In Complicity, Please an entire school treats Lucia as if she is invisible or worse. This is one example of shunning. However, it can be just as devastating if only one person does the shunning.
Early man used shunning as a social control. If you broke an important rule such as, “Do not steal,” the other members of your community would band together and treat you as if you did not exist. A commonly quoted phrase related to this is, “You are dead to me.” Shunning is used today by only a few groups, again as a social control.
A long-time friend tells me shunning has been used by several generations of her own family. One of her uncles did not speak to his brother for 20 years. His twin brother! He also enlisted their sister and mother to join in the shunning. To this day, no one can explain why the brother did not speak to his twin for 20 years. When my friend went off to college, she was met at her dormitory by her shunned uncle and his daughter, relatives she had never heard much about and who she grew to love dearly. My friend has been shunned too. Her only sister has barely spoken to her for 25 years. I used to wonder why she didn’t heal the relationship until my friend explained that shunning is a one-way street. The person who shuns has all the power. The person being shunned is completely powerless and feels invisible and helpless.
Being shunned makes my friend feel so angry she scares me sometimes. It is humiliating to her. She began to wonder what was so wrong with her that her sister would not have anything to do with her. She worried that she must have a problem. She began to lose confidence in herself and believe the myth that there was a good reason for her to be shunned.
Shunning is never a good solution. If you want to solve a problem between you and your enemy, try communicating. If that doesn’t work, ask a trained counselor, therapist, or mediator to sit with you to ease the communication. If you want to cripple an enemy with cruelty, use shunning but — beware — it reflects badly back on the person doing the shunning.