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Inflict Injury on Oneself in Order to Win the Enemy's Trust


Disciplines > Warfare > The 36 Stratagems > Inflict Injury on Oneself in Order to Win the Enemy's Trust

Stratagem | History | Discussion | See also

This stratagem number: 34

This group: Stratagems for Desperate Straits
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Harm yourself as a way to gain the trust, liking and sympathy of your enemies and others you seek to influence.

This may be faked, appearing to be so desperate you will put yourself in harm's way. This can also be a way to set an ambush or wheedle your way into their trusted inner circle.

A variant is to take apparently great risks in order to prove yourself to them, for example going through great hardship on your way to meet with them.


This is the thirty-fourth stratagem of thirty-six.

Group name

Stratagems for Desperate Straits

Alternative names

Injure Yourself to Gain the Enemy's Trust

The Strategy of Injuring Yourself

Scheme with Self-Inflicted Wounds

Or even:

Self-harm to Gain Trust

Appear Desperate

Make them Sympathetic 


An assassin was sent to kill the first emperor of China. The emperor disliked a friend of the assassin. So the assassin brought the emperor the head of his friend in order to get close enough to kill the emperor.

After general Huang Gai disagreed with Zhou Yu, he was punished with 50 lashes. He then sent word to Zhou Yu's enemy, Cao Cao that he wanted to defect. Cao Cao heard by other means of the punishment and concluded that Huang Gai must be telling the truth and set up a friendly talk with him. When Cao Cao got to the meeting point, he was ambushed by Zhou Yu's troops. Huang Gai had remained loyal, after all.

History is littered with kings marrying off their children (especially daughters) in order to gain the trust of other countries.


Everyone is human, including enemies, and even though we tend to depersonalize them into 'things' that we can dispassionately attack. If you can make your enemy realize you are human, then it becomes more difficult for them to seek to harm you.

Self-harm is a common method of gaining attention and sympathy, in situations ranging from prisoners protesting by going on hunger strike, to soldiers who take great risks in order to be hailed as heroes.

The underlying principle of self-harm is to gain attention through the shock factor of an act that is contrary to normal actions of self-preservation. This can be very persuasive when the other person concludes you have done this in order to help them.

Going through hardship is a common element in rites of passage, for example where teenagers are admitted to adulthood or where new gang members are brutalized by existing members. The principle is the same: showing yourself willing to be harmed in some way in order to prove yourself to others.

Other variants on making them sympathetic is to show yourself to be kind and moral, for example in the humane treatment of prisoners and the avoidance of unnecessary bloodshed.

In business, you can gain trust from customers by recommending products that are not the most expensive. You may also help or collaborate with competitors, with the real aim of more quickly expanding the market (of which you are better prepared to take advantage).

See also

Empathy, Trust


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