In his book Surrounded by Psychopaths, Thomas Erikson defines a psychopath as someone who manipulates others for their own benefit, at the expense of those they’re manipulating.

In chapter 15, he delved into great depth about the many methods of manipulation. One of the techniques he termed Arbitrary Positive Reinforcement.

Here is what he says about Arbitrary Positive Reinforcement:


“Imagine a drug addict whose body is screaming for a particular drug. He gets the drug and immediately feels better. But before long, he feels worse again and needs more of the drug. If he gets some, the pattern is repeated; if he doesn’t get any, he will soon feel worse and worse.

The person who has the drugs has power over the drug addict, which is why addicts would do anything for their next fix. Every dealer in the world knows this.

We all look for confirmation and affirmation of some sort. It’s built into our human nature. We are primarily emotionally governed beings, and there are things that make us feel good, just as there are things that make us feel bad.

Arbitrary positive reinforcement works extremely well on people who have weak self-esteem, so if you suspect you fall into that category, read this very carefully. You might be one of those people who need to hear that you’ve done a good job. You glow hearing your boss say that you’ve been clever.


Basically, those with poor self-esteem, when praised long enough over a period of time, will likely do what you want them to do.

The message is that constant praise is one of the tactics for manipulating others to do what you want.

This is both sad and unsettling.

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