Dark Psychology & Manipulation: Are You Unknowingly Using Them?

Dark Psychology

Dark Psychology is the art and science of manipulation and mind control. While Psychology is the study of human behavior and is central to our thoughts, actions, and interactions, the term Dark Psychology is the phenomenon by which people use tactics of motivation, persuasion, manipulation, and coercion to get what they want.

While working on my doctorate and studying abnormal psychology, I came across a term called “The Dark Triad” that refers to what many criminologist and psychologist pinpoint as an easy predictor of criminal behavior, as well as problematic, broken relationships. The Dark Triad includes the traits of …


Dark Psychology Triad

Narcissism – Egotism, grandiosity, and lack of empathy.

Machiavellianism – Uses manipulation to deceive and exploit people and has no sense of morality.

Psychopathy – Often charming and friendly yet is characterized by impulsivity, selfishness, lack of empathy, and remorselessness.

None of us want to be a victim of manipulation, but it happens quite often. We may not be subject to someone specifically in the Dark Triad, but normal, everyday people like you and I face dark psychology tactics on a daily basis.

These tactics are often found in commercials, internet ads, sales techniques, and even our manager’s behaviors. If you have kids (especially teenagers) you will most definitely experience these tactics as your children experiment with behaviors to get what they want and seek autonomy. In fact, covert manipulation and dark persuasion are often used by people you trust and love. Here are some of the tactics used most often by normal, everyday people.

Love Flooding – Compliments, affection or buttering someone up to make a request

Lying – Exaggeration, untruths, partial truths, untrue stories

Love Denial – Withhold attention and affection

Withdrawal – Avoiding the person or silent treatment

Choice restriction – Giving certain choice options that distract from the choice you don’t want someone to make

Reverse Psychology – Tell a person one thing or to do something with an intention to motivate them to do the opposite which is really what you desire. 

Semantic Manipulation – Using words that are assumed to have a common or mutual definition, yet the manipulator later tells you he or she has a different definition and understanding of the conversation. Words are powerful and import

The purpose of this article is NOT to tell you how to avoid being manipulated and exploited (I’ll write about this in my next post). Rather, it’s to remind us all of how easy it is to fall into using these tactics in order to get what we want. I want to challenge you to assess your tactics in all areas of life, including your work, leadership, romantic relationships, parenting, and friendships.

While some people who use theses dark tactics know exactly what they are doing and they are intentional about manipulating you to getting what they want, others use dark and unethical tactics without being fully aware of it. Many of these people learned the tactics during childhood from their parents. Others learned the tactics in their teenage years or adulthood by happenstance. They used a manipulation tactic unintentionally and it worked. They got what they wanted. Therefore, they continue to use tactics that help them get their way.

In some cases, people are trained to use these tactics. Training programs that teach dark, unethical psychological and persuasion tactics are typically sales or marketing programs. Many of these programs use dark tactics to create a brand or sell a product with the sole purpose of serving themselves or their company, not the customer. Many of these training programs convince people that using such tactics are okay and is for the benefit of the buyer. Because, of course, their lives will be much better when they purchase the product or service.

Who uses Dark Psychology and manipulation tactics? Here’s a list of people who seem to use these tactics the most.

Narcissists – People who are truly narcissistic (meeting clinical diagnosis) have an inflated sense of self-worth. They need others to validate their belief of being superior. They have dreams of being worshipped and adored. They use dark psychology tactics, manipulation, and unethical persuasion to maintain.

Sociopaths – People who are truly sociopathic (meeting clinical diagnosis), are often charming, intelligent, yet impulsive. Due to a lack of emotionality and ability to feel remorse they use dark tactics to build a superficial relationship and then take advantage of people.

Attorneys – Some attorneys focus so intently on winning their case that they resort to using dark persuasion tactics to get the outcome they want.

Politicians – Some politicians use dark psychological tactics and dark persuasion tactics to convince people they are right and to get votes.

Sales People – Many salespeople become so focused on achieving a sale that they use dark tactics to motivate and persuade someone to buy their product.

Leaders – Some leaders use dark tactics to get compliance, greater effort, or higher performance from their subordinates.

Public Speakers – Some speakers use dark tactics to heighten the emotional state of the audience knowing it leads to selling more products at the back of the room.

Selfish People – This can be anyone who has an agenda of self before others. They will use tactics to meet their own needs first, even at someone else’s expense. They don’t mind win-lose outcomes.

Yes, I know. I probably stepped on some toes. As a speaker and a person who is involved in selling services, I fall into this category as well. This is why I must remind myself that working, writing, speaking, and selling with character requires that I avoid manipulative and coercive tactics.

When I’m facilitating training programs on motivation to business leaders, I am often asked about where the line resides between dark psychological tactics and ethical influence and persuasion tactics? Some of these people fully admit that they use these practices often or that their organizations require them to use dark practices as a part of the company’s processes to get and maintain customers.

This is truly unfortunate, and although leading to short-term sales and revenue, will ultimately lead to distrust, poor business practices, poor employee loyalty, and over the long-term less successful business outcomes.

To differentiate between those motivation and persuasion tactics that are dark and those that are ethical, it’s important to assess your intent. We must ask ourselves if the tactics that we are using have an intention to help the other person? It is okay for the intention to be to help you as well, but if it’s solely for your benefit, you can easily fall into dark and unethical practices.

Having a mutually beneficial or a “win-win” outcome should be the goal. However, you must be honest with yourself and your belief that the other person will truly benefit. An example of this is a salesperson who believes everyone will benefit from his product and life will be much better for the customer because of the purchase. A salesperson with this mentality can easily fall into using dark tactics to move the person to buy and use an “ends justifies the means” mentality. This opens the person up to any and all tactics to get the sale.

We can ask ourselves the following questions to assess our intention along with our motivation and persuasion tactics:

  1. What is my goal for this interaction? Who benefits and how?
  2. Do I feel good about how I am approaching the interaction?
  3. Am I being totally open and honest?
  4. Will the result of this interaction lead to a long-term benefit for the other person?
  5. Will the tactics I use lead to a more trusting relationship with the other person?

Do you want to be truly successful in your leadership, relationships, parenting, work, and other areas of life? Then assess yourself to determine your current tactics for motivation and persuasion. Doing it right leads to long-term credibility and influence. Doing it wrong (going dark) leads to poor character, broken relationships, and long-term failure because people eventually see through the darkness and realize your intent. 

In my next post I will review the different types of dark psychology and manipulation tactics used most commonly. This will help you be aware of them and avoid being manipulated. Here are some of the tactics I will review…

  • Love Flooding
  • Love Denial
  • Coercive Reinforcement
  • Fatigue Inducement
  • Subliminal Influence
  • Choice Restriction
  • Reverse Psychology
  • Mind Games
  • Brainwashing
  • And a few more tactics you’ll want to know about.