Editor's Note: This entry is part 1 of 8 in the series Lifton's Eight Criteria of Thought Reform

Loaded Language, one of Lifton’s eight criteria of thought control, is one of the most-used tools in the manipulator’s toolkit. So much of our mental map is based in language that it is virtually impossible to separate what we think from how we say it. A predator or manipulative group will use language against us, turning it from a vital tool to understand the world into a trap to keep us away from it.

Like the characters in George Orwell’s 1984, who were expected to limit their conversation and ideas by using the state-mandated language of NewSpeak, people using loaded language find it difficult to express themselves outside of the rigid guidelines of their group. The mental map created by loaded language defines and shapes how members think about themselves, their group, the outside world, and especially their leaders: Jehovah’s Witnesses (and members of countless other high-control groups) are conditioned to call their organization “the Truth”, so that it is that much harder to doubt the truthfulness of their leadership.

Loaded language acts not only as a code, but also a dividing wall: regular words are given new meanings, and new words created to express the goals and concepts of the group. This means that outsiders cannot understand those in – and those in the group have a hard time understanding and communicating with outsiders. In addition, the terms are often emotionally loaded: “purr” and “snarl” words stop a member’s thoughts, redirecting them into conditioned emotional reactions.

So many of the words we use are weighted with emotional baggage and multiple layers of meaning, but while regular language is meant to clarify and connect, loaded language is meant to obscure and isolate – and, in the hands of a predator, is a powerful weapon indeed.

What do you think about this article? Do you agree? Do you have a story about loaded language that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you! 

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