According to Braiker, manipulators exploit the following vulnerabilities (buttons) that may exist in victims:
- the “disease to please”
- addiction to earning the approval and acceptance of others
- Emotophobia (fear of negative emotion)
- lack of assertiveness and ability to say no
- blurry sense of identity (with soft personal boundaries)
- low self-reliance
- external locus of control
According to Simon, manipulators exploit the following vulnerabilities that may exist in victims:
- naïveté – victim finds it too hard to accept the idea that some people are cunning, devious and ruthless or is “in denial” if he or she is being victimized
- over-conscientiousness – victim is too willing to give manipulator the benefit of the doubt and see their side of things in which they blame the victim
- low self-confidence – victim is self-doubting, lacking in confidence and assertiveness, likely to go on the defensive too easily.
- over-intellectualization – victim tries too hard to understand and believes the manipulator has some understandable reason to be hurtful.
- emotional dependency – victim has a submissive or dependent personality. The more emotionally dependent the victim is, the more vulnerable he or she is to being exploited and manipulated.
Manipulators generally take the time to scope out the characteristics and vulnerabilities of their victim.
- too trusting – people who are honest often assume that everyone else is honest. They commit themselves to people they hardly know without checking credentials, etc. They rarely question so-called experts.
- too altruistic – the opposite of psychopathic; too honest, too fair, too empathetic
- too impressionable – overly seduced by charmers. For example, they might vote for the phony politician who kisses babies.
- too naïve – cannot believe there are dishonest people in the world or if there were they would not be allowed to operate.
- too masochistic – lack of self-respect and unconsciously let psychopaths take advantage of them. They think they deserve it out of a sense of guilt.
- too narcissistic – narcissists are prone to falling for unmerited flattery.
- too greedy – the greedy and dishonest may fall prey to a psychopath who can easily entice them to act in an immoral way.
- too immature – has impaired judgment and believes the exaggerated advertising claims.
- too materialistic – easy prey for loan sharks or get-rich-quick schemes
- too dependent – dependent people need to be loved and are therefore gullible and liable to say yes to something to which they should say no.
- too lonely – lonely people may accept any offer of human contact. A psychopathic stranger may offer human companionship for a price.
- too impulsive – make snap decisions about, for example, what to buy or whom to marry without consulting others.
- too frugal – cannot say no to a bargain even if they know the reason why it is so cheap
- the elderly – the elderly can become fatigued and less capable of multi-tasking. When hearing a sales pitch they are less likely to consider that it could be a con. They are prone to giving money to someone with a hard-luck story. See elder abuse.