Ghosting: What happens when you cut off all contact and go dead silent

Sean Penn and Charlize Theron in happier days.

By:Joanne Richard/postmedia/network

One minute she was there, the next minute she was gone…

Charlize Theron reportedly “ghosted” Sean Penn – going dead silent. Think straight to voicemail.

Ghosting someone meants cutting off all contact and totally freezing that person out; the silence is deafening and represents technology at its most powerful.

The message is loud and clear – you are dead to me.

Have you been ghosted? Someone you thought you had a strong connection with stopped responding to call, texts or emails? Total disconnection is growing in popularity – according to an informal Elle magazine survey, 24.2% of women and 16.7% of men have ghosted someone.

“Like Casper the Ghost, one minute you have a relationship with this person and the next minute they have vanished into thin air. Despite attempts to make contact via whatever method, the person never resurfaces,” says Dr. Nzinga Harrison.

The person ends a relationship whether business or personal with absolutely no notice and it’s becoming more and more common, says Harrison,

Dubbed the “ultimate silent treatment” by the New York Times, it also happens in businesses, too, where clients and vendors totally disappear – “the common thread being that the person on the other end of the relationship is left with no information about why the other person left and attempts to find out why go unanswered,” says Harrison.

Just what’s going on? “Ghosting allows us to avoid confrontations yet it causes additional stress and even physical ailments as we worry about what might happen if we encounter the person we are ghosting and also worry on why we are being ghosted,” she adds.

For many, it appears to be the go-to line of attack for avoiding the tough “we need to talk” conversation.

“We have been conditioned to have immediate and constant access to each other. So, when that access suddenly disappears, without warning and without explanation, the void it leaves is glaringly noticeable and likely makes the behaviour that much more injurious,” says Harrison.

Adds Dr. Marcia Sirota: “Today, the other person understands immediately what’s happening when we stop answering their texts, unfriend them from Facebook, delete them from our contacts or unfollow them on Twitter and Instagram. It’s unambiguous.”

Leading sociologist Dr. Pepper Schwartz says it’s ugly. Ghosting is shunning – a way of making a person into a non-person, kicking them out from the group with a unified freeze.

Schwartz says it’s vicious – especially in today’s world with such constant contact that we have become addicted to both access and explanations. “To shun someone, without explanation or negotiation, is a powerful act of hate and disgust and, in most cases, a primitive way of punishing someone,” says Schwartz, author of Snap Strategies for Couples: 40 fast fixes for common couple issues.

It’s an obvious revenge under some circumstances, and perhaps in some cases it has been deserved because of some heinous act, adds Schwartz. “But in general it strikes me at about the middle school level where cliques throw someone out of the friendship circle just because they can.”

Harrison adds that being a victim may result in a range of feelings from temporary, short-lasting anger to long-lasting feelings of inadequacy and questioning what it was about them that “made” the other person ghost them.

Ghosting is painful, but we need to accept it and get on with our lives: “We can’t undo it when we’ve been unfriended and unfollowed,” says Sirota, a psychiatrist, coach and speaker at

Relationship expert Dr. Wendy Walsh adds that ghosting is the only way to have a real break up these days. “In the old days, you broke up with someone, hung out with different friends, licked your wounds and moved on. Today you are forced to bear witness to your ex’s seemingly happier life on social media.

“While I do think at least one phone conversation is in order to finalize the break up, after that research shows that purging an ex on social media helps one recover easier,” says Walsh, of

To avoid being a victim of ghosting, Harrison suggests identifying your closest relationships and be sure they have a robust face to face component, rather than being just heavily technological.