Have you ever been shunned? Have you ever had a family member, friend, or business associate suddenly stop talking to you? Certain religious groups are notorious for shunning people, particularly when there's been a "transgression"; especially when a member decides to do something against the religion or leaves it.
Shunning can be very hurtful, especially when it's perpetrated by a family member or close friend. In fact, that's the reason people do it. Shunning is intended to keep people in line. It's not so much for the person who is being shunned as it is other people within the group. Typically people who are in groups that would resort to shunning are very isolated. Shunning is usually carried out in close-knit groups which don't encourage members to associate with others outside of the group. Consequently, people who are being shunned feel alone and abandoned. Lacking social support, they may acquiesce to the demands of their group. That may be a desirable effect, but the real reason groups shun is because it keeps others within the group toeing the line, even when obedience is uncomfortable. The prospect of being shunned by loved ones is even less comfortable than the cognitive dissonance that might lead someone astray.
Recently, I was hanging out on the Recovery from Mormonism board and someone started a thread about shunning. They wanted stories from members of the forum who had been shunned by church members, old friends, family members, and co-workers because of their disbelief in Mormonism. I would submit that while it's very common for some religious organizations to shun, it also happens in families that are headed by a narcissist or sociopath. The threat of being disowned or shunned keeps family members from ever talking about the "elephant in the room". Abusive parents threaten to disown children that go astray or, when they split up, coerce their children into shunning the other parent. If they disobey, there will be hell to pay. They may themselves end up being shunned.
It struck me the other day that the practice of shunning is at its core an extremely arrogant behavior. For it to be effective, the victim has to care about the people doing the shunning. And the people perpetrating the shunning have to believe that their companionship is of value to the victim. The shunning may be used to force someone into compliance, but more likely, it's used to keep others from going astray. It's a control tactic. Close-knit, unhealthy groups abuse this tactic to maintain control over members.
Whether the group is a religious or familial in nature, the devastation of shunning is the same. Those who are affected by shunning have to learn that there are other people who can offer them companionship and love. Any group or individual that would resort to shunning is toxic.