If ghosting itself ain’t nothing new, being ghosted by a friend might feel like a world of hurt you didn’t even know was possible. Because surely, if not getting a text back from your Tinder date is in bad taste, but common – being ghosted by a friend who is supposed to love you can feel like someone pulled the rug from under you.
What is ‘Ghosting’?
Ghosting is the custom of ending a relationship without explicitly letting the other person know. It’s usually done suddenly, and will offer no explanation or closure. Think of it an Irish Goodbye, but for relationships.
The Expectations Of Friendships
There are many similarities between friendships and romantic relationships: love, affection, shared interests, similar sense of humor etc – but one of the chief ‘negative’ ones is that, in both, we try avoiding conflict at all cost. The reason for that is that most people simply don’t have good techniques or strategies to deal with conflict (something I often teach my clients) and so they just don’t air it out. They fear disapproval, criticism, rejection, or they simply don’t have the words or state of mind to have challenging conversations.
Friendships are also different to romantic relationships because there usually aren’t clear beginnings and ends. We expect our friendships to be plentiful and long-lasting, and we aren’t generally taught how to ‘break up’ with a friend. But like everything in life, so too do friendships come to an end for an array of different reasons. But, unlike romantic breakups, the end of friendship can sometimes be a slow fizzle: missed calls that don’t get returned, plans to meet up that don’t come to fruition, a slowing down of communication.
Losing A Friend Hurts… But Why?
I have written before about the impact our social circle has on us, and conversely how harmful it is to live a solitary life. Feeling lonely or isolated is said to be as bad for our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Our friendships have a huge impact on our lives: they shape and nurture us, and make life richer and more meaningful.
So on a purely scientific level, being ghosted by a friend can result in some pretty painful oxytocin withdrawals. Oxytocin is the chemical that helps us bond with others, and we produce it when we love someone – even just platonically.
On a more social level, being ghosted by a friend speaks to our sense of self and our standing in society, and it might make us feel unlovable or unworthy. A study published by the American Journal of Psychology in 2019 found that ‘positive social relationships, social support and social acceptance help shape the development of self-esteem in people over time across ages 4 to 76′
And being ghosted by a friend is also a really peculiar experience, because – whilst we obviously experience a loss, it’s not structurally as permanent as death, or as definitive as a break up. So our grief is frozen because we don’t have any closure, and the door is still technically open.
Five Steps To Feeling Better
Though it’s true that time is a healer – and it will work here too – there are active steps you can take to start the healing process, and eventually feel better.
Step 1. Sit With Your Emotions
I hope it comes to no surprise that the first thing you should do for yourself is to acknowledge what has happened. You can try something constructive by asking questions like:
- What was my relationship to X?
- I cherished it because …
- I had trouble with it because …
- My opinion of X is …
- The way I feel about X after this incident is …
- The way I feel about myself after this incident is ….
- The way I feel about people/ friendship/ the world after this incident is …
- If X reappeared in my life, I would…
Whatever feeling you might be experiencing after being ghosted is valid. Use the Wheel of Emotions below to help you pinpoint what you feel.
Step 2. It’s Not Personal
Sure, this happened to you. But it’s not about you, and it’s not done against you. An action will always belong to the person carrying it out. That is to say: even though you have been ghosted, they did the ghosting, and in their world, this action makes sense. Read this again. There is an important NLP presupposition, which states that ‘everyone does the best they can with what they have’, and it’s also true when you get ghosted by a friend. If you really want to oversimplify the narrative, you could say that they were no longer interested in a friendship with you, and they went about it by ghosting you. It’s a tough pill to swallow and it could be dressed in many sauces (‘maybe they couldn’t be friends with me because of their jealous ex’) but the essence will remain.
Step 3. Take A Long, Hard Look From Both Sides
Ghosting is never nice, and I personally don’t think it’s ever the right response. But since it happened, what better time to objectively analyse your behaviour, and also see the situation from their side? If you were the one ghosted by a friend, it might feel natural to want to protect your wounded pride and yell into the wind ‘it’s all their fault, I did nothing wrong!’. But are there ways in which you perhaps could have acted differently? Done more or less of a certain thing? Are you in different stages of life? Have you been asking for a kind of friendship that they couldn’t give at this time?
By the way, this is not to say you did, in fact, do anything wrong. And it’s also in no way indicating that you are somehow ‘too much’ or ‘not enough’. This is just the chance for you to think upon where you both are in your lives, what you both wanted, what you both had at your disposal to give.
And what about them? Again, this is not a way to excuse their behaviour, but simply an exercise in empathy and a different viewpoint.
Step 4. Audit Your Friendships, And Focus On Who Shows Up
Aristotle had a brilliant view of friendship, arguing there are three main kinds of friends: friends for Utility, the ones you call when you need something; friends for Pleasure, the ones you call when you need a good time; and friends for Virtue, the ones who you can share deep, important moments with – usually ‘good’ friends. A ‘good’ friend who doesn’t want your friendship is not the friend you need. The friend you need is the one who shows up when it’s time to show up, and give space when it’s time to give space.
Who shows up for you just for Utility? Who for Pleasure and who for Virtue? See who is there for the long run, and focus your love and attention on those who deserve it.
Step 5. Accept, Forgive And Move On.
Acceptance is one of the greatest skills we as humans can work on. It is cathartic. It is brave. If you want to heal after being ghosted by a friend, it is fundamental that you accept that they were not interested in your friendship. It is also fundamental, and absolutely freeing, to accept that you may simply never know why you have been ghosted. Some positive affirmation to underscore this truth can be:
- I accept I am not a priority for this person, and that is perfectly OK.
- I accept this friendship has ended, and it does not mean I am unworthy of other friendships
- I accept this friendship has ended, but it does not devalue the love we did share.
- I may never know why I have been ghosted, but I accept that people make the best choices they can for their own lives.
The act of forgiveness is for your wellness, happiness and peace of mind – not theirs. Forgiving is about acknowledging what happened, and actively deciding it is not going to affect your life negatively. A study published by Witvliet and co highlighted that forgiveness “may free the wounded person from a prison of hurt and vengeful emotion, yielding both emotional and physical benefits, including reduced stress, less negative emotion, fewer cardiovascular problems, and improved immune system performance”.
And forgiving is not a two-for-one with forgetting. Moving on from hurt and disappointment doesn’t mean that it’s suddenly erased from memory; that would be a terrible evolutional tool. It simply means that we actively choose to not take things personally, understand that they acted with the tools they had, and go about our day peacefully.
Lastly, moving on. You don’t have a say on how others act, but you do have a say on how you act. This is your chance to walk away with grace and class, and to be respectful of their space and decision.