Ghosting and online dating: Some perspectives and self-care tips

The Oxford Dictionary defines ghosting as “the practice of ending a personal relationship with someone, by suddenly and without explanation, withdrawing all communication”. Being ghosted is probably one of the most painful experiences to ever happen to anyone.


The abrupt and unanticipated nature of ghosting is often experienced as a form of emotional violence; it hurts. The ghosted person is left with a lot of unanswered questions, and the whole experience can be wounding, leaving one completely terrified of ever dating again.

There is typically a lot of emotional investment from the person who is ghosted, or at times both, and things seem to be going well. It all suddenly ends, with no warning. The person one was emotionally getting closer and closer to, evaporates into thin air. Most people who have been ghosted, report being blocked on all social media platforms, phones, WhatsApp, and any other apps that would give them access to the person who ghosted them. This can all be incredibly confusing, disorientating, and truly maddening. 

Ghosting has become such a common phenomenon, and the hashtag “ghosting” trends on many social media platforms (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, TikTok), where people share their stories of being ghosted. It seems there is a collective healing for victims of ghosting in sharing these stories and validating each other. Curiously, it appears, that it’s only the victims of ghosting who discuss their experiences, and never the ghosting perpetrators. This stimulates a lot of questions about why, and the inner workings of the person who ghosts others. 

The new paradigm of internet/online dating has translated into a plethora of dating platforms and apps. This has certainly changed the dating approach from its conventional, and traditional ways. Dating platforms and Apps such as Tinder, EHarmoney, OKCupid, Hinge, Bumble, Match, Zoosk, etc. have millions of subscribers worldwide. GQ Magazine stated that in 2022, there were 5 million UK subscribers on E-Harmony, 3 million on, 4 million on OKCupid; the numbers of people on all the other platforms are staggering.

Before the rise and popularity of online dating, people would meet in pubs, bars, at parties, at work, at times randomly, or get introduced by family or friends. It was natural for people to know each other first, before dating, and relationships would develop organically. The pandemic with all the subsequent lockdowns disrupted people’s lives in such a profound way. People were locked up in their homes, and there were no longer opportunities to meet in more natural ways, as they used to. This also transformed into an increase in online dating, which is now the most common way of meeting potential partners. 

Exploring the embodiment of the self in techno culture, Lemma (2015) views the nature of online dating as one that creates a short-circuiting of the work of desire, where there is instant gratification, and things happen in the moment. By simply logging onto the platform, one has access to thousands of profiles and potential dates. This affects how we relate to others intimately and challenges how intimacy is experienced on and offline. These virtual relationships can be very intense and surreal, as there is an illusory and seductive sense of safety.

The impersonal nature of it, and the screen acting as a barrier, can make someone who is ordinarily shy, lose their inhibitions, and feel empowered and confident to approach or interact with others on the online platforms. Lemma (2015) suggests that “The technological environment of cyberspace can thus confuse the boundaries between internal and external worlds, creating the illusion that internal and external reality are isomorphic” (p.7). We therefore need to revisit intimacy, and how it is experienced in the context of online dating.

Psychoanalytic perspectives of ghosting

The paradox is that while the person who has been ghosted is left with a whole range of emotions - inadequacy, insecurity, shame, guilt, sadness, anger, vulnerable and confusion - these feelings seem to mirror what the person who ghosts may be feeling subjectively. There is a projective identification (Klein, 1946), a phenomenon where intolerable feelings in the person who ghosts are projected into the other person, and the recipient reacts to it as if it’s their own.

Klein (1946) considered projective identification as one of the most primitive forms of communication, during the earliest stages of life (paranoid schizoid position), where the baby mitigates the death instinct by mobilising these projective defence mechanisms. With projective identification the projections are “into” the mother’s breast, at times the good is projected for safekeeping (Klein, 1946). The person who ghosts simply projects their feelings “into” the victim, leaving the recipient to grapple with these feelings- shame, guilt, inadequacy, sadness, anger, confusion and vulnerability. The reason why the person ghosts is because they are unable to take back these projections, own them, and make sense of them.

People who ghost, yearn to have connections with others; that’s why they attempt to engage. However, they are fearful of emotional intimacy and will do everything they can to keep a distance, even if it means pushing people away and hurting them. They do this as a way of protecting themselves, as intimacy is seen as threatening. The sad part about it is that there is a part of them that genuinely wants to connect with others, but the act of connecting becomes unbearably threatening.

Glasser (1979) hypothesises with way of relating as a “core complex” where a double bind is created due to the fear of engulfment, leading to one keeping a distance. This distance then stimulates feelings of abandonment, which creates a double bind where one oscillates. The 'ghoster' will pivot between these two positions - wanting to connect and shutting down any form of emotional intimacy. Glasser (1979) views this as an infant’s form of self-preservation, which is very much led by anger and sadistic feelings. Self-preservation is indeed the underlying reason for ghosting.

An attachment perspective of ghosting - avoidant attachment

People who ghost are likely to have avoidant attachment styles. Avoidant attachment is one of the three insecure attachment styles coined by John Bowlby (1969). Bowlby worked with Mary Ainsworth et al, (1970; 1978) to carry out infant observations, investigating how infants’ responded to separation from their caregivers, their level of distress, their response to strangers, and their response to being reunited with the parent.

Through this empirical work, they formulated that from as young as one year old, an infant has already begun to create these internal working models (attachment styles), and this can be discerned by observing how the infant interacts with the environment and behave around strangers.

Bowlby (1969) suggests that securely attached children who had received sensitive care in the first year of life would typically seek proximity with their caregiver, and show contact maintaining behaviours when reunited with their carer on their return. The children who did not have sensitive care in their first year of life were highly defended and showed avoidance ‘flight’ or resistance (fight) in reunion with their parents.

These observations would allow the classification of whether children are securely or insecurely attached and helped in deducing the child’s emotional development (Ainsworth; 1978). The psychological health of an individual and relationship patterns are postulated to be directly affected by the quality of the relationship between the baby and the primary caregiver, and the attachment pattern built during these formative years. These attachment styles are internalised, and they get reactivated in adult relationships and cause psychological ill-health if there is a disruption (Bowlby, 1969).

Bowlby (1969) identified four different types of attachment patterns which are:

  1. Secure attachment, which is the healthy attachment style where the baby is able to play independently away from the mother and run back to a secure base when it needs to and know that mother will be waiting in reverence.
  2. Avoidant (insecure) attachment where the baby is unsure whether they are secure or not, mainly because they get ‘mixed messages’ from their caregiver.
  3. Preoccupied/ambivalent (insecure).
  4. Disorganised is when the baby is completely unable to relate as they have not been able to experience a secure base where they can run back to.

In these dynamics, the role of the parent as a reliable, trustworthy, consistent, and solid caregiver is vital. Fundamentally, Bowlby viewed human connections (attachments) as key to our being and as an evolutionary component. 

Although established in childhood, attachment styles shape how we interact with others, respond to loss, distress, seek help in life and behave. In romantic relationships our attachment styles which are these internal workings models are illuminated in such a profound way. Following Bowlby's (1969) formulation of the anxious-avoidant attachment style, anxiously attached adults are people who are likely to have had mixed messages from their caregivers. They could not depend on them, they had to care for themselves by keeping a distance, in order to feel safe.

Avoidant people tend to repeat the same pattern in romantic relationships-making bids for closeness and pulling away. If one had a secure attachment with their caregiver/parent, in childhood, they are likely to approach adult romantic relationships from a place of confidence, autonomy and maturity.

If one had an insecure-avoidant attachment, they are likely to play out the internalised way of relating, where they are in a double bind of seeking closeness and distancing-ghosting. From an attachment perspective, caregivers of the avoidant child would have not provided them with enough safety and security and they could not rely on the parent to meet their basic needs. In adulthood the romantic context provoked feelings of dependency which are abated by ghosting. 

Self-care tips after being ghosted

As a therapist, I have worked with people on both camps, and l am taken aback by how vulnerable the person who ghosts equally feels. People who ghost others may present as confident, mature, and secure, yet underneath they feel very insecure, and fearful of intimacy. Ghosting is their way of regaining control in a situation where they are feeling less and less in control. Understanding this is likely to help you distance yourself from viewing the ghosting as something that you caused or that is about your own inadequacy.

If you have been ghosted it is important that you reflect on your experience with that person and your role. Do not always see yourself as the victim; someone who is unlovable or inadequate. It may not be your fault, as you were simply dealing with someone who has an avoidant attachment style.

If you are someone who tends to ghost when dating partners, you may need to reflect on yourself and seek therapy. The good thing is that insecure attachment styles can be repaired, and one can develop a more secure attachment by having partners who are consistent, reliable, and dependable and make us feel safe and secure. 

If you have been ghosted, self-care is a significant part of your recovery from it. Be kind and gentle with yourself. Journal about it if you can, engage with hobbies, sleep well and eat well. Try to do things that distract you and divert your attention from thinking about the ghosting experience. Eat well, exercise, and spend time in nature. This will help you heal more swiftly.

Avoid getting into a habit of snooping online and trying to find what the other person is doing. Some people may feel so hurt that they want to seek revenge. They may create ghost profiles to check on the other person’s social media, etc. This will not help you in the short term and long term. It is likely as it is likely to cause you more anguish and it's easy to start ruminating about the whole experience.

Ghosting can be very traumatic. Seek therapy if you are finding it hard to overcome the trauma of being ghosted as it may have provoked other childhood wounds around loss, abandonment, and rejection. 


Ainsworth, M.D.S., Blehar, M.C., Waters, E, and Wall, S. (1978). Patterns of Attachment: A Psychological Study of the Strange Situation. Oxford, UK

Bowlby, J. (1969). Attachment and Loss, Vol. 1: Attachment. Attachment and Loss. New York: Basic Books.

Glasser, M. (1979) Some aspects of the role of aggression in perversions. In Rosen, I. (ed) Sexual Deviations, (2nd Editions) Oxford: Oxford University Press

Klein, M. (1946). Notes on Some Schizoid Mechanisms. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 27, 99-110.

Lemma, (2013) Psychoanalysis in times of technoculture: Some reflections on the fate of the body in virtual space. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, Vol 96 (3): 569-82.

GQ Magazine
Accessed, 03/04/2023

Oxford Dictionary
Accessed, 03/04/2023

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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London SE1 & Milton Keynes MK15
Written by Dr Joyline Gozho, Adult Psychotherapist (Individual & Couples) UKCP, NCPS
London SE1 & Milton Keynes MK15

Dr Joyline Gozho is an Adult Psychotherapist and a Relationship Therapist. She works with individuals and couples, and she also runs relationship enrichment workshops. Her desire to train to become a couples therapist stems from many years experience of her working with clients individually, who had experienced a lot of childhood trauma.

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