‘A Loving Provision’?

How former Jehovah's Witnesses experience shunning practices

Master's Thesis by Julia Gutgsell


The impact of ostracism (being excluded or ignored) on its targets has been extensively explored in the last decades. Ostracism has been found to have adverse effects on targeted individuals physical and mental health. Most research in this field, however, has focused on the immediate and short-term impact on ostracised individuals and has been conducted under laboratory conditions. Utilising a qualitative approach, the current study explored the long-term impact of chronic ostracism in former members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses who were excommunicated from their community following a variety of doctrinal transgressions. Moreover, the study explored how ostracised individuals make sense and explain ostracism to themselves. The study comprised twelve qualitative interviews with six participants. The results of this study support findings from previous studies, in regards to the short-term effects of ostracism. Ostracism affects four fundamental human needs; the need for belonging, self-esteem, control and meaningful existence. The study offers preliminary evidence that these basic human needs are not only thwarted as a short-term consequence but continue to affect its targets beyond the immediate ostracism episode. Long-term effects of chronic ostracism, as experienced and described by participants in this study, include adverse effects on the perception of participants identity, the development of destructive and harmful coping mechanisms, feelings of disconnection from others, fears regarding ones’ personal integrity, as well as anxiety and uncertainty about the future. Further research in this area is needed to provide conclusive evidence for these long-term effects. Based on the findings of this study, a number of recommendations have been identified: The need for raising awareness of ostracism as a controlling and coercive behavioural tool amongst professionals who come in contact with children raised in environments that promote the use of this unethical behaviour, the provision of specialist support services for people who experience ostracism, plans and actions from policy makers and legislators to prevent and prosecute the unethical use of ostracism as a control tool.
Ostracism constitutes such a danger to our survival, that our brain has developed an overlapping alarm system, which allows us to detect even the smallest signs of ostracism so we can respond to it instantly.
Without having positive and interpersonal relationships, the survival of both human and animal species would not have been possible. Therefore, it is not surprising that a lack of these important relationships has adverse effects on our physical and mental health.
Sects, sectarian organisations, cults, New Religious Movements (NRM), destructive and authoritarian groups, high-control groups; these and others are all terms used by researchers to describe groups that exert power and undue influence over its members.
The present study examines one tactic used by high-control groups to retain and control members; shunning. In the context of the BITE model, shunning can be argued to be part of all four control areas, behaviour, information, thought and emotion.
The following section provides a rationale for the choice of methodology and method adopted for the current research project. Methodology, as a research strategy is underpinned by the kind of research questions a study is aiming to answer and the nature of the phenomenon being investigated.
The current study involved six participants, four females and two males. The age of participants ranged from 35 to 54. Four participants were of British origin, with three participants from England and one participant from Scotland. Two participants were of Polish origin, whose mother tongue was not English, but who had a good level of English.
Two sets of qualitative interviews were conducted with six former members, four female participants and two male participants, to gain an in-depth understanding of how being disfellowshipped and shunned, as a result, affected the participants sense-making of this disciplinary action and how they coped with being excluded from their former community.
As far as the researcher is aware, this is the first study of its kind in the field of Criminology, and a topic that has furthermore been rarely addressed by other disciplines.
The current study offers a range of recommendations, based on the research findings.
An exhaustive list of references used in the study of how former Jehovah's Witnesses experience shunning practices.
List of Abbreviations; Glossary; Invitation and informed consent form; Interview Schedules; Summary of characteristics of study Participants.

Comments are closed.