Luisa Haas

Luisa Haas: Traumatized By Mandated Shunning

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I was a born-in to true-believing members of a faith-based group that practised mandated shunning. At ten years of age, I learned just how inhumane the practice is. And for me, it was a traumatizing event; one that I will never forget. 

My parents, who were devout Jehovah’s Witnesses, sat down with me and my 5-year-old brother. They told us that our older brother, 18 years of age, had died. He no longer loved Jehovah, and would hereafter be treated as if he were dead. I was in a state of shock! I begged my father and mother to forgive him. Again and again, I begged. But each time they responded with, “God must come first in our lives, even over our own firstborn child.”

I was devastated, thinking I would never see my big brother again. He would not be with me in the new world, in paradise, because he had rejected Jehovah God. At that age, I didn’t know the words mandated shunning. That it was an integral practice of the religious group I grew up in. But I knew how shunning worked. 

Whenever I did something wrong as a child, as early as five, my parents would not speak to me. Even when food was put on the table, they wouldn’t say a word or show me any kind of love or affection until I apologized or my behaviour improved.

At age 21, I married a man who had grown up in the same high-control religion as me. Per church rules, we had to be virgins before marriage. If not, we would have become victims of mandated shunning and cursed with a social death sentence. 

During our first year of marriage, I suspected something was wrong. Then my husband confessed to me that he felt like he was a woman, trapped in a man’s body. It was a significant shock and the marriage went downhill from there. We were married for four years when we finally went to our congregation elders. They did not know what to do and asked for advice from the headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the USA. Three years later, still in our marriage, we received word from headquarters that I was bound to my husband forever. Only his death or proof of his cheating on me would dissolve our marriage. I could not divorce him. If I did, I would be shunned.  

While I was still a believer in most of the JW teachings, not yet having done the needed research, I decided that was enough! I was leaving and would no longer be intimidated by the JW quilt and fear. I would put into practice advice I had been given several years before, which was, “Learn to get up from the table when you no longer get respect from the other side.” 

I was 28 when I left my husband and subsequently became the victim of mandated shunning. I was all alone in my new apartment with only a part-time job to support me. All my friends and mother no longer spoke to me. Everyone I had once known and fellowshipped with treated me as if I were dead. My mother’s parting words—”I wish you were dead! Then maybe Jehovah would have forgiven and resurrected you in the new world.”—played back over and over in my mind. It’s all I had from my mother and it stung every time I thought of it.

The first year of my shunning experience was very difficult. Fortunately, I worked in a bookstore and could talk to people. But I had lots of anger and long periods of despair. My first therapist only added to my problems. Finally, I found a competent therapist, who still supports me to this day.

I was also able to talk with other victims of the JW-mandated shunning policy. One group in particular that was helpful to me was the Dodo Club. It is organized so that each victim can meet non-judgmental people and embrace their newfound freedom. You are not allowed to feel sorry for yourself and share group events in a safe environment. 

I consider myself one of the fortunate few. Since the mandated shunning started three years ago, I met the love of my life. He is very understanding and treats me as an equal partner, encouraging me to find and embrace my authentic identity. You also might like to know that I have reunited with both my brothers. Even my father has left the group. However, he will need to do more research, as he is still captive to the group’s misguided beliefs and man-made policies.

Today, I am particularly concerned about the children in faith-based groups like JWs that practice mandated shunning. Government officials need to be more aware of this harmful practice. Hopefully, my story will help to stop mandated shunning!