Getting Through Shunning

Experiencing the shunning that some high-control groups are famous for can be a lot like being stuck in a maze. (Perhaps the most egregious example is Jehovah’s Witnesses*, so we will speak mainly about their effect and how to navigate and assuage it.) Especially if the people who are shunning us are close family members, like parents, grandparents, siblings, or our own children. Because those familial relationships never end. Our mother will always be our mother, and our children will always be our children. Whichever way we turn, those people and relationships are still at least some part of who we are.

Getting through the Shunning Maze does not mean ending the shunning, except perhaps for rare cases. We are virtually powerless to make the shunning stop, since we can’t control the thinking of the shunners. And we all know that, as long as they are JWs, they will always believe that they are acting out of love for us, and that WE are the ones who are making the shunning happen. Any pain we feel is simply proof to them that we are in dire need of repentance, turning our lives around, and reinstatement. Beyond that, our pain has no meaning to them.

What we really want is to stop getting stuck in those emotional dead ends, where we are always coming face-to-face with a relationship we can’t fix. That’s why I pictured it as a maze, but really, it’s NOT a maze with only one route out. Nor is it a “cycle” with discrete phases. Learning to cope with, heal from, and thrive beyond shunning is a PROCESS.

For that process to be healthy, it must lead to Acceptance. We’ll explain Acceptance a little bit later.

Along the way, we will experience most or all of the various aspects of any grieving process: Shock & Denial, Pain & Guilt, Anger & Resentment, Sadness (depression, reflection, loneliness), Upturns and Downturns, Rebuilding, and Acceptance.

Every single one of those things is NORMAL to experience. Just as it’s normal to cry at a funeral, we may cry over being shunned. Just as it’s normal to experience anger before, during, or after that funeral, we may feel anger and frustration over being shunned. Always remember that ALL emotions are normal and there is no such thing as a negative emotion. It’s only when a difficult, painful emotion persists over time and/or with inappropriate intensity that it may become debilitating, and even result in us hurting ourselves and/or others. In their proper places, ALL emotions have healing properties, and therefore purpose, and are therefore NECESSARY.

Phew, it’s good to know we’re normal, right? But chances are we’d still prefer to not experience things like pain and sadness. How do we get there?

Until we get to Rebuilding ourselves, and finally get to Acceptance, we are doomed to repeat any or all of those painful emotions. That means, if e.g. we are stuck in Anger & Resentment, we will not make it to Rebuilding and Acceptance, and we will also at times repeat Pain, Sadness, and any or all of the rest. It’s only Rebuilding and Acceptance that will get us past the painful emotions.

Again, the question is, How do we get there?

Acceptance means accepting the situation for what it is and not continually fighting it. It means accepting who we are, knowing that who we are is GOOD, and being happy with who we are. It means being willing and anxious to Rebuild with whatever resources we have. It means moving forward despite the odds.

Okay, but how in the world does one ACCEPT the reality of shunning? How does one accept something that is absolutely unacceptable?

Three things. First, putting things into perspective. Second, practicing forgiveness. Third, practicing gratitude.

Perspective. We know how JWs think. Heck, we used to be one. Maybe unwillingly, if we were raised as one with no other choice. But we do know how they think, and more than likely shared some of that thinking at one time. We might have even agreed to some extent with the shunning practice and participated in it. Naturally that did nothing to prepare us for what we are now experiencing, especially if it’s close family that’s hurting us. But really, is it reasonable to expect anything else from them? As long as they are JWs, they are duty-bound to think exactly as instructed. Their thinking is incredibly limited, ours expansive. Any anger and resentment we display toward them, any tit-for-tat reactions, will only further convince them that they are right and we wrong. Remember, it’s about perspective. Which leads to…

Forgiveness. Really? Who are we forgiving, and for what? First and foremost, we can forgive OURSELVES. Not necessarily for the behavior that is the reason for the shunning. But for allowing ourselves to be any part of that awful religious system in the past. Even if it wasn’t our fault because we were born into it, give ourselves the freedom that comes with forgiveness. Know that we are a good person who doesn’t deserve to be shunned. Look at ourselves in the mirror, smile, and tell ourselves that. Also, yes I’m going to say it, forgive the shunners. I know that may sound outrageous. I mean, how can any mother completely violate the very laws of nature by putting blind obedience to the men who are operating a destructive religious organization above love for her own offspring? How is that forgivable in any universe? Well, when we forgive, we are not necessarily saying that what the person did is OK. Nor withholding forgiveness until they completely stop what they’re doing. We are LETTING GO OF RESENTMENT. We are SETTING OURSELVES FREE. Unabated anger, bitterness, and resentment will eat us alive and completely rob us of any chance at happiness and contentment. Let’s not allow that to happen. Let go of resentment and forgive. If it still seems illogical and wrong, just please try it anyway. Once we’ve done it, we will understand. Forgiveness leads to…

Gratitude. There are so many things to be grateful for. It can be as simple as waking up alive one more day. Having our favorite cereal for breakfast. Knowing that we’re smarter and more important than the bug that just flew into the bug-whacker. Hearing a beautiful piece of music come out of nowhere. Looking out our window and seeing a twig with one green leaf blowing in the wind. Being able to do a crossword puzzle. A glass of cold water. OR we might find some gratitude in knowing what we know, and for the person(s) who taught us. I’ll use a personal example. I am extremely grateful for having an expansive and accepting attitude toward all people, regardless of race, gender, education, social standing, etc. Part of me being that way is the education I got from the JWs. Whether I would have turned out the same way without them, I’ll never know. The point is I am who I am, and I learned some of it from the JWs. Had my parents been JWs (they were not), I suppose I would then have to be grateful for being so instructed by JW parents, even if they are now shunning me. There’s very little in life that’s all good all of the time, or all bad all of the time. Practicing gratitude for the good makes it impossible to remain in a state of anger, bitterness, and resentment over the bad.

Try it. Try changing that perspective. Try practicing forgiveness. Try practicing gratitude. It probably won’t stop the shunning, but it will make Acceptance possible and easier.




* Although Jehovah’s Witnesses and other high-control groups will downplay their policies, even objecting to the use of the word “shunning,” it is exactly what they do. Among the many documented examples on their own website is this: Be Loyal When a Relative Is Disfellowshipped. Then compare the language used there with this article, also on the website: Do Jehovah’s Witnesses Shun Those Who Used to Belong to Their Religion? The effort at obfuscation is obvious, and the subsequent message clear.

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