What Is Dark Psychology? 10 Most Common Techniques and Tactics of Manipulation

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Dark Psychology and Manipulation: Most Common Techniques

All of us have a dark side, which most of us try to control, suppress and hide from others. We all have a unique relationship with our dark side which can define the type of person we are. Dark psychology enables us to understand this relationship with the dark side of our consciousness. 

What is dark psychology? 

Dark psychology refers to the dark side of the human psyche and is primarily used to manipulate others. It is typically regarded as the psychological study and application of thought control and manipulation. Generally, psychology focuses on human thoughts, behaviours, emotions and actions.

However, dark psychology focuses on strategies, tactics and techniques of manipulation, persuasion, coercion and motivation that can help a person to gain what they wish for.

Using these strategies can empower someone to control another person without making the victim aware of their intentions or actions. It can be not only beneficial for the person who uses these strategies, whether ethically or unethically, it can also restrict the abilities and independence of the victim and may even be harmful for them.

Related: Shadow Self: 3 Ways To Embrace Your Inner Darkness

“Dark Psychology is both a human consciousness construct and study of the human condition as it relates to the psychological nature of people to prey upon others,” explains NYS licensed psychologist Michael Nuccitelli, Psy.D.

A person using these tactics may be driven by psychopathic, criminal or other deviant intentions. All of us are capable of manipulating and hurting others but most of us tend to control our urges to act on such dark impulses.

However, it should be noted that dark psychology is not an officially recognized branch of psychology.

Dark psychology and manipulation

Dark psychology is used to great effect in social relationships, romantic relationships and even in business to gain power and control. However, it is not synonymous to brainwashing as it takes a lot of effort to apply and it doesn’t necessarily work on all targets.

While it may help someone influence another person without their knowledge, the effect is typically not long lasting.

Dark Psychology
What Is Dark Psychology? 10 Most Common Techniques And Tactics Of Manipulation

Here’s how dark psychology is used to manipulate others in different settings:

1. Manipulation in social relationships

Dark psychology can be used by manipulative individuals successfully by abusive people who are focused on manipulating and controlling others. Different techniques, tactics, processes and strategies can be used to persuade, convince, influence and manage others for personal gain.

However, there is no doubt that such destructive behaviour will come at the cost of the victims and targets.

A person using dark psychology can:

  • Manipulate women by asking them to be independent, strong and to have the highest standards so that they are unsuccessful at dating and succumb to the moves of the manipulator
  • Exaggerate how they have helped others to boost their social reputation and to gain favours from others
  • Play the victim card to gain sympathy and favours by guilt tripping someone

2. Manipulation in romantic relationships

A manipulative person can use an array of dark tactics to meet their own psychological, emotional and sexual needs by playing mind games with their romantic partner. In most dating or romantic scenarios, men control their female partners by:

  • Lying
  • Cheating
  • Deceiving
  • Making false promises

The man may lure the woman by promising a marriage or a happy future, but they are never ready to settle down when asked by their female partner.

They only make promises about being committed without actually being committed or being in a relationship with their victim. They may also use another strategy known as chameleon manipulation where the man pretends to be the ideal partner, which makes it easier for him to gain control over the woman. 

However, women can also manipulate men in dating and romantic relationships. Here the woman pretends to be inaccessible and unreachable which increases her desirability. By acting all high and mighty, the woman makes the man desperate for gaining her attention.

The less interest she shows in him, the more the man chases her, making him vulnerable to invest more in the “relationship”, mentally, emotionally, physically and financially. Now the man:

  • Pays more attention to the woman
  • Spends money on her by buying expensive gifts
  • Does favors for her even at the expense of his own happiness and reputation

Manipulative women also tend to use sex and physical intimacy as a way to controlling men, whether as a reward or as a punishment, as men are more inclined to seeking sex than women.

Related: 7 Subtle Signs Of Emotional Manipulation That Are Hard To Identify

3. Manipulation in business

Dark psychology can also be useful for business leaders as they can easily manipulate employees and customers for the betterment of their organization.

For employees, a company may use certain jargons, phrases and terms like:

  • We are a family
  • Our employees matter
  • We win as a team, we lose as a team

These can motivate the employees to not only sacrifice their personal interests for the greater good, but also do so for a fraction of what they truly deserve for their efforts. 

For customers, a company can use motivational phrases like:

  • The customer is always right
  • The customer is king/queen
  • We exist to serve you

Such strategies are used to make the customer feel like they are in charge and manipulate them into paying more for the product/service, brand value etc.

Many companies also recruit managers and sales executives with ‘Dark Psychology Triad’ personality traits so that they can better manipulate their employees and customers.

Dark Psychology
What Is Dark Psychology? 10 Most Common Techniques And Tactics Of Manipulation

How to use dark psychology: Commonly used techniques and strategies

Most of us are not interested in manipulating or harming others in our daily lives. We are inherently and socially programmed to suppress these destructive urges and to focus more on being kind, empathic and compassionate instead.

However, many people experiment with and utilize dark tactics to subtly manipulate and persuade others for personal gains on a daily basis. 

Here are some dark psychology techniques and strategies that are commonly used by many individuals to gain control and power over others:

1. Lying and deceiving 

Lying to create a controlled narrative that the victim wants to hear. The manipulator can use partial truths, lies, false statements and even hide facts to gain favour from their victim.

2. Love bombing 

A manipulator will give excessive attention, admiration and affection to their target in order to get their guards down for personal gain.

They can be overly affectionate, give a lot of compliments and praise and be extremely loving and kind, before manipulating and abusing the target.

3. Semantic manipulation 

It is a form of verbal abuse that involves relabelling or renaming behaviours, actions or things to confuse their victims.

The manipulator uses terms with different meanings and distorts them to gaslight or manipulate their target to gain power, wealth or social reputation. The abuser may later deny the accusations of the manipulator when they get caught, claiming they meant it differently and the victim misunderstood them.

Related: 6 Diversion Tactics Used By Narcissists To Manipulate You Into Silence

Other manipulative dark psychology tactics may include: 

  • Denying or withholding love, affection and attention
  • Purposely treating the victim like a child to reduce their self-confidence and self-esteem
  • Avoiding the victim or giving them the silent treatment
  • Restricting the victim’s choice options to make them choose what the abuser wants them to
  • Using the victim’s fear and insecurities to control their behaviors and actions
  • Gaslighting the victim to make them question and doubt their own memory and sanity
  • Using reverse psychology to encourage the victim to do the exact opposite of what is being told, giving the victim the illusion of control and making them do what the manipulator wants them to

Who uses dark psychology? 

The dark psychology triad
What Is Dark Psychology? 10 Most Common Techniques And Tactics Of Manipulation

According to Dr. Jason Jones, an organizational psychologist, best-selling author, and executive coach, dark psychology is mainly used by individuals possessing ‘Dark Psychology Triad personality traits, which involves the following:

1. Narcissism 

Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a psychological condition where individuals have:

  • A strong need for admiration & attention
  • An inflated sense of self-importance
  • Grandiosity
  • Egotism 
  • A lack of empathy

According to a study, people with NPD are unable to maintain work and relationships as they are exploitative and take advantage of others to achieve their own ends.

2. Machiavellianism

Machiavellianism is a personality trait associated with:

  • Manipulativeness
  • Cunningness
  • Cruel disregard for others
  • Indifference to ethics
  • Exploitative attitude

People with this trait can manipulate and deceive others and do whatever is needed to get what they want. They have no sense of morality.

Related: Understanding Machiavellianism

3. Psychopathy

Psychopathy is a severe personality disorder marked by:

  • Antisocial and criminal behavior
  • Lack of empathy and remorse
  • Recklessness
  • Irresponsibility
  • Dishonesty
  • Deficient emotional responses

People with this condition have low behavioural control, are selfish and impulsive, but tend to be highly charming. 

Individuals who possess the dark triad traits are highly prone to using dark psychology for their personal gains and they do not care if others get hurt in the process.

Dark Psychology
What Is Dark Psychology? 10 Most Common Techniques And Tactics Of Manipulation

Dangers of dark psychology 

Dark Psychology is the study of human thoughts, emotions & perceptions which cause dangerous, harmful and predatory behaviour.

Psychologist Michael Nuccitelli, Psy.D claims that such behaviour is intentional, goal-oriented, rational and purposive most of the times. However there may be certain exceptions where such actions can be without any purpose or specific goal.

Someone may commit such heinous acts without any goals, such as sex, money, revenge, control, power etc. Hence, such behaviour can be really difficult to explain clearly due to the complexity involved in dark psychology.

According to Nuccitelli, dark psychology involves 3 specific aspects, namely:

1. The Dark Singularity

It is believed that a certain fragment of the human consciousness motivates and empowers some individuals to brutally victimize others and engage in horrendous acts without any specific purpose or intent. This is known as the Dark Singularity.

2. The Dark Continuum

According to the dark psychology theory, it is believed that every single person is capable of harmful intentions, atrocious behaviours & malevolent actions towards others.

However, it can vary from intrusive fleeting thoughts and minimally inconvenient actions to psychopathic and harmful behaviours without any specific purpose. This is identified as the dark continuum.

3. The Dark Factor

The dark factor involves “mitigating factors acting as accelerants and/or attractants” which drives someone to victimize others without any intent (Dark Singularity), where their behaviors and actions can range from minimally manipulative to homicidal (Dark Continuum).

Dark psychology posits that such vicious and malicious behaviour may be fuelled by some anti-evolutionary and intrapsychic influences as humans are the only species who will hurt others for reasons not associated with food, procreation, territory or survival.

Such behaviours are mostly unpredictable as it can be difficult to determine who will be able to suppress such fleeting urges and who might act on them.

Related: 5 Types Of Psychological Manipulation And How To Deal With Them

Tenets of dark psychology

According to psychologist Michael Nuccitelli, Psy.D, dark psychology involves certain tenets that can help us better understand the concept and how it can be applied by someone.

Here are the 6 tenets of this phenomenon:

1. A universal construct

Dark psychology is a universal aspect of the human psyche that is observed across race, religion, culture, location, history, gender and age. This psychological construct has been widely present throughout human history and has greatly influenced our society.

Even the most altruistic, kind and empathic people possess this capability to harm others without any purpose. However, they deliberately choose not to act on their destructive thoughts and violent impulses.

2. Lack of a clear purpose

While humans typically have some triggers or motivations for committing a heinous act, dark psychology proposes that some human predators may manipulate and prey upon unsuspecting victims without any “definable reasons”.

It is believed the more someone becomes truly evil, the more they lack a clear motivation or purpose. Although “pristine evil is never reached, since it is infinite, Dark Psychology assumes there are some who come close,” explains Nuccitelli.

3. Not necessarily psychopathy

Dark psychology is often mistaken as perverted psychopathy, especially when someone actively engages in meeting their dark urges using dark tactics.

While both psychopaths and people with uncontrolled dark urges engage in harmful behaviours, there exists a continuum of intensity in dark psychology that ranges from simple thoughts and mild manipulation to extreme harm, violence and victimization without logical reason.

Dark Psychology: Manipulation
What Is Dark Psychology? 10 Most Common Techniques And Tactics Of Manipulation

4. Better understanding of human behavior

Dark psychology allows us to get a clearer picture of the range of darkness and inhumanity we may possess as individuals, which is not always dependent on the brutality of a person’s heinous acts.

Psychologist Michael Nuccitelli, Psy.D. talks about the crimes of psychopathic serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer and Ted Bundy as one of the basic examples of dark psychology.

Both were severe psychopaths and heinous in their actions. The difference is Dahmer committed his atrocious murders for his delusional need for companionship while Ted Bundy murdered, and sadistically inflicted pain out of sheer psychopathic evil,” explains Nuccitelli.

While both serial killers can be ranked high on the Dark Continuum, Dahmer’s actions were driven by his desperation to feel loved, while Bundy had no such motivations.

5. Everyone is capable of great evil

Each and every one of us has the potential to reach infinite evil and be extremely manipulative, controlling, abusive, violent and destructive.

While these behaviours are greatly influenced by internal and external stimuli and triggers, we usually have the strength to control these negative urges so that our dark psyche does not manifest to cause harm to others. Such predatory behaviour is natural and innate and is often not based on reason or logic. 

Dark psychology is only observed in humans as no other animals act violently without a clear goal, reason or purpose.

Related: 9 Ways Your Partner Uses Guilt Trips You To Get What They Want

6. Understanding dark psychology can lead to a better society

Gaining a deeper knowledge of this human mental construct and identifying the underlying triggers and hidden causes can help us make our society safer.

Humanity can lessen inherent dangers that can arise without warning from other human beings by effectively identifying and analysing dark manipulation techniques and understanding who uses dark psychology. 

Dark psychology can increase self-awareness

Understanding dark psychology can help us better understand ourselves as all of us are capable of great evil.

When we know more about this psychological construct, we can identify the different manipulative tactics which can help us avoid becoming victims to manipulators and abusers and protect ourselves from harm. 


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What Is Dark Psychology? 10 Most Common Techniques And Tactics Of Manipulation
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What Is Dark Psychology? 10 Most Common Techniques And Tactics Of Manipulation
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What Is Dark Psychology? 10 Most Common Techniques And Tactics Of Manipulation

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