Thursday, January 5, 2012


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.


  1. I have been shunned by my family. I'm not sure exactly why. My sister is schizophrenic and I think it is centered around that.

    It has been Extremely damaging to me. In a situation where I have to deal with a sibling's mental illness and could use all the love and compassion I could get, I get less than none. My daughter is getting married and there is not a single relative in the family I was born into that I feel I can invite to the wedding.
    I do feel there are very toxic elements, but no matter how hard I intellectualize understanding, I am devastated emotionally.

  2. I'm so sorry, naturalfiberandcolor. Shunning is so very hurtful. I hope you find some peace soon.

  3. Shunning from my mother, sisters, and now even my oldest son has been completely life changing to me. My feelings of self worth are in the garbage..I just am having a terrible time with the way that I have been treated by these people who are supposed to love me unconditionally. The reasons for their shunning aren't even explained, and I am left alone to try and figure out why?? I am married to a wonderful man, for over 34 years..we married in our early twenties..and we are still very strong together. So..problems that come from divorce just doesn't apply to me.
    I have tried on numerous occasions to find out why they have all decided to be so cruel..and they refuse to explain, because they don't even answer my calls to reach out to them.
    I come from terrible childhood neglect and abuse, and so, at one time when I was a sick teenager, the hospital authorities found out that my family needed counseling..and they refused to acknowledge any problems. My mother especially has been in denial for a very long time.
    I have become the "scapegoat", because I exposed family abuse as a sick teen, and now, even into my mid fifties, I am being punished for this! Now, my oldest sister has managed to turn my oldest son (now thirty) against me, and he continues to go to their family gatherings, knowing that I, and my dear husband are "shunned". The feelings of betrayal are overwhelming at times. We have been good parents, and have set a good example of how a working marriage functions..yet, my son has chosen to take their side. It took years of psychiatric care and counseling for me to get healthy emotionally about my sisters and mother's shunning, but now I am having a more difficult time with my own beloved son's behavior. Apparently, he takes the side of my very unloving and abusive sisters and mother.
    It hurts even more deeply now that I am a grandmother for the first time..and we are not allowed to see our baby grandson. My sisters have poisoned my daughter-in-law's mind, and somehow convinced her that I deserve to be treated this way. I have never interfered with their children's lives, so for them to do this with mine is causing me great distress. I will never understand how they can get away with this emotional abuse towards me, yet I live in hope that someday, they will wake up to their hurtful shunning ways, and treat me properly. Right now, I can forgive them, but really don't know how to restore my relationship with my son..the one relationship that means more to me than the toxic relationships with the other women of my family.
    There is a little grandson who will never know just how much I love him..they deny me access to him, for no good reasons. My son will have to decide to come back to us, his parents on his own, I have stopped "begging" him, and can only hope that he starts to do the right thing, and stand up for the truth. My story is very sad indeed. The biggest bullies of my life have been those people who were supposed to love me..but I have found so much comfort in my loving husband and his side of the family because they are much healthier than my side.
    This has changed who I am, and I struggle every day to stay strong emotionally. I am a good person, who deserves to be treated with basic love and respect, and if I don't get it from my mother, or sisters, or now my son, his wife..there's not much I can do. My heart goes out to other people out there who are experiencing undeserved ill treatment..I know from personal experience, that nothing positive comes out of this, other than it makes me resolve to reach out to other hurting people.

    1. I am going through the Very Same thing; My Mom & 2 Older Sisters have Shunned me & my Daughter who in her early 20's. Sorry to hear your going through the same thing.
      God Bless

    2. I'm going through the same. It's been five years now, my two siblings refusing to speak to me or see me. Have forced my elderly parents to choose between seeing me at holidays or their grandchildren. They of course chose the grandchildren--I have no children. So I am alone, completely.

      I'm also a good person, though to hear my brother describe me I'm "worse than Hitler" - yes, he said that about me. I'm just an ordinary, professional woman, single, mid 50s, never been an alcoholic, or drug user, or mentally ill. Just ordinary!

      But I've done something (they won't say what) that they don't like. And even five years of no contact, they're still finding a way to blame me for everything bad in their lives. I feel like Alice in Wonderland--the whole family is crazy, or I am. And I don't think it's me.

      I really feel your pain, Madeline. I keep hoping it will all end soon, but now I'm beginning to believe it will never end. I have lost my only family forever.

    3. I'm so sorry, UnknownFounder. But, as I like to say, "It's not a punishment to be shunned by assholes." If your siblings won't tell you what their problem is and work to resolve it, I think they fit the definition of "assholes".

      That doesn't make this less painful for you, though, and I am truly empathetic to your situation. I hope it will get better for you.

  4. Thank you for writing this blog and all the comments. I was shunned at 16 years old for leaving my family cult. I had very good reasons as well. They were very abusive, and my mom is paranoid schizephrenic so while some things are not technically her fault - it still hurts deeply.

    I have a theory that this hits a survival place in the brain. Think about it, if a person back in the day didn't have a tribe or was exiled, their chances of survival go down. They are your protection, your home, your stability. Take all of this away overnight? I lost all my friends and family that I had ever known! Devastated doesn't even begin to cover it. I immediately was trying to survive! And the nightmares are never ending. I am 40 and I still fear sleeping because sleeping equals nightmares. I have no idea what to do, and I am ashamed to say while I have been to a few psychiatrists for depression and anxiety I have not mentioned once that I have been shunned. I feel like such a freak. I am in such a great marriage for 19 years now, unfortunately I am barren. But I am in an awesome mainstream Christian church that I love and that doesn't ever shun. I think shunning should be outlawed - like murder. I have finally decided to go to a psychiatrist and actually be upfront about why I am having problems. But, it took over 11 years of suffering from hives and exhaustion to do it. I hope I can get the words out. I think that those who have been shunned have a sort of PTSD. But, again, that is just a guess.

    I wonder if this deep abiding pain will ever go away. I got a priest that was in disbelief that I didn't love myself and didn't believe I deserved anything good. No, I didn't tell him about the shunning. If I had, he may have had an inkling of why I feel this way. Maybe next time I will be brave enough to say it. I wish shunning never happened to anyone ever. I pray for all those who go through it. Also, anyone know of any way to actually deal with it? Because pretending it didn't happened doesn't really seem to work. I am very seperated from my emotions. There has to be a better way.

    1. I'm sorry for what you're dealing with. I think your best bet is to keep working with your therapist and psychiatrist. Be honest about the shunning.

      You are very fortunate to have a great marriage and a good church community. I hope you will lean on them for support.


Comments on older posts will be moderated until further notice.