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Ghosting -- the modern day attempt at avoidance

Posted Monday, August 22, 2016, at 4:23 PM

"Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen." -- Brené Brown

Have you ever had somebody in your life -- a friend, love interest, or even family member -- abruptly stop communication with you? No more phone calls, no more texts, and maybe they've even blocked or deleted you on social media. If you have experienced this, you may have fallen victim to a new fad colloquially known as "ghosting."

Ghosting, while sounding like something involving the paranormal, is all too real and becoming more and more common in today's society. It is a method of avoidance most frequently born from anxiety. As a sufferer of an anxiety disorder myself, I can understand the desire to avoid conflict. However, even I find it hard to justify this behavior.

The act of ghosting usually entails one individual in a relationship, friendship, etc., severing all ties to the other individual involved in said relationship. Phone calls go unanswered, texts go without reply -- you begin to panic. Did I do something wrong? Was it something I said? You check your social media accounts -- shock follows as you blankly stare at your electronic device. Unfriended, or worse -- blocked.

In a lot of cases, the "ghoster" thinks they are doing both parties a service by removing the possibility of a confrontation or tough conversation. In reality, they have left the "ghostee" feeling inadequate and confused. The fear of conflict ultimately just creates more anxiety. When you know you have to address a tough situation, it is natural for fear to build up. This is when the "fight or flight" mentality kicks in. Ghosting is when you choose the "flight" option.

I want to be very clear, though -- when it comes to escaping abusive relationships, ceasing all forms of communication is 100 percent justified and shouldn't be met with criticism. Ghosting is different from this scenario in that there are no apparent signs or explanation as to the "why" the lack of communication is occurring.

Ghosting isn't necessarily a new concept, but rather a new name for an old habit of avoidance. Several decades ago, a person could ignore you simply by not picking up their landline phone or answering their door. Now, we have to go through multiple online and mobile avenues to find out whether we've been rejected. Ghosting is just more prevalent these days. Why? I believe this question leads us to an interesting commentary on today's society.

Why are people more apt these days to disconnect from one another as a means to end a relationship as opposed to having face-to-face conversations? Is it due to an uptick in anxiety and mental health disorders? According to Jean M. Twenge, Ph.D., of Psychology Today, "Studies conclude that anxiety and depression are markedly higher [today] than they were in earlier eras." I can't definitively come to that conclusion, but it is an interesting thought. Has anxiety driven us to shut out compassion and empathy as a method of avoiding fear?

Or, perhaps, in a society built on consumption we have become accustomed to disposing of things without care. This would mean we've started objectifying one another to the point where all emotion has been removed from a decision of whether to keep somebody in our life. It's easy to dispose of a thing, an object -- it shouldn't be the same for a fellow human being.

Stepping back and looking at the issue, I find it hard to decide on any single culprit as the driving force behind ghosting. It could be the void of compassion; a heightened sense of entitlement; an intense fear of conflict; an unknown private issue in the "ghoster's" life; or the inability to put into words why you feel a relationship must end. It could also be absolutely none of these things. The only thing I've been able to ascertain from the ghosting phenomenon is that we all generally know it's the wrong thing to do -- the rejectors and rejected alike.

In the case of fear being the culprit, what are some steps we can take moving forward to better deal with that fear? We could start by using a cognitive behavioral tool called, "exposure." Exposure is when we practice whatever it is that we fear within a safe space. By practicing the feared situation in real life, we can help lessen the anxiety associated with it. Having trouble finding the courage to tell somebody you would rather continue on without them in your life? Practice having that tough conversation with a trusted person. Remember -- practice makes perfect.

As I said previously, this does not apply to those escaping an abusive relationship. By doing the above, you could be putting yourself in a situation that leads to more abuse.

I recommend the "exposure" technique because it is something that I personally do in my own life while dealing with my anxiety disorder. I will practice conversations in preparation, even thinking out any possible responses the person may have and how I will respond accordingly. I have found that it helps me tremendously, but -- of course -- each person is different and some other method may be more beneficial to somebody else.

Being honest and forthcoming is scary for a reason -- we are often left feeling incredibly guilty and remorseful for the other person who may be experiencing some very real and tough emotions. It's natural to feel empathy and compassion for another human being, as well as to feel uncomfortable in that moment. There may be hurt feelings and resentment initially, but I believe that a person will ultimately respect being treated with dignity rather than being humiliated with an abrupt disappearing act.

Dr. Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, (whom you'll find I love to quote frequently because of her insight) says it best with, "The willingness to show up changes us. It makes us a little braver each time."

Showing up isn't half the battle -- it's MOST of the battle.

All Of The Above is a column by Lifestyles Editor Sarah Haney. A wide range of topics are covered in the column and primarily deal with lifestyles or society subject matters.

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