Psychological manipulation

Psychological manipulation is a type of social influence that aims to change the behavior or perception of others through abusive, deceptive, or underhanded tactics.[1] By advancing the interests of the manipulator, often at another's expense, such methods could be considered exploitative, abusive, devious, and deceptive. Social influence is not necessarily negative. For example, doctors can try to convince patients to change unhealthy habits. The process of manipulation involves bringing an unknowing victim under the domination of the manipulator, often using deception, and using the victim to serve their own purposes.

Requirements for successful manipulation

According to psychology author George K. Simon, successful psychological manipulation primarily involves the manipulator:[2]

  1. Concealing aggressive intentions and behaviors.
  2. Knowing the psychological vulnerabilities of the victim to determine which tactics are likely to be the most effective.
  3. Having a sufficient level of ruthlessness to have no qualms about causing harm to the victim if necessary.

Consequently, the manipulation is likely to be accomplished through covert aggressive (relational aggressive or passive aggressive) means.[2]

How manipulators control their victims

According to Braiker

Braiker identified the following ways that manipulators control their victims:[1]

According to Simon

Simon identified the following manipulative techniques:[2]

Vulnerabilities exploited by manipulators

According to Braiker's self-help book,[1] manipulators exploit the following vulnerabilities (buttons) that may exist in victims:

According to Simon,[2] manipulators exploit the following vulnerabilities that may exist in victims:

Manipulators generally take the time to scope out the characteristics and vulnerabilities of their victim.

Kantor advises in his book,[3] the following are vulnerable to psychopathic manipulators involve being too:

Motivations of manipulators

Manipulators can have various possible motivations, including but not limited to:[1]


Main article: Psychopathy

Being manipulative is in Factor 1 of the Hare Psychopathy Checklist (PCL).[4]

In the workplace

The workplace psychopath may often rapidly shift between emotions – used to manipulate people or cause high anxiety.[5]

The authors of the book Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work describe a five phase model of how a typical workplace psychopath climbs to and maintains power. In phase three (manipulation) - the psychopath will create a scenario of "psychopathic fiction" where positive information about themselves and negative disinformation about others will be created, where your role as a part of a network of pawns or patrons will be utilised and you will be groomed into accepting the psychopath's agenda.[6]

Antisocial, borderline and narcissistic personality disorders

According to Kernberg, antisocial, borderline, and narcissistic personality disorders are all organized at a borderline level of personality organization,[7] and the three share some common characterological deficits and overlapping personality traits, with deceitfulness and exceptional manipulative abilities being the most common traits among the three. Sociopaths, borderlines, and narcissists are often both physically attractive (narcissists and borderlines in particular) and highly intelligent and can be efficient, persuasive, and incredible liars.[7] Other shared traits include pathological narcissism,[7] consistent irresponsibility, machiavellianism, lack of empathy,[8] cruelty, meanness, impulsivity, proneness to self-harm and addictions,[9] interpersonal exploitation, hostility, anger and rage, vanity, emotional instability, rejection sensitivity, perfectionism, and the use of primitive defence mechanisms that are pathological and narcissistic. Common narcissistic defences include splitting, denial, projection, projective identification, primitive idealization and devaluation, distortion (including exaggeration, minimization and lies), and omnipotence.[10]

Psychologist Marsha M. Linehan has stated that people with borderline personality disorder often exhibit behaviors which are not truly manipulative, but are erroneously interpreted as such.[11] According to her, these behaviors often appear as unthinking manifestations of intense pain, and are often not deliberate as to be considered truly manipulative. In the DSM-V, manipulation was removed as a defining characteristic of borderline personality disorder.

Manipulative behavior is also common to narcissists, who use manipulation to obtain power and narcissistic supply. Those with antisocial personalities will manipulate for material items, power, and a wide variety of other reasons.[12]

Histrionic personality disorder

People with histrionic personality disorder are usually high-functioning, both socially and professionally. They usually have good social skills, despite tending to use them to manipulate others into making them the center of attention.[13]


Machiavellianism is a term that some social and personality psychologists use to describe a person's tendency to be unemotional, and therefore able to detach him or herself from conventional morality and hence to deceive and manipulate others. In the 1960s, Richard Christie and Florence L. Geis developed a test for measuring a person's level of Machiavellianism (sometimes referred to as the Machiavelli test).[14]

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 Braiker, Harriet B. (2004). Who's Pulling Your Strings ? How to Break The Cycle of Manipulation. ISBN 0-07-144672-9.
  2. 1 2 3 4 Simon, George K (1996). In Sheep's Clothing: Understanding and Dealing with Manipulative People. ISBN 978-1-935166-30-6. (reference for the entire section)
  3. Kantor, Martin (2006). The Psychopathology of Everyday Life: how to deal with manipulative people. ISBN 978-0-275-98798-5.
  4. Skeem, J. L.; Polaschek, D. L. L.; Patrick, C. J.; Lilienfeld, S. O. (2011). "Psychopathic Personality: Bridging the Gap Between Scientific Evidence and Public Policy". Psychological Science in the Public Interest. 12 (3): 95–162. doi:10.1177/1529100611426706.
  5. Faggioni M & White M Organizational Psychopaths - Who Are They and How to Protect Your Organization from Them (2009)
  6. Baibak, P; Hare, R. D Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work (2007)
  7. 1 2 3 Kernberg, O (1975). Borderline Conditions and Pathological Narcissism. New York: Jason Aronson. ISBN 978-0-87668-205-0.
  8. Baron-Cohen, S (2012). The Science of Evil: On Empathy and the Origins of Cruelty. Basic Books. pp. 45–98. ISBN 978-0-465-03142-9.
  9. Casillas, A.; Clark, L.A.k (October 2002). "Dependency, impulsivity, and self-harm: traits hypothesized to underlie the association between cluster B personality and substance use disorders". Journal of Personality Disorders. 16 (5): 424–36. doi:10.1521/pedi.16.5.424.22124. PMID 12489309.
  10. Kernberg, O. (1993). Severe Personality Disorders: Psychotherapeutic Strategies (New ed.). Yale University Press. pp. 15–18. ISBN 978-0-300-05349-4.
  11. "On Manipulation with the Borderline Personality". ToddlerTime Network. Retrieved 28 December 2014.
  12. American Psychiatric Association 2000
  13. "Histrionic Personality Disorder". The Cleveland Clinic. Retrieved 23 November 2011.
  14. Christie, R., and F. L. Geis. (1970) "How devious are you? Take the Machiavelli test to find out." Journal of Management in Engineering 15.4: 17.

Other references


Academic journals

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