The Dark Triad: Three of the Most Dangerous Personality Traits

Written by David Davenport – Contributing author Healing Arts Institute of South Florida

It is difficult to imagine a more toxic combination of dysfunctional personality traits and pathological disorders than those found in the Dark Triad.

Those few who possess Dark Triad traits see the world in a fundamentally different light from the rest of us. These individuals tend to have a cynical view of human nature, will manipulate others to advance their own agenda, and will have an inflated sense of their own importance.

If this sounds a bit like narcissism to you, you’re not far off. Narcissism happens to be one of the Dark Triad traits.

The Dark Triad consists of the following three pathological disorders and defective personality constructs:

  • Narcissism (narcissistic personality disorder)
  • Psychopathy
  • Machiavellianism

We will discuss each of these in a little more detail down below.

In contrast, emotionally healthy people should strive to feel a genuine connection to one another. We want to believe that other people are fundamentally good, and that we would help someone in need if we were able. It is this fundamental trust and connection to others that Dark Triad personalities exploit for their own benefit.

Narcissism

We have discussed narcissism already in a few articles on the Healing Arts Blog including ways to remove narcissists from your life. You should take some time to read those articles if you are interested in learning more about narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). Links to those articles are provided here and down below.

In summary, narcissistic personality disorder is a diagnosable pathological disorder. Narcissism is characterized by a sense of entitlement and an inflated perception of importance. These individuals have massive egos which are often not backed by any substantial accomplishments. Narcissists have a difficult time recognizing their own faults, and often blame others for their poor behavior.

Psychopathy

Psychopathy is another diagnosable pathological disorder that makes up the Dark Triad. Some of the traits that are found in psychopaths are:

  • Anti-social behavior
  • Limited or non-existent impulse control
  • Extreme selfishness
  • Lack of empathy or remorse for harm they cause towards other people or animals

Anti-social personality disorder (APD) is a trademark feature of psychopathy. It also happens to belong the same family of B-cluster personality disorders as narcissism. One of the biggest misconceptions about anti-social behavior is that people think it means that someone chooses not to be social. Nobody should ever be labeled as anti-social for that reason. Not under any circumstance.

People who are diagnosed with APD tend to be violent, remorseless, and have little to no consideration for the well-being of others. Anti-social people do not respect boundaries. They will use intimidation and threatening behavior to get what they want.

Machiavellianism

Machiavellianism is not a diagnosable disorder like the previously mentioned traits. Instead, it is considered to be a personality structure. People who exhibit this trait tend to use manipulation to get what they want from others. They are usually not bound to any moral or ethical standards which might constrain their behavior in this regard.

For people like this, the ends justify the means. They achieve their goals by any means necessary with little regard to those who stand in their way. Lying, cheating, stealing, or causing harm or loss to another person is rarely considered.

Machiavellianism tends to correlate with low emotional intelligence, lower intelligence overall, and lack of empathy.

The Dark Core – one trait that binds them

Studies have pointed to a strong candidate that ties the Dark Triad traits together – antagonism. Antagonists tend to be highly manipulative, self-centered, paranoid, attention-seeking, and above all callous.

It is this concept of callousness, or the disregard for the concern of others that seems to be among the most influential components of the Dark Triad personality.

Final Thoughts

Each of these three traits on their own would be disturbing to witness in one individual. The thought of all three being exhibited by the same person is utterly terrifying.

The development of a Dark Triad personality can be influenced by genetic and environmental factors, childhood upbringing, and early childhood trauma. While it is important to show empathy towards all people, individuals who possess a Dark Triad personality can be extremely dangerous. They can damage your sense of self, manipulate you into doing things that you otherwise would not, and can be extremely charming.

If you believe that you have a narcissist or Dark Triad personality in your life, it is critically important that you seek out help from a professional who can help you untangle yourself from their influence. Get help from trusted family and friends and begin to develop a support group.

You can begin to learn more about how to distance yourself from narcissist and Dark Triad personalities by reading the articles below:

Citations:

Dinić, B.M., Wertag, A., Sokolovska, V. et al. The good, the bad, and the ugly: Revisiting the Dark Core. Curr Psychol (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12144-021-01829-x

Dolan, Eric. “New Study Provides Insight into the Psychological Core of Dark Personality Traits.” PsyPost, 2 Oct. 2021, www.psypost.org/2021/10/new-study-provides-insight-into-the-psychological-core-of-dark-personality-traits-61914.

Hopwood, Christopher J et al. “Connecting DSM-5 Personality Traits and Pathological Beliefs: Toward a Unifying Model.” Journal of psychopathology and behavioral assessment vol. 35,2 (2013): 10.1007/s10862-012-9332-3. doi:10.1007/s10862-012-9332-3

Kaufman, Scott Barry. “The Light Triad vs. Dark Triad of Personality.” Scientific American Blog Network, 19 Mar. 2019, blogs.scientificamerican.com/beautiful-minds/the-light-triad-vs-dark-triad-of-personality.

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