Have you ever had the experience of trying to confront someone with something they said or did, which you found offensive, and instead of providing a reasonable explanation, or simply apologizing, that person found a way to turn it around and make it into an accusation against you? Most of us have been in heated arguments where something like this happened. It's normal for people to get defensive, even when being confronted with the truth. And often, when we are defensive, we lash out at the one we perceive to be attacking us.
But it's usually considered at least somewhat of an irrational act to turn a basically honest confrontation around and use it against the confronter. Being defensive is one thing. Being belligerent is another.
In the 1992 movie, "A Few Good Men," there is a very confrontational scene in which the character played by Tom Cruise demands the truth from the character played by Jack Nicholson. At that point, Nicholson gritted his teeth, and in character, he responded, "You can't handle the truth!"
This is an example of "turning-the-tables."
A few years ago, at a conference for professional academics, one of the speakers opened up the floor for questions. Someone in the audience asked a question, based on clear facts, but which challenged one of the speaker's main statements. Rather than replying to the question, the speaker said, "I don't appreciate the tone of your question." He refused to answer the question, and continued taking questions from those who were more amenable to his viewpoint.
This is another example of "turning-the-tables"
One time a Christian was showing a Jehovah's Witness evidence that the New Testament teaches the Deity of Christ. The Jehovah's Witness appealed to the original manuscripts of the New Testament, which were written in Greek. So the Christian, who was aware of the issues involved with the Greek New Testament, produced a scholarly work which backed up his point: that the New Testament does teach the Deity of Christ.
At first, the Jehovah's Witness did not respond. But when the Christian kept asking him why he would not listen to what the Greek textbook was saying, the Jehovah's Witness replied, "Of course the book says that -- it was written by a pagan!"
This is still another example of "turning-the tables."
When someone turns-the-tables, he deflects any real or potential criticism of himself with an accusation against the person doing the criticizing. He is living by the philosophy, "The best defense is a good offense."
Normally, a person who develops a reputation for this sort of behavior will eventually have either his honesty or his rationality called into question. At the very least, he will be someone most people tend to avoid.
On the other hand, when a person limits his use of this technique to strategic times, it can be a very effective tool for manipulation. A "successful" spiritual abuser is thus too intelligent to use this technique all the time. If he did, too many people would catch on, and he would quickly lose his following. It would become obvious to the group that this person is not really interested in the truth, nor in the well-being of the group, but only in winning, and remaining on top.
So the spiritual abuser makes a careful study of your weaknesses, and of the situation. He is very tuned-in to the political dynamics of the group, and only uses this tool when he thinks it is necessary.
However, if there is one thing that the spiritual abuser cannot tolerate, it is allowing his authority or credibility to be challenged. And depending on how sensitive or paranoid the abuser is, there may be many occasions on which he thinks people are challenging him. As time went on in our group, the leader became more and more sensitive to even minor disagreements with his opinions, and he increasingly used them as opportunities for turning-the-tables on the hapless person who made the mistake of questioning something he said or did.