The Ongoing Process of Overvaluation and Devaluation

Cainists go into adulthood expecting everyone to take care of them in the same way their parents treated them—adored, admired, praised and applauded for everything he thinks or does regardless of merit. He is special, the sun who sees the planets revolving around him, and he comes alive when the attention is solely on him. In adulthood, the Enabler, now this person who must be his all-compassing parent, must speak positively about him at all times, spread his ideas as gospel, and immerse him with compliments both privately and in public.

If she contradicts, questions or resists him, however gently, he’s enraged. His abrupt anger and later devaluation of the Enabler hinges on basically three actions or in-actions: (1) Not seeing how special he is, (2) Exposing a truth that he wants hidden, or (3) Questioning his authority. Once angered by what he perceives as disloyalty, he abuses, humiliates and diminishes her in a myriad of ways.

He might exaggerate her faults and makes fun of her in front of others. Out of the blue she might be accused of being stupid, pathetic, weak, and wrong. Or tell her and others that she lacks ambition, vision, understanding and insight. By now, he has discovered her Achilles heel and strips her of power by attacking her weakness to harm her or deprive her in whatever way he can. He withholds what he thinks she wants and needs, or dumps an overabundance of what he knows she doesn’t want. A common frustration tactic is to argue with everything she says to prove she’s wrong and he’s right. She can’t win ever. And these hotbed accusations are acted out with high-intensity anger and disgust. Indeed, he spins into an unparalleled bully, doling out fury and humiliation like an errant fire cracker.

As a source of attention and admiration, the Enabler becomes Cain’s ally overvalued by him. Missing that, she morphs into the enemy and instantly devalued by him. He will criticize her not only for considering a thought of her own that is in opposition to his, but now he also blames her for his bad choices. I recall one such person making a dim-witted comment, then pretending I had made the remark, not her. She laughed over the comment, calling me a “dumb blonde.” I was stunned the way she twisted the situation to remove the mistake from her palette and blame me. When I pointed out that she had made the remark, she quickly turned her attention to another matter as if the incident never happened. One should never underestimate how a pathological person can turn the tables to make the Enabler look wrong so he can look perfect and then refuse to deal with the truth when it’s pointed out to him.

Once an Enabler has goofed up, it takes an exceptional idea or action on her part to change or elevate Cain’s image of her again. Now she is in the devaluation phase. She could be ostracized for months. In fact, she will need to adore, applaud, idolize, even worship him for whatever time limit he sets down, before he acknowledges or accepts her into the fold again. And probably never into his inner circle of close confidants. He blames her, and she blames herself. It works well for him until the Enabler says enough already.

Initially, I could do nothing wrong in the cainistic church. The minister would seek me out, sit alongside me at meetings, listen to my opinions, and repeat them from the pulpit as if my ideas were his ideas (steal them). But the first time I disagreed with the inconsistencies at the church—and there were as many as flies at a picnic—I was devalued faster than a car driven off the lot. From there, I could do absolutely nothing right and was bad-mouthed as insubordinate, unhelpful, and disloyal.

Being approved, then disapproved takes a heavy toll on a person’s emotions especially a perceptive people-pleaser in a church where one hopes to feel safe. Once I stepped over the invisible imaginary line, I was either at the height of bliss or the cavern of torment, banking on his approval or disapproval of me. And that is how he treated everyone, depending on whether they agreed or disagreed with him.

When someone failed to do his bidding, he often used the “silent treatment” to punish violators. Depending on my offense, there were days or weeks or months when he rushed past me, eyes fixed straight ahead, pretending he didn’t see me. One time I stopped him midway through his sprint out the sanctuary and said “Can we move past this?” Whenever Cain or the church staff refused to deal with an issue, they habitually answered, “We just want to move past this,” inferring that they didn’t want to remain stuck in negativity. The real meaning behind the words was that they wanted to overlook the issue and get off the hook without retribution.

Of course, different rules applied when Cain devalued someone. Now, he wanted to clutch his resentments close to his heart, needing “time” to process his emotions. Truthfully, I wondered if he had ever read the story of the Prodigal son—a parable demonstrating how the father received the return of his wayward son with open arms because his love, like God’s love, never changed. This cainistic charlatan preached that we were to demonstrate God’s infinite ability to forgive on a daily basis, but he couldn’t forgive. He drew more pleasure from setting people aside or punishing them for their slip-ups than forgiving them. His arrogant, self-absorbed cainistic personality was in opposition to the homilies he preached.

In fact, a cainist in the ministry will eventually grow disillusioned with the idea of God and devalue Him like he idolizes, then devalues every relationship in his life. But he continues the pretense because being a man or woman of God affords him authority and superstar power with his parishioners. The church is his source of cainistic supply, bulking up his insatiable ego. Even when he engages in misogynous behavior, worshipers are reluctant to confront him based on his position of authority. They comply because they are afraid to do otherwise. He’s the alpha and omega. He’s Billy Goat Gruff to the trembling trolls terrified to cross the bridge to truth. It’s the Cain and Enabler Complex on a mass scale rather than the one-on-one connection.


Must-Have Power

As David Johnson and Jeff VanVonderen state in their book The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse, leaders in an abusive religious system “spend a lot of time focused on their own authority and reminding others of it, as well.”[i] Those with true spiritual power walk their talk. Their life is their message. Cain’s life is a lie, a sham, a charade. He must spend all his time telling you how great and powerful he is to cover up the farce.

The control issues in my cainistic church grew stronger and increasingly more destructive over the years. For example, before a person could teach classes in this church, it was mandatory that they complete a two year program to become a licensed instructor. One day Cain boldly announced to all the teachers that starting immediately it was mandatory that they attend every Sunday service, and if their attendance was not in agreement with his new ruling, he would revoke their privilege to teach classes at the church. Everyone must come underneath Cain.

That was the day my friend, Pam (name has been changed to protect her privacy), walked out. Although she had been a member and a licensed instructor for decades, she dropped out of the church never to return.  She did not quibble or protest but prudently walked out of the mire of control and misuse. There would have been no advantage in talking to Cain about his decree because once he made a decision, there was no turning back. Furthermore, nobody questions Cain without paying for it, and he never forgets a dissenter. Even if Pam believed God called her to be a teacher, Cain determined the conditions of that calling. If the instructors taught classes at the church, then they must pay the price of listening to his sermons each and every Sunday.

Likewise, the staff at the cainistic church was overworked and underpaid due to his autocratic leadership. He demanded long hours without complaints. Both burnout and turnover were vast. When fiscal deficit hit the roof, we learned that the staff had received one 3 percent raise in 5 years while the cainistic minister had received a 10 percent raise every year. The monies were unquestionably appropriated to the minister first, and the staff was considered if there was money left over. He also made sure he had a contract, not a salary—all of which exposed his lack of empathy. There was no feeling for others, only for him.

As long as the church board did nothing to prevent this distortion and unfairness, he got away with it. There were nine board members that made business assessments and decisions with Cain. Where were they during all this staff abuse? Why did they blindly follow his dictates without daring to go against his decisions? In short, they complied to avoid being shamed. The shame Cain doled out was so vindictive and nasty at times, it was akin to an emotional crucifixion.

While I was there, the cainistic minister harassed and lost six worship assistants in seven years. One of his dirty little control tricks was to ask where his assistant was during the middle of a Sunday service as if he suddenly needed her to check the thermostat or get him a bottle of water because his throat was dry and he was having trouble speaking.

If she was not in the sanctuary at that moment he called out her name, she caught hell later. I suspected he usually did that after he had already watched her leave the room. He was that devious. Destructive, malignant Cains find enjoyment in seeing others suffer. They are extremely mean-spirited and diabolical, always looking for a reason to lord their power over an Enabler and punish her. After one of the assistants quit, she quietly told me that nothing was ever good enough for him. No matter how hard she tried, he always criticized something about her.

I watched him move from assistant to assistant, heaping spiteful mistreatment on his targets who had once believed in him like I had believed in him, but who turned into nothing more than his battered toys. He picked at their flaws and just before they smacked the proverbial wall, he withdrew the abuse, feigning that he didn’t know what he had done to upset them. They must be supersensitive, he decided. He was always so blameless, so innocent of any wrongdoing.

If he did not know his crime, then he could not be held responsible for it, could he? Like the story of Cain and Abel, even when God tried to show Cain his mistakes by letting the straw smolder rather that burn, Cain refused to admit he made a mistake. Instead, he made one last attempt to deny everything. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” he retorted to God. Heaven forbid that he should stand up and accept responsibility for killing Abel.

Hundreds of demoralized staff, speechless board members, disgruntled congregation and attendees fled when they caught on to the hypocrisy. I asked administration and board members, who were incessantly talking about “building the numbers” (which meant adding more members to the rolls) why they did not talk with the people who left to find out why they had left. It fell on deaf ears. When I left for almost a year, not one person ever contacted me to say they missed me or ask me why I had left the church. Cain knew why, and his administration and followers knew, too. As you might imagine, the numbers dwindled and the door was always swinging.

Volunteers were treated with the same perfunctory manner.  If the minister felt threatened by a volunteer, he would schedule a mandatory meetings at 9:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning when a volunteer, who was lovingly and willingly giving free time, might have personal activities scheduled or want to sleep in. I once retorted, “You’d think we worked here the way they treat us.”  There are no such thing as personal boundaries when Cain abuses his authority; They are routinely ignored or trampled on.

[i] Johnson, David, VanVonderen Jeff. The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse. Bethany House Publishers. MN 1991