by Jon Atack
Communication Heals the World
Alienation, ostracism, shunning & disconnection are cultic practice that cause psychological trauma far deeper and longer lasting than any physical injury.
A Weapon of Control
Alienation is a defining cultic practice, because isolation from the outside world is a necessity to keep members trapped in an abusive group or relationship. It is especially necessary to prevent communication with former members, so they are demonized with lurid tales of vicious and immoral behavior.
In the Jehovah’s Witnesses and other pseudo-Christian cults, the practice is called ‘shunning’. Departing members are labeled ‘apostates’ or ‘faith-breakers’.
‘Cherem’ or ‘Herem’ is practiced in Judaic cults, which cut off all communication with a dissenter. The Ba’hai label defectors ‘covenant-breakers’ and shun them.
Scientologists call the practice ‘disconnection’ and label dissenters ‘suppressive persons’ (SPs), which they say is synonymous with antisocial personalities – the psychiatric term for psychopaths. The only criterion for this label is criticism of Scientology or its creator. Any Scientologist who remains in touch with a ‘suppressive person’ can no longer receive the cult’s ‘processing’ or ‘indoctrination’ and will be labeled a ‘potential trouble source’ (PTS).
Respected counselors will occasionally suggest a pause in communication and even a permanent cessation, if the person concerned is violent or constantly abusive, but they will not order ostracism, and disagreement with doctrine would never be considered sufficient reason for ostracism.
In parental alienation, the parent with custody blocks communication from the other parent and tells the child that the other parent is bad or dangerous. Letters, birthday and Christmas cards and gifts will not be passed on to the children, who are led to believe that the absent parent has abandoned them. In this situation, children grow up believing that one of their parents is a dreadful, uncaring person, and this can have significant psychological effects.
Learn more about Parental Alienation
On the receiving end of alienation, the social rejection can be very harmful. It can lead to antisocial behavior by someone who has been rejected. It heightens anxiety and depression, and lowers self-esteem.
The silent treatment and sending to Coventry are common names for alienation. In some societies, alienation is a punishment for criminal or antisocial behavior, but in an abusive group it is simply a way to control the members: toe the party line, or be abandoned.
Kipling Williams has studied the effects of ostracism and found differences in response between men and women in that women seem to work harder to rejoin the group after ostracism. Williams’ work leaves no doubt that ostracism can have profound and lasting effects. His work and that of other experts can be found at Ostracism Awareness.