How to protect yourself from the Dark Triad personalities?
Some people behave nicer than others. There are many, many reasons why this could be; how we’re raised, what the circumstances are or the situations we are in, and our moods have strong effects on our behaviour. However, some people always tend to gravitate towards their dark side. Many psychologists have tried to find patterns in this behaviour and in 2002, Paulhus and Williams created the term ‘The Dark Triad’ to explain a little bit about these ‘evil’ traits of some people. In the end, I’ll also try to give you some advice and tools to deal with these personalities.
What is the Dark Triad?
When we’re talking about the Dark Triad, we’re talking about people that display many behaviours consistent with subclinical narcissism, subclinical psychopathy and machiavellianism. Subclinical in this case means that although the behaviours are consistent with the personality disorders, they’re not displaying them as strongly that we can define them as disorders. Nonetheless, these behaviours can be harmful to others and themselves and cause serious chaos.
Differences and similarities
These 3 personality types have many differences. However, they’re thrown together in the dark triad, because they all are aversive. Yet, they often function pretty well in society, especially in their subclinical versions. There is even evidence that some jobs reward such qualities, like higher hierarchical commercial jobs, law and surgery. Although there are clear differences between these types, the lack of or what little empathy these people possess are beneficial in some positions. Emotions aren’t as much a part in their decision-making processes, which can make them more rational.
However, in most situations these traits aren’t something to strive for. These people often do serious damage to the people around them, if not physically then at least psychologically. Manipulation is a standard tool they use to get people to do what they want and they are often fine with taking risks, especially risks for others. In this post, we dive deeper into these personalities and we will look at strategies to protect yourself from them.
Let’s start with narcissism. This personality type is often void of much empathy, although in contrast to the others they do have some. However, they often use this to better manipulate others, because they do understand them. It’s not sure whether narcissists are born or made, but there is likely a mix between nature and nurture going on here. Although there’s much to learn about narcissism that I can’t all tell you, I’ll try to sketch a broader type.
The biggest problem for narcissist is their lack of a stable ego. This leads them to seek validation through other people. They’ll achieve this through cozying up to others, which is called love-bombing. This will look like flattery, buying gifts, mirroring the behaviour of the targeted person, and more. To make sure the target stays with them, they’ll also try to isolate the targeted person through triangulation, gaslighting, plainly lying and other tactics to make the person dependant on them.
However, the validation of a person quickly loses its appeal, which’ll start the devalue and discard phase. The narcissist will become dismissive, mean and sometimes even abusive to the other person. However, this happens so slowly that the target often starts believing they’re worth nothing. In romantic relationships, this often means they’ll cheat and in the workplace, they will suddenly drop their ‘friends’ in a heartbeat when they find it necessary. This is often very painful and the victim often feels hurt and betrayed.
The behavioural patterns
However, the narcissist will often sometimes throw breadcrumbs of affection to keep the target in their grip. It isn’t unusual for a narcissist that the victim hasn’t spoken to for months or years to come back around to try and get validation once again. This is known as hoovering, trying to suck the person back into their grip. This way, they’ll always have some people to get validation from if the new person they’re trying to charm isn’t working along.
You might know the classic, super self-assured narcissist, but there are many types and they’ll use many tactics. Sometimes it’ll be them saying they’re amazing, but sometimes they’ll also play the victim, so the other person will tell them they actually are great and it isn’t their fault something happened. However, they all are seeking validation and they’re all very sensitive about their egos. They’ll rage out if you in some way harm their egos and they’ll do anything to ‘look good’ to the outside world. Their victims come into a draining spiral of being love-bombed, being lied to and gaslighted, being devalued, being discarded, hoovered back in and back at it again. It can hurt their self-esteem, independence, trust in themselves and the world around them and much, much more.
Narcissism is defined by grandiosity, entitlement, dominance, and superiority. They pretend to feel better than everybody else and they’ll stop at nothing to boost that image, even if it’s just for themselves. However, this might look different in different types of narcissists. For instance, vulnerable narcissists are more likely to fish for compliments and blame the world instead of saying they’re amazing.
Narcissists are prone to other many disorders, like psychopathy, depression and substance abuse. They are often unwilling to seek therapy or even accepting their problems, because they don’t often agree with the problems and admitting them would hurt their egos. On top of that, they are very impulsive and are often lead by relatively strong emotions compared to the other two personality types, especially by anger, insecurity and desire.
Psychopathy is something many people are familiar with, but many people have the wrong idea about it. They think of serial killers and sexual offenders, hardened criminals or even die-hard business people and cold lawyers who love defending the worst of the worst.
Although many of these people are indeed psychopaths, not all psychopaths are that intense. However, psychopathy is defined by extremely low levels of empathy (next to none) and a strong desire to seek out the extremes in life. Because of their lack of emotions, they often want to fill up their lack of emotions by seeking thrill, like sky-diving or high stakes gambling. This also plays into their impulsivity. When people that score high in psychopathy feel an opportunity for a thrill, they’re likely to go into it, even if the rewards seem unlikely or small.
The troubles with psychopathy
One of the problems that arise when having a psychopath in your vicinity is that they also won’t feel bad to draw you into such risky endeavours. They’ll put the people near them in dangerous situations, often without telling them what they’re getting themselves into. They’re often around in shady situations, like fraud schemes, drugs, etc. and often they’ll do it as much for the thrill as for the money.
Next to not telling people what they’re getting into, psychopaths will also lie and manipulate to get what they want. This is something you’ll see in all the dark triad personalities. However, whereas narcissists will do it for validation, psychopaths are more likely to do it for other types of gains, like money or power. This is why they’ll often go a long way in business, they’re less motivated by their own emotions, since they have them less.
Their weakness, next to the risks they take, is however also their lack of empathy. Whereas narcissist have some and use it, psychopaths barely have any, which means they have to fake it and it makes it harder for them to anticipate others. Generally, they also look down on emotions and they see them as signs of weakness. Phrases like ‘Real men don’t cry’ or ‘You’re so whiney’ will be frequent. Whereas narcissists only will say this to put you down, psychopaths will say this also because they’re genuinely annoyed by your emotions.
Machiavellianism is an interesting one, since it’s the only one that isn’t in the DSM (the diagnostic and statistical manual that psychologists and psychiatrists use to diagnose people). It’s actually born from a philosophy and therefore, it’s somewhat of a choice. This is in contrast to psychopathy or narcissism, where it’s actually a disorder.
The story of Machiavelli
Machiavellianism correlates pretty highly with psychopathy and it is based on the story of Machiavelli. Machiavelli was an Italian diplomat, political philosopher, military strategist, and more. He lived in Florence during the Italian Renaissance, which was a complicated time. He wrote the political treatise ‘The Prince’, which seems to convey that the ends can justify the means in many political situations. It’s about someone who’s sneaky, cunning and has no moral code whatsoever. This story is what made Richard Christie and Florence Geis make up a test to test for these traits.
What defines machiavellianism?
Machiavellians are manipulative, which is strengthened by the fact that, opposed to narcissists and psychopaths, they are not impulsive. They’re not easily seduced by validation or thrills, so their schemes are often much more calculated and planned. This is precisely why they are so dangerous. They’re often after power, money, sex or status and won’t back down to get it. However, spotting their schemes is much more difficult and they aren’t as likely to commit actual crimes. This makes them harder to catch.
However, just like with narcissism, they have a severe lack in emotional intelligence and empathy, but they don’t lack it completely. They don’t understand why others are so ‘soft’ and they often seek ways to use that against their victims. However, they understand it enough to use it in their manipulations. They also don’t have the intensity of emotions other people do, so they genuinely don’t know what it’s like. Due to their manipulative skills and talent for planning, they are often high up in the corporate ladder.
They generally believe the world is a bad place, so acting badly is justified in their eyes. This is one of the core reasons for their lack of empathy towards others. They also tend to look at the future in a negative way when it comes to others. They’ll say things like “It doesn’t matter that I stole their work, they were never getting that promotion anyways”. However, they tend to be less negative when it comes to their own futures.
Why aren’t other (sub-clinical) disorders mentioned?
The dark triad contains a few (sub-clinical) disorders that generally are harmful for others. However, they’re definitely not the only disorders that are harmful to their environments.
For instance, you might’ve noticed that sociopathy wasn’t mentioned. That’s actually because psychopathy and sociopathy are actually two forms or the same disorder: Antisocial personality disorder. This disorder includes a range of behaviours seen in both and there’s still an ongoing discussion about the differences between sociopathy and psychopathy. The main differences you’ll find in literature is that psychopathy is something you’re born with and that they’re very good at planning their behaviour, whereas sociopaths are made and are more known to be hot-headed. You’ll also find that sociopaths are thought to have a little bit of morality and empathy left, whereas psychopaths never had any.
The differences between these two and machiavellianism (which might look like this description of psychopathy), is that machiavellianism is a set of behaviour that is somewhat chosen through a philosophy. With antisocial personality disorder, the person has no conviction that it is the right or best way to live, they just are that way. With this description, it can’t be a surprise that people who score high on machiavellianism often do have some indicators for antisocial personality disorder as well, so they’re not mutually exclusive at all.
Other disorders can be very difficult to live with for the people around them as well. Most addicts and people with other personality disorders often tend to manipulate and lie as well or even physically be aggressive. People with autism often also show a smaller amount of empathy as well, which can be difficult to deal with. Depressed or anxious people can, in the height of their stress, also come off as mean and they can also lie to protect themselves.
However, with all these examples, the people mentioned aren’t out to hurt others, they are just trying to protect themselves and in doing so, they tend to cross lines. This is very difficult to deal with for many people close to them, but it comes from another psychological mechanism than the dark triad disorders. Many dark triad personalities also deal with some of these other disorders simultaneously. Narcissism and depression often correlate pretty highly to depression for instance.
Now please bear in mind that I cannot discuss all disorders in depth here and that this section is thus a very gross overgeneralisation of the disorders mentioned. Not all autistic people display less empathy (definitely not!) and not all depressed people lash out when stressed. Therefore, it’s just a brief mention of social problems that CAN arise when analysing these disorders as a whole. It’s not says that they’re always there and it’s definitely not to attack anyone with these disorders. If you have these disorders, please seek help if necessary and know that everyone has problems, it just matters how you deal with them. If you need any help, many countries have helplines, information on the internet and certified therapists to help you out. There’s no shame in getting a push in the right direction every once in a while.
Is there a cure?
This is a difficult question to answer, but in short: no, there is not. Although we’ve found that some therapies work wonders with dark personalities, they’ll always have to fight their darker urges. This is especially true when the disorder is something they were born with. I don’t personally know the successes of therapy with machiavellianism, since it’s not a disorder. I therefore wouldn’t be able to answer this with any certainty. If you’d like to hear a success story about a treatment for narcissism, you should watch ‘Mental Healness’ on YouTube (the link will be further down). He’s a diagnosed narcissist who went and still is going to therapy to learn how to deal with it, so that he won’t hurt himself or others anymore. He can give a lot of perspective on how narcissists think and see life.
However, as with all disorders, the severity of the disorder is likely to be determent for a large part by nurture. Most psychopaths that are born within warm, happy families and grow up without much drama in their younger years won’t escalate to the point of a serial killer, although they still won’t become the nicest people you’ll know. A great example of a more or less ‘normal’ psychopath is James Fallon, a neuroscientist who found out by accident he’s the perfect killing machine biologically. However, it never fully developed within him, so although he’s a psychopath, he’s not like Ted Bundy or something. His book, ‘The psychopath inside’, explains his whole story. I definitely recommend reading this if you’re interested.
How to shield yourself from dark personalities?
Now, this is probably the part you’ve been waiting for. However, I felt that before diving into ‘solutions’ you should first understand who you’re dealing with. As I hope I’ve made clear, the traits of these people can be dangerous, if not physically then mentally and psychologically. Because you’re constantly being toyed with, it’s easy to lose touch with reality, with the important things in life and even with yourself.
Therefore, my advice is pretty clear: avoid where possible or at least minimise contact. The hard lesson is that you won’t win this fight, because you actually care. However, if total avoidance isn’t possible, there are a few things you can look out for when dealing with these people.
- Start grey rocking. Look it up in the information provided below, but it’s basically to become the most boring person ever. If they notice they can’t get to you, they’ll likely in time look for an easier victim.
- Fill other areas in your life with joy and things or people that make you feel good and sure of yourself. The biggest damage these personalities will do is to make you feel small and lifeless, so you need to find places or people to recharge you. If you read my blog more often, you’ll know I find self care very important, but now even more so!
- Write everything down. This helps you when you’re being gaslighted to know that you’re not crazy and you’re not at fault. In addition, when it’s your boss or someone powerful or you’re going towards a divorce, you might need the information as evidence in order to fight them when you need to.
- Stay in contact with friends and family. Victimising someone is much easier when you’re alone, so they’ll do everything they can to isolate you or to put people against each other. Therefore, you need to make sure the other relationships you’ve got can withstand this.
- Seek professional help that has experience with these types of problems. Unfortunately, many psychologists are not yet familiar enough with these topics and they can do more harm than good. However, if you find someone that specialises in these behaviours, they can give you many ways to coop with everything. This is not something you want to fight alone or without the proper tools.
- Be safe and be prepared to leave and disengage when you can. This can mean practically: have the number of a lawyer, make sure the money is safe. This can mean physically: make sure you have a place to go when the person is aggressive to you or others, or even learn basic fight skills so you can create room to flee when necessary. And last but not least, this means emotionally: when you’re trying to leave or disengage, you can expect a whole range of manipulations to keep you where you are, so you need to be strong enough mentally to not back down when the fight is on.
- Learn everything you can about what you’re dealing with. I hope this post has given you some insight, but it’s by far not enough to help you. As mentioned before, there are some helpful resources under this post and I’m sure there are many, many more for you to find. Knowledge is power!
- Let them know you know. This is only giving them ammunition (“what, are you diagnosing me now?!”) and information that you’re onto them. This will likely only stir up the fight. So, even though it sounds and feels unfair: don’t confront them head-on.
- Pull other people into this mess. The more people that know, the more the other can manipulate and turn them against you. Of course you can tell people that you trust 100% that something isn’t going right, but refrain from calling them diagnoses. It won’t make them look worse, it’ll make you look worse.
- Fight them. You have to fight for yourself, but you can’t win a fight with them. At a certain point, you’ll always be the one feeling guilty, or mean, or ashamed of your actions. These people don’t have that problem and therefore, they won’t stop until they’ve won. Therefore, they need to feel like it’s their decision to let you go. Let is die out slowly.
- Take revenge. This point is similar to the previous one, but revenge will force you to look back at everything constantly, whereas you should try to look forward! No, they didn’t get what they deserve now, but at least you got out and that’s all that matters. Their actions will catch up to them in some other way. Don’t put anymore energy into these people, it’s a waste of time and you’re better of giving that energy to positive things in your life, especially when you’ve experienced some sort of trauma from all of this.
- Feel like it’s your fault. Almost anyone can get into these situations with dark personalities, whether it’s work, family or romantic relationships. These 3 personalities are stars in pulling you in and never letting go, their whole personalities are based on it! You’re not the first to fall for it and surely not the last unfortunately.
- Be afraid. Although these situations might get really bad, you have to believe that you’re going to be okay. Only then will you find the strength you need to deal with it. You’re certainly not alone, many people have gone through this, and luckily many of them got out just fine. On top of that, these dark personalities will weaponise you’re fear against you, so don’t give them that power.
- Emote. This is the hardest one, especially when you’re dealing with these people for long amounts of time. However, these people will crush every emotion you have. They’ll stomp on your happiness and pride. They’ll use your fear and anger against you. And to top it off, they’ll make sure that when they’re done with you, you don’t know what to feel anymore. Therefore, when you’re with them, try not to show your emotions. Instead, when the situation is over, put it into something else, like art, sports or anything else. Cry when you’re with your parents, share your victories with friends instead and make sure to celebrate the good things in life. Just don’t expect the dark triad person to be a part of it all.
- Be afraid to seek help. Especially if you’ve been gaslighted, you might need time to screw your head back on the right way. They’ve made you fragile. Professionals are way better equipped than you are to deal with this at this time. So before divorcing, get advice from lawyers, psychologists and anyone else who you can get advice from. There’s no shame in building a small army against people like this, it’ll just show them they’ve messed with the wrong person.
How to heal after you’ve been hurt by a dark triad personality?
Healing from any kind of relationships with dark triad personalities is hard and it looks different for everyone. Some people will be cut deeper than others. In addition, we all deal with it differently. However, it’s important to not stay stuck in the past. It’s super difficult not to feel vengeful or to be haunted by regret and doubts. However, this won’t help you to move forward. It’s important to take what you’ve learned with you. This’ll help you to make sure that you never let these types of people get to you in the future. After that, you should start fighting your way back up again.
It’s super hard to heal from relationships with these dark triad personalities. One reason for this is all the doubt they’ve sown into your mind. It’ll take a while to feel confident in your decisions again. Another is the fact that you’ve probably lost a part of yourself when you were trying to please the person or when you were fighting for your spot in their world. There is a little bit of naivety that died in you in the process. You should take time to grieve that. It sounds a little bit dramatic, but you’ve actually seen ‘evil’ in action. It’s normal that you lost a part of your innocent worldview when that happened.
I’d really recommend finding people that went through similar situations and therapy if you need it. There’s no shame in admitting that you’ve been hurt in battle. Going to therapy is actually you not giving up on the fight. So, don’t be ashamed if you need some help getting there again. Although I firmly believe that many people can heal on their own, I think it goes smoother and faster when you’ve got help from someone who’s dealt with something like this before.
Great sources to learn more about dark personalities:
The dark triad in general
- MedCircle. This platform is all about healing and informing us about all kinds of mental health issues and they’ve got a great range of videos on the dark triad.
- Cinema Therapy. This YouTube channel looks at the psychological constructs that are displayed in movies. It’s a very fun, lighthearted way to understand more about behavioural patterns. Great episodes in my opinion are for instance the one about Tangled. Here, they explain gaslighting, and the ones about Twilight, where you’ll get to learn more about toxic relationships.
- Books and documentaries about serial killers, cult leaders and other manipulators. Examples are ‘Observe‘, a YouTube channel about analysing body language or documentaries like ‘Keep sweet, pray and obey’, ‘The Tinder Swindler’, ‘Inventing Anna’ and ‘Inside the criminal mind’. If you can start to understand these extreme examples, you might learn about the behavioural patterns and recognise them faster.
- Dr. Ramani Durvasula. She’s an amazing psychologist who knows everything about narcissism. She shares that knowledge through her books, courses, a YouTube channel and more.
- Mental Healness. Lee Hammock is a diagnosed narcissist who’s deep into recovering or at least dealing with his disorder. He shares insights into the narcissistic mind in a way only a narcissist can. You can also find him on TikTok.
- The narcissism recovery podcast. This podcast is a little bit less scientific. They do however offer a great range of things you can try to heal, even if they’re not the usual things I’d recommend.
- Gaslight. This is a movie from 1944 and it actually started the word ‘gaslighting’. This is something narcissists use all too often to get what they want. It’s a very obvious display of what happens in normal life on a smaller scale.
- James Fallon: The book ‘The psychopath inside’ and his interviews really gave me new insight into the minds of ‘normal’ psychopaths.
- The Good Psychopath’s Guide to Success by Kevin Dutton and Andy McNab. Kevin is a scientist and Andy is actually a psychopaths. In this book, they look deeper into the behaviours of psychopathy. It tries to find out what the upsides are and what we could learn from them. It’s a strange way to look at psychopathy, but an intriguing one if you want to learn more.
- The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli. If you want to know more about Machiavellianism, why not read the book that coined the term?
- Dr. Grande. He talks about the other dark triad personalities of psychopathy and narcissism as well. However, I found this clip especially helpful when talking about Machiavellianism.
- Our Fake History podcast episodes about Machiavelli. These episodes dive into who Machiavelli was. It also tells the story of why he became that way, but also on how close it is to Machiavellianism.
This is all I know for now about the dark triad and what it all means for the people around them. This is not nearly everything there is to know and I’d urge you to learn more if you need to. If you’ve been harmed or are likely to get hurt by one of these personality types, please seek out all the support you can. If you’d like some help with that, feel free to send me a message through my socials: Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter. Did you like this post and found it helpful? Then feel free to like and share this post. You can also subscribe to my newsletter to get a free e-book.
Lots of love,
LisaHome » All posts »