“Ghosting” occurs when a person unexpectedly and completely severs all contact with another person. To explain how devastating this is to a person’s psyche, let’s begin with marriage therapist and researcher John Gottman’s findings. Dr. Gottman has observed four toxic methods of communication: criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. Some of us may not have been taught the necessary communication tools to work through conflict in a healthy manner. We may also view friendships as expendable, finding it easier to run away than to work through conflict. The last toxic method, stonewalling, is a way of fleeing while still being physically present.
Stonewalling appears as stoic silence and complete mental disengagement from someone else. However, when Gottman would hook couples up to equipment that measured their physiological responses, he discovered that while the person who stonewalled may have looked outwardly unaffected, internally her stress levels were through the roof. In addition, the stress level of the person’s spouse is just as intense because through the silence, the spouse receives this message: “You are nothing to me. You are not even worth speaking to.” Ghosting is a low-commitment form of stonewalling, full of stress and anxiety and taking the easier way out. The one who is ghosted is left wounded and scarred.
Proverbs 18:24 gives a juxtaposition of friendship types. The first part of the proverb paints a picture of a person with many friends. The second part, however, concludes that there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother and draws the principle that one loyal friend is better than many fickle ones. Deep relationships, including friendships, take courage to communicate and stay present. A true friend isn’t there for only triumphs and celebrations, but is committed to staying present even during times of conflict. People who keep their friends at arms-length run the risk of having shallow friendships. When their facade is broken, they may be tempted to flee. True friends resist the temptation to disappear when difficulties, vulnerabilities or hardships occur.
It is painful to experience the disappearance of friend. For those of us who have had a friend ghost us, may we see through eyes of compassion and acknowledge that our friend may have some areas of healing she needs to work through in order to have the courage to confront conflict and build healthy communication patterns. For those of us who may be the ones who have a pattern of ghosting friendships, may we ask God to renew our minds and humbly see what areas we may be afraid to confront within ourselves. Jesus promised that he would never leave or forsake us. It’s a promise we can lean into if our hearts are broken by a friend who suddenly disappears. If we are that ghosting friend, Jesus’ presence is a reminder that love stays present.
According to Dr. Gottman, the antidote to stonewalling is physiological self-soothing, or the ability to calm our bodies down during times of stress. Turn to Scripture and listen to how God speaks to you regarding peace, stillness, and his presence.