In Defence of ‘Ghosting’ for Your Mental Health and Safety

“Ghosting” is the act of abruptly cutting off all contact with another person without warning, of disappearing from their life without explanation and without a trace. It has been characterized as a cruel and cowardly practice that has a devastating impact on the “ghostee,” but I would counter that in some cases, ghosting is the only way to distance yourself from a toxic and unhealthy relationship and the only way to safeguard your mental health when no alternative presents itself.

Ghosting Has An Image Problem

The term “ghosting” was coined in the early 2000s but became a cultural phenomenon in the mid-2010s thanks to a surge in the use of social media, and specifically dating apps. These apps made it easier than ever to end a relationship by giving users the option to “block” other users, effectively giving serial daters carte blanche to dine and dash on relationships without having to deal with the emotional fallout.

From this point of view, ghosting is at best cowardly and at worst abusive. But I believe herein lies the problem: most, if not all, literature on ghosting is written from the perspective of the ghostee. Very little space has been dedicated to the position of the ghoster him/herself. As someone who has ghosted another person, I can say with confidence that ghosting is not always a matter of showing casual disregard for other people’s feelings: sometimes it’s the only thing you can do to escape a toxic relationship with your mental health intact.

Ghosting Is Often the Only Option

Last year, someone with whom I had once briefly worked added me on social media. I accepted the friend request and politely responded to the private message that accompanied it, and we engaged in a quick, friendly chat about what we had both been doing over the years since we last spoke. There was nothing profound about the conversation, and I thought nothing more of it until the next morning when I saw that I had received another message from this person– this one containing intimate details of their recent personal struggles and claiming that I (a relative stranger) was the only person they felt they could talk to.

I responded with what I thought was appropriate advice and reassurance, but over the subsequent days and weeks, the messages, calls, photos, and videos became relentless. I tried to respond to them as I was genuinely concerned for this person’s wellbeing, but as a pregnant mother with a busy life, some messages inevitably passed me by, and when this happened, I was bombarded with even more calls and texts, often in the middle of the night or first thing in the morning. After three weeks, I was exhausted, scared to pick up my phone or check my social media accounts lest this person saw that I had been online and try to contact me for the 30th time that day. My husband could see how this relationship — seemingly born out of nowhere — was affecting my mental health and urged me to cut off all contact.

I was reluctant. I couldn’t do such a thing. Then one night, my phone vibrated itself off the bedside table when I was trying to settle my toddler back to sleep after she had been woken by another call from this person, and I decided that enough was enough. My finger hovered guiltily over the “block” button. Then I tapped it. And I’ve never looked back.

Ghosting and Self-Preservation

This is a very brief account of the reasons for my decision to ghost somebody. It was not a decision taken lightly and not one I would readily choose to make again. However, I would not hesitate to do it again if I felt that a relationship was having a negative impact on my family or my mental health. It’s one thing to be there for someone; it’s quite another thing to sacrifice your personal wellbeing and safety for their comfort. In the latter case, ghosting is not the coward’s trick; it’s the survivor’s only option.

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