There are certain people in your life that just make it so difficult for anyone to get along with them. They could be disagreeable, bossy, emotional, domineering, volatile, arrogant, rude, and a whole host of other challenging personality traits. While a lot of these behaviors can be neutralized when you carefully manage them, some characteristics and traits can be more damaging than others to a point that no amount of management will be able to neutralize the toxic effects of their behavior. These people are usually the manipulators.

Manipulation, Persuasion and Dark Psychology Explained

As bad as this behavior can be, we often don’t want to come right out and call someone manipulative. Being called a manipulator is a criticism against yours or someone else’s character. If manipulation and persuasion are almost similar (separated only by intention), why is manipulation viewed as immoral and just plain wrong? Humans are always trying to influence each other in one way or another, but certain traits associated with manipulation make this form of influence far worse than all the others.

We are exposed to manipulation all the time. Sometimes we’re on the receiving end, and sometimes we’re the ones who are doing the manipulating. Gaslighting, a common manipulative term, is when you try to encourage someone else to doubt their own decisions in favor of going along with yours instead. When you make someone feel bad (whether directly or indirectly) about not being able to follow through or backing out of a promise, that’s a form of manipulation. Being pressured to go along with the group just to gain acceptance or approval is a form of manipulation. It’s happening around us and in society all the time. What sets manipulation apart from all the other persuasive methods we use is because manipulation tends to directly harm the one who is being manipulated. Take cigarette ads for example. They manipulative you into thinking it is “cool”, but it directly has a harmful effect on your health. Phishing or scams that manipulate you into thinking you stand a chance at winning a substantial sum of money are directly harmful to you because they result in fraud or identity theft. Politicians in some countries rely on manipulative tactics to weaken the notion of democracy. The direct and more often than not, the harmful impact of manipulation is what sets it apart from all the other persuasive tactics out there. That’s why it’s not referred to as persuasion instead, even though the two methods rely on more or less the same approach.

In the end, it all comes down to your intent. The intention that lies    behind your actions is what separates persuasion from manipulation. If your intentions are good, and there is a genuine desire to create a situation that benefits the other party, that’s persuasion. If your intention is to do well, that’s persuasion. If you’re honest from the very beginning about what you’re trying to do, that’s persuasion. If you can say wholeheartedly that you have the other person’s best interest at heart, that’s persuasion. Needless to say that manipulation produces a far less desirable outcome. If your intent is to confuse, ridicule, blame, instill guilt and use them for your own benefit, regardless of whether they get hurt by your actions along the way, that’s manipulation. If you knowingly engage in behavior that you know might cause someone else to get upset or look bad, yet you do it anyway, that’s manipulation. If you don’t care about the consequences of your actions and what they might do to someone else as long as your own agenda is served, that’s manipulation.

At the end of the day, it is intention which determines if your actions make you a manipulator or not.

Understanding the Dark Triad

Just when you thought manipulation was bad enough, here comes an even darker side of psychology, known as the Dark Triad. The triad is made of up three very distinct, yet interrelated personality types, which are narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism. Why are these three referred to as the Dark Triad or the darker side of human psychology? It’s because these three terms define the very tactics – manipulation, persuasion, and coercion – that some people resort to in order to get what they want. The term Dark Triad certainly has a sinister ring to it, and it is a term that many psychologists and criminologists use as a defining predictor that signals criminal behavior in an individual.

 Let’s take a closer look at the three personality traits which make up this trifecta:


– The term stems from the Greek mythology about Narcissus, the hunter who fell in love with his own reflection when he saw it in a pool of water that he drowned as a result. So consumed was he by himself that he couldn’t focus on anything else. Those with narcissistic personality traits often display symptoms which include being boastful, selfish and arrogant, thinking only of themselves and nothing else. Narcissistic individuals also lack empathy and are extremely sensitive (one might even say hypersensitive) to any form of criticism, because they can’t bear the thought of being imperfect or flawed.


– This term stems from Niccolo Machiavelli, a renowned diplomat, and politician who lived in 16th century Italy. Machiavelli became notorious when his book, The Prince, was published in 1513. This publication was interpreted as Machiavelli’s endorsement of the deceit and cunning that takes place in diplomacy. Those who tend to display Machiavellianistic tendencies are often occupied with only their own self-interest, and they are manipulative and duplicitous. These individuals lack both morality and emotion, and they are not for anything else except for what’s going to be beneficial to them.


– Antisocial behavior, manipulative, volatile, hostile, a lack of remorse or empathy are traits which are associated with a psychopathic personality. Psychopathic and being a psychopath are two distinctly different traits, with the latter commonly associated with or directly linked to criminal violence.



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