghoster’s social media for answers.

So while less severe than being bullied or abused, ghosting appears to negatively impact mental health in multiple ways for a significant portion of those affected.

How long do the effects of ghosting last?

Research shows the more committed the relationship was before ghosting occurred, the more damaging the effects tend to be. Studies have found:

  • Being ghosted after one or two dates leads to milder, short-term distress.
  • When ghosted after a month or more of dating, symptoms of depression can last for several months.
  • Highly committed relationships ended by ghosting can cause emotional trauma lasting over a year.

The severe ambiguity of why the person disappeared tends to prolong the recovery process. Even years later, people may still ruminate over being ghosted by a long-term partner.

Who does ghosting impact the most?

While anyone can suffer emotionally from ghosting, some groups tend to be impacted more severely:

  • Teenagers and young adults. Breakups are harder at younger ages, and ghosting prevents closure.
  • People with abandonment issues. Those with childhood trauma are retraumatized by suddenly being abandoned.
  • People with anxiety and depression. Existing mental health conditions amplify the self-blame and rumination.
  • Perfectionists. Their need for control makes ambiguity harder to cope with.

Those with underlying mental health conditions or personality traits such as neuroticism appear particularly vulnerable to ghosting’s effects.

Are certain attachment styles more affected by ghosting?

Psychologists note those with certain attachment styles tend to have more difficulty recovering from being ghosted:

Attachment Style Response to Ghosting
Secure More resilient, better able to gain closure
Anxious May become preoccupied with the ghoster and obsess over what happened
Avoidant May withdraw and isolate themselves, reluctant to open up again
Disorganized Prone to lasting mistrust, self-loathing thoughts and emotional breakdowns

The avoidance of intimacy and lack of communication around breakups tends to re-traumatize those with insecure attachment styles. Therapists can help clients identify unhealthy attachment patterns.

Does ghosting amount to emotional abuse?

While definitions vary, some psychologists argue serial ghosting by romantic partners meets criteria for emotional abuse or “silent treatment abuse” when it becomes a chronic pattern. Signs it may be emotional abuse include:

  • Repeatedly leaving partners for weeks with no communication.
  • Denying closure after long-term relationships or marriage.
  • Knowing ghosting causes the partner severe anxiety.
  • Withholding to punish or control the partner’s behaviors.

If ghosting evokes consistent feelings of low self-worth, anxiety, walking on eggshells, or depression, it may constitute emotional abuse. Unlike ghosting after a few dates, when in an established partnership, ghosting can be a harmful power play.

How to cope if you are ghosted

If you are ghosted, here are some healthy ways to help process it and reduce the mental health impacts:

  • Talk it out. Confide in trusted friends and family to help gain perspective.
  • Avoid obsessing. Constantly checking their social media will make moving on harder.
  • Don’t make excuses. Recognize their behavior was unacceptable no matter what the circumstances were.
  • Let yourself feel. Bottling up will prolong the pain, so release emotions in a constructive way.
  • Focus inward. Spend more time on self-care and personal growth instead of dwelling on them.
  • Get professional help. If struggling with depression or trauma, see a counselor or therapist.

While hurtful, ghosting says more about the ghoster’s flaws than yours. With time and the right coping tactics, you can recover and pursue healthier relationships.

Is ghosting ever acceptable?

Most psychologists advise against ghosting except in certain circumstances where safety is a concern, such as:

  • After just 1-3 dates before emotional bonds formed.
  • You’ve voiced feeling unsafe with the person.
  • They are displaying abusive, manipulative or dangerous behaviors.
  • Breaking off the relationship risks retaliation or violence.

In these cases where direct communication could be risky or very new bonds mean less harm, ghosting may be justified. But in committed relationships, it is still unethical despite challenges.

Healthier alternatives to ghosting

If you need to end a relationship, consider more ethical alternatives:

  • Closure conversation. Meet in person if possible to directly but compassionately explain why it’s over.
  • A breakup text. If uncomfortable meeting, a text or email closure message is better than ghosting.
  • Slow fade. For casual dating, gradually increasing the time between communications can avoid jarring ghosting.
  • Mediated breakup. For a toxic relationship, have a counselor mediate to ensure safe, structured closure.

Ghosting should not be the default way to end relationships. With empathy and mutual respect, there are kinder ways to bring things to a close without emotional abandonment.


Ghosting has become more common, but psychologists widely agree it can have lasting negative mental health consequences. While the ghoster avoids short-term discomfort, the ghostee is left with long-lasting feelings of self-blame, confusion, and loss of trust. Approached mindfully, relationships can be ended with compassion – an essential lesson in our ghosting age.