The Social Death Penalty

Sia, Tafline Grace Borromeo
Miss Katarina A. Lacson
The Social Death Penalty
In recent years, it has become increasingly commonplace to hear of anti-bullying
campaigns and initiatives. Schools have adopted anti-bullying policies that tackle the problem
head-on by seeking to prevent cases happening in and outside the campus, investigating
reports of bullying, and punishing the perpetrators if the investigation uncovers their wilful
participation; various governments have pledged their support through the passing of laws
that incriminate bullying. Many anti-bullying campaigns and movements have emerged and
gained widespread prominence, but these are usually superficial and transient, leaving the
audience with little information to recognize and little desire to act. A dangerously harmful
misconception people have about bullying is that it is easy to spot. This only holds true for
the overt types, because subtle ones, like ostracism, are notoriously difficult to detect and
address effectively (​Common Views and Myths About Bullying​, 2011). Although there has
been a noticeable increase in conversations about the prevalence, destructiveness, and
widespread and obvious forms of bullying, there exists a divide between people’s perceptions
and reality of the intricacies of bullying, such that the more subtle forms like ostracism are
widely overlooked, even when witnessed personally.
Subtle though it may be, ostracism is not a new thing. It gained prominence in the 5th
century BCE Athens as a process by which prominent citizens who posed a threat to the
stability of the state were banished for ten years (Kristensen 2012) without charges being
brought against him ("Ostracism", n.d.). In modern times, it is often referenced to as the silent
treatment, the cold shoulder, and passive-aggressiveness. Defined in Merriam-Webster as
“exclusion by general consent from common privileges or social acceptance, ” it is best
contextualized as follows: “Ostracism is often part of a persistent and progressive campaign
to diminish the value and presence of an individual in the workplace. This type of harassment
is insidious, persistent and often done with the sole intent to either remove an individual or
push that individual out of their position.” ("Ostracism: The silent bully | Nova Scotia Health
Authority - Corporate", 2010).
Ostracism leads to feelings of anger, helplessness, and eventually, hopelessness. The
three stages of reactions to it are as follows: the commencing act(s) of exclusion, coping, and
resignation. Humans are naturally social beings; they crave for others’ affirmations and
attention as a way to boost their self-esteem and sense of belonging. However, when the
exclusion has been there for a period of time, they try to adopt specific coping strategies,
sometimes at the expense of their previously-defined set of beliefs and values. They will
often comply with the wants of others, feeling relieved that, at last, they are being paid
attention, even if it is not directed towards their person. At last, they will become resigned to
that, for the indefinite future, the state of their circumstances will not change (Williams,
Because the psychological effects of ostracism are not confined to the time period it
belongs to, feelings of hurt persist even decades following the [series of] episode(s). People
do not come out of the experience(s) as the same person afterwards. Distrust and
disengagement are some of the relatively mild signs of resignation ("Ostracism: The silent
bully | Nova Scotia Health Authority - Corporate", 2010). They are then followed by anger
and sadness, then, increasing in severity, feelings of unworthiness and hopelessness, usually
accompanied by mood and anxiety disorders (Williams, 2011). Especially in comorbid
diagnoses, each increases the risk of early death (Meier et al., 2016). The final stage involves
the determined person traveling a path from suicidal ideation to actual suicide attempts.
Prisoners on death row who are constantly subjected to solitary confinement,
type of physical ostracism, struggle with constant uncertainty and anxiety over their
situations such that the state of their mental health deteriorates drastically. When their time
comes, as decreed, they leave the world as shells of the persons they once were ("Time on
Death Row | Death Penalty Information Center", n.d.). Being ostracised is tantamount to
being handed the death sentence, albeit in a social setting. People who are ostracized outside
the context of prison have similar symptoms as those in the confines of jail cells. When their
reactions reach the final level of the third stage, despair, they may eventually take their own
lives to end their sufferings and be at peace with themselves at last.
However, the impact of this form of bullying cannot be gauged accurately, because it
leaves little to no evidence. Without solid, undeniable proof, the perpetrators get to walk
away free from culpability, leaving the injured parties having to deal with their broken selves
sans reparations and justice. Thus, it is crucial that pertinent information regarding this
oft-overlooked type of bullying be disseminated effectively, to decrease its incidence and
increase the number of interventions to help contribute in the mitigation of misery in the
Minnesota Parent Training and Information Center. (2011). Common Views and Myths
Bullying [Ebook] (p. 2). Bloomingdale. Retrieved from
Encylopædia Britannica, Inc. Ostracism. In Encylopædia Britannica. Chicago.
Kristensen, K. (2012). Ostracism. In The Encyclopedia of Ancient History. Malden:
Meier, S., Mattheisen, M., Mors, O., Mortensen, P., Laursen, T., & Penninx, B.
(2016). Increased mortality among people with anxiety disorders: total population
study. British Journal Of Psychiatry, 209(03), 216-221. doi:
Merriam–Webster, Incorporated. Ostracism. Merriam–Webster Dictionary.
Springfield. Retrieved from
Ostracism: The silent bully | Nova Scotia Health Authority - Corporate. (2010). Retrieved
Time on Death Row | Death Penalty Information Center. Retrieved from
Williams, K. (2011). Professor: Pain of ostracism can be deep, long-lasting. Retrieved from
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