Shunning…it’s not just religious anymore

shunning…it’s not just religious anymore

Posted on March 20, 2013 by madelinelaughs

Birth of Mennonite movement (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Madeline Laughs

I’ve been doing some research lately on a topic I find intriguing, especially in today’s society.


Shunning seems to me like it would be an archaic solution to any present day problem, but people are still doing it. I find that fascinating.

What is shunning and who does it?

Shunning can be the act of social rejection, or mental rejection.

Social rejection is when a person or group deliberately avoids association with, and habitually keeps away from an individual or group. This can be a formal decision by a group, or a less formal group action which will spread to all members of the group as a form of solidarity.

It is a sanction against association, often associated with religious groups and other tightly knit organizations and communities.

Targets of shunning can include persons who have been labeled as apostates, whistleblowers, dissidents,strikebreakers, or anyone the group perceives as a threat or source of conflict.

Social rejection has been established to cause psychological damage and has been categorized as torture.

Mental rejection is a more individual action, where a person subconsciously or willfully ignores an idea, or a set of information related to a particular viewpoint. Some groups are made up of people who shun the same ideas.

Stealth shunning

Stealth shunning is a practice where a person or an action is silently banned.

When a person is silently banned, the group they have been banned from doesn’t interact with them. This can be done by secretly announcing the policy to all except the banned individual, or it can happen informally when all people in a group or email list each conclude that they do not want to interact with the person. When an action is silently banned, requests for that action are either ignored or turned down with faked explanations.


I am witnessing a stealth shunning that is tantamount to torture, happen to one of my friends right now. I have no idea how to help her and none of my suggestions are realistic considering her circumstances. All I can do is sit and watch her slowly be destroyed a little more each day.

This plan of attack was carried out against her with a lot of forethought. Each chink in her armor was considered before executing one of the most diabolical shunning incidents I have ever heard of. The Amish religious shunnings don’t hold a candle to what she’s being subjected to!

She lives in a very small town. The people shunning her were all considered her closest friends at one time in the not so distant past. They were the people she confided in and spent most of her time with. She worked with them, partied with them and thought they were the best folks in the world.

Now none of them will even look at her if she walks in the room.

When I first went online several weeks ago and started researching what I thought was happening to her, I was surprised to find out that the only term that could be applied was the term “shunning“. Whoever heard of such a thing happening these days, unless it was a religious sect carrying it out?

I started researching shunning that wasn’t associated with religions and everything I found was in child or young adult forums and websites. There is hardly anything out there about adults participating in this kind of behavior. My friend is being shunned by a group whose ages span from early 40′s to early 60′s. They are all adults.

That leads me to believe that we are expected to outgrow this kind of behavior!

Well, I have some news for the experts.

Small towns evidently do not outgrow the immature and supposedly arcane practice of shunning.

The attack, which has encompassed her love of theater, her church, and her place of business, has also extended into having a private conversation with her own mother, to discuss the sins of the woman’s daughter. That takes some balls!

I was speaking with my friend on the phone the other night and she was telling me about showing up for her dental appointment. She told me she sat in her car in the parking lot and had a small panic attack, because there were so many cars in the parking lot. She was sure she would walk in and one of them would be in the waiting room.

I remember remarking to her that this sounded just like someone suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome to which she scoffed, “Pffft, but I haven’t suffered a trauma.“

She told me that a few months ago she was starring in a large community musical theater production, and today she hyperventilates pushing her shopping cart in the grocery store. She has stopped being herself and hides everywhere she goes because she just can’t face one more person treating her like she has the plague.


Shunning is often used as a pejorative term to describe any organizationally mandated disassociation, and has acquired a connotation of abuse and relational aggression. This is due to the sometimes extreme damage caused by its disruption to normal relationships between individuals, such as friendships and family relations.

Disruption of established relationships certainly causes pain, which is at least an unintended consequence of the practices described here, though it may also in many cases be an intended, coercive consequence. This pain, especially when seen as unjustly inflicted, can have secondary general psychological effects on self-worth and self-confidence, trust and trustworthiness, and can, as with other types of trauma, impair psychological function.

Shunning often involves implicit or explicit shame for a member who commits acts seen as wrong by the group or its leadership.

Such shame may not be psychologically damaging if the membership is voluntary and the rules of behavior were clear before the person joined. However, if the rules are arbitrary, if the group membership is seen as essential for personal security, safety, or health, or if the application of the rules is inconsistent, such shame can be highly destructive. This can be especially damaging if perceptions are attacked or controlled, or various tools of psychological pressure applied.

Extremes of this cross over the line into psychological torture and can be permanently scarring.

A key detrimental effect of some of the practices associated with shunning relate to their effect on relationships, especially family relationships. At its extremes, the practices may destroy marriages, break up families, and separate children and their parents.

The effect of shunning can be very dramatic or even devastating on the shunned, as it can damage or destroy the shunned member’s closest familial, spousal, social, emotional, and economic bonds.

Shunning contains aspects of what is known as relational aggression in psychological literature. When used by church members and member-spouse parents against excommunicant parents it contains elements of what psychologists call parental alienation. Extreme shunning may cause traumas to the shunned (and to their dependents) similar to what is studied in the psychology of torture.


What she is feeling is validated by studies of this type of group behaviors. She has become the product of their shunning. She has indeed, suffered a trauma. In fact, she is being subjected to one of the worst sorts of mental torture a human being can endure. Many people that are put under this kind of stress have taken their own lives.

I wonder if the townspeople ever gave that notion any consideration.

What did she do to cause such a large grouping in a very small town to shun her with such vehemence?

She fell in love with a man, 20 years her junior.

I am going to do more research on this subject and will be continuing to write about her saga here on Spread Information, with her express permission. Both she and I are interested in any feedback, support groups and assistance any of you reading this can offer.


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