shunning…it’s not just religious anymore

Birth of Mennonite movement

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, with her express permission. Both she and I are interested in any feedback, support groups and assistance any of you reading this can offer.

About Madeline Scribes

A writer with a sense of humor. If anyone can laugh at life, it's me.
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36 Responses to shunning…it’s not just religious anymore

  1. Please congratulate your friend on my part for finding love and discovering who are not true friends to her!


    • Thank you George. Finding it out this way has to be very painful though. I hope she can hold it all together until this passes.


      • Erin Reading says:

        Hello. I just came across your article and I wanted to say THANK YOU! I thought I was going crazy. I moved to a small town 2.5 years ago. In the beginning no one would speak to me, probably for 4 months. I slowly started making friends. I had a good life. Then, I ended a friendship over something serious. As time passed it seemed like one by one, each close friend picked an odd fight, I wouldn’t even know we were fighting, and end our friendship suddenly. Now, each new person I start hanging with abruptly stops talking to me. I am from a very big city and didn’t realize people acted like this. I hold my head up and smile at each one as I see them around. Some days are hard though. I have no one to talk to or socialize with. I wonder if it will ever get better. At least now I have your article to help me place a form of identification or name to place to my feelings. Again, thank you.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I’m so sad to read about your experiences in this small town. My best advice is to spend your time getting to know yourself better, plan trips to wonderful places and know in your heart that their bad behavior is not your problem. You do have friends! Your real friends just don’t live there. I tell myself that every day and I make time to nurture my true friendships. They are the ones that deserve my attention, not the childish creepy people that have no idea what a friend is. Hugs to you Erin! I am your friend afar.


  2. I readit I understood! In-cooperate into my thought pattern I don’t know,non-political. ~Wikipedia To much compassion.


  3. Human says:

    Fabulous, that you brought this up. So many people do so many things that they would never admit to, and consequentially, won’t take responsibility for. They create self righteous exceptions to the rule: “Love thy neighbor.” and blame the victim for their own appalling behavior.


    • It always seems easier to blame the victim. I mean, why not go ahead and kick them while they’re already writing in pain on the ground from the mental mindfuck they just got dragged through? People that do this kind of stuff never cease to amaze me with their arrogance and audacity.

      I’m going to be writing more about this. Anything you would like to chime in and add would be welcome. While
      I am intrigued, I am also perplexed that something like shunning could still be condoned by mature and intelligent adults.

      I can’t wait to see what I’m able to figure out.


  4. OneHotMess says:

    Thank you for this… It feels heaven sent.


  5. Very good article. I believe that shunning is emotional abuse for all involved. Thank you for sharing this info


  6. Timely and needed post! I was shunned when I left my up bringer’s religion…..Jehovah’s Witnesses…..and shunned again when it was revealed that I am diagnosed with a serious mental illness. The only thing powerful enough to combat shunning is love. Keep on going.


    • I’ve read some scary articles about the JWs. Kudos to you for making it through that ordeal. It is true that love conquers all. Thank you for sharing your past with us and letting all of us know that there is a light at the end of the shunning.


  7. theINFP says:

    Amazing! In England people are sent to Coventry 😉


  8. terrytrekker says:

    This is a great topic! Thank you!


  9. Regyna Longlank says:

    My heart aches for her, such a difficult situation. I’m dating a man twelve years younger than myself. Not everyone approves. But I like pissing people off and making them uncomfortable, and I live in a town where no one cares or notices much so it’s mostly a non-issue for me. To have to choose between the love you have found and your home is too cruel. I’m so glad she found you, and she has support. At least she knows she is not in this alone.


  10. Kristine says:

    This is my story. I’m so touched at all the support you have voiced here, everyone. I can’t tell you how much it means that people I’ve never met are not judging me for my choices. Sadly, a combination of the terrified, panicky woman I’ve become as a result of this awful treatment and the pressure from others has gotten to be too much for him: he’s decided he needs space to decide what we are all about, whether we’re meant to be. So your support, and Madeline’s, means more to me than ever. Thank you.


    • Regyna Longlank says:

      Yes, it is a lot of pressure. Even in the best of times love is fragile, and so vulnerable to the winds of culture. I’d like to think it doesn’t matter, that if two people love each other it is enough. But we live with other people, and it is natural to want to get along. Part of what we admire in our partner is how they are in the world as an individual, we want to be proud of their choices and feel good about who they are when they are not with us. We want the world to know it is real, not just sex, not just an exciting convenience, but a true emotional bond with real feelings involved. And even though I say I like to shock people in my heart I still want them to understand. And approve. Yes, I think it is fair to say I want that for myself, for my partner, for our choice to be together. The approval and acceptance of my people. Isn’t that what we all want? We try to earn it by being a good person, we try to buy it back with apologies when we feel we have done less than our best.

      In the end the people who are turning away from you don’t see you. They see an idea. A concept of something they think is wrong. Not a person. If they saw the two of you as people I doubt they would behave in such a way. My only advice for you is this: don’t acknowledge their passive aggressive behavior. Because you care what they think you are letting them get to you. You are giving your power away. Don’t.

      Don’t look to see if they are watching you. Don’t think about them at all. At this point it will probably be really difficult to do, but you can’t let them see that they’ve gotten to you. To take back your power you have to stop caring. Hold your head up high and walk by like they aren’t there. Whatever their problem is, jealousy, boredom, ignorance, just let it go. You know who you are and you know what is real. They don’t get to judge you. They clearly have no idea who you are!


    • Thank you for coming online and introducing yourself sweetie. Hang in there! There is a lot of support out there for you.


    • Theresa says:

      Kristine, I can relate to your story. I am presently being shunned in my community. I believe it has something to do with a much younger man that I was seeing a while back. In order for him to socialize freely in the community ,I must be gone. A very public accusation was made insinuating that I was a bully. I am outspoken ,but not a bully. So many of my friends were his friends so they have made a choice. No one calls, no one “likes” my Facebook posts, and if I see on e of them they give me a “sorry” face. Six weeks into this and am in deep depression. I am terrified to go out in my community in case I should have to answer questions about the incident. I have stood at the door dressed and ready to go out and dissolved in tears and fear. I don’t know what to do anymore.


      • Theresa the best thing you can do for yourself is lay low. Don’t push yourself too hard to go out. Use this time to heal and to take care of yourself. This will all die down sooner than you think. Take care of yourself until then.


  11. Disillusioned says:

    A friend of mind is condemned by her adult children for marrying a really nice guy four years after the divorce with their father. Sure, they want her to be happy, but not if it causes them the slightest bit of discomfort. Egocentricity and intolerance are close companions.


  12. Give your friend a hug from me, it is terrible when others take out their insecurities (and dare I say it–jealousies) on others! This is emotional abuse, plain and simple. The words “walk away” come to mind, but this is easier said than done when it is so many people close to you. My immediate family has dealt with this off and on from our extended fam (sometimes from real shunning, sometimes perceived–emotional abuse plays with your head), as they say in basketball “the best defense is a good offense.” It’s hard to do, but the problem does not rest with her, so she should act accordingly. Even if it hurts on the inside, being the shrinking violet while going about her daily activities around town (or, even worse, failing to do her normal routine and hiding) only offers more fuel for the bad behavior as instead of making these people feel awful (which they should) it will make them feel justified, probably even a little triumphant. Usually, behavior like this has ringmaster behind it (when will lemmings stop trundling off those damnable cliffs?), it might be a good idea for your friend to try to figure out how the ball got rolling on this. It’s not like everyone woke up one day and thought “hmmm, I’m not going to talk to so and so anymore.” Sometimes taking steps to figure out the behavior (whether it’s the who or why) can be empowering.

    I would also hazard to say that not a lot has been lost because those people were never really her friends. Good and true friends are hard to find. I got ousted and slandered by a couple of mine from college, and after some reflection I realized I was better of without them. If they can’t accept you for who you are and love you for your faults and virtues, then they aren’t your friends so much as spectators to your life. You can bet they talk about you when you aren’t around and judgmentally dissect your actions. We’re all guilty of this at times, I used to be very bad with this kind of behavior: then I started to grow up and learn what trust and friendship really mean and why those things are so important.

    Please give your friend yet another hug from me. Give her my email address, I’ll be her friend (I don’t care if she has fifty lovers).


  13. Pingback: How to Survive the Shun | Spread Information

  14. Pingback: shunning…it’s not just religious anymore | Coherent Picture Individual Differences

    • I went and checked out your blog and it’s all re-blogs. There’s nothing wrong with that, but filling out your About section might be a nice start to letting people know what you’re up to and why you only re-blog instead of writing your own stuff.

      Also, this one is a copy and paste, even though you reblogged this when it was first written. Before I start thinking you’re a weirdo…why not tell me what your method is here and how I can help you out?


  15. JTeastAZ says:

    Wow. This is VERY relevant to the handful of “company towns” left in the U.S. MORENCI, AZ is a prime example, and I live there. Freeport-McMoRan executives have ignored company policy on human rights and ethics investigations in the shunning of individuals in this “town” Freeport has a miserable human-rights records overseas, and they are well on their way to repeating that failure in their own back yard.


  16. Pingback: How to Survive the Shun | Madeline Scribes

  17. Lisa Shipe says:

    Madeline I am in a situation parallel to your friend when she was shunned, for exactly the same reason. I don’t know what to do and have next to no support system.


    • Hi Lisa! I am so sorry to hear that you’re experiencing something that can be this painful. My first suggestion is to start talking apart the shun. Sometimes when you start to break down the components of what’s happening to you, it makes it easier to deal with and even recover from eventually.

      Seek the advice of a professional counselor right away. Don’t wait! This will be your support system for now.

      Take care of yourself while this is going on and let me know how you get along from here. Sending you healing light and love.


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