In A Better You, Syndromes & Disorders

The Dark Triad

dark triad

The dark triad is the common name for the mixture of three personality traits that, when combined, make a person capable of being incredibly evil without having any compassion for others. In certain circumstances, such as soldiers during war, a person with milder expressions of dark triad personality traits may function amongst other people. Nevertheless, the things that a person can do, when they have extreme expressions of dark triad personality type, are horrific when compared to normal average human behavior. A person with severe dark triad traits can commit crimes, kidnap, torture, and kill people, showing absolutely no remorse whatsoever for any acts they have done. Prisons are overloaded with inmates possessing dark triad traits. Most serial killers have the dark triad personality.

What is the Psychological Definition of the Dark Triad?

According to EAPL, the dark triad consists of a combination of Machiavellianism, narcissism, and psychopathy. This psychological phenomena has the name of the “dark triad personality” when a person exhibits all three of these behavioral traits.


A person with a Machiavellian personality is a master manipulator. This personality trait is name after Niccolò Machiavelli who was an Italian diplomat for the Florentine Republic during time of 1498 to 1512. During this time, the Medici family was not in power. Machiavelli watched as the Medici family regained power over Florence. When he was no longer working as a diplomat, Machiavelli wrote a book, entitled “The Prince” promoting the ruthless techniques used to seize and keep power that became the standard description of this personality type.

A person with Machiavellianism will do anything to achieve their goals, using guile and skill to make others do what they want. They are arrogant and feel they are better than all others. They are selfish, deceitful, calculating, and opportunistic. They are very good at rationalizing what they do as being necessary in the larger cause to advance their agenda. This makes it easier for them to express cruelty. They have no sympathy for anyone else, will betray friends, and even kill as needed to achieve their goals.

If they are in power, they demand absolute submission of those around them. They see themselves as entitled to be the leader of all others, with the ultimate goal to make themselves the ruler of their world of influence. Historical examples of individuals with severe forms of Machiavellianism, who desired to extend their rule to include the entire globe, include Hitler, Stalin, and Mao.


A person with a narcissistic personality is literally in love with himself or herself. This personality trait got its name from Narcissus, who is a character from Greek mythology. The mythological story says that one day, Narcissus was sitting by a pool of still water and fell in love with a reflection of himself he saw in the surface of the water.

A person with narcissism is vain, grandiose, self-absorbed, feels superior over others, is overly concerned with their appearance, and spends lots of time in self-admiration. They have a great desire to succeed, feel they are entitled to special treatment, and bask in admiration received from others. They have problems sustaining healthy emotional relationships with other people.

In the book written by Hotchkiss and Masterson entitled. Why Is It Always About You? The Seven Deadly Sins of Narcissism”, narcissism is described as a person having these seven traits:

  1. Arrogance: In order to feel superior over others, the narcissistic personality puts everyone else down.
  2. Lack of expressed shame: Internal shame is hidden by outward expression of grandiosity, but shame is the main motivator underlying unhealthy extreme narcissism.
  3. Magical thinking: Since a person with a narcissistic personality thinks they are perfect, they blame others for any feelings of inadequacy.
  4. Envy: A narcissist expresses contempt for others, to reduce any abilities of other people in order to maintain superiority.
  5. Entitlement: Because narcissists think they are special, they feel entitled to have everything they want, receive the best treatment, and to have everyone follow their wishes. When they do not get what they want, they feel enraged if their will is challenged.
  6. Exploitative: Narcissists exploit other people for their self-gratification without any empathy.
  7. Incorrect boundary setting: The narcissist considers others who serve them as useful to be a part of them. Their entourage is an extension of themselves and expected to provide a constant supply of admiration. Those who do not admire the narcissist are detested.

Good examples of narcissistic personality traits are famous people who go out to famous nightclubs a lot, especially when they bring an entourage with them, and are always appearing in the tabloid news because they crave attention.


A psychopath is a person who fundamentally has no ability to have empathy for another person. The psychopath sees people as things. They have no remorse and engage in antisocial behavior without inhibitions. Milder forms of psychopathy include emboldened uninhibited behaviors with disregard for the effect on others and without anxiety or remorse. Criminal psychopathy is an extreme form and is characterized by high self-confidence, lack of impulse control, and sadistic cruelty.

Psychopathy allows a person to become extremely violent. It is the influence of psychopathy in the mix of the dark triad personality type that allows a person to become a mass murderer.

Psychopathy is also directly associated with sexual offenses and child molestation. A psychopath is likely to commit brutal crimes that are premeditated, performed with sadistic viciousness, and done without remorse.

Serial killers are examples of psychopaths. They can talk about their crimes in explicit detail and show no emotional reactions that a regular person has, as if they are talking about the weather. Criminal psychopaths are extremely dangerous.

The Deadly Combination of the Dark Triad

When criminal psychopathy combines with Machiavellianism and narcissism, this is a deadly combination that could be called the rise of the triad dark war. An example of a serial killer exhibiting the dark triad personality was Ted Bundy. Even he was an awkward, shy, teenager, when he grew up to be a man he became a charismatic, handsome man with high political aspirations.

Few recall that before this notorious serial killer went on a killing rampage in 1974, he was involved in the 1973 effort to re-elect Washington’s governor Dan Evans. The campaign was successful and Bundy got an appointment by the governor to the Seattle Crime Prevention Advisory Committee. Then Bundy became an assistant to Ross Davis, who was chairman of the Washington State Republican Party. Bundy’s narcissistic tendencies made him look and dress smartly, his Machiavellian characteristics helped him manipulate himself into a position amongst those of political influence, and then his psychopathy allowed him to brutally rape and kill more than one hundred young women.

Dark Triad Personality Test

As reported in Psychology Today, Jonason and Webster created a dark triad test to quickly determine who is a dark triad person. Rate each item on the dark triad test with a 7-point scale as you think it applies to this person. Of course, you can also rate yourself on these qualities to see how you measure up:

  1. Manipulates others
  2. Lacks remorse
  3. Wants admiration from others
  4. Unconcerned about the morality of actions
  5. Uses deceit or lies to achieve goals
  6. Callous or insensitive
  7. Uses flattery to make others do what they want
  8. Seeks prestige or status
  9. Is cynical
  10. Exploits others
  11. Expects special treatment from others
  12. Wants others to pay attention to them

To take this test either for rating another person or to test yourself, use a scale of one to seven to rate whether the person has each of the twelve traits listed above.

  1. One =  Entirely Disagree
  2. Two = Mostly Disagree
  3. Three = Somewhat Disagree
  4. Four = Neither Agree or Disagree
  5. Five = Somewhat Agree
  6. Six = Mostly Agree
  7. Seven = Entirely Agree

The total score ranges from 12, which means having no dark triad personality traits to 84, which is having extreme dark personality traits. Jonason and Webster tested college students and found an average score of 36 from this test. The baseline for having the dark triad personality is a score of 45 or higher. If your score is this high, seek professional mental health counseling immediately. If another person you know rates this high by your evaluation, get as far away from them as possible.

This test breaks down into the three different dark triad traits as follows:  Machiavellianism from answers to questions 1, 5, 7, and 10; Psychopathy from answers to questions 2, 4, 6, and 9; and Narcissism from answers to questions 3, 8, 11, and 12.

A person with the dark triad personality traits is charming, powerful, and dangerous. They harm society, other people, and themselves. Those with criminal psychopathy are highly unstable. The terrifying aspect is that they have no guilt at all about what they do and show no remorse for what they did. To others they appear to be at peace with even the most horrendous crimes they have committed. Until they are caught, they are very skilled at hiding their negative behavior and expert at manipulating others to get them to do what they want. They do not care about changing themselves or their behaviors and they cannot be cured of this personality defect.

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