Dark psychology looks into how people use their understanding of human behavior and emotions to control others. It includes tactics like guilt-tripping, gaslighting, and reverse psychology.

Have you ever met someone who seems to effortlessly handle social situations and understand emotions? People with high emotional intelligence (EI) have these skills, using them to empathize, adapt to different social settings, and solve conflicts peacefully.

But these skills can also be used for darker purposes. Dark psychology looks at how people with traits like Machiavellianism, psychopathy, and narcissism might manipulate others using their understanding of emotions and social dynamics.

Let’s take a closer look at these manipulation tactics.

Dark psychology refers to the study and application of psychological principles to manipulate, influence, or control people in harmful ways. It explores how individuals use tactics such as manipulation, coercion, and deception to achieve their goals at the expense of others.

Dark psychology isn’t a recognized scientific field but rather a term used to describe these negative and often unethical practices.


Manipulation is an umbrella term for many of the techniques listed here. It involves cleverly or deceptively influencing or controlling someone, often at their expense, using tactics like:

  • persuasion
  • deception
  • coercion

It can occur in various contexts, such as personal relationships or work environments. Manipulation often exploits emotions, vulnerabilities, or beliefs to achieve goals.


Paltering is a deceptive tactic where someone tells the truth but conceals important information, creating a false or misleading impression. For instance, imagine a person on a first date who says, “I’m really open and honest in my relationships. My last partner and I even shared our social media passwords.”

This may seem like an honest revelation, but the person fails to mention that their previous relationship was marked by distrust and jealousy, leading to the sharing of passwords to monitor each other’s activities.

By offering this information unprompted, the person attempts to appear honest and open while hiding the negative aspects of their past relationship.


Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation where a person makes someone doubt their perceptions or sanity by denying the truth or altering reality.

In a relationship, this can involve one partner repeatedly telling the other, “You’re imagining things” or “That didn’t happen like that,” leading to self-doubt.

Over time, the victim may begin to doubt themselves and their version of reality, believing they’re the problem in the relationship.

A study of 65 individuals who experienced gaslighting found that it often occurs alongside both loving and abusive behaviors. This often resulted in a diminished sense of self and mistrust of others, though some experienced personal growth after recovery.


Backstabbing refers to the act of betraying someone’s trust or confidence by secretly harming or undermining them, especially after pretending to be their friend or ally. It involves deception and betrayal, often for personal gain or to harm the other person.

For instance, Alex wants a promotion and sees Chris as a rival. Alex pretends to be supportive of Chris while secretly working to discredit him — spreading false rumors and taking credit for his work — all to boost his own chances of getting promoted.


Triangulation is a manipulation tactic where a person involves a third party to manipulate or control a situation, often by creating competition, jealousy, or insecurity.

For example, Allie feels jealous of Bracy’s new friendship with Carol. Instead of addressing her feelings directly with Bracy or finding ways to cope, Allie may start making negative comments about Carol to Bracy.

This behavior can create tension between Bracy and Carol, as Bracy may feel torn between her new friendship and her existing ones.


Exploitation involves identifying and taking advantage of someone’s weaknesses, insecurities, or fears to manipulate them. This can include emotional, psychological, or physical vulnerabilities.

An example could be a scam artist exploiting an elderly person’s loneliness and desire for companionship by pretending to befriend them, only to then manipulate them into giving them money.


Guilt tripping is a manipulative tactic where someone tries to make another person feel guilty to control their behavior. It often involves emotional manipulation to make the person feel responsible for something that’s not their fault or to exaggerate the impact of their actions on others.

For instance, a friend might guilt trip you by saying, “I thought you cared about me, but I guess I was wrong.” This statement is designed to make you feel guilty for not meeting their expectations, even if those expectations are unreasonable or unfair.

Reverse psychology

Reverse psychology is a strategy where someone encourages another person to do something by suggesting they do the opposite, tapping into their desire for autonomy or defiance against being manipulated.

For example, if one partner wants the other to spend more time with them, they might say, “You probably wouldn’t want to spend time with me anyway, so go ahead and hang out with your friends.”

This could trigger the other person’s desire to prove them wrong and result in them canceling their plans to be with their partner, even though it’s not what they truly want.

Love bombing

Love bombing is a manipulative tactic used to gain someone’s affection or trust by overwhelming them with attention, compliments, and praise. This creates a strong emotional bond that can be used to manipulate or control the person.

For example, in a romantic relationship, a person might use love bombing to quickly win over their partner by showering them with gifts and affection. This intense display of affection can make the target feel special and loved, but it’s often done with the intention of gaining control over them.


Negging is a manipulative tactic used in dating or social interactions to undermine someone’s confidence, making them seek validation or approval from the person using the tactic. It often involves giving backhanded compliments or mild insults disguised as compliments.

For example, someone might use negging by saying to a person they’re interested in, “You’re pretty cute for someone who doesn’t take care of themselves.” This statement subtly insults the person’s appearance, making them feel insecure and seek approval.

Individuals with traits of Machiavellianism, psychopathy, or narcissism may be more likely to use dark psychology tactics. This includes those who are naturally manipulative, seek power and control, or lack empathy and remorse.

These traits can be found in various people, including:

  • abusers
  • criminals
  • people with personality disorders
  • those with neurotic traits

Such people often experience a high level of emotional distress, anxiety, or moodiness.

One study from 2016 found that neurotic individuals are more likely to use manipulation tactics like guilt-tripping and threatening to end relationships. However, researchers found that they are less likely to use begging compared to non-neurotic individuals.

They tend to manipulate more in everyday life than during therapy, and this tendency is associated with Machiavellianism.

Dark psychology involves using psychological principles to manipulate, influence, or control people in harmful ways. Those with traits like Machiavellianism, psychopathy, or narcissism are more likely to use these tactics.

If you suspect someone might be using these tactics against you, take steps to protect yourself. Educate yourself about manipulation, establish clear boundaries, and trust your instincts in your relationships and interactions.