Psychological manipulation

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Examples of televised manipulation can be found in news programs that can potentially influence mass audiences. Pictured is the infamous Dziennik (Journal) news cast, which attempted to slander capitalism in then-communist Poland using emotive and loaded language. Kozera DTV.jpg
Examples of televised manipulation can be found in news programs that can potentially influence mass audiences. Pictured is the infamous Dziennik (Journal) news cast, which attempted to slander capitalism in then-communist Poland using emotive and loaded language.

Psychological manipulation is a type of social influence that aims to change the behavior or perception of others through indirect, deceptive, or underhanded tactics. [1] By advancing the interests of the manipulator, often at another's expense, such methods could be considered exploitative and devious.


Social influence is not necessarily negative. For example, people such as friends, family and doctors, can try to persuade to change clearly unhelpful habits and behaviors. Social influence is generally perceived to be harmless when it respects the right of the influenced to accept or reject it, and is not unduly coercive. Depending on the context and motivations, social influence may constitute underhanded manipulation.


According to psychology author George K. Simon in 1996, successful psychological manipulation primarily involves the manipulator: [2]

According to Braiker

Harriet B. Braiker (2004) identified the following ways that manipulators control their victims: [3]

According to Simon

George K. Simon (1996) identified the following manipulative techniques: [2]

Vulnerabilities exploited

According to Braiker's self-help book, [3] 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 victims.

Kantor advises in his 2006 book The Psychopathology of Everyday Life: How Antisocial Personality Disorder Affects All of Us [4] that vulnerability to psychopathic manipulators involves being too:


Manipulators can have various possible motivations, including but not limited to: [3]


Being manipulative appears in Factor 1 of the Hare Psychopathy Checklist (PCL). [7]

In the workplace

One approach to management in general identifies a very fine, almost non-existent dividing line between management and manipulation. [8]

A workplace psychopath may rapidly shift between emotions to manipulate people or to cause high anxiety. [9]

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 one's role as a part of a network of pawns or patrons will be utilised and one will be groomed into accepting the psychopath's agenda. [10]

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, [11] and the three share some common characterological deficits and overlapping personality traits, with deceitfulness and exceptional manipulative abilities being the most common traits among antisocial and narcissism. Borderline is emphasized by unintentional and dysfunctional manipulation, but stigma towards borderlines being deceitful still wrongfully persists. [12] Antisocials, borderlines, and narcissists are often pathological liars. [11] Other shared traits may include pathological narcissism, [11] consistent irresponsibility, Machiavellianism, lack of empathy, [13] cruelty, meanness, impulsivity, proneness to self-harm and addictions, [14] 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. [15]

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. [16] 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. [12]

Manipulative behavior is intrinsic to narcissists, who use manipulation to obtain power and narcissistic supply. Those with antisocial personalities will manipulate for material items, power, revenge, and a wide variety of other reasons. [17]

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. [18]


Machiavellianism is a term that some social and personality psychologists use to describe a person's tendency to be unemotional, uninfluenced by conventional morality and more prone 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). [19]

See also

Related Research Articles

Borderline personality disorder Personality disorder with strong emotions

Borderline personality disorder (BPD), also known as emotionally unstable personality disorder (EUPD) or borderline pattern personality disorder is a personality disorder characterized by a long-term pattern of unstable interpersonal relationships, distorted sense of self, and strong emotional reactions. Those affected often engage in self-harm and other dangerous behavior. They may also struggle with a feeling of emptiness, fear of abandonment, and detachment from reality. Symptoms of BPD may be triggered by events considered normal to others. BPD typically begins by early adulthood and occurs across a variety of situations. Substance use disorders, depression, and eating disorders are commonly associated with BPD. Approximately 10% of people affected with the disorder die by suicide. The disorder is stigmatized in both the media and the psychiatric field and as a result is often underdiagnosed.

Narcissistic personality disorder Personality disorder that involves an excessive preoccupation with personal adequacy, power, prestige and vanity.

Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) or megalomania is a personality disorder characterized by a long-term pattern of exaggerated feelings of self-importance, an excessive craving for admiration, and struggles with empathy. People with NPD often spend much time daydreaming about achieving power and success, and perceive injustice for failing to do so. This is a pattern of obsessive thoughts and unstable sense of identity, often to cope with a sub-par real life. People with the diagnosis in recent years have spoken out about its stigma in media, and possible links to abusive situations and childhood trauma. Such narcissistic behavior typically begins by early adulthood, and occurs across a broad range of situations.

Antisocial personality disorder is a personality disorder characterized by a long-term pattern of disregard for, or violation of, the rights of others. A weak or nonexistent conscience is often apparent, as well as a history of legal problems or impulsive and aggressive behaviour.

Love bombing is an attempt to influence a person by demonstrations of attention and affection. It can be used in different ways and for either positive or negative purposes. Psychologists have identified love bombing as a possible part of a cycle of abuse and have warned against it. Critics of cults use the phrase with the implication that the "love" is feigned and that the practice is psychological manipulation in order to create a feeling of unity within the group against a society perceived as hostile. In 2011 clinical psychologist Oliver James advocated love bombing in his book Love Bombing: Reset Your Child's Emotional Thermostat, as a means for parents to rectify emotional problems in their children.

Social skills Competence facilitating interaction and communication with others

A social skill is any competence facilitating interaction and communication with others where social rules and relations are created, communicated, and changed in verbal and nonverbal ways. The process of learning these skills is called socialization. Lack of such skills can cause social awkwardness.

Passive-aggressive behavior is characterized by a pattern of passive hostility and an avoidance of direct communication. Inaction where some action is socially customary is a typical passive-aggressive strategy. Such behavior is sometimes protested by associates, evoking exasperation or confusion. People who are recipients of passive-aggressive behavior may experience anxiety due to the discordance between what they perceive and what the perpetrator is saying.

Pathological lying, also known as mythomania and pseudologia fantastica, is a mental disorder in which the person habitually or compulsively lies. The reason for such lies often serves no obvious purpose other than to paint oneself as a hero or victim depending on the circumstance.

Malignant narcissism is a psychological syndrome comprising an extreme mix of narcissism, antisocial behavior, aggression, and sadism. Grandiose, and always ready to raise hostility levels, the malignant narcissist undermines families and organizations in which they are involved, and dehumanizes the people with whom they associate.

Psychopathy, sometimes considered synonymous with sociopathy, is traditionally a personality disorder characterized by persistent antisocial behavior, impaired empathy and remorse, and bold, disinhibited, and egotistical traits. Different conceptions of psychopathy have been used throughout history that are only partly overlapping and may sometimes be contradictory.

Psychopathy Checklist Psychopathy scale

The Psychopathy Checklist or Hare Psychopathy Checklist-Revised, now the Psychopathy Checklist—revised (PCL-R), is a psychological assessment tool most commonly used to assess the presence of psychopathy in individuals—most often those institutionalized in the criminal justice system—and to differentiate them from those suffering from antisocial personality disorder, a similar but distinct illness. It is a 20-item inventory of perceived personality traits and recorded behaviors, intended to be completed on the basis of a semi-structured interview along with a review of 'collateral information' such as official records.

Dark triad Three antisocial personality traits: narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy

In psychology, the dark triad comprises the personality traits of narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy. They are called "dark" because of their malevolent qualities.

Social adroitness is a personality trait measured in the Jackson Personality Inventory and the Jackson Personality Inventory-Revised. Adroitness is not explicitly measured by these tests, but rather the characteristics are measured through different scales.

Personality disorders (PD) are a class of mental disorders characterized by enduring maladaptive patterns of behavior, cognition, and inner experience, exhibited across many contexts and deviating from those accepted by the individual's culture. These patterns develop early, are inflexible, and are associated with significant distress or disability. The definitions may vary somewhat, according to source, and remain a matter of controversy. Official criteria for diagnosing personality disorders are listed in the fifth chapter of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) and in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).

In the field of psychology, the term grandiosity refers to an unrealistic sense of superiority, characterized by a sustained view of one's self as better than others, which is expressed by disdainfully criticising them, overinflating one's own capability and belittling them as inferior; and refers to a sense of personal uniqueness, the belief that few other people have anything in common with oneself, and that one can only be understood by a few, very special people. The personality trait of grandiosity is principally associated with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), but also is a feature in the occurrence and expression of antisocial personality disorder, and the manic and hypomanic episodes of bipolar disorder.

Personal boundaries or the act of setting boundaries is a life skill that has been popularized by self help authors and support groups since the mid 1980s. It is the practice of openly communicating and asserting personal values as way to preserve and protect against having them compromised or violated The term "boundary" is a metaphor – with in-bounds meaning acceptable and out-of-bounds meaning unacceptable. Without values and boundaries our identities become diffused and often controlled by the definitions offered by others. The concept of boundaries has been widely adopted by the counseling profession.

Emotional blackmail and FOG are terms, popularized by psychotherapist Susan Forward, about controlling people in relationships and the theory that fear, obligation and guilt (FOG) are the transactional dynamics at play between the controller and the person being controlled. Understanding these dynamics is useful to anyone trying to extricate oneself from the controlling behavior of another person and deal with their own compulsions to do things that are uncomfortable, undesirable, burdensome, or self-sacrificing for others.

Superficial charm is the tendency to be smooth, engaging, charming, slick and verbally facile.

A narcissistic parent is a parent affected by narcissism or narcissistic personality disorder. Typically, narcissistic parents are exclusively and possessively close to their children and are threatened by their children's growing independence. This results in a pattern of narcissistic attachment, with the parent considering that the child exists solely to fulfill the parent's needs and wishes. A narcissistic parent will often try to control their children with threats and emotional abuse. Narcissistic parenting adversely affects the psychological development of children, affecting their reasoning and their emotional, ethical, and societal behaviors and attitudes. Personal boundaries are often disregarded with the goal of molding and manipulating the child to satisfy the parent's expectations.

Cluster B personality disorders are a categorization of personality disorders as defined in the DSM-IV and DSM-5. They are characterized by dramatic, overly emotional or unpredictable thinking or behavior and interactions with others. They include antisocial personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, histrionic personality disorder and narcissistic personality disorder. The British National Health Service has described those with this disorder as someone who "struggles to relate to others. As a result, they show patterns of behaviour most would regard as dramatic, erratic and threatening or disturbing."

Abusive power and control is commonly used by an abusive person to gain and maintain power and control over another person in order to subject that victim to psychological, physical, sexual, or financial abuse. The abuser may have a variety of motivations which can include devaluation, envy, personal gain, personal gratification, psychological projection, or simply the enjoyment of exercising power and control.


  1. "Definition of 'Manipulate'". Retrieved 2019-02-24.
  2. 1 2 3 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. 1 2 3 Braiker, Harriet B. (2004). Who's Pulling Your Strings ? How to Break The Cycle of Manipulation. ISBN   978-0-07-144672-3.
  4. Kantor, Martin (2006). The Psychopathology of Everyday Life: How Antisocial Personality Disorder Affects All of Us. ISBN   978-0-275-98798-5.
  5. Giovacchini, Peter L. (1996). Treatment of Primitive Mental States. Master work series. Northvale, New Jersey: Jason Aronson. p. 24. ISBN   9781568218083 . Retrieved 24 July 2021. These are early ego states that are characterized by megalomanic feelings. Freud's (1914a) description of 'his majesty, the baby' well illustrates this situation of omnipotent manipulation.
  6. Halperin, David A., ed. (1983). Psychodynamic Perspectives on Religion, Sect, and Cult. Littleton, Massachusetts: J. Wright, PSG, Incorporated. p. 364. ISBN   9780723670292 . Retrieved 24 July 2021. [...] theologians and philosophers have, for the most part, avoided other questions which usually fall within their purview: ethical questions, for instance, like those highlighted by the calculated deceit and crass manipulation integral to many cults.
  7. 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. PMID   26167886. S2CID   8521465.
  8. Frank, Prabbal (2007). People Manipulation: A Positive Approach (2 ed.). New Delhi: Sterling Publishers Pvt. Ltd (published 2009). pp. 3–7. ISBN   978-81-207-4352-6 . Retrieved 2019-11-09.
  9. Faggioni M & White M Organizational Psychopaths – Who Are They and How to Protect Your Organization from Them (2009)
  10. Baibak, P; Hare, R. D Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work (2007).
  11. 1 2 3 Kernberg, O (1975). Borderline Conditions and Pathological Narcissism . New York: Jason Aronson. ISBN   978-0-87668-205-0.
  12. 1 2 Aguirre, Blaise (2016). "Borderline Personality Disorder: From Stigma to Compassionate Care". Stigma and Prejudice. Current Clinical Psychiatry. Humana Press, Cham. pp. 133–143. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-27580-2_8. ISBN   9783319275789.
  13. 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.
  14. 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.
  15. Kernberg, O. (1993). Severe Personality Disorders: Psychotherapeutic Strategies (New ed.). Yale University Press. pp. 15–18. ISBN   978-0-300-05349-4.
  16. Staff writer(s). "On Manipulation with the Borderline Personality". ToddlerTime Network. Retrieved 28 December 2014.
  17. American Psychiatric Association 2000
  18. "Histrionic Personality Disorder". The Cleveland Clinic. Archived from the original on 3 October 2011. Retrieved 23 November 2011.
  19. 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.

Further reading


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