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Tips from an ADHD Coach: Ghosting

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ADHD can make communication feel overwhelming sometimes. This can lead to ghosting a conversation or event altogether. Ghosting is when we disappear without an explanation — while messaging, in person, and more. 

ADHD coach Jaye Lin reacts to a quote on ghosting from Allison’s ADHD Aha! podcast episode. Tune in to learn why ghosting might happen, and some tips that can help.

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Episode transcript

Jaye: Is this something you do? Leaving a party without saying bye or leaving a text on read? Does it make you feel guilty? Has it happened to you? 

This is "Tips from an ADHD Coach," and I'm Jaye Lin, a certified ADHD coach. Today we're talking about ghosting. Ghosting is when we disappear, either physically or from communication, without an explanation. We're going to hear from Allison, who was on our sister show on the Understood Podcast Network, "ADHD Aha!" about a time that she ghosted someone. 

Allison: The worst case of my ghosting was an old coworker who had messaged me, and she was saying that her boyfriend, they were hiring at his company and that I should get in touch with him if I was interested in like, switching jobs. And the feeling that I got from just her text message — I hadn't even looked at her boyfriend's message yet — it was just like, so overwhelming of like, "I don't even know what to say. I'm so anxious. I need to think about, like, how am I feeling with work right now." 

And I don't even know that I messaged her back that day. I was just so overwhelmed with this idea of responding to her that I think I took a week and a half to respond. And once I did, I don't think she ever responded because it was kind of like crappy of me. I might have damaged that relationship, to be honest, just because the feelings were too much for me in that moment. 

Jaye: I can really hear the stress and the anxiety and the emotional response Allison had. It wasn't something easy for her to do and there were repercussions for doing this that affected her and her friend and their friendship. So, that's really tough. 

Allison described how this text from her friend kicked off an anxiety response which can be fight, flight, freeze, or fawn. The overwhelm she experiences is an example of the freeze response, which then led to flight or avoiding the topic at hand. 

Having executive dysfunction can lead many of us to have greater difficulty changing topics or adapting to changes. She was messaged about a job opportunity before she considered changing jobs or even checking in with herself about how she feels about her current role. So, she was expecting a social conversation and was hit with this serious career-based tax that she wasn't prepared for. 

She went from not looking for other work opportunities to looking for one, and she went from not considering how she feels about her current job to considering it. That is a lot of unexpected pivoting that she had to do after getting one text from her friend. 

On top of that, there can be a fear of the unknown, something that comes up constantly in my sessions with clients. When so much of what we do is led by interest and excitement, taking a closer look at how we feel about something like a job or relationship can have a negative effect on our lives. 

Losing excitement about our job can make it harder to show up and get things done. For those of us who have experienced a nosedive in productivity when we lose interest, it's common to develop a fear of seeing something with a critical eye. 

What if she takes a long look at her current role and decides she does want to go for another role? Would that change how she feels about the work she's currently doing? What if she gets excited about leaving her current role then doesn't land the role that her friend's boyfriend is hiring for? How would she feel about her current job after that? What if she talks to her friend's boyfriend and she finds out she isn't qualified for the role he's hiring for? What would that do to how she feels about herself? 

While I can't know if any of these were thoughts that Allison experienced. These are really common what-ifs that my clients have expressed in their sessions, and ones I've struggled with as well. All of this goes to show how complex the situation is for Allison. 

On the surface, it might be a pretty simple, casual text to receive, but there's a lot going on behind the curtain. The ghosting she did by not responding to her friend happened because she wasn't sure how to answer in the moment. There was a lot to think about, and also thinking about it was hard to do. It can feel more comfortable to put decision-making off when we are in states of high anxiety and overwhelm. 

To make things even harder, many of us ADHD folk feel a greater resistance to doing something once it's demanded of us. When someone tells us we have to take out the trash, it can suddenly become much harder for us to do it. When we put pressure on ourselves to start a project, it can be harder to do than something we casually decide to start working on. 

And while this resistance is something many people with ADHD face, extremely high societal expectations for women can amplify both the pressure to follow through and the shame that comes from not being able to do it. If society depicts women as being superheroes who are able to do it all and get things done, how do we feel about ourselves as ADHD women when we can't get ourselves to do something important?

For Allison, there was pressure for her to respond to her friend with how she feels about a job opportunity. Someone is giving her a chance and she has to say something. But as time goes on, does the pressure to respond go down or does it become more and more intense? Likely the pressure to respond increases the longer we wait to respond, and the anxiety about making a decision can also increase with it. This pressure and anxiety can make it harder to think about how she feels about her job in a calm and productive way. 

So, she can start with putting off decision-making because she has to think about it first. But with pressure to make a decision and respond quickly. Having to look at all of the many pieces of the situation all at once can be hard. And over time, it can get harder and harder. 

So, what can we do in moments like these? Well, we can relieve the initial pressure by communicating how we're feeling. In the moment, Allison describes her feelings of overwhelm about the situation. She says, quote, "I don't even know what to say. I'm so anxious. I need time to think about, like, how I'm dealing with work right now." End quote. That's how she was feeling. And it is a completely acceptable thing to communicate to her friend. 

There can be shame about being anxious and overwhelmed, especially when, as women, we feel pressure to show the world a perfect and unemotional version of ourselves. We can think it's not an OK reaction to be taken by surprise and feel overwhelmed, but it totally is. 

In the past few years, I've intentionally put more effort into communicating how I'm feeling to the people around me. What I've learned is that the people in my circle are much more accommodating and understanding than I thought they would be. In fact, communicating when I'm feeling overwhelmed, anxious, nervous, or any other negative feelings I have to the people around me, have led to a lot of amazing outcomes. 

This very commonly leads to responses from others that take even more pressure off, which they wouldn't have the opportunity to help with if they were unaware of how I was feeling. What would have happened if Allison texted her friend back, telling her how she was feeling, that she was caught off guard and needs time to think about how she even feels about her current job? 

I can't say for sure, but I wouldn't be surprised if her friend responded with something along the lines of "He can send you the details later and then you can decide later if you're even interested." Without knowing what's going on with Allison, her friend doesn't have the opportunity to support her in that way. 

OK, so once that pressure to respond is relieved with a bit of proactive communication, we can break down what is overwhelming about the decision-making and make the process more approachable with an ADHD coach or even a trusted loved one. 

We can answer one question at a time. What is overwhelming about responding about this job opportunity? How do you feel about your current job? What do you think it would take for you to want to change jobs? Instead of looking at everything all at once, break what we have to think about into bite-sized pieces. 

With the pressure to respond relieved and the decision-making tackled in manageable pieces, it can be easier to respond in a timeframe that we feel good about and sidestep the opportunity to ghost a friend. 

Allison talked about one situation where she ghosted her friend. But there are other ways ADHD can affect ghosting. Ghosting can happen for texts or messages that are less intense, too. Remember when I was talking about us having a hard time changing contexts and topics? Sometimes, if I'm in the middle of doing something and a text comes through, I might want to continue down the thoughts I'm already on and put off responding until later. I'm not avoiding the conversation, but I wasn't in the headspace at the moment to respond. 

With ADHD, sometimes a little tunnel vision is necessary for us to get things done because we aren't able to juggle many things at once all the time, like neurotypical folk can. Breaking our concentration while we are doing something can sometimes make it harder for us to get back into the groove. This can make it more common for us to put off responding to that text. But out of sight, out of mind is also something that is common with us, and can mean we don't think about responding to that text once it's marked read. 

A way I manage this is to schedule a time in my day for me to go through my text of the day again, to see if there's anything I've missed, or if it's a really important message for me to respond to, I officially add it to my task list for the day. That way it's still out of sight and out of mind for the moments when I need that brain space to focus, but I can catch that text before it feels like it's too late to respond. 

Ghosting isn't just limited to texts either. It can be done in person. It can be common for us to physically ghost, like leaving a party without saying goodbye to everyone. We are less able to regulate how we experience our senses, so it can be more uncomfortable to be in environments when it's too loud, too smelly, too bright. When this happens, those anxiety responses kick in. Ghosting a party when we're overstimulated is our flight response. 

We can also ignore signals from our body that our social battery is used up, and have an impulse to get out of there quickly. A common coping method for overwhelm and overstimulation is to ignore signals our bodies and brains are giving us in order to go forward, and we can have a disinterest in doing boring and repetitive things, like saying goodbye to everyone for 20 minutes. 

So, what can we do if we want to get out of that party quickly? Well, if this is a one-off thing, there's always an option to send a text after the fact. Sending a message like "I was exhausted and I had to leave. But it was great to see you tonight/yesterday," provides the care and acknowledgment that would have come from saying goodbye. 

If this is something that happens a lot, it's also possible to communicate your needs early while you still have some energy and social battery left. Things we can say earlier in the party are "I might need to leave abruptly, and if I do, I want you to know it was so wonderful to see you today." This allows others to know we care about them, and ghosting that party does not have anything to do with how we feel about them. 

Last but certainly not least, we ADHD folk can resort to ghosting in order to avoid conflict. Due to emotional dysregulation, some of us can develop a fear of conflict, especially if we feel like we don't have a good grasp on how our emotions will come out during that conflict. 

Many ADHD folk identify as people-pleasers, something that can stem from avoiding the intense pain of rejection due to difficulty regulating our emotions. The idea of disappointing others or being rejected by others can create intensely negative feelings, which can feel more comfortable to avoid. So, the option to ghost and sidestep any of that can sound pretty enticing. 

But when we ghost to avoid conflict, we miss out on an opportunity. Every conflict has the potential to create stronger bonds, to address something that needs to change to make the relationship successful and to grow as humans. When we ghost, instead of facing the conflict, we can make the other person feel like they aren't worth us trying for and generally disrespected. So, what can we do instead? 

We can think about what makes us want to avoid conflict and ghost by breaking down how we feel about the situation into small, approachable pieces, just like what was suggested for Allice in the situation of overwhelm. 

What conflict are you anticipating? What result would you like to see from having that conversation? What are you anticipating the reaction to be? What makes you think they will have that reaction? Are there other ways they could respond? What ideally would you like your relationship with them to look like? And what would need to happen in order for your relationship with them to become that ideal? 

The impulse to ghost can be a strong one for those of us with ADHD due to emotional dysregulation, difficulty switching contexts, overwhelm, and overstimulation. But if we communicate our feelings proactively, set up checkpoints to catch any text that fell through the cracks, and break hard things we have to face into manageable pieces, we can have a much lower frequency of ghosting others and preserve the relationships we have with the people we care about. 

You've been listening to "Tips from an ADHD Coach" on the Understood Podcast Network. If you have a challenge that you'd like me to talk about on air or would just like to say hi, you can email us at ADHDCoachTips@understood.org. You can check out the show notes to find links to anything mentioned in the show and more resources. 

This show is brought to you by Understood.org. Understood is a nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering people with learning and thinking differences like ADHD and dyslexia. Learn more at Understood.org

Hosts

  • Jaye Lin

    is an ADHD Coach, speaker, instructor, and podcaster.

    • Cate Osborn

      (@catieosaurus) is a certified sex educator, and mental health advocate. She is currently one of the foremost influencers on ADHD.

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