Have you ever been “ghosted?”
Nope. I don’t mean a visitation from someone from another world. Actually, “ghosted” is just the opposite — it’s when someone acts like you don’t exist any more while they’re still in your world.
A friend sent me an article today on what it is to be ghosted — in this particular article, it was by Christians. It’s when Christians back away from you because you don’t express the same theology that you used to or that they do. They back away, don’t answer your calls, don’t acknowledge you on social media…
Yeah. That’s called Ghosting.
I’m familiar with it from three significant places in my life. The church was one of them.
When I started questioning the theology of “God is awesome, you’re just a worm and everyone needs to believe in Jesus in a certain way in order to avoid hell”, I got a lot of funny looks. I started asking, “What about…”
“…if my kids don’t believe? If they vote a different way or end up gay? I have to spend my time ‘saving’ them instead of loving them? Is that really what God and love are all about??”
Those questions caused some shifting until I came to this conclusion: “God is love, so are we, and I eat bacon.” A lot of people took one, very large, very silent step back.
I felt the absence of their love and presence because my theology had shifted. And because they stepped so far back away from me, they couldn’t see that I was no longer living in fear but was living in peace.
Some friends who were brave enough to say something said, “The peace you feel isn’t real, it’s a deception from the enemy.”
And my life felt like one big Salem witch trial. If I was afraid but believed like they did, I was accepted. I mean, my spirit was dead but at least I was in community. And if I had peace and a more expansive theology than I had before, then, they rejected me. So, all the love I had for others — no strings of heaven and hell attached — wasn’t welcomed in the communities that I wanted to share it with.
Ghosting is a form of rejection.
When my son went through bullying at his private school that we loved dearly, we tried to work it out. We were silent, except for sharing with a few people, out of respect for the process. Some others in the process weren’t so silent and shared their one-sided perspective of what was going on. The people who we called family and friends were now choosing sides based on one side of the situation.
But they did it in a funny way, sometimes in person, but mostly on social media. The “I won’t unfriend you, but I won’t acknowledge you, either” kind of thing.
I would comment on something kind about their kiddo or their life and they’ll acknowledge every single person who commented but me. They got especially online-quiet when I talked about how my son threw up acid for four months because of the stress he went through and how our family was working through the healing process. These parents, who used to complain about the same kids who were bullying and the same administration that was floundering, disappeared right in my midst. Instead of compassion for my kiddo who had been nothing but kind and loving to them– and I, who had been nothing but a friend — we were given silence.
It felt like victim shaming. Like when a girl gets raped and people asked her how she was dressed. It’s crazy. Instead of saying, “Stacey, I’ve heard things on both sides, I know that Caleb went through a lot. I know it wasn’t handled perfectly but I’ve watched your family really try hard to do this challenging thing, well. I’m sorry for what you all went through and how it turned out.” My son was bullied and we all knew it and instead of giving him compassion they got mad at me for saying something.
One of the teachers at the school was watching the craziness. She said to me, “They’re bullying you. Silence is a form of bullying.”
Ghosting is a form of bullying.
And I’ve experienced it with my family. My extended-Italian family could get Masters Degrees in Grudge-Holding if such a thing existed.
There are a lot of unspoken rules in an Italian family and you really don’t know what they are until you’ve broken one. My husband calls it “The invisible line of death.” You cross it, and you’re dead to them.
No more birthday cards.
No more invitations to family weddings.
No more mass cards when one of your loved ones die.
It’s like you don’t even exist.
I remember Erma Bombeck talking about family grudges in the book “The Family Ties that Bind and Gag”:
“Every year we check in with her (my mother) to see whom we’re speaking to and who’s out in the cold. The length of their sentence varied with their crimes.
‘You didn’t answer the phone when I called you when you knew it was me.’ (4 years.)
‘You never paid me back the $3 I put in for you for the flowers for Margaret’s funeral.’ (18 years)
‘When you looked through my photo albums there was a picture of Dad in there, when you left, it was gone.’ (25 years)
‘YOU know!’ (This was the dreaded one that lasted for life).
My family seems to have that. If you say the wrong thing or keep the wrong secret, or tell the right secret (like, Hey! Someone’s in danger, let’s help!) you could be banned.
To be at a family reunion with everyone dressed in black, and have people walk right by you and not even look at you is like being at your own funeral.
Dead but alive.
Living in that kind of dynamic makes you afraid to be you. That being you might be the wrong thing, expressed in the wrong way and in order to stay in the relationship you either end up;
1. Trying really hard to be perfect.
2. Not giving a shit what anyone thinks and drinking a lot of red wine.
3. Walking away to keep your sanity.
Ghosting is a form of punishment.
So, wow. This all sounds so heavy and bad-news-ish and if you’re thinking this has been the totality of my life, it hasn’t — but there are significant lessons hiding in these places for me.
1. People don’t have to live up to your expectations, they have to live out who they are. Let them live.
2. People can change and grow and be in their own process of spirituality and self-expression. Let them grow.
3. People can have conflicts with other people without you taking sides. Let them find their way.
4. People can be different than you and you don’t have to agree with them in order to stay close and love them. Let them be.
So, what I do when this happens. Sometimes I get hurt and lick my wounds but that’s temporary. Sometimes I laugh at our sense of self-importance or that we take what others think of us so seriously.
My more permanent solution is to let these situations teach me and help me to evolve to who I’m here to be.
To stay connected with people, even if I don’t agree with them. To be honest when I’m challenged by something in the relationship. And in the times when I step away, to do it from a place of self-honesty and self-honor and not to reject, bully, or punish someone.
We’ve all done something like this at some point. We just don’t want to make it a way of dealing with relationships — by ghosting someone. instead, let’s notice where we’ve done this or have had it done to us, and let’s be part of healing the relationships by authentically loving someone.
Get Stacey’s new book “An Unconventional Life: Where Messes and Magic Collide” on Amazon now.