Don’t Be a Shunner


I’ve been doing a little reading up on the practice of shunning. It’s a form of punishment usually attributed to the Amish, but apparently is used through Jehovah’s Witnesses and other religious groups and cults as well.

When it comes to Shunners, families are probably the worst. To be completely discarded by someone you have known your entire life, to be treated as if you no longer exist, is horrendously painful and unimaginable to some folks. Human beings are social creatures. It puts a different spin on life when you wake up each day knowing you are missing out on all the human experiences that were such an integral part of your existence. It also messes up your personal history. Each memory with the people involved isn’t funny or sweet anymore. It just makes you feel a little sick, like you are watching the former you through a thick foggy window.

Here is a good description of the Shun as it pertains to families. It was written on Reddit by escabeloved:

“Shunning is a silent and insidious form of psychological torture. … You end up believing that you are the broken one, the unlovable one, instead of an innocent victim of a vicious group bent on controlling its members through fear of experiencing what we (as the example) are going through, or … punishing those who have stayed away.”

As Janice Harper wrote in Huffington Post:

“We justify shunning through gossip, revising our opinions of those we once respected and in many cases loved, and by diffusing our responsibility as we note others are doing the same.”

I am fortunate in that I have been on the other side of the Shun and I see how the join-up system works. This is the story:

A cousin-in-law of ours — I’ll call her Big Red (with apologies to the noble race horses who carried that moniker — she really doesn’t deserve it) — decided she didn’t like a Facebook friend. She had her own reasons — seemingly hysterical — where this person had offended her. She decided to contact all the Baileys and instruct us all to unfriend this person. The name spread through the family like an oil spill — calls and emails, gossip, “This goes WAY beyond Facebook.”

Instead of simply unfriending the person and shrugging them off, I took a pause. Big Red was not close to me. In fact, she had been extremely rude more than once. I owed her no favors. I hadn’t heard from her in years. Why was I all of a sudden getting phone calls from her?

Then, my brother joined in, laundry listing all the reasons why this person should NOT be on my friends list. Not one of the reasons had anything to do with me. Nor did they even seem like that big a deal.

I decided to make up my own mind about the Facebook friend. I had never seen any behavior that was inappropriate or rude. So I just forgot about it.

I received a hysterically angry phone call from Big Red, complete with threats, and a nasty voicemail after I hung up on her.

Then I got hate mail from her offspring.

(Incidentally, it happened only 3 weeks after my dad died…. Which just further confirmed the character of these Shunners and how I was on the right track.)

But, I had flunked the Shun.

Of course, I’d made the right choice. I would like to say the Facebook friend pulled someone out of a burning building or later won the Nobel Peace Prize. But that never happened. I had simply refused to hurt the feelings of someone who, to me, was just an acquaintance, but had never done any harm to me, or to anyone else as far as I could tell.

Perhaps more importantly, I didn’t want to be controlled.

The family was in an uproar. The Shun is an important weapon and it requires cooperation. Since that time, I have watched it work against me. One by one, not only immediate family, but extended family members too, some of whom I adored, have lined up on command and fallen into that abyss.

Once you employ the Shun, there is no coming back from it. Understand that. Even if your victim forgives you, the trust is gone and your relationship will never be the same.

I am surprised by a few of them. I thought people were stronger. Or maybe I thought they liked me enough to not pretend that I have died. It’s very disappointing. But in thinking about the history of shunning, I realize that it was used by Nazis (marking the Jews with a star) and in the old days of the Salem witch trials — the hex is alive today. Not good company.

For those of you who are outcast, my heart goes out to you. As a little irony, here’s a Bible verse about shunning, 1 Corinthians 5:11:

But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is:

  • sexually immoral
  • greedy,
  • an idolater or slanderer,
  • a drunkard or swindler.

I just laughed and laughed about that one! There’s always a log in our own eye.

So think twice about joining up with any nasty gang-banging bullies who want to single someone out. Remember the next time, it could be you.

Be strong. Be honest. Be kind and humble. Make up your own mind about people. Everyone is walking their own path and carrying a load you can only imagine.

And — if you are on the flip side of the Shun, fear not. You are being pushed away — in the right direction!

There is life out here. It gets better. So, so much better.

About Nancy J. Bailey

Artist, author, bad karaoke singer. Woodsy ragamuffin. Mom of a horse named Clifford who plays fetch and paints with watercolors. He visits libraries and schools with me, to promote literacy and making the world a better place. Yes, he is house trained, no, he doesn't live in my house! I have written three books about Clifford. But my newest book, THE NORTH SIDE OF DOWN, is co-written by my awesome sister Amanda, who has Down syndrome. Her unexpected one-liner wisecracks can always make me laugh. If you make me laugh, you've made my day!
This entry was posted in abuse, empathy, families, family, relationships and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Don’t Be a Shunner

  1. Pingback: Save Our Great Lakes! (Shut Down Line 5) | Diary of a Misplaced Yooper: Cliffy's Mom's Blog

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