Law 33: Discover Each Man’s Thumbscrew

The 48 Laws Of Power Summary Series


“Everyone has a weakness, a gap in the castle wall. That weakness is usually insecurity, an uncontrollable emotion or need; it can also be a small secret pleasure. Either way, once found, it is a thumbscrew you can turn to your advantage.”

This law summates lessons on body language, psychology to understand why people take action towards certain motives.

Think about how these principles can apply to the modern day…

These principles apply directly to sport; some of the greatest athletes of all time have used variations of this law to achieve triumph over their opponents. Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan were both known for there astute observations of their opponents. They would study the weaknesses of their rivals and exploit them once given the opportunity.

The following is a list of extremely valuable principles that encapsulate various archetypes of behaviour. I will display them as they are found in the book with minimal commentary in order to keep this portion as objective as possible.

Pay Attention To Gestures & Unconscious Signals

“He that has eyes to see and ears to hear may convince himself that no mortal can keep a secret. If his lips are silent, he chatters with his fingertips; betrayal oozes out of him at every pore.” — Sigmund Freud

An individual’s weakness can be revealed in the most unimportant of gestures and passing words. Everyday conversations supply the richest mine of weaknesses. Practice conversational and behavioral awareness not only of your own habits, but of those around you. You will slowly discover thing’s you hadn’t seen before. By expressing genuine curiosity in people you spur people to talk, who doesn’t like a sympathetic ear that’s willing to listen more than they talk?

A trick used by French Statesmen Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord was to appear like he was opening up to the other political leaders by sharing faux secrets with them. This would usually elicit a honest genuine response in the person he was conversing with. Of course, you don’t have to tell ‘white lies’ to get people to open up, if your willing to be vulnerable, sharing real hidden truths can work well in getting someone your communicating with to share their own vulnerability.

Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord (2 February 1754–17 May 1838) was a French diplomat. He worked successfully from the regime of Louis XVI, through the French Revolution and then under Napoleon I, Louis XVIII, Charles X, and Louis-Philippe

“Train your eye for the details, how someone tips a waiter, what delights a person, the hidden messages in cloths — find people’s idols, the thing’s they worship and will do anything to get. Perhaps you can get the supplier of their fantasies. What oozes out of the little thing’s outside of our conscious control is what you want to know.”

Find The Helpless Man

“Most weaknesses begin in childhood, before the self builds up compensatory defenses. Perhaps the child was pampered or indulged in a particular area, or perhaps a certain emotional need went unfulfilled, as he or she grows older, the indulgence or the deficiency may be buried but never disappears. Knowing about a childhood need gives you a powerful key to a person’s weakness.”

“If your victims or rivals went without something important, such as parental support, when they were children, supply it, or its facsimile (an exact copy). If they reveal a secret taste, a hidden indulgence, indulge it. In either case they will be unable to resist you”.

Look For Contrasts

“An overt trait often conceals its opposite. People who thump their chests are often big cowards; a prudish exterior may hide a lascivious soul; the uptight are often screaming for adventure; the shy are dying for attention. By probing beyond appearances, you will often find people’s weaknesses in the opposite of the qualities they reveal to you”.

Find The Weak Link

“Sometimes in your search for weaknesses it is not what but who that matters. In today’s versions of the court, there is often someone behind the scenes who has a great deal of power, a tremendous influence over the person superficially on top. These behind-the-scenes powerbrokers are the group’s weak link.”

Fill The Void

“The two main emotional voids to fill are insecurity and unhappiness. The insecure are suckers for any kind of social validation: as for the chronically unhappy, look for the roots of their unhappiness. The insecure and the unhappy are the people least able to disguise their weaknesses. The ability to fill their emotional voids is a great source of power, an an indefinitely prolongable one.”

Feed on Uncontrollable Emotions

“The uncontrollable emotion can be a paranoid fear — a fear disproportionate to the situation — or any base motive such as lust, greed, vanity or hatred. People in the grip of these emotions often cannot control themselves, and you can do the controlling for them.”

Observance IV

Out of the five ‘observances’ I chose this one because I thought it was the most relatable and practical.

Arabella Huntington was the wife of a very the great nineteenth-century railroad magnate Collis P. Huntington. Arabella always struggled for social recognition among her wealthy peers, even when she held parties very few of the social elite would make an appearance taking her nothing but a gold digger.

Arabella Yarrington “Belle” Huntington was the second wife of American railway tycoon and industrialist Collis P. Huntington, and then the second wife of Henry E. Huntington.

Because of her husbands large wealth many art dealers attempted to court her, but only one had success — Joseph Duveen treated her differently than the rest. In the first years of their relationship dealer Joseph Duveen made no effort to sell to Arabella. He instead treated her like a friend, running errands with her and endlessly chatting about queens and princesses he knew. While Duveen was befriending Arabella he subtly educated her that the best art was the most expensive art. After Arabella had soaked up his way of seeing things, Duveen would act as if she always had exquisite taste, even though before she met him her aesthetics had been abysmal. When Collis Huntington died, Arabella inherited his wealth. She then started buying expensive paintings ONLY from Duveen. Duveen sold her Gainsborough’s Blue Boy for the highest price ever paid for a work of art at that time.


Duveen understood Arabella and what made her tick (her thumbscrew): she wanted to feel important and was intensely insecure about her lower-class background, she needed confirmation of her social status and Duveen tactfully played against this insecurity. Duveen was supremely patient, and didn’t rush to pursued her to buy art from him.

So what does this mean for you and me? It’s not about manipulating people or subtly implanting ideas into the impressionable. It’s simply about understanding the psychology of human beings and how their insecurities and flaws influence their predispositions, beliefs and behavioral tendencies. The best thing you can do is become self aware enough to understand your own ‘thumbscrews’ before people start using them against you. Most likely other’s would have probably tried by now, some may have succeeded in using your insecurities against you, but taking action on this new information you should now be better equipped to handle future scenarios.

If not, this is what some will eventually use on you:

“People’s need to feel important, is the best kind of weakness to exploit. All you have to do is find ways to make people feel better about their taste, their social standing, their intelligence. They may never suspect you are turning them like a thumbscrew, and if they do they may not care, because you are making them feel better about themselves, and that is worth any price.”


“Playing on people’s weaknesses has one significant danger: You may stir up an action you cannot control. When you play on their vulnerabilities, the areas over which they have last control, you can unleash emotions that will upset your plans. Push timid people into bold action and they may go too far; answer their need for attention or recognition and they may need more than you want to give them. The more emotional the weakness, the greater the potential danger. Know the limits to this game, then and never get carried away by your control over your victims.”

Originally Posted

Self reflective writings & book summaries on philosophy, psychology and human behaviour.

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