When a predatory pseudo-religious group demands that their members give you the silent treatment after you’ve abandoned their beliefs, it can really hurt. I should know, as I’ve experienced the distress of mandated shunning from my parents and siblings. Please see exhibit “A”, the essence of the message my mama sent me.

When the shunning started, I felt like I’d just been sucker punched in the pit of my stomach and the nagging ache would come and go at the most inopportune times.

Going back in time to 1964, at age 20, I walked away from my family’s utopian beliefs as Jehovah’s Witnesses, with their many rules and restrictions. I made my escape after spending 2 years at the world headquarters for JWs in Brooklyn, NY.

After leaving, my parents, siblings and JWs that I knew treated me with tolerable respect for the next 17 years. But in 1981, shunning was mandated for the first time from headquarters toward people like me. It was a manifestation of Watchtower’s undue influence and framed <gag> as an act of love for me and their god Jehovah.

Had I known in advance how the-pretending-you-don’t-exist experience would affect me, I would have learned more about emotional blackmail. For some people, the debilitating pain from shunning can last a lifetime, when not wisely addressed.

If only we had been able to read Bonnie Zieman’s new book, Shunned: A Survival Guide. In this superbly written easy-to-understand exposé, she elucidates on how our nervous system can and will react to this inhumane experience with the fight, flight or freeze response. While it didn’t happen to me, some victims are catapulted into a state of chronic alarm, even contemplating and committing suicide.

In her ground-breaking book, Bonnie meticulously explains how a person can manage the isolation, loneliness and grief caused by shunning. Not only how to cope with this cruel punishment, but how, if necessary, to rebuild a meaningful life after mandated desertion and repudiation by all of one’s family and close friends.

If you are being shunned, are terrified about the thought of being ostracized, know someone who is being disconnected, or are curious about this method of blackmail, you will be rewarded by reading this book. For me, the highlights of the read were:

– What not to do when being shunned
– How to deal with people who shun you
– How to manage the worst effects of shunning
– How to bounce back from cult dehumanization
– The need for finding a friend like Bonnie’s Mary
– The magic and menace of our brain’s mirror neurons
– How a brain can rewire itself after a traumatic experience
– Strategies and brilliant research on how to activate the ventral vagus nerve

Bonnie’s book is much more than an outstanding recovery guidebook. She makes a strong case for why we need to enforce and change laws about mandated shunning from predatory groups. This form of undue influence must be stopped now!

PS – I prepared the title and opening remarks for this blog to grab your attention. My only concern about using the words the silent treatment is that shunning is much more than that. For someone being shunned, they may well think: “I’m going through much more than the silent treatment. I have been erased, demonized, considered dead, abandoned, deserted, etc. etc.” If you’re that person, I want to apologize, because you’re absolutely right.

What do you think about this article? Do you agree? Have you read any of Bonnie’s books? Have you read Dick’s Mama’s Club trilogy? Do you have a story about shunning that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you!