• Leila Ainge

Do you have to let it linger?

The psychology behind ghosting.


Ghosting through social media is a psychological melting pot, and if you’ve ever been ghosted it can upset and frustrate in equal measures. To add a neurological layer, it also hurts, social rejection uses the same brain pathways that process physical pain to give us a similar response.



Exhausting behaviour


We all need our autonomy, it’s one of our basic needs, and the essence of what makes us unique and authentic is having the autonomy to be who we want to be.

Maintaining authenticity and living with our values requires more effort in some situations and relationships than others.




Perhaps this is why it's sometimes the situation not the person that leads to ghosting. The person can become an extension of an exhausting situation.


A basic coping mechanism


Healthy attachments are formed through available and responsive caregivers from an early age, and so into our adulthood the theory extends that we respond in anxiety and avoidance led ways. It’s a big theory, the interaction between people social connections and environments makes our attachments complex. It’s why we might seek proximity to some people whilst avoiding others, and usually we do this as a way to remove ourselves from threat.


That escalated!


How could they do it? The answer is with relative ease, in the short term the ghoster is able to use social media to send relationship ending signals without verbalising. It is the ultimate avoidant exit, but what feels abrupt to one person might be part of a longer more thought out process to another. The staircase model https://www.communicationtheory.org/knapps-relationship-model/ is an alternative way of looking at the way we communicate through escalations and terminations.


The one that got away


The Ziegarnik effect is a phenomenon and bias that helps us remember unfinished business by placing it at the forefront of our mind. In ghosting it shows up as an uncomfortable linger, and because of the unique way in which we are virtually connected on the peripheries of smaller networks in social media, that lingering feeling can be ‘nudged’ or ‘reminded’. Facebook memories is just one example where ‘unfriending’ doesn’t stop you being reminded of the time you and your friend went for that amazing meal, shared stories on IG are another way in which linger moments are created.


Does ghosting happen more on social media?


There's not a huge amount of research on this. Mostly the research centres on dating or recruitment, but some psychologists think that if we have unmet psychological needs we might attend in different ways to social media, and specific personality traits might predict our behaviour on social media. I think this is interesting, however, social media is an extension of the way we interact and form relationships with other humans. We are inherently social, and if we look at only social media behaviour, we think these causes and effects exist only in social media.


Here's a great tongue in cheek video on why according to psychologists we are all addicted to our friends.


The uniqueness of social media to ghosting is that it brings people together with different world views and lived experiences, and pairs them with the technology that promises a clean exit when it’s entire design is one of connection. Want to beat the Zeigarnik effect? A simple reframe may help build in closure to shake off the lingering feeling


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