Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


What Ghosting Can Do to Your Emotional Health

Negative effects whether you're the ghoster or the ghostee.

Key points

  • The emotional experience of ghosting is one that researchers are only starting to take seriously in the lab.
  • A new study goes in-depth into the painful emotions felt by both ghoster and ghostee.
  • By understanding its emotional consequences, you can be better prepared to handle future ghosting experiences.

Romantic partners have, since the beginning of time, decided to leave a relationship without any explanation to the person they’ve abandoned. The term “ghosting” is now the popular way to refer to this very common human experience. As universal as the experience might be, however, the rise of social media has raised the possibility of harm from ghosting to new levels.

With technology, you know that you are always potentially connected by invisible electronic forms of communication to the partner who’s left you. The person who decides to end things doesn’t have to traverse miles of countryside to see you in person, as might happen in a Victorian novel, nor are there even the long delays of snail mail to end things with you in a civilized and respectful manner. Instead, they can just cut off those electronic entanglements without a second thought.

The Tales of the Ghoster and Ghostee

This recent development in the history of ghosting, although the subject of considerable focus in the media, has remained relatively unexplored in psychology. Moreover, as pointed out in a new study by St. Mary’s College of Maryland’s Gili Freedman and colleagues (2022), what evidence does exist is based on studies of ghosters rather than “the specific emotional experiences resulting from ghosting” (p. 1). As Freedman and her collaborators point out, although relationships can dissolve in a multitude of ways, there may be something unique to ghosting in its impact on the emotions of the person who is so unceremoniously left behind.

Another point the St. Mary’s led research team makes is that there are times when the former ghostee becomes the ghoster. Think about whether you’ve ever been on the distribution end of the ghosting process. What led you to try to extricate yourself from the relationship without engaging in a mutual process? And how did you feel afterward? Though relieved, might you also have felt guilty and sad? You might also have decided to leave without communicating your desire to end things for a variety of what you believe were justifiable reasons. Is it possible that, having been a ghoster, you are a bit more sympathetic to the person who’s done this to you?

Emotions in the Ghoster and Ghostee

All of this background suggests that there may be a wide range of emotions associated with ghosting. To put these emotions under the microscope, Freedman and her collaborators analyzed the data from an online sample of 92 adults (average age 34 years old) whose ghosting experiences in the past ranged from zero to as long as 56 years ago.

Forty-four participants wrote about being a ghoster, and 36 as the ghostee. Their task was to think about the first time they ghosted someone and the first time they were ghosted and then to write a narrative about this specific occasion, guided by these questions. Ask them to yourself and see what you might come up with, either thinking about when you ghosted or were the target of ghosting:

  • How close were you to the person?
  • Do you currently interact with the person?
  • For the ghoster only: Why did you ghost rather than take a different approach?
  • How close were you to the person?
  • Do you currently interact with the person?
  • For the ghostee only: Describe the situation that you believe led them to ghost you.
  • How did you feel? What emotions did you experience?
  • How long did the other person (or you) take to realize that ghosting had occurred?

If you tried answering these questions, you can see that just thinking back on the experience could trigger a range of possible feelings and memories. In coding the narratives, the research team identified the emotions of happiness, relief, apathy, guilt, and hurt. Additionally, participants rated themselves on these emotion items: frustrated, proud, guilty, uncomfortable, lonely, happy, sad, and angry.

The findings showed that ghosters did not exactly get off the hook emotionally when it came to their method of ending the relationship. Both ghosters and ghostees showed evidence of strong negative emotions. However, as you might expect, ghosters were more likely to feel guilty, although they did report feelings of relief. The ghostees were more likely to report feelings of sadness and being hurt.

One interesting result emerged with respect to the emotion of frustration. There was no difference in the presence of this emotion between ghosters and ghostees. As the authors concluded, “Ghosting may be a frustrating process for both ghosters and ghostees: ghosters may choose ghosting because ghostees have not ‘taken a hint,’ and ghostees may feel frustrated by lack of closure."

The narratives also provided the research team with insight into why ghosting happens in the first place. Here, as might be expected, given the availability of social media, it appeared that technology indeed played an important role. Dating apps, websites, and text messaging mean that ghosting's impact on the person left behind becomes even more painful when you know how easy it would be for the ghoster to end things in an honorable manner.

Protecting Yourself From the Harm of Ghosting

All in all, ghosters reported a range of negative emotions which, the authors note, came back to the surface when they were prompted to write about their experiences. However, it was the ghostees who took the brunt in terms of feeling hurt and even ostracized, feelings that persisted for years later.

One of the findings to emerge from the Freedman et al. study was that one of the hardest consequences of being ghosted was a sense of loss of control and threats to self-esteem. This means that, if you are a ghostee, it might be helpful to recognize that the person who ghosts you may not have forgotten who you are but continues to experience a certain level of guilt. You might be able to redeem your sense of autonomy if you are able to shore up your sense of worth by focusing on your personal strengths rather than the weakness that the experience may have aroused in you.

To sum up, the ending of a relationship, however, it occurs, represents a change in your life circumstances that can trigger a range of negative emotions. Getting in touch with those emotions and then finding a way to move forward can help set you back on your path toward fulfillment.

Facebook/LinkedIn image: fizkes/Shutterstock


Freedman, G., Powell, D. N., Le, B., & Williams, K. D. (2022). Emotional experiences of ghosting. The Journal of Social Psychology.

More from Susan Krauss Whitbourne PhD, ABPP
More from Psychology Today