Getting Past the Shame in Shunning


Perhaps the hardest thing to get past if we’re being shunned is the shame associated with it.

Shame is not to be confused with guilt. Guilt is about WHAT WE HAVE DONE. Shame is about WHO WE ARE. It is easier to deal with rational guilt – it is about damage that we can fix to some extent. But when we are shamed, we believe we are a bad person. That is not so easy to fix.

Shame comes with shunning in several ways. The most obvious is when we are judged as having done something so bad, and have such a bad attitude about, that we are no longer worthy of the association of those who will now shun us. We are made to feel, not just guilt, but shame – we are a bad person who must completely turn around lest we be killed by God himself at his final war against evil.

Guilt is sometimes irrational and therefore destructive, sometimes rational and therefore constructive if we respond to it in a constructive way. Shame is seldom rational. Therefore it is usually destructive.

Another way shame becomes a factor in shunning is the shunning itself. We may be convinced that we did nothing to merit being shunned. Yet we are shunned. That in itself tends to make us feel shame. e.g. maybe our own parent(s) won’t even talk to us. How can that not make a person feel worthless? We are not even worthy of association with our own flesh and blood, the people who are supposed to most care for us no matter what – that is the epitome of shame.

A third way we may be stuck in a cycle of shame is if WE were wronged by someone. We all know many examples of things being terribly mishandled by JW elders, to the point of a child who has come forward about abuse by an older person being shamed for “allowing” it, “enjoying” it, or “lying” about it. In some cases the abused one has even been disciplined while the abuser has gotten off the hook. Add to that the fact that abusers groom the objects of their abuse to make them feel as if it’s their fault. People who have had that sad experience tend to go through life in a constant state of shame. We are not going to go into depth here about that specific situation – it is best left for its own discussion. But some of the principles we are getting to about dealing with shame do apply, so that anyone can make progress through the shame that comes with being shunned.

A wide range of emotions come into play when we are shunned. In previous installments of this series, we talked about Shock & Denial, Pain & Guilt, Anger & Resentment, Sadness (depression, reflection, loneliness), Upturns and Downturns, Rebuilding, and Acceptance. All of these are normal responses, and even necessary to one degree or another. Shame, on the other hand, is NOT necessary. It may understandably be felt for a time, but it is NOT necessary, not a healthy part of the grieving process.

If we are experiencing feelings of anger due to being shunned, we probably see that anger in ourselves. We may even at times think that we SHOULD be angry. The same thing with sadness. We know when we are sad. And we have a RIGHT to be sad. It can be more difficult, however, to recognize the feeling of deep shame we may continue to experience. Because that emotion can be masked by anger or sadness. It may even be that we are expressing anger as a coping mechanism to deal with our hidden shame. What we’re really angry about is feeling shame.

What can we do about the crippling effect of shame? It won’t go away unless we deal with it.


I’m going to say something that may surprise you, but when you think about it, you already know it’s true. When we were JWs, being shamed was a way of life.

Every aspect of our lives was an opportunity for someone to make us feel guilty, which soon leads to shame. Or they often go straight to shame.

Did you ever feel ashamed because of the numbers on your field service report? Because of not commenting at the meetings as many times as someone told you you should? Did you ever look over your shoulder when entering a movie theater, and see someone from the Kingdom Hall and feel shame? That is not guilt. That is SHAME. Did you ever think for a moment about buying that bikini for the beach, and just thinking about it made you feel shame? Did you ever have a question about anything the JWs teach, their way of treating people, and feel shame? Like, “What is wrong with me?”

The thing is, there was never anything wrong with you. The use of shame as a motivator is what was wrong. That was the JW organization and its members, not you. We all can improve in some area or another. That’s Okay. But feeling shame because we have not yet reached some ideal, especially when that ideal was created for us by someone else, is NOT OK.

We may know all that, but still the routine shame that followed us around everyday of our lives is still haunting us because it’s people that we love that are shunning us.

There’s one thing we need to work on. Our belief system.

Thoughts create emotions. Another way of putting it is that every emotion is preceded by a thought. Two things have to be true for that to be the case. First, the thought has to be in our mind. Second, we have to believe the thought. For example, if I say, tomorrow morning Godzilla is going to emerge from the ocean and wipe out your entire town and everyone in it, that thought is now in your head, and probably will be for the rest of your life. But do you BELIEVE it? If you DO believe it, you are going to be running around in a panic from this moment on. If you DON’T believe it, you may always remember me as the nutcase that said Godzilla was coming, but it will not affect you emotionally at all.

If we tame the thought, we tame the emotion.

What are our beliefs about the JW organization? We may have decided it’s nothing but hogwash. Yet it still matters in our minds. We are angry, sad, or something else about the fact that people are shunning us because the organization told them to, and it still matters to us.

Hold on a minute, what if the people that are shunning us are our own flesh and blood, such as our parent(s) or child(ren)? Realize that IT IS NOT ABOUT US. It is about their faulty belief system that says that they are somehow doing the most loving thing by shunning us. Deep down they may still love and want the best for us, but their extremely narrow, even fanatical focus prevents them from really doing so.

So then, we shouldn’t be angry at them, we should be angry at the organization, right? No, not really. We may feel that anger for a while, but let’s not get stuck in it. If we remain angry at the organization, we’re thinking about it. It still matters to us. It is still affecting us. Their BELIEF SYSTEM is still affecting us. Therefore, it is still part of OUR belief system, even if we don’t believe their doctrines and such.

I’ll tell you just a little bit about my personal experience. In my case it’s my three grown children that shun me. My parents have never been JWs. There is a different dynamic when a parent is shunned by their own children, compared to a child being shunned by their parent(s). Both are painful for some of the same reasons, and for some different reasons. Don’t think for a minute that I’m perfectly OK with not seeing or talking to my kids, or my new granddaughter. It still hurts, because I love them, and I will always be their father, even if I live to be 100. But I can honestly say that I don’t feel any anger or shame about it. Because I realize and believe that their narrow focus cannot be changed unless they want it to. So when I look across my desk at the 4”x 6” picture of my newborn granddaughter whom I will likely never see, I sometimes feel sad, but then I remember that a new life has come into the world. That is always a good thing. And she would not have been possible if not for me, my still-JW ex-wife, my daughter, and my son-in-law, whom I’m very glad she married – she could have done a lot worse!

I’m going to suggest a few phrases, a sort of mantra to repeat whenever those feelings of anger, sadness, or shame well up.

It is not about me.

It’s about their core beliefs.

They can’t help it.

They can’t think any other way.

It’s not up to me to fix them.

Use those phrases or a variation of them, or anything you’d like. Anything that convinces you that it is not about you. Anything that changes your core belief system. Anything that takes away the shame of being shunned.

In closing I want to mention something I heard from Rodney Allgood. I just changed it to my own words, written here in the first person to add to our “mantra.”

I am not disfellowshipped. Or disassociated. That is not who am I.

To refer to ourselves as disfellowshipped or disassociated identifies us with the JW organization. We are in that state relative to that organization. We can’t get back in because we’re DFed or DAed. Do we want to get back in? If the answer is no, then what’s the difference what they call us? If they for some reason changed their terminology to “excommunicated,” would we update our vocabulary to conform?

Rodney more or less put it this way. If we were put on detention back in High School, and were for some reason never taken off, are we still on detention 20 years after we’ve left that school? Of course not! So why should a label created by the organization we are no longer part of affect us?

I would say the same thing about the term “apostate.” I know many of us are proud to wear that label, and I respect that. But as for me, I don’t believe I am an apostate according to key parts of the extremely narrow definition believed by the JWs. I don’t hate God. I don’t hate Jesus. So how am I an apostate? If that label also bothers you, discard it as something of no importance, which it is. It’s a JW thing, not your thing. On the other hand, if you’re proud of that label, then by all means wear it with pride.

Coaching offers a way forward, so you can start transforming your life and turn your dreams into reality.