The “Dark Triad” – How to spot the most toxic people in your life

Honestly, it was too nice a Saturday afternoon in Hermosa Beach today to be reading and writing about the following. Yet, since so many of my clients face this problem, I thought it was important to post it here.

In The Sociopaths Among Us–And How to Avoid Them, Arthur Brooks writes in The Atlantic about the highly difficult personality types that clients entangled in difficult divorce cases know all too well.

“Confident and outgoing, they can be extremely attractive, especially to women,” according to Brooks. These people appear wonderful at the beginning with charm, wit, and charisma (“w riz,” according to my 13 year old), but then something turns dark. Maybe it’s something big, or just a little shadiness. If you’re married to one, maybe it turns very toxic and they’re likely to cause a huge issue for you during a divorce.

Whatever it is, these people will “leave you baffled, hurt, and confused” because “they act in a way that doesn’t seem to make sense” said Brooks.

They’re pretty common too. It turns out about 7% of the population are like this, which is a lot. Psychologists Delroy Paulhus and Kevin Williams describe them as having “The Dark Triad” of three characteristics:

  • Narcissism, which is an excessive amount of admiration or focus on oneself.
  • Machiavellianism, which is “a duplicitous interpersonal style and disregard for morality.”
  • Psycopathy, which is “an absence of empathy and remorse.”

Interestingly, people with below average intelligence are more likely to have this “constellation” of traits, but it is also is also more common among bachelor-level college degrees as well. Unsurprisingly, a large percent of the male prison population has it. And it is more common in men than women. Fortunately, the traits tend to diminish with age, which is why this is one of the first questions I ask my clients.

So how do you spot one? Look for these traits or behaviors:

  • Self importance
  • Sense of entitlement
  • Vanity
  • Victim mentality
  • Openly lie or tendency to bend the truth
  • Manipulative
  • Grandiosity
  • Lack of remorse
  • Absence of empathy

Happily, the reverse personality style, “The Light Triad,” is much more common. At least 50% of us have more positive characteristics such as:

  • Faith in humanity, which is trusting in others’ fundamental goodness.
  • Humanism, which is “believing in the dignity and worth of each person.”
  • Kantian adherence to universal moral law, which is “refusing to objectify or instrumentalize others.”

If you’re facing one of these “Dark Triad” personalities, at least you should know that they’re very common and you shouldn’t be blamed for being drawn into their world. That’s what they do. They’re good at it.

Give me a call or book time with me if you have one in your life and you want to talk.






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