Life's Little Mysteries

Are ghosts real?

One difficulty in scientifically evaluating is ghost are real is the surprisingly wide variety of phenomena attributed to ghosts.

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The science and logic of ghosts

Why do people believe in ghosts, additional resources.

If you believe in ghosts, you're not alone. Cultures all around the world believe in spirits that survive death to live in another realm. In fact, ghosts are among the most widely believed of paranormal phenomenon: Millions of people are interested in ghosts. It's more than mere entertainment; A 2019 Ipsos poll found that 46% of Americans  say they truly believe in ghosts. (The nation is discerning in its undead beliefs; only 7% of respondents said they believe in vampires ).

And about 18% of people say they have either seen a ghost or been in one's presence, according to a 2015 Pew Research study . Why do so many claim to have such brushes with the afterlife?

"One common cause may be pareidolia, the tendency for our brains to find patterns (especially human faces and figures) amongst ambiguous stimuli," Stephen Hupp, clinical psychologist and professor at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, Told Live Science in an email. "One common example is when we see faces or figures in the clouds and another is when random shapes and shadows in a dark house look like a ghost," said Hupp, who is also the editor of Skeptical Inquirer magazine.

Stephen Hupp is the editor of "Skeptical Inquirer" magazine. He is also a clinical psychologist and a professor of psychology at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE). He has published several books including "Pseudoscience in Therapy "  (Cambridge University Press, 2023) and "Investigating Pop Psychology" (Routledge, 2022). 

But the idea that the dead remain with us in spirit is an ancient one, appearing in countless stories, from the Bible to "Macbeth." It even spawned a folklore genre: ghost stories. Belief in ghosts is part of a larger web of related paranormal beliefs, including near-death experience, life after death, and spirit communication. The belief offers many people comfort — who doesn't want to believe that our beloved but deceased family members aren't looking out for us, or with us in our times of need? 

People have tried to (or claimed to) communicate with spirits for ages; in Victorian England, for example, it was fashionable for upper-crust ladies to hold séances in their parlors after tea and crumpets with friends. Ghost clubs dedicated to searching for ghostly evidence formed at prestigious universities, including Cambridge and Oxford, and in 1882 the most prominent organization, the Society for Psychical Research, was established. A woman named Eleanor Sidgwick was an investigator (and later president) of that group, and could be considered the original female ghostbuster. In America during the late 1800s, many psychic mediums claimed to speak to the dead — but were later exposed as frauds by skeptical investigators such as Harry Houdini. 

Related: 10 Ghost stories that will haunt you for life

It wasn't until recently that ghost hunting became a widespread interest around the world. Much of this is due to the hit Syfy cable TV series "Ghost Hunters," which aired 230 episodes and found no good evidence for ghosts. 

The show spawned dozens of spinoffs and imitators, and it's not hard to see why the show is so popular: the premise is that anyone can look for ghosts. The two original stars were ordinary guys (plumbers, in fact) who decided to look for evidence of spirits. Their message: You don't need to be an egghead scientist, or even have any training in science or investigation. All you need is some free time, a dark place, and maybe a few gadgets from an electronics store. If you look long enough any unexplained light or noise might be evidence of ghosts.

That vague criteria for ghostly happenings is part of the reason why myths about the afterlife are more alive than ever.

One difficulty in scientifically evaluating ghosts is that a surprisingly wide variety of phenomena are attributed to ghosts, from a door closing on its own, to missing keys, to a cold area in a hallway, to a vision of a dead relative. 

When sociologists Dennis and Michele Waskul interviewed ghost experiencers for their book " Ghostly Encounters: The Hauntings of Everyday Life " (Temple University Press, 2016 ) they found that "many participants were not sure that they had encountered a ghost and remained uncertain that such phenomena were even possible, simply because they did not see something that approximated the conventional image of a 'ghost.' Instead, many of our respondents were simply convinced that they had experienced something uncanny — something inexplicable, extraordinary, mysterious, or eerie." 

Thus, many people who go on record as claiming to have had a ghostly experience didn't necessarily see anything that most people would recognize as a classic "ghost," and in fact they may have had completely different experiences whose only common factor is that it could not be readily explained. 

"There are plenty of misunderstood phenomena that influence ghost sightings. For example, sleep paralysis in a recognized experience that leads to people feeling like they have seen a ghost, demon, or alien," Hupp said.

Personal experience is one thing, but scientific evidence is another matter. Part of the difficulty in investigating ghosts is that there is not one universally agreed-upon definition of what a ghost is. Some believe that they are spirits of the dead who for whatever reason get "lost" on their way to The Other Side; others claim that ghosts are instead telepathic entities projected into the world from our minds.

Still others create their own special categories for different types of ghosts, such as poltergeists, residual hauntings, intelligent spirits and shadow people. Of course, it's all made up, like speculating on the different races of fairies or dragons: there are as many types of ghosts as you want there to be.

There are many contradictions inherent in ideas about ghosts. For example, are ghosts material or not? Either they can move through solid objects without disturbing them, or they can slam doors shut and throw objects across the room. According to logic and the laws of physics, it's one or the other. If ghosts are human souls, why do they appear clothed and with (presumably soulless) inanimate objects like hats, canes, and dresses — not to mention the many reports of ghost trains, cars and carriages?

If ghosts are the spirits of those whose deaths were unavenged, why are there unsolved murders, since ghosts are said to communicate with psychic mediums, and should be able to identify their killers for the police? The questions go on and on — just about any claim about ghosts raises logical reasons to doubt it.

Ghost hunters use many creative (and dubious) methods to detect the spirits' presences, often including psychics. Virtually all ghost hunters claim to be scientific, and most give that appearance because they use high-tech scientific equipment such as Geiger counters, Electromagnetic Field (EMF) detectors, ion detectors, infrared cameras and sensitive microphones. Yet none of this equipment has ever been shown to actually detect ghosts. 

"If someone hands you an electronic device to sense a ghost, then they’re probably doing it to get your money during a ghost tour," Hupp said.

For centuries, people believed that flames turned blue in the presence of ghosts. Today, few people accept that bit of lore, but it's likely that many of the signs taken as evidence by today's ghost hunters will be seen as just as wrong and antiquated centuries from now. 

Other researchers claim that the reason ghosts haven't been proven to exist is that we simply don't have the right technology to find or detect the spirit world. But this, too, can't be correct: Either ghosts exist and appear in our ordinary physical world (and can therefore be detected and recorded in photographs, film, video and audio recordings), or they don't. If ghosts exist and can be scientifically detected or recorded, then we should find hard evidence of that — yet we don't. If ghosts exist but cannot be scientifically detected or recorded, then all the photos, videos, audio and other recordings claimed to be evidence of ghosts cannot be ghosts. With so many basic contradictory theories — and so little science brought to bear on the topic — it's not surprising that despite the efforts of thousands of ghost hunters on television and elsewhere for decades, not a single piece of hard evidence of ghosts has been found.

And, of course, with the recent development of "ghost apps" for smartphones, it's easier than ever to create seemingly spooky images and share them on social media, making separating fact from fiction even more difficult for ghost researchers. 

Most people who believe in ghosts do so because of some personal experience; they grew up in a home where the existence of (friendly) spirits was taken for granted, for example, or they had some unnerving experience on a ghost tour or local haunt. 

Belief in a spirit world may also fulfill a deeper psychological need.

"There’s still so much to this universe that we don’t understand, and it’s comforting to fill in the void with explanations. Supernatural explanations are often stated with confidence, even when there’s no actual evidence, and this confidence provides a false sense of actual truth," Hupp said.

For instance, some claim that support for the existence of ghosts can be found in no less a hard science than modern physics. It is widely claimed that Albert Einstein suggested a scientific basis for the reality of ghosts, based on the First Law of Thermodynamics : If energy cannot be created or destroyed but only change form, what happens to our body's energy when we die? Could that somehow be manifested as a ghost?

It seems like a reasonable assumption — until you dig into the basic physics. The answer is very simple, and not at all mysterious. After a person dies, the energy in his or her body goes where all organisms' energy goes after death: into the environment. The energy is released in the form of heat, and the body is transferred into the animals that eat us (i.e., wild animals if we are left unburied, or worms and bacteria if we are interred), and the plants that absorb us. There is no bodily "energy" that survives death to be detected with popular ghost-hunting devices.

Related: Top 10 most famous ghosts

While amateur ghost hunters like to imagine themselves on the cutting edge of ghost research, they are really engaging in what folklorists call ostension or legend tripping. It's basically a form of playacting in which people "act out" a legend, often involving ghosts or supernatural elements. In his book " Aliens, Ghosts, and Cults: Legends We Live " (University Press of Mississippi, 2003) folklorist Bill Ellis points out that ghost hunters themselves often take the search seriously and "venture out to challenge supernatural beings, confront them in consciously dramatized form, then return to safety. ... The stated purpose of such activities is not entertainment but a sincere effort to test and define boundaries of the 'real' world."

If ghosts are real, and are some sort of as-yet-unknown energy or entity, then their existence will (like all other scientific discoveries) be discovered and verified by scientists through controlled experiments — not by weekend ghost hunters wandering around abandoned, supposedly haunted houses in the dark late at night with cameras and flashlights.

In the end (and despite mountains of ambiguous photos, sounds, and videos) the evidence for ghosts is no better today than it was a century ago. There are two possible reasons for the failure of ghost hunters to find good evidence. The first is that ghosts don't exist, and that reports of ghosts can be explained by psychology, misperceptions, mistakes and hoaxes . The second option is that ghosts do exist, but that ghost hunters do not possess the scientific tools or mindset to uncover any meaningful evidence. 

But ultimately, ghost hunting is not about the evidence at all (if it was, the search would have been abandoned long ago). Instead, it's about having fun with friends and family members, telling stories, and the enjoyment of pretending to search the edge of the unknown. After all, everyone loves a good ghost story.

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A blurry ghostly figure stands at the top of a darkened stairway.

Are ghosts real? A social psychologist examines the evidence

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Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Sociology, University of South Carolina

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Barry Markovsky does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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Curious Kids is a series for children of all ages. If you have a question you’d like an expert to answer, send it to [email protected] .

Is it possible for there to be ghosts? – Madelyn, age 11, Fort Lupton, Colorado

Certainly, lots of people believe in ghosts – a spirit left behind after someone who was alive has died.

In a 2021 poll of 1,000 American adults , 41% said they believe in ghosts, and 20% said they had personally experienced them. If they’re right, that’s more than 50 million spirit encounters in the U.S. alone.

That includes the owner of a retail shop near my home who believes his place is haunted. When I asked what most convinced him of this, he sent me dozens of eerie security camera video clips. He also brought in ghost hunters who reinforced his suspicions.

Some of the videos show small orbs of light gliding around the room. In others, you can hear faint voices and loud bumping sounds when nobody’s there. Others show a book flying off a desk and products jumping off a shelf.

It’s not uncommon for me to hear stories like this. As a sociologist , some of my work looks at beliefs in things like ghosts , aliens , pyramid power and superstitions .

Along with others who practice scientific skepticism, I keep an open mind while maintaining that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Tell me you had a burger for lunch, and I’ll take your word for it. Tell me you shared your fries with Abraham Lincoln’s ghost, and I’ll want more evidence.

In the “spirit” of critical thinking, consider the following three questions:

Are ghosts possible?

People may think they’re experiencing ghosts when they hear strange voices, see moving objects, witness balls or wisps of light or even translucent people.

Yet no one describes ghosts as aging, eating, breathing or using bathrooms – despite plumbers receiving many calls about toilets “ ghost-flushing .”

So could ghosts be made of a special kind of energy that hovers and flies without dissipating?

If that’s the case, that means when ghosts glow, move objects and make sounds, they are acting like matter – something that takes up space and has mass, like wood, water, plants and people. Conversely, when passing through walls or vanishing, they must not act like matter.

But centuries of physics research have found nothing like this exists, which is why physicists say ghosts can’t exist .

And so far, there is no proof that any part of a person can continue on after death.

What’s the evidence?

Never before in history have people recorded so many ghost encounters, thanks in part to mobile phone cameras and microphones. It seems there would be great evidence by now. But scientists don’t have it .

Instead, there are lots of ambiguous recordings sabotaged by bad lighting and faulty equipment. But popular television shows on ghost hunting convince many viewers that blurry images and emotional reactions are proof enough.

As for all the devices ghost hunters use to capture sounds, electrical fields and infrared radiation – they may look scientific, but they’re not . Measurements are worthless without some knowledge of the thing you’re measuring.

When ghost hunters descend on an allegedly haunted location for a night of meandering and measurement, they usually find something they later deem paranormal. It may be a moving door (breeze?), a chill (gap in the floorboards?), a glow (light entering from outside?), electrical fluctuations (old wiring?), or bumps and faint voices (crew in other rooms?).

Whatever happens, ghost hunters will draw a bull’s-eye around it, interpret that as “evidence” and investigate no further .

Are there alternative explanations?

Personal experiences with ghosts can be misleading due to the limitations of human senses. That’s why anecdotes can’t substitute for objective research. Alleged hauntings usually have plenty of non-ghostly explanations.

One example is that retail establishment in my neighborhood. I reviewed the security camera clips and gathered information about the store’s location and layout, and the exact equipment used in the recordings.

First, the “orbs”: Videos captured many small globes of light seemingly moving around the room.

In reality, the orbs are tiny particles of dust wafting close to the camera lens, made to “bloom” by the camera’s infrared lights. That they appear to float around the room is an optical illusion. Watch any orb video closely and you’ll see they never go behind objects in the room. That’s exactly what you’d expect with dust particles close to the camera lens.

Next, voices and bumps: The shop is in a busy corner mini-mall. Three walls abut sidewalks, loading zones and parking areas; an adjacent store shares the fourth. The security camera mics probably recorded sounds from outdoors, other rooms and the adjacent unit. The owner never checked for these possibilities.

Then, the flying objects: The video shows objects falling off the showroom wall. The shelf rests on adjustable brackets, one of which wasn’t fully seated in its slot. The weight of the shelf caused the bracket to settle into place with a visible jerk. This movement sent some items tumbling off the shelf.

Then, the flying book: I used a simple trick to recreate the event at home: a hidden string taped inside a book’s cover, wrapped around the kitchen island, and tugged by my right hand out of camera range.

Now I can’t prove there wasn’t a ghost in the original video. The point is to provide a more plausible explanation than “it must have been a ghost.”

One final consideration: Virtually all ghostly experiences involve impediments to making accurate perceptions and judgments – bad lighting , emotional arousal , sleep phenomena , social influences , culture , a misunderstanding of how recording devices work , and the prior beliefs and personality traits of those who claim to see ghosts. All of these hold the potential to induce unforgettable ghostly encounters.

But all can be explained without ghosts being real.

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When Is It OK to Ghost Someone?

Learn when disappearing from a relationship might be in your best interest..

Posted March 10, 2019 | Reviewed by Lybi Ma

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In 2015, I wrote an article on " Why Ghosting Hurts So Much ," hoping to encourage people to be a little kinder and more respectful of one another. Since then, I have received a large number of comments and emails from both those who have ghosted and those who have been ghosted, all wanting to share their stories. What is clear: This is a confusing and very emotionally charged topic on both sides, and indeed there are times when ghosting is an appropriate response to a situation.

Ghosting is defined as cutting off all communication and dropping out of someone’s life without an explanation of any kind . There are many situations when cutting off communication with someone is acceptable, necessary, and the healthiest thing to do. Ending a relationship with someone is almost always painful in some respects—one person will likely experience rejection, and the rejecter may feel guilty—but in my prior article , I explain the psychological reasons why it is the lack of explanation unique to ghosting that creates so much emotional distress. It is specifically the lack of clarity about the situation that can escalate someone’s emotional response from the disappointment that a relationship did not work out to distress over not having any information to understand what happened.

Most relationships in our lives will have a beginning and an end. People evolve, circumstances change, friends come and go from our lives. It's all part of the human experience. It isn’t necessary or even expected much of the time that we provide an explanation for the natural drift that occurs in many relationships.

It is in the established relationships, where there is an expectation and desire to continue the relationship by one of the parties, that it becomes exceedingly painful and distressful when someone disappears without explanation. What establishes a relationship where there is an obligation to communicate an ending? In a culture where hook-ups have become the norm, this is an area of debate and a lot of subjective opinion. Perceived obligation varies greatly depending on the extent and nature of the relationship.

In the world of dating , where ghosting is most prevalent, most relationships are not considered established in the early stages. Nevertheless, if you’ve decided not to continue the relationship, the kindest and most respectful thing to do is to offer a few simple words about your decision, so that the other person has clarity about the situation. If you’ve had less than three dates, a simple text or email with words along the lines of, “It was nice to meet you, but I didn’t feel the connection,” should generally suffice.

If two people have been on more than five dates and have been physically intimate, they are likely to have begun to develop some level of emotional attachment . At this point, cutting off contact without any explanation has the potential to cause distress, and the longer the relationship has existed, the more likely breaking up will be painful to the other person. While no one is ever responsible for someone else’s emotions, again, the kindest thing to do is to offer some clarity so that the other person has the appropriate cues to know how to respond.

When is it OK to ghost someone? Below are some specific situations where disappearing from a relationship is likely to be the best thing for your well-being.

1. Abuse: If someone makes you feel unsafe, or there has been any type of abuse, then disappearing without any explanation may be in your best interest. Just after you leave an abusive relationship, there can be a high danger period when the abuser may become enraged. It is often best to be out of contact and in a safe place where the abuser doesn’t know your location.

2. Violating Boundaries : If someone engages in a clear boundary violation, such as showing up unexpectedly at your workplace, contacting your ex, stealing from you, or acting in any way that is clearly out of line, it can feel very threatening. When someone causes you to feel unsafe, they are showing a lack of concern for your feelings. Your priority is to regain your sense of safety, which may involve cutting off contact. In situations where you’ve told someone repeatedly that you want to end the relationship, but they continue to contact you or won’t take no for an answer, then it isn’t ghosting if you cut off communication.

3. Lying or Manipulation: If you catch someone in a lie that is intended to manipulate you in some way—say you find out the person you are dating is married—then that person has shown a direct disregard for your emotional well-being, and you don’t owe him or her an explanation for ending the relationship.

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Jennice Vilhauer, Ph.D. , is the Director of Emory University’s Adult Outpatient Psychotherapy Program in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science in the School of Medicine.

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What's true and false about Jeffrey Epstein and the individuals on his list

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Jeffrey Epstein's trial and associates have long been fruitful ground for misinformation, including baseless claims about his flight log and a bevy of altered photos wrongly linking Epstein to high-profile figures.

More is now known on the nature of Epstein's circle, as the names of friends,  associates, victims and opponents of the disgraced financier began being released on Jan. 3. The list was compiled from hundreds of sealed court filings about the  accused sex trafficker .

More : Clinton and Trump are named in Jeffrey Epstein documents, no wrongdoing alleged

Epstein's former girlfriend, Ghislaine Maxwell, was convicted in 2022 of sex trafficking girls for Epstein and is serving a 20-year sentence .

Here's a roundup of claims about Epstein and Maxwell from the USA TODAY Fact-Check Team:

More from the Fact-Check Team: How we pick and research claims | Email newsletter | Facebook page

Altered images linking officials to Epstein

Claim: Jeffrey Epstein and Bill Gates tweeted about Prince Philip’s death

Our rating: Satire

The image was posted by a popular meme page. Epstein died in 2019, and there is no record of this thread on Twitter. Read more

Claim: Image shows the Obama family vacationing on Jeffrey Epstein’s island

Our rating: Altered

The original photo shows the Obama family vacationing in Hawaii. The blue and white striped building was edited into the image. Read more

Claim: An image shows Kamala Harris and Jeffrey Epstein standing together

The original image shows Harris standing next to Emhoff at a 2015 black-tie event in Los Angeles. Read more

Claim: A photo shows President Joe Biden posing with Jeffrey Epstein

The image was created using two separate photos of Biden and Epstein, neither of which shows one man posing with the other. Read more

Claim: Photo shows Trump dancing with a young girl on Jeffrey Epstein's island in 1989

Multiple computer science experts told USA TODAY the image was generated by artificial intelligence. Trump's appearance in the image does not match his likeness in real footage from 1989. Read more

Claim: Hillary Clinton posted a tweet about vaccination that referenced Jeffrey Epstein

Our rating: False

There is no record that it was posted by Clinton's verified account. Read more

False claims about who is on Epstein's flight log

Claim: Celebrities haven't addressed Epstein flight logs

While there are some high-profile celebrities and politicians listed in Epstein's flight records, Chrissy Teigen, Oprah Winfrey and Ellen DeGeneres are not. Multiple celebrities who were actually listed in Epstein's flight records have publicly addressed their relationship with him. Additionally, although Teigen is not listed in any of the records, she has publicly addressed the false accusations. Read more

Claim: Matthew Perry was killed because he was on the list for Epstein Island

Police have said there was no evidence of foul play in Perry's death. Nor is there evidence that he visited Epstein Island, the retreat used in connection with a long-running sex trafficking operation. Perry's name does not appear on the flight log of Jeffrey Epstein's private plane. Read more

Claim: Obama's Medal of Freedom recipients appear on Epstein's flight logs

Bill Gates is the only person in the video whose name appears on Jeffrey Epstein's flight logs, which show he flew once in 2013 with the late disgraced financier and convicted sex offender. Read more

Claim: Screenshot of a CNN graphic shows Justin Trudeau as a passenger on Jeffrey Epstein's plane

The image is altered. The original graphic that CNN aired was changed to replace Sen. George Mitchell with Trudeau. Read more

Claim: Chris Wallace visited Jeffrey Epstein's island

Numerous reports show that the photos are of Chris Wallace and George Clooney in Italy. There is no evidence that Wallace visited Jeffrey Epstein's island in the Virgin Islands. Read more

False claims about Epstein

Claim: Jeffrey Epstein is alive and hiding in New Mexico

The post offers no evidence that Epstein is alive. Multiple official sources, including Epstein's lawyers, the U.S. Bureau of Prisons and New York City's chief medical examiner, have confirmed his death. Read more

Claim: Jeffrey Epstein’s former lawyer was the judge who signed off on the Mar-a-Lago search warrant

Judge Bruce Reinhart told the Miami Herald he represented Epstein employees, not Epstein.  Read more

Claim: The same doctor autopsied JFK, MLK, Jeffrey Epstein and George Floyd

Pathologist Michael Baden has ties to all four investigations, but he performed an autopsy only on Floyd. He reviewed archival evidence for JFK and MLK's cases and consulted for Epstein's. Read more

Claims about Ghislaine Maxwell

Claim: Sex crimes by dozens of public officials are connected to Ghislaine Maxwell, an associate of Jeffrey Epstein

Our rating: Partly false

While the names and offenses we researched on the list were generally accurate, connecting the list to Maxwell is not. The nature of many of the crimes cited make the involvement of a third-party like Maxwell unlikely or impossible, and some of the incidents even occurred after the lawsuit that supposedly revealed them. But most notably, elements of this list have been circulating online since at least 2006. Read more

Claim: Ghislaine Maxwell sentenced to 10 years in prison

Maxwell at this point had been convicted, but she wasn't yet sentenced. Read more.

Claim: The NYC medical officer who autopsied Epstein resigned on first day of Maxwell trial

Our rating: Missing context

A spokesperson for the New York City chief medical examiner's office told USA TODAY chief medical examiner Barbara Sampson announced her resignation internally a week prior to her public resignation on Nov. 29, the day the Maxwell trial began. There's no evidence the two events are related. Read more

Claim: Press and spectators aren't allowed at Ghislaine Maxwell trial

An order by the trial's presiding judge says that both press and the general public will have "substantial" access to the actual courtroom and overflow rooms livestreaming the proceeding. Read more

Claim: Image shows Ghislaine Maxwell and Chief Justice John Roberts

The photo shows French modeling agent Jean-Luc Brunel who was recently arrested on suspicion of sex crimes. There is no evidence that Roberts had ties to Maxwell or Epstein.  Read more

Claim: A list shows Ghislaine Maxwell's 'co-conspirators' in a federal criminal case

The document is not related to Maxwell's current case. It was filed as part of a 2020 civil lawsuit by a Texas woman who claimed she was trafficked by Epstein and other famous individuals and companies. The case was thrown out when a court determined the woman's claims were unfounded. Read more

Claim: An image shows Bruce Reinhart with Ghislaine Maxwell

The original image shows Maxwell rubbing Epstein's foot, and it was released in 2021 amid her sex-trafficking trial. A 2017 photo of Reinhart watching a football game was edited into the image in the Facebook post in place of Epstein. Read more.

Thank you for supporting our journalism. You can subscribe to our print edition, ad-free app or e-newspaper here .

USA TODAY is a verified signatory of the International Fact-Checking Network, which requires a demonstrated commitment to nonpartisanship, fairness and transparency. Our fact-check work is supported in part by a grant from Meta .

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Being Ghosted: Why It Happens and How to Cope

Barbara is a writer and speaker who is passionate about mental health, overall wellness, and women's issues.

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Why Do People Ghost?

  • How to Cope

What Does Ghosting Say About a Person?

Is ghosting emotional abuse.

Ghosting occurs when someone you are dating or getting to know disappears without a trace. This could happen at the very beginning of a relationship or in the middle of one, whether in person or online. Dealing with being ghosted is incredibly difficult—especially because you usually don't know the cause or know how to react.

The person suddenly quits all contact with you—they won’t respond to texts, emails, calls, or social media messages. The mental health effects of being on the receiving end of these actions can be very challenging.

Learn more about why people ghost and how to move forward if it happens to you or someone you know.

People ghost for a variety of reasons. Relationship experts and psychologists agree that people who ghost are avoiding an uncomfortable situation. This evasion, while perceived as a lack of regard, is often because they feel it’s the best way to handle their own distress or inability to clearly communicate .

Ghosters themselves admit they don’t want to hurt you or they don’t know what to do. Sometimes they don’t think discussing a situation was necessary or they became scared. Ghosting is a passive way to withdraw.

But some ghosters perceive that to disappear completely might actually be the easiest and best way to handle the situation for all. Others ghost because now that it’s common, it’s an almost justifiable way to exit a relationship nowadays.

In today’s dating culture, being ghosted and ghosting is common.

How to Cope When You've Been Ghosted

It's not always easy, and it often takes time, but there are things you can do to start to feel better even if you've been ghosted by someone in your life.

Rid Yourself of Blame

After someone disappears suddenly, it’s hard to not feel regret, embarrassment and shame. After all, you risked for the sake of growth and it backfired. While ghosting feels so personal, it’s not about you. It’s about them.

Because you usually can’t find a cause and there is no explanation furnished, you may blame yourself. You might want to put up walls so you don’t get hurt again in the future. Or you may tell your friends you will stop dating completely, using a cognitive distortion like all-or-nothing thinking .

Now is the time to regroup, be kind to yourself and take a break. You are not to blame for someone walking away without a peep. Nor is it your fault that the other person couldn’t maturely give you the truth.

Nix the Shame

Shame comes about sometimes when we are reminded of previous rejections. But is ghosting rejection?

Meredith Gordon Resnick, LCSW

Ghosting carries an echo of old rejection. It's painful because it activates—and emulates—a previous hurt or betrayal by someone we didn't just think we could trust but whom we had to trust, often during our formative years. Here's the catch: It's not necessarily about the betrayal but about our not having processed and integrated that early memory, and what it meant to us.

Resnick, whose trauma-informed books about recovery from the effects of narcissistic relationships have helped tens of thousands of readers, reassures those who were ghosted and bids them to take care.

“Understood this way, we can see why self-compassion is in order,” she says. “Being dropped and feeling unseen is always painful, and there is never shame or embarrassment in feeling what is real.”

Choose Self-Care

How do you move forward? You need self-compassion and self-care. Invest in time with friends and family who can support you. Also, you might indulge in activities that make you happy like taking a yoga class or returning to a hobby that you love. You can also try homeopathic treatments or acupuncture.

Elena Klimenko, MD, and Integrative Medicine Specialist sometimes uses a "broken heart" homeopathic treatment for a heartfelt loss . She says, “In traditional Chinese medicine like acupuncture, the heart meridian—which starts at the heart and runs to the armpits, then down each arm—is responsible for heartfelt matters and some deep emotions. Proper acupuncture treatment can also facilitate recovery and take the edge off the difficult feelings."

When you think of the ghoster, be sure to reframe your ideas about them and the relationship. After all, they violated the contract of what it takes to be in a mature, healthy relationship. That includes mutual respect, good communication and thoughtfulness. Therefore, this wasn’t the right person for you, anyway.

Build Resilience

David C. Leopold, MD DABFM, DABOIM, and Network Medical Director for Integrative Health and Medicine at Hackensack Meridian Health says, “When patients experience any emotional or mental health challenges, I focus on helping them build resilience and enhancing their self-compassion and self-care."

Dr. Leopold uses a comprehensive approach, including engaging in physical activity, prioritizing sleep, optimizing nutrition, cultivating meaning and purpose, and, reducing stress through practices like mindfulness and meditation.” 

Therefore, if you’re emotionally exhausted and stressed, where do you start in taking care of yourself? “Multiple studies clearly show that eating healthy improves mental health—reducing stress, anxiety and even depression. And any form of exercise, even just walking, is a potent natural anti-depressant,” says Leopold. 

If you’re ruminating too much, use an app to increase mindfulness or begin a meditation practice . Leopold suggests you don’t forget about finding meaning and purpose. “Studies show focusing on meaning and purpose increases oxytocin, our 'feel good' hormone, which increases feelings of connection and improves mood.” Overall, he advises that you take this time “as an opportunity to focus on you and enriching your resilience.”

Despite ghosting being normalized, it's more about the problem the ghoster is having than it is about you. Ghosting says a lot about the person in many different ways. For instance, it could say that they lacked the courage to do the right thing by explaining why they could no longer continue a relationship with you.

The person or people who ghosted you didn’t treat you with integrity, therefore, did not consider the implications of their actions. It could also signal that they may not care about their actions and are inconsiderate or unreliable.

Or, it could be none of the above. The ghoster may be dealing with a mental health or medical condition (of a loved one or their own) that is making it difficult for them to reach out at the current time.

Whatever the case may be, being ghosted is not a reflection on you or your worthiness. Nor should it render you powerless.

Ghosting is a form of silent treatment, which mental health professionals have described as emotional cruelty or even emotional abuse if done so intentionally. You feel powerless and silenced. You don't know to make sense of the experience or have an opportunity to express your feelings.

This cowardly act, unfortunately pretty normalized by our culture, can cause immense pain. As you have no clue about what happened, your mind first jumps to many possibilities. Was your new love interest injured in a car accident? Is their family okay? Maybe it’s just a crazy busy time at work and they will contact you again soon? 

You might feel a wave of different emotions: sadness, anger , loneliness , confusion. Mental health professionals find that no response is especially painful for people on an emotional level. You feel helpless and shunned without information that could guide your understanding.

Being ghosted might result in exhibiting a variety of negative emotions and questioning yourself. Don't play the blame and shame game. Hold your head up high, hold onto your dignity, and let them go. Someone better could be out there looking for you.

Practice self-care and build your resilience during this painful time. If you’re still struggling to cope after being ghosted by a romantic interest, a friend, or someone in the workplace, reach out to a doctor or a mental health professional for assistance.

Press Play for Advice On Dealing With Negative Emotions

Hosted by therapist Amy Morin, LCSW, this episode of The Verywell Mind Podcast shares how to stay mentally strong when you're dealing with negative emotions. Click below to listen now.

Follow Now : Apple Podcasts / Spotify / Google Podcasts

By Barbara Field Barbara is a writer and speaker who is passionate about mental health, overall wellness, and women's issues.

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