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Shunning: The Trauma of Being Cut Off

Destructive cults control members through fear of excommunication.

Key points

  • Shunning is a dangerous practice used by cults.
  • Those who are kicked out of authoritarian religious organizations are cut off from their entire social universe.
  • The threat of being shunned is an example of the extreme social influence that encompasses all four aspects of the BITE model.
Leah Kelley/Pexels
Source: Leah Kelley/Pexels

Unless it has happened to you, it is impossible to describe the pain, confusion, and suffering a person endures when they are excommunicated from an authoritarian Bible group. People’s entire identities are molded around ideological conformity and dependence on commands from the leadership, believing that only those men know the Almighty’s will and understand the Bible properly. It is especially difficult when a person is raised in such a group, and their families and friends are all believers. The threat of being shunned is an example of the extreme social influence that encompasses all four aspects of the BITE model of authoritarian control, which includes behavior, information, thought and emotional control.

When a religious group that claims an exclusive connection to God kicks believers out, the authoritarian group simultaneously activates all four components of mind control. By ordering members to be cut off, they can no longer participate. Information and sharing of thoughts, feelings, and experiences are stifled. Thought-stopping and use of loaded terms keep a person constrained into a black-and-white, all-or-nothing world. This controls members through fear and guilt!

The BITE Model (behavior, information, thought, and emotional control)

Behavior control refers to how an organization modifies behavior with rewards and punishments, along with promoting dependence and obedience. People who are kicked out are essentially being told that “God” is displeased, and members could no longer speak with or associate with them. They are cut off from their entire social universe: those they depended on for love, friendship, guidance, and livelihood.

As for information control, leaders do not want their members to speak with ex-members or do personal research outside of the allowable group information. Plus, they withhold and distort information and generate and use propaganda. One troubling result is most high-control groups discourage their members from seeking help from mental health care professionals, even when they display troubling signs of acute depression, anxiety, panic disorder, dissociation, suicidal thoughts, autism spectrum disorder, or a variety of personality disorders.

Thought control happens when the leaders of the organization use loaded language and cliches to prevent critical thought. Also, members are taught to reject rational analysis, critical thinking, and doubt.

The universal mind control technique is phobia indoctrination, which combines with the emotional feeling that, as a believer, you are one of the chosen, one of the elite who will live forever. Leaders of these organizations use the following strategies:

  • Instill irrational fears (phobias) of questioning or leaving the group.
  • Teach emotion-stopping techniques to prevent anger.
  • Promote feelings of guilt, shame, and unworthiness.
  • Teach that there is no happiness or peace outside the group.

Learning about cult mind control and getting support from healthy ex-members who understand cult recovery strategies helps support ex-members who are being shunned.

Freedom to believe or not

All religions should fundamentally support basic human rights and need to be transparent and open. We believe that anything that is legitimate will stand up to scrutiny. Yes, if a religious group is genuine, then love, compassion, and charity will be the dominant emotional teachings, not fear, guilt and condemnation.

Relationships between family members should be honored and encouraged, never punitively disrupted. People should be free to get medical treatment, have an education, read whatever information they wish to learn about, and speak to whomever they wish to interact with. Authoritarian cult leaders dictate policies that serve continued obedience and dependence, and this is wrong.


BITE Model of Authoritarian Control

Dissertation: The BITE Model of Authoritarian Control: Undue Influence, Thought Reform, Brainwashing, Mind Control, Trafficking and the Law