Self-blame, trauma: The horrors of ‘ghosting’

Jaehwa Bernardo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 11 2020 05:15 PM | Updated as of Feb 11 2020 08:02 PM

Self-blame, trauma: The horrors of ‘ghosting’ 1

MANILA -- Around late 2016, “Belle” joined an internet forum built around an online game, looking for people to play with. There, she met a guy whom she quickly formed a romantic connection with and the two entered into a relationship a month after.

Throughout their relationship, “Belle,” a 23-year old from Manila, never met her boyfriend, who was from Cagayan de Oro, in person. She said they only talked via phone and video calls.

Things turned sour in late 2019 as the couple started to fight constantly. After one particular argument, “Belle” reached out to the guy, who has ignored her messages ever since.

“Hindi na siya sumasagot and hindi na niya binabasa [‘yong messages]. Tapos a month or two later, nalaman ko na lang na he made a new Facebook account instead,” said “Belle,” who considered the relationship, which lasted for nearly 3 years, finished even if they had not talked it over.

The term “ghosting” is widely used nowadays to refer to the practice of ending a relationship by suddenly stopping all communication with someone without any apparent warning. Many people relate ghosting to romantic encounters, especially ones formed online mainly through social media and dating apps.

Psychologists, however, said ghosting has been a practice even before social media and dating apps gained popularity. Nonetheless, they warned of the negative effects it may have on the person who is abandoned.

“Nangyayari talaga sa real life ‘yan. Actually noon pa ‘yan, kung ayaw ng isang tao sa kaniyang partner, bigla na lang siya nawawala,” said Lillian Ng Gui, a psychologist specializing in trauma, in an interview with ABS-CBN News.

Ghosting may happen in any kind of relationship, even between friends or parents and their children, she said.


Ghosting is also a “very cruel” form of rejection that may cause harm to one’s emotional and psychological well-being, said Gui, who chairs the counseling division of the Psychological Association of the Philippines.

People who fall victim to ghosting may feel traumatized, develop a low self-esteem, and blame themselves for the relationship’s failure.

“It’s particularly painful because you are left alone, wala kang guidelines. Wala kang alam what to do. You have all these kinds of emotions going on. Nandiyan ‘yong na-abandon ka, self-esteem issues,” said Gui.

“They feel powerless sa situation na ‘yan and unable to find answers, that’s why it hurts so much,” she added.

Why people ghost

Social psychologist Celia Aguila, meanwhile, explained that people choose to ghost because they are unable to express their feelings and want to avoid complicated situations.

“In this case, the person sees withdrawal [of communication] as more eloquent than words. Filipinos tend to be timid about expressing their actual feelings,” she said.

It may also be possible that the ghost wants to feel that they have power in determining the direction of the relationship or that they were never serious in the first place, according to Aguila.

Lack of real communication may also lead to ghosting.

“While there are a lot of verbal exchanges in online communication, both parties overlook the non-verbal cues. The latter cues may show symptoms of potential ghosting. They may not be listening to what is not being said,” said Aguila.

Gui also believed there are signs which may indicate that someone is bound to commit ghosting but partners often overlook these hints.

“Kunyari, may date kayo, may usapang magkikita, biglang hindi siya available or ika-cut short niya,” she explained.

“‘Yong text nila, imbes na dati mahahaba, ngayon, ‘yes,’ ‘okay,’ or ‘thanks’ na lang.”

Belief in destiny, growth

Research also suggested that ghosting may be related to whether one believed that people were meant for each other (destiny beliefs) or that relationships can be developed and improved over time (growth beliefs).

A 2018 study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships found that people with “stronger destiny beliefs, compared to those with weaker destiny beliefs, saw ghosting as a more acceptable way of terminating a relationship.” Those with strong growth beliefs, meanwhile, found ghosting as a less acceptable practice.

Be honest

For Gui, it is better to be upfront about ending a relationship instead of ghosting someone.

“The best way to end the relationship is to give the other person respect by being honest and telling the person face-to-face kung ayaw na ninyo,” she said.

One ought to be honest in explaining why they want to end the relationship, which should be said “in a nice way,” Gui noted, because it may help the other person “have a better relationship in the future.”

For those who are struggling to move on from being ghosted, Gui advised them to avoid reminders of the ghost, find a distraction by engaging in other activities, and accept that they may never get an explanation as to why they were abandoned.

“Leave the ghoster to deal with the ultimate repercussions of their own immaturity and lack of courage,” she said.

It took a while before “Belle” was able to overcome the pain caused by her past relationship. 

“I cried one to two weeks and then every time nakikita ko siya online, I get traumatized. That’s why I disconnected from Facebook for a bit,” she recounted.

With the help of a strong support system and by keeping herself busy with work, “Belle” was able to move on and make peace with the fact that she may never get any explanation from her ex-boyfriend.

“I have everything I need. I’m seeing friends and family. That’s when I realized na, in the midst of the happiness, I don’t really need him talaga. I’m good where I am,” she said.