Ghosting on the Spiritual Path


In our everyday relationships, human beings can sometimes treat each other really poorly. I'm not talking about physical or emotional abuse or violence, which clearly inflicts great harm to others and accrues large amounts of negative karma. I'm talking about the small ways in which we undermine each other's worth. One of the ways that people harm each other is through silence, such as when you decide not to respond to someone's email, texts or phone calls. The most extreme version of this ghosting, when you use silence not just to ignore someone, but to ignore that person in order to end the relationship altogether. 


Almost everyone uses silence as a form of communication, and many people ghost. If you follow a spiritual path -- which can mean that you believe yourself to be kindhearted or compassionate, or that you are somehow "ascending" to a different dimension of what it means to be human -- but you use silence in your communications or ghost to end relationships, you need to take a closer look at your actions.


Let's look at silence. In today's world we are bombarded with more communication than ever. Email, texting, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter -- there's a constant stream of information coming to you. Much of the communication isn't directed at you personally. You're following others' posts, and you can choose when you want to respond. But if someone sends you a direct message, whether by text, email or phone, it is important to remember that a human being is on the other side of that communication. We tend to forget this sometimes, and while you might take some time to respond, it is deeply disrespectful to simply ignore that email. If your response requires you to make a decision, search for an answer, or needs to be written carefully, or you know that you won't have time to respond, you can always acknowledge that you've received the email and give some time frame for when you will respond. 


Even as we learn to communicate more, we haven't learned to communicate more authentically. We have many more ways to reach another person, yet our ability to communicate in a way that truly expresses ourselves or to learn to express ourselves in the face of fear, anxiety or concern about the response has not improved. If you don't like what the other person is offering, simply say no thanks. Silence is really your way of preserving your own comfort and avoiding the discomfort of having to speak honestly. It's the epitome of being self-centered. Instead, imagine how you would feel if you were the person writing and receiving nothing but silence. It never feels good to be ignored, to not be seen. The message that you're sending is not silence, but that the other person is not worthy enough to merit a response. You're sending the message that the other being deserves to be ignored.


People who claim to walk a spiritual path or tout mindfulness are equally susceptible to silence. Somehow they think that ignoring someone who has spoken to them is consistent with mindfulness or spirituality. It is not. You have simply chosen your own comfort over this other person and rationalized it in a way to ignore the contradiction with your stated beliefs. 


Ghosting is an extreme extension of silence as communication.  It substitutes for the uncomfortable conversation of concluding your relationship with someone.  It's a particularly hurtful way to treat someone who is attempting to forge an intimate relationship with you or with whom you've already developed a relationship. Many people think they're doing it to save someone from discomfort, from the feeling of being rejected. You're not -- you're doing it to avoid your discomfort, not save them from discomfort. That person is still feeling the pain of being dropped, but without any explanation or even really knowing at first that the relationship is over. It's painful and bewildering when people simply disappear from your life, so choosing to ghost and disappear is incredibly egotistical.


There are, of course, situations in which you might need to ignore someone, such as when the person has harassed you or abused you, or where responding will actually lead to vitriol, and you know that it is better for your own good not to respond. These are rare exceptions. Otherwise, when faced with the choice to be silent or ghost, take on your own discomfort. Acknowledge it, and then move through it. The person on the other end deserves to hear from you, even if it is a rejection. That is the way to honor the other person as an equal. 


(I published a version of this some time ago.  It felt ripe for a reprint.)








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