The dark triad

The dark triad is a combination of three different personality elements that are harmful to individuals; psychopathy, Machiavellianism, and narcissism. When we see these elements within an individual, they are a good indicator that they are usually people to avoid, as these individuals have the sole intent on causing mayhem, harm and destruction wherever they go because it is an inbuilt personality trait.

Sometimes in psychological fields, they are also referred to as cluster B personalities, that includes narcissism, and social behaviour disorders, which have been proven to cause significant harm.

In the psychological world, these elements are looked for not only by law enforcement but also by businesses with their personality test, as it has been proven via empirical evidence that these personalities are known to commit crimes, damage relationships within a business such as customer relations, employee relations, etc. The empirical evidence shows that these characteristics overlap each other and form a callous personality. 

The different personality elements 

Narcissism has all the hallmarks of the following characteristics call on grandiosity, egotism, pride and an absolute lack of empathy. If you've ever seen the film The Wolf of Wall Street, Leonardo DiCaprio's character (Jordan Belfort) is a classical narcissist, an individual who has conned thousands of people to fund his own lifestyle.  

Machiavellianism is a set of characteristics that are deliberately used to manipulate and exploit others, again with a complete disregard to empathy, morality, and it is done so ruthlessly with the emphasis being placed upon the malevolent individual’s self-interest; everything is to promote that character’s power and influence.

Again, if you were to return to the world of television and film, in the series entitled Bush's which came out in 2011 you can see that Jeremy Irons' character (Rodrigo Borgia), and Holliday Grainger’s character (Lucrezia Borgia), show these types of qualities; especially when Rodrigo is doing everything in his power not only to influence his ascension to the popedom but also securing that power as the most powerful man in mediaeval Italy. 

Psychopathy is behaviour that I think can be quite easily recognised due to its antisocial qualities; it is impulsive, selfish, callous and always will include some element of violence down the line. I think if you were to ask someone to think of a psychopath, the filmic comparison that might occur to some would be Norman Bates from the Richard Hitchcock film Psycho, or one adaptation thereof.  

Now even though there have been very distinct examples given, and you can see a very broad spectrum of behaviour, you can easily observe how if you are in a position to be influenced by these behaviours, that all three of these behaviours merge into one disastrous combination.

How these personality elements affect individuals 

If you are truly a student of the ways of Machiavellianism, it is therefore plausible that you will be manipulative and not necessarily have empathy, and therefore you can easily see how the boundaries between narcissism and Machiavellianism instantly blur.

Then face that same individual with a problem, an opposition to their will, an individual who is stood in their way, it is highly likely that if they are not necessarily able to influence other factors to bring down someone that they could easily consider the use of violence or psychopathy to bring down their opposition.

By any means necessary is a mantra that can stick in the mind of the determined adversary and that can lead to an individual becoming so obsessed that they will abandon the concepts of law, morality, ethical constraints, and anything that would hold them back from meeting their own personal aim. This is what makes these individuals terrifying, and the stuff of nightmares; these individuals will seemingly not relent until they are defeated and cannot carry on their behaviour in such a way.

These destructive personalities will inevitably influence other people’s lives, especially those that they will utilise to gain their own power. This means that these people will enter a relationship, be charming, be pleasant, get what they want and then leave behind a wake of destruction and emotional discord that cannot easily be healed.

Woman talking to therapist

The first step to recovery from experiencing destructive personality behaviour can be seeking an individual such as a friend or professional counsellor, who will have the time and care to hear your concerns and help you make sense of what has occurred. Often within these particular cases, you will have confusing thoughts, potential gaslighting, extreme feelings of hurt, abandonment issues, and all of these can be very hard to decipher when they are all thrust upon you with very little notice or care for you. The pattern that these individuals usually follow is: infatuation, devalue and then discard. 

Now, this all looks bleak. In fact, I wouldn’t blame you if you thought that this was not the most joyous reading that you have processed this week; however, I will offer some positivity and I will offer some hope in the form of a contrast. As well as there being a dark triad, there is an opposite, and we know this as the light triad.

The light triad

The light triad is made up of again three elements: Kantianism, humanism, and faith in humanity. These three elements together produce individuals who are the polar opposite of the aforementioned, which is probably good for society, but also their personality comprises of:

  • religiosity
  • spirituality
  • life satisfaction
  • empathy
  • compassion
  • higher self-esteem
  • authenticity
  • a stronger sense of self and purpose
  • positive enthusiasm
  • having a quieter ego than that of a narcissist
  • willingness and openness to experience and act upon well-balanced conscientiousness behaviour

Is one of the greatest marvels in science, the universe, and even within nature that for everything there is balance. The identification of the dark triad has meant not only can we identify hostile personalities within our society, and what they may afflict upon others, but they have also helped substantiate the positive elements of humanity, which directly counteract their adverse behaviour. 

The one thing that a Machiavellian, a narcissist or a psychopath cannot do is act alone. The identification of such behaviours and appropriate response to such behaviour be that avoidance, removal of harmful elements from your life, or even where necessary taking appropriate legal action will ensure that these elements will ensure the balance remains and that if any harm is to be caused, it can be limited, and with correct professional treatment.

It can help start the healing process and ensure that people are no longer seen as victims, but as empowered survivors who march forth as part of a more unified, fulfilling and supportive society. 

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Written by Brian Turner BA (Hons.) MNCS Snr Accred / Supervisor. (Prof. Dip PsyC)

I am a psychotherapist that works with anxiety depression and suicidal issues. I use a diverse and wide spectrum of techniques to ensure that my clients feel empowered and confident, so they are able to achieve what they wish to achieve when presenting with a broad range of issues.… Read more

Written by Brian Turner BA (Hons.) MNCS Snr Accred / Supervisor. (Prof. Dip PsyC)

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