At a psychological level, the art of manipulation primarily involves two things: concealing aggressive intentions and behaviors and knowing the psychological vulnerabilities of your opponent well enough to know what tactics are likely to be the most effective weapons against them. Psychological manipulation is most often accomplished through covert-aggression or aggression that is so carefully veiled or so subtle that it’s not easily detected. Manipulators want what they want and fight hard to attain their goals. But the tactics they use can make it appear like they’re doing almost anything but simply trying to get the better of you. The tactics are also very effective weapons of power and control. That’s because even though they’re hard to recognize as aggressive moves at a conscious level, at an unconscious level others feel backed into a corner and are thrown on the defensive. This makes it more likely that they’ll back down or give in to their manipulator.
Skilled manipulators know the vulnerabilities of their opponents. If vanity is someone’s weakness, a seduction tactic might be the best manipulation tactic. If over-conscientiousness is their weakness, perhaps guilt-tripping would be the most effective way to gain the upper hand. Most manipulators have a significant disturbance of character (i.e. have too little conscience or sensitivity). Their easiest prey are neurotic individuals (i.e. people with high levels of sensitivity and conscientiousness). Tactics like Playing the Victim, or Shaming will effectively manipulate the average neurotic because conscientious individuals neither want to see someone else as suffering, nor do they want to feel badly about themselves. If a neurotic person were to try these same tactics on a disturbed character, they would soon learn that they have no effect.