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Dark Triad Personality: What It Is and 25 Signs & Ways to Deal with Them

If there’s a light triad, there is the dark triad as well which refers to three personality traits – Psychopathy, narcissism, and Machiavellianism. You can learn to spot them instantly even without the dark triad personality test!

Dark Triad Personality

Sounds mysterious, doesn’t it? The dark triad- oooh, what does it all mean? 

Well, first of all, it’s not a good quality to have, so if you notice that you suffer from Dark Triad Personality Disorder or someone close to you has these traits, it is something to look out for. 

But before we delve in and get into any detail, what is the dark triad anyway?

What is the dark triad?

Let’s simplify and say there are two types of people. Type A is selfish, manipulating, dishonest, and cold. Type B is caring, kind, warm, and honest. 

Now, which one would you want to hang out with? Probably Type B. Well, the dark triad is all Type A. We could say that Type B is the light triad, which is the opposite of the dark triad.

The dark triad, also called the short dark triad, refers to three main negative personality traits that, though different, greatly relate to each other. 

Psychopathy, narcissism, and Machiavellianism make up the dark triad. Sure, it doesn’t sound so exciting now that you know who the members of the dark triad actually are. According to them, these dark tetrads are manifestations of these five traits.

The dark triad has dark personality traits. And a person needs all three traits to embody dark triad personality disorder.

Some researchers believe that there is a correlation between the dark triad and the big five personality traits, such as conscientiousness, openness to experience, agreeableness, neuroticism, and extroversion. [Read: Traits that make a narcissistic sociopath so dangerous]

Now that you know the concept, let’s dig in deeper. Learn what these traits consist of and how to tell if someone has these traits. Here’s everything you need to know about the dark triad:

1. Narcissism

The first personality trait is narcissism. The term originated from the Greek myth of Narcissus. He was a young man who fell in love with his reflection. He fell so in love that he fell into the water and drowned.  [Read: 23 covert narcissism traits people overlook until it is too late]

Essentially, narcissism is an unhealthy amount of self-love. People with narcissistic personalities manipulate others for personal gain and put people down. The Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI) was commonly used as a measure of the dark triad traits relating to narcissism. [Read: Covert narcissist – what it is, 42 signs, and how to see the games they play]

2. Psychopathy

The personality traits associated with psychopathy include being unable to feel empathy or remorse for others, being controlling, and being impulsive. [Read: The 30 hidden warning signs of a psychopath]

Of course, just because someone experiences one of these it doesn’t mean they’re a psychopath. Many people can have impulsive or controlling tendencies without being a psychopath.

An interesting thing to note is that psychopathic behavior cannot be learned. Also, someone cannot have the dark triad if they do not have all three components. 

3. Machiavellianism

People who show Machiavellianism are cunning, deceitful, and act purely on self-interest. They take lying to new heights and show a lack of empathy. 

Hence, why they make amazing liars. Blended with narcissism and psychopathy, people with dark triad traits mix the worst of these three. [Read: All the warning signs of a toxic Machiavellian]

Of course, you can have narcissism or Machiavellianism on its own or together. However, psychopathy isn’t learned behavior as it’s developed throughout childhood.

Origin of the dark triad personality type

Three researchers, McHoskey, Worzel, and Szyarto sparked controversy in 1998. What they claimed is that Machiavellianism, narcissism, and psychopathy are more or less the same psychological disorder.

[Read: Psychopath vs. sociopath vs. narcissist – 15 subtle differences to tell them apart]

As a result of their claims, a lot of researchers started to do studies surrounding the topic. 

In 2002, the dark triad psychological theory was proposed by Kevin Williams and Delroy Paulus. It includes three “dark” personality types because they are all considered malevolent or “evil.” These are the same three personality types we have today: Machiavellianism, narcissism, and psychopathy.

Williams and Paulus found many behavioral, cognitive, and personality differences between the traits to suggest that they were distinct from one another.

However, they weren’t sure how they overlap with one another, so they suggested further research should be done to figure it out.

A lot of experts consider the psychopathic personality trait to be the “darkest” of the dark triad. This is because psychopaths cause a lot of harm to people and society in general. They seem to do this much more than narcissists or Machiavellians.

However, “psychopath” isn’t a mental health diagnosis. But the disorder that is the most like it is an antisocial personality disorder.

Psychopaths are cold to feelings and are erratic and impulsive. This is actually a “mild psychopath” within the dark triad of personality, sadly. [Read: Wolf in sheep’s clothing – 20 warnings of a psychopath]

Sometimes they can exhibit somewhat positive characteristics like being level-headed, willing to work alone, and quick-witted. But even though these seem good, the psychopath only acts this way to benefit themselves. 

They cannot be sensitive to others and don’t think about their actions and how it affects people. Feelings of remorse or guilt are not something they are capable of. There is a complete lack of understanding of the needs of others.

Regardless, and unfortunately. a lot of psychopaths get into high-ranking positions in society. They have a major negative impact on the life of their fellow humans.

How can I identify dark triad people? 

You may be wondering what kind of person would have those traits. Well sadly, you’ve probably encountered some throughout your life. 

Usually, the “bad boy” or “bad girl”, now known as “fuck boy,” is the perfect definition of someone with the dark triad of personality. [Read: Narcissistic men – 27 traits and signs of a guy who knows to use, not love]

Here are some common characteristics to look out for if you want to understand the dark triad.

1. They are successful

There’s a reason why most CEOs have dark triad tendencies. It’s because they are experts at putting themselves first. In addition, they know how to manage people’s impressions of them and exude confidence when needed. 

Of course, though they achieve levels of success in their careers, due to their lack of morals, they usually end up conducting unethical behavior.

2. They avoid physical communication

If you communicate with someone who has the dark triad, then, if possible, try to only communicate with them through email. [Read: Why narcissists ignore you, your texts, and do the selfish things they do]

People with the dark triad usually rely on their looks and charm to persuade and manipulate others. So, by communicating via email, you cut out that option.

3. They can’t control their anger

Individuals with dark triad traits do not have good control over their anger. Those with psychopathic traits typically have problems with their temper and act impulsively. 

The best thing to do in these cases is simply to ignore their behavior as it’s not a personal attack against you. [Read: Ways to handle dating someone with anger issues]

4. They have the inability to maintain long-term relationships

A study on the relationship between the dark triad and romantic relationships suggests that if you’re in a relationship with someone who scored high on the dark triad test, you probably haven’t been dating them for long. 

It’s typical for these people to have a series of short-term relationships as they have a usual “strike and leave” dating pattern.

If you’ve been dating this person for a while, it’s likely that you’re not the only partner in his life. [Read: How to know if your relationship is toxic so you can get out fast]

5. They are cold to other people

This is a common trait for all three personality types within the dark triad framework. They aren’t agreeable, friendly, warm, kind, and they don’t get along with everyone. 

With that said, they can pretend like they are all of these traits by sweet-talking to get what they want. But they can’t keep this act up forever and you’ll eventually see through their act.

6. They have impulsive and risky behavior

Being reckless is a good indication that a person might have a dark triad personality. They tend to take big risks even for small rewards. [Read: Are you dating a sociopath? Disturbingly obvious signs]

They might overspend or even commit petty crimes. There is no thought about the consequences of their behavior.

7. They don’t have any morals or ethics

Normal people have a sense of right and wrong, and they try to do the right thing as much as possible. However, a dark triad person doesn’t care about morals and ethics. 

They have no problem lying or deceiving others to get what they want. Plus, they will have a complete lack of remorse when they disregard morals and only do what is best for them. [Read: 20 signs he wants to cheat with you – what do you want to do now?]

8. They have no empathy

People who measure high on the scale of a dark triad personality test have low emotional skills. They can’t relate to other people’s emotions or have any kind of empathy.

Someone with this condition has more external thinking and very little internal thinking. They spend time focusing on what they can get from people and situations.

If they can’t notice when people are upset or uncomfortable, that is a huge sign.

9. They have an aggressive or dark sense of humor

It is very telling to watch to see what these people find funny. Things that normal people wouldn’t find humorous, a dark triad person will. It could be joking about death or some other morbid topic. This is because those with dark triad characteristics also have dark patterns of thought.

They also might be self-deprecating with their humor, but that’s deceptive. They want you to think it’s a sign of humility, but they could be doing it because they’re being needy or defensive. [Read: 15 types of humor and how it affects relationships]

Pay attention to jokes that involve putting someone down or calling the names – even if it is about themselves.

10. They lie and manipulate 

These kinds of people are often deceptive and lie a lot. They might lie about something small or large, it doesn’t matter. [Read: How to spot a compulsive liar – signs it’s time to walk away]

People with high levels of psychopathy will even lie for no reason at all. This makes someone who has the three dark triad traits very difficult to trust. In fact, you just can’t trust them at all. You will always catch them in a lie.

11. They are jealous and seek revenge

If this person is always paranoid about you cheating on them, then it’s probably because they are cheating on you.

Considering their dark core, they tend to show more preventative jealousy than other people. They are not only more likely to cheat, but they always expect to be cheated on too.

Because of this, they also want to get revenge. It could be by being abusive or simply spreading rumors around to ruin someone’s reputation.

Even if they want to get revenge, they aren’t likely to end a relationship because they want emotional control. [Read Signs of jealousy in a man that make him overstep his boundaries]

12. They are bullies

Since they are angry and have no empathy for others, they are also bullies. This can come in the form of verbal, emotional, mental, and physical abuse, or even just threatening behaviors.

It can even be more subtle such as belittling or harsh criticism. If you find someone doing these then they are acting like a bully. They like to gain power over others by doing this.

13. They have a history of being “victims” in relationships and life 

Because they have no empathy for other people, they constantly act and talk like they are victims. They believe nothing is ever their fault.

They cannot take personal responsibility for their actions, which leads them to their victim mentality. [Read: Narcissistic victim syndrome – what it is and how to escape the mess]

The ironic thing about this is that they are the perpetrators, not the victims. It’s gaslighting to try to tell people otherwise. It’s always all about them and their needs.

14. They have inconsistencies in their stories

Because they lie all the time, you will find inconsistencies in the stories that they tell. It’s not easy to be a good liar. You have to have a great memory, and if you don’t, you’re going to slip up. [Read: The biggest signs of a pathological liar and how to easily spot one]

If you find that someone tells you one thing one day and another one on a different day, then they are lying to you.

And so, pay close attention to what they tell you. Keep a written or audio record of the things they say. [Read: 15 ways a pathological liar hurts and confuses you with their lies]

15. They have a chronic need to be fulfilled

Everyone has needs. And normal people know this, so they try to balance their own needs with that of others. But dark triads don’t do that. 

So, they only care about their own fulfillment. And they need to be fulfilled at every moment, even at the expense of other people.

Are there facial features associated with the dark triad? 

Some people think that you can identify a dark triad personality just from their facial features alone. However, that seems to be a myth and isn’t exactly true.

With that said, one study did find that people were able to identify high narcissism from people’s facial features.

But that was the only dark triad trait that could be figured out both from males and females. The participants of the study weren’t able to identify high Machiavellianism or psychopathic characteristics in someone.

Do people with dark triad traits easily conceal their true nature?

Dark triad people are very good at concealing their true nature. And on top of that, they have no moral problem with doing that either. [Read: What is peacocking? The many types and why guys show off around girls]

They often come across as very charismatic and can charm people. Dark triad personalities are very good at deceiving people to get what they want.

Because of this, they are very dangerous. Sometimes it’s difficult for others to spot them because their outer personality and inner personality can be very opposite – at least at first. 

However, they can’t hide their true nature completely. Eventually, the true nature of the dark triad leaks out. But if you aren’t looking for the signs, you might not notice them. [Read: 27 secret signs of narcissism people overlook until it’s too late]

How common are dark triad personalities? 

This is a popular question when it comes to dark triad personalities. Naturally, people want to know how common it is in society. Well, unfortunately, it’s difficult to know how many people really fit this description.

The reason for this is because, believe it or not, it’s not an “official diagnosis.” So, the closest diagnostic tool they have to measure dark triad traits is the antisocial personality disorder test. Traditionally, the traits are measured using different personality tests separately.

This is also called sociopathy, which is a known mental disorder. They have similar behaviors to those in the dark triad. [Read: How to quickly spot narcissistic traits in a relationship]

They repeatedly disregard rules, ignore the feelings of others, and have an extreme lack of empathy. Hostility and aggression are some other common behaviors too.

So, given this description, dark triad personalities seem to be reasonably common given the available data. For example, it is known that approximately 30% of the population has low, medium, or high levels of psychopathy. 

That’s a lot, isn’t it?

The Dirty Dozen test

The dirty dozen test is a 12-item measure to identify the dark triad traits. It’s a scientifically validated and shortened version of the real Dark Triad test. 

But like the real test, the Dirty Dozen measures the socially undesirable traits of narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy. It’s often used by police, the courts, in psychiatric evaluations, and even in big corporations.

These are the questions that comprise the Dirty Dozen test.

1. Do you tend to manipulate others to get your way?

2. Are you not concerned with the morality of your actions? 

3. Do you want to exploit others to your advantage?

4. Do you use flattery to get your way?

5. Do you tend to lack remorse? 

6. Do you tend to seek prestige and status?

7. Do you tend to be callous or insensitive to other people’s feelings?

8. Do you tend to expect special favors from other people?

9. Do you tend to want other people to admire you? 

10. Do you want others to pay special attention to you?

11. Do you lie or use deceit to get your way?

12. Do you tend to be cynical?

After a person answers these questions honestly, then experts can assess where they fall on the spectrum of the dark triad.

How to deal with a dark triad personality

Of course, all of us would rather avoid this type of person like the plague because they make everyone’s life difficult.  But there are times when you can’t. This person could be your boss, your spouse, a family member, or a colleague. 

So, here are some tips for how to deal with a dark triad personality. [Read: Controlling people – 32 common traits, signs, and ways to deal with them]

1. Have zero good expectations of them

If you do something for them, they won’t return the favor. So, don’t bother to think that there is any spark of goodness inside them. 

They will just take, take, and then take some more for you with no regrets. There is no ability to reciprocate anything good to other people. [Read: 24 signs of people who lack empathy to know they don’t care what you think]

2. Don’t be too emotional

Research on the dark triad reveals that the dark triad was positively correlated with both an anxious and avoidant attachment style.

Don’t reveal your emotions to someone with dark triad personality traits. If they know what makes you tick, they’ll use it against you. Keep your feelings to yourself as much as humanly possible. [Read: Why are women so emotional? 18 reasons they feel deeper than men]

You don’t want them to see your “hand” because then they will use it to their advantage. Keep them in the dark as much as possible.

3. Don’t bother arguing about what’s right or wrong

For normal people, there is a clear line between what you should and shouldn’t do. But a dark triad personality doesn’t care about morals or ethics. 

You can argue with them all day long about whether or not something is the wrong thing to do, but it won’t matter. They will always do what benefits them and nothing else. [Read: 27 Signs of emotional manipulation to know if you’re being used by someone]

4. If you need to get something from them, do it in public

Because they want to keep up their “nice guy/girl” image, they will have to agree to do what you want if they are with a group of people. This way, you have witnesses to what they said. 

They might be angry at you for doing this, but it will be difficult for them not to stick to the commitment that they made in public. So, this is a good strategy to use. Don’t make any agreements in private.

5. Find allies

Make sure you have a group of loyal supporters who can back you up when you need them and who won’t be manipulated.

Just because there is a dark triad personality around you doesn’t mean that there aren’t more good people. [Read: Emotional abuse – what it is and 39 signs this relationship is breaking you]

So, form an alliance as much as you can between you and the other good people. You all need each in order to protect yourself from this dark person. And if you see their dark qualities, then others do too.

6. Make everything about them

If you want to get something from a dark triad individual, then make them look good. You can ask questions to find out more about how they think. 

They might be purposely vague, but you can get some good insights into what and how they’re thinking. Then, you can use this when you make your request. [Read: How do people become self-centered and stop caring about others?]

The impact of the dark triad at work

If your boss or colleague has the traits of a dark triad, then following the above suggestions will help you cope with it. But if you are the manager and an employee has these characteristics, here are some things you can do to help the situation.

1. Do an honest evaluation of your team

Which members are more difficult to work with than others? What makes them so difficult? Do you have complaints from other employees? Look for patterns and observe them all very closely.

2. Address the difficult employee

Once you’ve identified someone who might be a dark triad, now it’s time to talk to them. But you have to be careful. Make sure they’re in a good mood. [Read: How to deal with difficult people while keeping your cool and sanity]

Be honest with them and tell them that their behavior is negatively affecting other people. Give them examples and tell them that they are going to have to change their behavior. If at any time you feel unsafe, then remove yourself from the situation.

3. Identify their triggers

If your employee responds in a reasonable way, then work with them to identify triggers. For example, if this person can’t stand working with a particular individual, then ask that person to keep their distance.

4. Don’t support their behavior

Make sure that you don’t defend or make excuses for a dark triad employee. Not only will this legitimize their behavior, but they will also keep doing it. [Read: Toxic people – 48 warning signs and the best way to deal with them]

You will also alienate other employees and create a toxic environment. Also, don’t be afraid of them. Remember, you have more power than they do.

The impact of dark triad traits on a romantic relationship

Okay, now what should you do if you’re in a romantic relationship with a dark triad personality? In a nutshell: run away from them.

You might have initially thought that they were charismatic or glamorous. But as time went on, you noticed that they can’t sustain this act forever, and the real monster came out in their personality. [Read: Controlling relationship – 42 signs and ways to love without bullying]

Eventually, they probably tried to isolate you from other people. If you haven’t maintained alternative sources of support in your life like close friends or family members, you should rebuild those relationships if you haven’t left the dark triad person yet.

Honestly, there really is no other advice to give you other than get away from them as fast as you can. These people are dangerous. It’s not like a normal, somewhat selfish person with whom you have different opinions and habits.

These people are different. So, you absolutely, positively do not want to be in a romantic relationship with them! [Read: Why people fall for narcissists and 12 secrets that make them so addictive]

Why are some people attracted to dark triad personalities? 

People are typically attracted to those with the dark triad due to the superficial charm these people usually exhibit. They’re highly confident, display smooth body language, and peacock through style.

In other words, they look like the ultimate man or woman. The person we always imagined as a partner. Basically, they’re the person your mother warned you about. [Read: Things we do in relationships we end up regretting]

The dark triad is not curable

If you date someone or have a boss you think has the dark triad, don’t think it’s something you’ll be able to fix. All you can do is learn how to dodge and duck their moves. 

Learn their tactics and try to be one step ahead, or run. Running from a dark triad is much easier to do, but not all of us are in a position to do so. [Read: 16 signs it’s time to move on and end the relationship]

Final thoughts

There’s a reason why you’re reading this. If you’re dating someone who you believe has the three personalities, you already feel the discomfort. 

You notice the unusual and negative behavior that they display. If this is the case, get out of the relationship. They won’t change because this is who they are.

There’s a reason why you feel like you’ve aged ten years. It’s because they sucked all your energy out of you.

[Read: Psycho girlfriend – 16 creepy clues that confirm her insanity]

Now that you know what the dark triad really consists of, try to look at the people around you and see if they have any of these traits. Who knows, maybe you’re surrounded by them. 

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Carol Morgan LP
Dr. Carol Morgan
Dr. Carol Morgan has a Ph.D. in communication and is a professor at Wright State University where she loves corrupting young minds. As a relationship and succes...