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The Dark Triad Of Personality

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By Author: ImPerfect By- Urveez Kakalia
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It is a well-known as well as an established phenomenon that every individual possesses a dark side rooted in their personality which has certain negative qualities. However, as a result of this dark side, some of the personalities might contain several offensive and malevolent qualities which might interfere with the norms of society, communication patterns, style of living, code of conduct and healthy adjustment to a community. The concept of the dark triad of personality is a psychological theory first published in 2002 by Delroy L. Paulhus and Kevin M. Williams. They described three distinct dark triad traits namely narcissism, Machiavellianism and psychopathy. The existence of dark triad traits itself doesn’t qualify for psychopathology but certainly is related to some of the significant personality disorders like antisocial personality disorder, conduct disorder and narcissistic personality disorder.

The characteristics of the dark triad personality traits are as follows:
1. Narcissism- This is commonly characterised by a sense of superiority, dominance, lack of empathy, sense of entitlement and grandiosity. ...
... Individuals with high narcissism pursuit of ego gratification.

2. Machiavellianism – This trait consists of severe manipulation where the individual is overconcerned with self-interest and personal gain. There is an absence of morality along with the tendency to exploit others.

3. Psychopathy– This is marked by impulsivity, lack of remorse and callousness. The behaviour here shows extreme selfishness and inconsiderate regarding following social norms.

Research on the dark triad of personality has suggested the addition of a fourth dark trait: sadism. Sadism is where there is a high level of satisfaction and enjoyment in response to cruelty. It shares common features with both psychopathy and antisocial behaviour. The vulnerable dark triad is another dimension consisting of three other constructs namely sociopathy, vulnerable narcissism and borderline personality disorder. The vulnerable dark triad is different from the original dark triad as the former is associated majorly with negative emotionality, disinhibition, introversion and antagonistic interpersonal styles.

Factors leading to dark personality traits include:
1. Genetics– The most common cause is the genetic predisposition of traits that leads to the development of certain personality features. It has also been mentioned that an imbalance in neurotransmitters or abnormal glucose metabolism might play a role in several violent behaviours.

2. Faulty parenting – The inappropriate patterns of parenting where there is too much protection, support and care even in the face of maladaptive behaviours can lead to traits of narcissism. On the other hand, punishments and criticisms that are too harsh and intense can also hamper the proper development of the child. The latter can lead to traits of psychopathy. Neglectful parenting where a child is unaware of the boundary between right and wrong can also lead to negative traits in adulthood.

3. Childhood trauma– Psychological maltreatment during childhood has a chance of creating a cynical view towards others. Some children might pick up strategies as a coping mechanism to exploit and deceive others. It has been observed in studies that loss of control and emotional dysregulation occurs as a result of verbal, physical or emotional trauma. The tendency to use Machiavellian strategies is an attempt to regain the same lost control. (Herman,1997).

4. Cognitive distortions – The distortions at the cognitive level play an important role in the continuation of a lifestyle that repeats negative actions again and again. Moral disengagement is done through the following distorted thought process:

5. Attribution of blame – This helps the people displaying dark triad traits to justify their behaviour by shifting the blame onto others and perceiving oneself as a victim with no other choice.

6. Dehumanising – The perpetrators lose the capacity to view the actual victim as someone possessing human qualities.

7. Displacement of responsibility – People with the dark triad traits detach themselves from their responsibilities for the wrong actions.

8. Disregarding the consequences – They consciously or unconsciously avoid the knowledge regarding the consequences of their actions and so succeed in feeling no remorse.

Impact of the dark triad on society:
1. Incidence of crime: The characteristics related to all dark triad traits are interconnected with antisocial behaviour which consequently leads to bullying, violence, kidnapping and acts of homicide. It has been found that individuals who are high in psychopathic traits are involved in crimes that are premeditated with instrumental aggression. Low self-control and lack of remorse also give rise to higher rates of criminal behaviour.

2. Workplace: Individuals displaying dark triad traits in the workplace create a difficult working environment where one might feel uncomfortable and even unsafe. This impacts the capacity of others to get engaged in proper reasoning, solving problems and making important decisions. Furthermore, those high on dark triad traits might for their own personal gain take unethical decisions or constantly exploit due to which the entire team suffers.

3. Interpersonal relationships – We live in a society where everyone has to depend on each other in some or the other way to fulfil specific functions as well as satisfy emotional needs. People with high dark triad traits are unable to maintain relationships with others. They are concerned with manipulating and deceiving others to fulfil their own personal agenda which eventually hampers their relationship with friends, family members and acquaintances. In the long term, this can easily lead to their isolation.


The treatment process of individuals possessing dark triad traits of personality is more challenging as there is a lack of awareness of their existing issues. However, there are a few techniques that have been helpful for behaviour modification. One of the prior methods is empathy-building workshops which can help these individuals develop perspectives that help them overcome emotional deficiencies. A professor of psychology Nathan Hudson, in his study, suggested that practising activities related to the altruistic and social behaviour of asking others about themselves can lead to some progress. The multimodal psychotherapeutic approach which involves behavioural skills training, individual psychotherapy and enhancing community and social life recognition has been regarded as successful. The wrong beliefs and cognitive distortions can also be restructured using cognitive behavioural therapy gradually so that the consequences of their actions can be highlighted along with minimising the blame towards others. This can help them realise the significance of human life and other values of life.

In several studies, it has been analysed that people with more dark triad traits are regarded as more skilful in the workplace and therefore have a good chance of succeeding in career-related opportunities. However, their behaviour reflects plenty of unethical decisions and a tendency to justify their cruel acts. If their behaviour is not controlled or treated the traits can hamper productive behaviour in all domains and can eventually lead to ruthless self-advancement. Hence, it is crucial to not give up on these individuals and to guide them towards the correct procedure of therapeutic treatment. The primary aim should be to prevent them from committing such acts rather than choosing to completely isolate them.

– Urveez Kakalia(https://imperfect.co.in/) & Debanjana Banerjee.

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