Shunning has a negative connotation for some very good reasons. It has been a form of punishment for centuries, most often used in religious organizations when people were accused of not following the doctrine. Shunning was a way of formally rejecting and isolating those who were seen as being different and nonconforming.
Shunning may have a severe emotional or social impact on the individuals being shunned. The emotions for them may be intense and are most often associated with rejection and alienation. These feelings can become incapacitating and lead to anxiety and depression in severe cases. Some people have even gone to the extreme of taking their own lives to avoid the feelings.
In an attempt to see the other side of the proverbial coin, I wanted to identify some of the positive consequences of being shunned in this day and age. Shunning continues to happen in churches, families, and organizations throughout the world. How can we apply a learning mindset to this historically negative experience?
I have experienced shunning throughout my life, most often from my dad. My relationship with him throughout my adult life has been a series of on-again and off-again periods. The off again is when have I experienced the shunning. There have been extended periods of time when we did not communicate with each other.
I remember that when this started, I was somewhat shocked by the experience. After my parents divorced when I was ten, my relationship with my dad became very strained. It only got worse as I grew into a teenager filled with resentment for him for divorcing my mom and breaking up our family.
I remember he came to my high school graduation, and it felt very awkward seeing him after about a three-year period of silence. It gave us the opportunity to reconnect, and I ended up spending a summer with him and his family. I felt like an outsider with people whom I was related to.
I felt exasperated at being there when I wanted to be back home with my new boyfriend. I talked with my stepmom about being gay and being in a new relationship, and in time my dad found out as well. I barely remember anything about how that talk went. I do remember that my dad was very disappointed in me, and there was a sizable shift in our relationship that has never been repaired.
I learned about myself during those shunning periods, which served me each time they happened with my dad with other people in my life. I was grateful for the lessons but not for the hardship that I had to endure to learn the lessons. I was able to find some positive consequences of the shunning experiences the more I reflected on them.
While I only highlight three positive consequences here, there are certainly many more that could be added. It is important to have a growth mindset with anything perceived as negative because it will allow for a more balanced understanding of the experience and situation.
Firstly, it is possible for an individual who is being shunned to gain more self-confidence through the experience and process. With an open mindset, it is possible to see the situation that led up to the shunning more clearly. The responsibility that belongs to each of the parties involved in the shunning can be clarified with self-reflection and meditation.
Secondly, individuals who are being shunned can build more confidence in themselves when they see clearly what is theirs and what belongs to others. This can happen when the emotions of the situation are processed and removed. Gaining confidence as a result of being shunned is a significant way to transmute the experience altogether.
Thirdly, when individuals are shunned, they have the opportunity to explore how to become stronger in their other relationships. They can build on the things that make them a good person while accepting the flaws that may have contributed to them being shunned in the first place. The saying, ‘that which does not kill us makes us stronger,’ is clearly applicable in the context of shunning.
It is possible to be shunned and feel proud. When individuals are able to set boundaries for themselves while they are being shunned, it shows a tremendous amount of willpower, and that is cause for celebration.
Shunning gives individuals the opportunity to enjoy more time with people who love and accept them. It also gives them a chance to remove stress from their lives by eliminating harmful thoughts—the very opposite effect from what is associated with shunning.
My own experiences with shunning have involved both positive and negative consequences. I have had enough experience with it over the years to grow from it. While I would not wish it anyone, I think it is meaningful to share a different perspective on shunning that focuses on the positive. I am not suggesting that my experience with shunning is the norm or that it should be your experience. Part of my healing is focused on seeing it from both sides. In some ways the shunning I experience with my dad now is more intense than ever before, and yet I have developed the self-awareness, self-confidence, and maturity to live in harmony.
I recognize that shunning is similar to grieving in that it must be experienced individually, and there are no right or wrong ways to go through it. No one has the right to judge another for how he or she experiences shunning. In the end, shunning shows us ways to grow as a person and who not to associate with in our lives.
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