What is the Dark Triad of Personality?

And how to avoid it like the plague that it is

Chances are, you’ve heard of narcissism (& by the slim chance that you haven’t check out my post here), but most of us have never heard the term Dark Triad. I’ll admit that I only ran across the term while researching communication behaviors for earning my Master’s degree. Coined by psychology researchers Delroy L. Paulhus and Kevin M. Williams in 2002, the term “Dark Triad” refers to a trio of negative personality traits—narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy—which share equally unappealing features. 

More than ten years ago Paulhus and Williams called attention to this constellation of conceptually distinct but devastatingly similar personality traits. The three members ‐‐ Machiavellianism, narcissism and psychopathy ‐‐ often display different points of allure and attraction but share an equally common core of malice and manipulation. To date, there are hundreds of studies on the triad accessible on Google scholar. As someone who studies relational dissolution (breakups) such as ghosting and other disruptive communication behaviors, my analysis of The Dark Triad has enlightened me to the darker side of dating. 

Machiavellianism. I hope I’m not dating myself here, but if I’m honest, the first time I heard the term Machiavelli was from Tupac Shukar (Makaveli). Often associated with his 1996 album, The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory, Makaveli was the pseudonym that ‘Pac adopted for the record, although history attributes Niccolo Machiavelli’s namesake with his deceptive practices for governing people in the 16th century. In short, Machiavellianism is characterized by masterful manipulation and deceitful tactics for getting what they want. In the dating scheme, this may look like the guy who is skilled with getting women to foot the bill for expenses such as dinner, entertainment and other lavish gifts that he desires. In essence, the Machiavelli will say or do whatever he thinks will satisfy a woman long enough to get what he wants from her, and then he disappears.

Narcissism. The thing about a narcissist is that they are both appealing and appalling. From the outside, they look, act and smell good. But if you are around a narcissist for an extended amount of time, you may pick up on subtle cues that reveal their undesirable nature. For example, while dining at a restaurant, The Narcissist may drop the owner’s name, “casually” mention that they are good friends and ask the waitress for his “usual”, signaling that he is a frequent (& important) patron. In addition to the narc’s good looks and charm, they also lead with strong social skills, often extroverted and they appear to be super confident. Surprisingly, research has concluded that the very attributes that narcissists use to initially attract their mates became less attractive and more exploitative over time.

Psychopaths. If you’re like me, then your idea of what a psychopath was probably related to an image from a horror movie with scary music and the image of a deranged person with bulging eyeballs and insidious laughter. But by scientific standards, psychopathy is clinically defined as an empathy deficit, or someone who suffers from the ability to care about others. Due to their emotional deficiency, psychopaths are highly adept with emotional detachment. Because these individuals suffer from a general under-arousal, they prefer to seek immediate sensations rather than to establish connections, often indulging in risky behaviors including excessive drug/alcohol use, promiscuous sexual behavior and they may find enjoyment in inflicting (physical, emotional or psychological) pain on others.

For these reasons, the Dark Triad is one hell of a combination. It’s often said that good things come in threes. Unless it’s three 6’s.

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