As if a promising new situationship going AWOL isn’t hard enough to deal with, what about adding a whole extra layer of awful?
That’s the general gist of ghostlighting: a portmanteau of ghosting and gaslighting that combines the very worst aspects of modern dating.
To refresh your memory (if you’ve been lucky enough to avoid these phenomena), ghosting is when someone you’re involved with effectively disappears from your life without explanation. They may stop replying to text messages, ignore calls, or generally find ways to evade communicating with you – all so they can avoid the potential awkwardness of outright ending things.
Gaslighting, meanwhile, is a pernicious tactic employed by abusers, where they lie, deny, or otherwise manipulate the victim in an effort to make them question their own judgement.
Ergo, ghostlighting sees these behaviours amalgamated into one. First, the ghostlighter cuts contact or distances themselves from you, but then – to add insult to injury – reappears or is confronted and claims they never ghosted at all.
The exact methods used will differ from person to person, but Dr Rina Bajaj, counselling psychologist and author of The Magic in Me, says ‘all of the narratives include some element of power and control.’
She tells Metro.co.uk: ‘The ghostlighter might subtly twist or distort events, making the partner question their understanding of reality.
‘Emotional manipulation is another tactic. Ghostlighters are adept at exploiting emotions to gain control. They may use guilt, pity, or flattery to make their partner feel obligated to accept their narrative.’
This can include selectively sharing or withholding information, isolating you from loved ones who might challenge their narrative, lovebombing with over-the-top affection and attention, or playing the victim,
‘Ghostlighters often cast themselves as the victims, using their partner’s empathy and desire to help to gain sympathy,’ adds Dr Rina.
‘In extreme cases, they might even resort to using fear or threats to keep the partner in line and submissive.’
All of this is obviously distressing for the person on the receiving end, as not only are they dealing with the emotional impact of being ghosted, they’re branded ‘crazy’ or told they were the ones at fault for the relationship breakdown.
Love and relationship Heather Garbutt explains: ‘You will doubt yourself. You’ll feel confused. You will feel pulled to care for the other person over yourself. You may even feel guilt or shame for not caring for them better.
‘They are highly skilled at engendering these feelings, so if you are empathetic and somebody who naturally cares for others, you will be more susceptible to these tactics.’
If you’ve been a victim of ghostlighting, you may also be asking who on earth would treat people this way. To most people, the idea of causing such damage is unconscionable, which begs the question: why?
‘It’s important to note that none of these reasons justify such behavior, as it is generally considered disrespectful and emotionally damaging to the other person,’ says Dr Rina.
‘Yet some potential reasons include a fear of confrontation or avoidance of conflict. Ghostlighting allows the person initiating the ghosting to avoid taking responsibility for their actions and the emotional impact they may have on their partner.’
Essentially, they’re waving a giant red flag signalling emotional immaturity and an inability to handle complex emotions.
According to Dr Becky Spelman, counselling psychologist and founder of Private Therapy Clinic, it could also ‘stem from a desire to maintain control or power in the relationship’ or ‘to manipulate the other person’s emotions.’
‘Additionally, some individuals may engage in ghostlighting as a means of testing the other person’s attachment,’ she adds. ‘Or to create a sense of uncertainty that keeps the partner invested.’
Behaviours like these say far more about the culprit than you, so it’s important not to internalise what they’re telling you. Alongside tanking your self-esteem and dulling your shine when it comes to future romance, putting up with their mistreatment plays right into the ghostlighter’s hands.
Recognising their game is the first step to beating them at it, but Dr Becky also recommends the following steps to deal with falling victim to ghostlighting:
‘It’s worth noting that every situation is unique,’ she adds. ‘And seeking professional advice can be beneficial when dealing with complex emotional dynamics.’
Think of it as a bullet dodged or a lesson that you can learn from in future relationships.
When the right person comes along, you won’t have to question yourself or be made to feel like a burden. Plus, you’re now well-equipped to deal with any duds you come across in the meantime.
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