Mind Games of Abusers: When Words Have No Meaning

If you dialogue with a spiritually abusive leader or cult member, prepare to enter a mind warp. The rules of sense, reason, and accepted definitions go out the window and are replaced with jargon, double-speak, and circular logic. You step out of reality and stare into a funhouse mirror.

Cult leaders make pronouncements which they declare to be true, even if those statements are flatly contradicted by actual events, undisputed facts, or reliable witnesses. When you try to reason with a cult leader, he or she calls your words false, your criticism slander, and your motives biased.

Spiritually abusive leaders redefine words like “slander,” “faith,” and “salvation” in ways which keep their followers trapped in dependence upon the leader. Words which the followers previously thought they understood become mysterious, harsh, and confusing. The leader’s weird definitions settle like a spider’s web around the followers. This is part of the abusive strategy of brainwashing cult members by redefining reality for them. Once they are brainwashed, no amount of logical argument will convince them that the cult leader is wrong. Not until God opens their blinded eyes or the leader falls into grievous sin will cult members see cracks in the façade.

Need an example?

My Cow vs. Your Cow

Think for a moment of a cow. Any cow will do. Can you picture it? Good.

Now imagine that you and I have a conversation about this cow. The conversation runs something like this:


via b3d_ Creative Commons

Me: “I bought a cow yesterday.”

You: “Cool. How much did it cost?”

Me: “$6.99.”

You: “$6.99?! I thought cows cost way more than that.”

Me: “Why?”

You: “Because everything I know about cows from movies, books, and farmers says that cows are a pretty expensive investment. I thought cows cost hundreds of dollars.”

Me: “Nope. Mine cost $6.99. I can’t imagine anyone paying more than $15 for one. $20 tops.”

You: “That’s crazy. Where did you get a cow for such a cheap price?”

Me: “The place everyone buys cheap cows, of course: Wal-Mart.”

You: “Wal-Mart?! You can’t buy cows at Wal-Mart!”

Me: “I did.”

You: “Wal-Mart couldn’t possibly sell cows. They do sell hamburger meat, however. Is that what you bought?”

Me: “No, I bought a cow, silly. What does hamburger have to do with that?”

You: “Hamburger comes from cows, of course. You’re not making any sense. I’ve never seen a cow at Wal-Mart.”

Me: “Sure you have. Everyone has. You’re the crazy one. Hamburger from cows? That’s just weird, borderline sinful.”

You: “That’s ridiculous! What aisle are ‘cows’ in?”

Me: “Right next to the hammers.”

You: “Right next to the hammers?”

Me: “Sure.”


via cometstarmoon Creative Commons

You: “Okay, what color cow did you get?”

Me: “Silver and orange.”

You: “Cows aren’t silver and orange.”

Me: “Actually, most are. It’s a pretty common color scheme for a cow. Either that or school bus yellow.”

You: “This is completely ridiculous. You’re insane. Show me this aberrant orange cow! This silver bovine monstrosity! Where is it? Prove yourself.”

Me: “Right here in my back pocket.”

You: “In your back pocket? That’s not a cow! That’s a monkey wrench!”

Me: “No, it’s a cow.”

Words Have Meaning

Words have meaning. A word can’t mean whatever we want it to mean.

In the conversation above, you had a mental image of what a cow looks like. You took the word “cow” and created a mental picture of it. Your mental cow might look slightly different than another person’s mental cow—black and white, say, rather than all brown—but all of the mental cows are still just one thing: cows.

Cows, that is, until I throw a monkey wrench into the conversation.

The only way any of us can have a conversation that obeys the laws of logic and reason (and thus corresponds to reality) is to use words in the way in which they are commonly defined. A word may have a range of meaning (semantic range, which depends on accepted usage), but it can’t mean anything we want it to mean. In other words, I can’t secretly redefine a word so that it means something which would violate its semantic range of meaning. I can’t call a monkey wrench a cow.

Does that make sense?


via Brandon C. Long, Creative Commons

We probably all could agree with this principle when we refer to concrete words like “cow,” “apple,” or “car.” But what about abstract words like “hope,” “faith,” “rebellion,” or “salvation”? Don’t these words mean different things to different people? If a cult leader or spiritually abusive person redefines these words to mean something completely other than what you or I mean, who is to say that they are wrong and we are right? Who is to stop them from calling salvation “damnation” or grace “works”?

The answer is that we have to decide who the authority is. Who gets to determine what an abstract word means: Is it the cult leader? Is it you or me? Or is it some authoritative source outside of ourselves like a dictionary or the Bible?

For Christians, in the case of abstract words like “salvation,” “slander,” and “rebel,” we use biblical usage to determine the meaning of these words. The Bible is our authority, not our own mental gymnastics or cleverness. And while even the Bible is open to interpretation and some words have a range of meaning, you know you are dealing with a cult leader when he or she redefines words in terms of their opposite meaning.

For example, cutting off family members becomes “love.” Performing works in order to get saved becomes “faith.” Agreeing with whatever the leader says becomes “righteousness.” And asking any questions or expressing doubt becomes “rebellion.” In a twisted world like this, even God starts to act like Satan.

Does any of this sound familiar? It should. It all started in a far-off garden when someone redefined reality by whispering, “Did God really say?”

Problems and Answers

The problem, of course, is that most cult leaders claim that the Bible is their authority. But they also say that they alone interpret it correctly. They say that everyone else in the world is wrong—all unbelievers, of course, but also most other professing believers—because only he or she, the cult leader, has accurately divided the word of truth. He will claim that his odd definitions are correct because they are “spiritual,” “heavenly wisdom,” “truths expressed by the Spirit,” or some such appeal to biblical language which is actually a smokescreen for his own narcissism and pride.

You can’t win an argument against such a person.

He is insane.

He has stepped outside the boundaries of reality and your use of logic and reason will never reach him. Your cow will never become his monkey wrench.

But you might reach some of his followers. So feel free to restate what the leader has told you and compare it with actual events:

  • When a cult leader calls criticism of his group “slander,” he is only using the word correctly if the statements about his group are untrue and are being said in order to defame the group. If they are true, no one has committed slander. Instead, the cult leader is a liar.
  • When a cult leader calls outrage over his heinous behavior “persecution,” he is mistaken. He is not being persecuted; he is being called to account. This is justice.
  • When a cult leader says that people can only be saved by moving to his church, repenting of all known sin, and doing works of righteousness, he is defining “salvation” in ways that the Bible never does. He can claim anything he wants, but the Bible says something entirely different. He is preaching a false gospel.
  • If a cult leader lets a baby die by withholding medical help, or if he ignores allegations of sexual abuse and then tries to cover it up, and if he then says that he acted in faith and that he is a loving and kind person who can be trusted with other people’s children, he is a liar. His actions do not fit the biblical definition of love, nor any definition of the word used by sane people.


It doesn’t take long to determine when a person is redefining clear terms to make them confusing. He or she is doing so in order to make their bizarre behavior appear acceptable. Stick close to facts and logic. The cult leader will not repent—few (if any) ever do. But at some point the leader’s behavior will fall so far out of agreement with his words that even his followers will see the inconsistency and be troubled in their spirits. It always happens.


So take heart and stick to your cows.

13 comments on “Mind Games of Abusers: When Words Have No Meaning

  1. Spot on, Steve. Spot on! Thank you. You are a sage, patient man. To God be the glory.

  2. Thanks for the rationality. Appreciated.

  3. Outstanding post! This is a top way of explaining the verbal gymnastics that these people perform trying to make sure you never get free but get more and more entrapped into their ugly strongholds.

  4. Thank you! Perfectly said!

  5. Excellent post – nailed it. Beats all the verbal gymnastics and Bible passages twisted to support cultic thinking.

  6. yes … excellent … thank you … this article gives some relief from the horror and torture … it is truly traumatic … to be continually told that the atrocities you have seen felt and heard with your own eyes and ears where not atrocities but love …. it is traumatizing ….

  7. This is exactly why I had to bow out of that 100+ comment debate thread on the church of Wells. There’s nothing you can say to convince a guy like Moses that he’s using all the right words, but all the wrong definitions. The whole argument just goes in circles. You hit the nail on the head.

  8. “The Bible is our authority, not our own mental gymnastics or cleverness.”

    Absolutely correct. Yet, in our age of “experience,” feelings and emotions are increasingly replacing the Bible as our authority. As always, this is a dangerous trend. For once this is done in a persons mind, the words of man (the leader or teacher) have become the authority and the Bible is set aside. We saw that with Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple and other groups.

    “…everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (Judges 21:25, NKJV). This passage of Scripture describes a time of great religious confusion in Israel. It could also describe the time we live in.

    I have heard it said that once people abandon the Bible as the authority in their lives, it is amazing what they will believe. This is true. And very sad.

    Great post, Steve.

  9. Thanks Steve. Just read your post…It was a fresh breath of reality after coming out of a “house of mirrors” conversation recently. I like what your conclusion is when you say:

    “You can’t win an argument against such a person.
    He is insane.”

    That is a good reminder. That is the truth. Thanks a bunch. I don’t feel so dizzy anymore. 🙂

  10. Thank you ATHB and Micah 68 for all of your comments on the other thread “Does the Church of Wells teach a False Gospel.” Also an excellent post by the writer Stacy concerning :
    The voice of condemnation “And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night.”
    There is no condemnation in Christ Jesus Romans 8:1 Bottom line God does not hate us and He does not want us to hate ourselves either. God most definitely does not want to kill us as Sean Morris promotes teaches proclaim in his self-written Doctrine of Judgment. “A brutish dog violently bites and devours its master’s son, leaving him bleeding and blind, and so, before the dog knows what is happening, it is being dragged by an angry father till he reaches some desolate field to shoot a bullet through the dog’s head.” “God kills men that kill Him. God kills men who don’t kill sin.”
    Surely this violent presumptional idea that God desires to take us to a desolate field and shoot us in the head like a brutish dog surely must come from the mind of a deranged man.”

    Thank you Steve Smith for your article https://libertyforcaptives.com/2014/05/20/mind-games-of-abusers-when-words-have-no-meaning/#comments
    Indeed Love is not killing people. God does not love people and then desire to kill them. “For God so LOVED the World that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth In Him should NOT Perish but have everlasting life.” John 3:16

    Hating and condemning families is WRONG Church of Wells. It will never be right.
    ITS NOT LOVE. It will never bring salvation. Your “Sword” desiring to draw blood from people and their families is not bringing salvation it is only bringing destruction of people and people’s lives. And that is what the Angel of Light desires and wants. The thief came to steal kill and destroy.

    Sean Morris : “I call it salvation by a sword.” Sean Morris : “So Destructive alarming and vibrant is this sword wielding war.” Sean Morris : “The violent point of a sword pierces through the fighting lines.” Sean Morris : “Cursed be he that keepeth back his sword from blood.” Sean Morris : “Count their family a foe.” Sean Morris : “Their sword was take from their side ; it was raised for God as their family tearfully cried. Blood was mercilessly shed and wrath was pacified in those who died. For justice the impenitent bled, and the streets did run red.” Sean Morris : “Their family members did cry we are soldiers in arms already doing the commands of our Master who hath brought forth the sword.” Sean Morris : “Peaceless as war with an unsheathed sword.”

    Whose the violent one Dr. David ? Whose the violent man ? Whose the aggressor ?Sounds like Sean Morris is the violent mind here. This is not from God but from a violent man’s mind. Law Enforcement are you listening ??? This is not a joke. This is not a game. This is real.

  11. Great post Steve. Totally agree with all the comments, praise God for clarity in your post, well articulated. I believe a source that feeds these “leaders”, lies in the fact that there are so many versions of the Bible around today. The KJV is the closest English version to the original languages, but still falls short in some areas. The NIV, NKJV to name some, tend to teach “about getting” saved – The KJV teaches about “being” saved. Gods people remain squabbling, seperate, dogmatic etc in their own spin of interpretation as different “manufacturers instructions” (Bibles) are bandied about, leaving the door open for corrupt leaders to scatter the flock in dogmas with works orientated teaching enslaving brothers and sisters in Christ.

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