Understanding The Dark Triad – The Second Overview

The Dark Triad

Cunning is the art of concealing our own defects, and discovering other people’s weaknesses.” William Hazlitt

1.) Preface
2.) Breakdown of the Three Core Traits
2a.) Machiavellianism
2b.) Narcissism & Psychopathy
3.) A Spectrum, Not An Absolutism
4.) The Difference Between Machiavellianism & The Other 2/3’s of The Triad
5.) How Do You Become Machiavellian?
6.) How Do You Become Narcissistic?
7.) In Closing

1.) Preface:

The dark triad is often incorrectly perceived to be one specific personality type, this is wrong. The dark triad is the culmination of three distinct intersecting personality traits present in one individual. As such, ‘dark triad’ is a blanket term alluding to a comorbidity of psychological traits typically associated with empathy and attachment disorders, not a trait in and of itself.

I expect this to sound somewhat pedantic or obscure to the uninitiated, but nevertheless, to dispel any ignorant confusion surrounding “what the dark triad is,” I feel this distinction important to emphasise.

If you have taken the test on the war and power page, you will have a crude understanding of what the dark triad entails. If you are already confused as early into the article as you are, I urge you to read the initial overview as well as the dark triad Q & A, each describes the dark triad at the simplest level I am able to communicate.

2.) Breakdown of the Three Core Traits:

Machiavellianism is the puppeteer’s hand pulling the strings. Sometimes perceived but often not, it is the cunning which directs and sets the agenda. Narcissism is a heart of self-obsession and vanity which manifests as an aggressive concoction of indomitable boldness and unyielding confidence at its most extreme. Psychopathy is the enigmatic silence, the absence of inhibition, an effortless fearlessness mired in a nihilistic and amoral calm.

2a.) Machiavellianism:

Machiavellianism is perception, misdirection, strategic insight, cunning and concealment. Machiavellianism like all strategy is amoral, it can be used altruistically or predatorily. The boundaries of Machiavellianism are determined by the moral code of the practitioner, Machiavellianism itself knows no boundaries, prioritising efficiency with a penchant for concealment.

At its crudest, Machiavellianism is calculated thinking applied to social strategy as a means of survival, at it’s most beautiful, it is the beating heart of a studious enquiry into the art of power.

One who cannot master a Machiavellian competency will never gain power, and should power find them, it will be tasted only so briefly as to escape the bestowed. The unwily man who inherits power intuits he is quick prey, outclassed by those covetous of the trappings of a position he knows not how to defend. Vulnerable to predation, paranoid of it, unable to stop it, the unworthy man loses his power to the more competently cunning; be that a rival, or as is more typical, a beautiful woman.

Individuals only possess a position they are strategically competent enough to defend, therefore it stands to reason that regardless of the aestheticism of one’s morality, individuals in positions of great power are highly Machiavellian. Power draws attack from all directions, as such where one was not sufficiently Machiavellian, power would escape them. Power respects the ruthless and despises the clumsy, it clings to the cunning and evades the obtuse.

Machiavellianism is socially maladaptive, this means it can be learned subconsciously as an effect of psychological conflict, consciously via voracious erudition, or both.

The people who read this blog will be at differing levels of competency, some will possess relatively little natural cunning and hope to teach themselves, others will possess a natural cunning they seek to better understand.

The main benefit for the incompetent is obvious, obtain competence. The main benefit for naturals lies in developing a conscious understanding of their ability. By putting words to something that is otherwise just unconscious behaviour, deeper self-understanding can be achieved leading to a greater degree of mastery. As an aside, I have it on good authority that the cunning harbour an habitual liking for the study of power.

2b.) Narcissism & Psychopathy:

Narcissism is ego, a projection of confidence, self-importance and grandiosity. Histrionic theatricism is optional, not necessarily present, but oft prevalent. The positives of grandiose narcissism consist of relentless ambition, entitlement, high motivation, strong mental resilience and an unwavering sense of conviction. Grandiose narcissists demand the very best that life has to offer, they are quality rather than quantity focused and embody the compulsion of a perfectionist.

Everybody is narcissistic to a degree, some more than others, but not everybody is a narcissist. Even among the highly narcissistic there is separation between the mere egotistical, and those without empathy as an effect of a neurologically ingrained superiority complex. The latter is more a narcissistic shade of psychopath, or a ‘narcopath’, the prior simply has an over-inflated sense of self-importance.

The distinction between the strong personification of narcissistic qualities, and the pathological psychopathy which is an implicit by-product of narcissistic personality disorder warrants recognition. The narcopath has an attachment disorder, the narcissist is simply an unruly ego.

A powerful ego is not equivalent to an empathy/attachment disorder, although it would be identified as narcissism which is deemed an empathy/attachment disorder. On the other hand, the narcissistic shade of psychopathy comes with all the ego inherent to the empathy capable narcissist, and as such people are easily confused by the overlap between narcopathy and narcissism.

Narcopathy is narcissism enmeshed with psychopathy, narcissism alone is bereft the detachment of psychopathy despite being typically associated with it by layman and clinician alike. Within nuance is distinction, not all narcissists are narcopaths, but most make no distinction between a narcopath and a narcissist and hence conflate them as being one and the same.

To clarify my point clearly: narcopathy is an egotistical form of psychopathy, narcissism is just a very strong ego. A narcissist is an unruly ego, whilst the narcopath, an egotistical psychopath who seeks narcissistic supply via social domination.

Psychopathy absent narcissism and egotism is what distinguishes a psychopath from a narcopath. Imagine an autist capable of neurotypical social mimicry who understands other’s emotions, but is unable to feel pity or form personal attachment. That’s a psychopath. There is much overlap between narcopathy and psychopathy, so it is difficult to talk about one without alluding to the other.

Psychopathy and narcopathy are both empathy deficient, that is, incapable of feeling empathy for another. In their moral moments they can rationalise empathy, but they do not feel it as a visceral impulse. In my piece the psychopathic paradigm, I cemented this distinction by labelling sympathy as “emotional empathy” and empathy as “logical empathy.” The autism researcher Professor Simon Baron-Cohen prefers the terms “affective empathy” and “cognitive empathy” respectively.

Whether an individual becomes a narcopath or a psychopath due to upbringing depends on the coping mechanism intuitively adopted by the child to handle their mental distress.

Where a male child is met with unprecedented rejection and neglect, especially by the mother, they become a narcopath. A female child will become a borderline, which is effectively narcopathy with vulnerable rather than grandiose narcissism. Pathological narcissism forms as a replacement for the praise and affirmation absent in an individual’s developmental years.

Effectively a child develops narcissism when it is spoiled too much, and narcissistic or borderline personality disorder when unloved/rejected by its parents.

Where a child is abused or harmed physically, should they not kill themselves owing to the inability of their brain’s empathy circuits to short, said circuits will short and they will become a psychopath. Where narcopathy is a mixture of nature and nurture, psychopathy can be nature, ‘nurture’ or both.

There are accounts of psychopathy in individuals who suffered no ill upbringing whatsoever, such instances lend credence to a nature hypothesis for psychopathy, that some individuals are effectively pre-determined to be psychopaths from birth rather than ‘cultivated’ into becoming so.

3.) A Spectrum, Not An Absolutism:

Perceive the dark triad as a spectrum, everybody possesses Machiavellian, narcissistic and psychopathic qualities in varying ratios, but mere presence of trait does not make an individual a personification of the qualities they scantily possess. If this were the case everybody would be dark triad, in reality, few are.

A degree of narcissism is indicative of healthy confidence, a degree of Machiavellianism is necessary to navigate a transactional world and a degree of psychopathy is necessary to confront fear-inducing stimuli. It is only when one of the traits becomes prominent enough to be deemed ‘clinical’ that the individual can be accurately identified by the label. It is when an individual possesses all three traits in high amounts they are considered dark triad.

4.) The Difference Between Machiavellianism & The Other 2/3’s of The Triad:

Most can ascertain 2/3 of the traits, Machiavellianism and narcissism. Narcopathy is developmental, whilst psychopathy can be either genetic or developmental. If you are an adult it is improbable you will acquire either narcopathy or psychopathy as your brain is less plastic. I’ve been told psychopathy can be cultivated through meditation, but this remains an unsubstantiated theoretical contention I have not seen in practice and thus cannot endorse.

If you score highly in psychopathy and narcissism, you will in all likelihood possess an empathy disorder of some sort, you would not feel sincere pity for others, you would not care you lack this sense of pity and you would not form attachments to anybody. If you scored highly in narcissism, you will think you are special or somehow different from everybody else whether this is necessarily true or otherwise. Essentially, the presence of both or either these traits in a large concentration confers automatic competence.

The same cannot be said of Machiavellianism. You can score highly in Machiavellianism by merit of possessing a strategic mind, but if you are analytic without particularly strong narcissism or psychopathy, you will end up being no more than a logician. This means in spite of a high Machiavellian score, you are not very socially Machiavellian. To be competently socially Machiavellian, relatively low anxiety and a high degree of acting ability are necessary.

As such, to be analytical and possess a desire to be devious is all one needs to score highly in Machiavellianism on the dark triad test. A high Machiavellian score does not confer instant competence in the way the presence of the other two traits does. Machiavellianism is typically an affectation of psychopathy and narcissism, but can exist single-handedly as a predilection for analysis and strategy.

Machiavellianism is at its most rudimentary the refinement of cunning, a vocation anybody can learn. In the contemporary age of ever creeping moral decay, the amorality of Machiavellianism becomes ever alluring. Be you a powerless individual seeking to survive in an increasingly cold world; a powerful individual looking to safeguard their assets, or a social predator looking to appease their sadistic urges. Machiavellianism is highly adaptable based on the individual’s needs for it is an art form, and thus like all art, fluid in application.

5.) How Do You Become Machiavellian?:

Analyse behaviour and body language, it will aid you in tuning into the subtleties of subtext. People watching is the primary activity for building on this ability. Sit somewhere, say a public bench or an outdoor area of a coffee shop and predict people’s relationships, emotional states and inclinations from observance. The more you do this, the better you’ll get and the more accurate your predictions will become. The book linked at the beginning of this paragraph will give you a head start, but cultivating intuition from repeated observance will take practice.

Likewise one must become proficient at interpreting subtext. Subtext is unspoken communication, the underlying theme of an interaction. The subtext is what lies between the lines of communication, being able to interpret it demands an ability to pluck out what is meant from what is said even when intent and disposition are deliberately obfuscated.

Subtext often uses reference to metaphor, entendre or innuendo to communicate opinion or intent without explicitly stating it. By doing this, opinions can be expressed without being weaponised against the holder. Should the response to an opinion communicated in this manner be deemed undesirable, the plausible deniability of its ambiguity can be invoked as a shield.

One should also learn to act, to behave as if you are happy when unhappy or calm when angry. An acting class where improvisation is practised and method taught can assist in this. Acting consists much of being able to summon an emotion and mental image in your mind’s eye that isn’t reflective of how you feel, yet depicts with a certain unspoken truthfulness that what is portrayed is a reflection of what is felt.

Vocational skills aside Machiavellianism is theory intense, and so any aspiring Machiavellian should read books on military strategy, leadership, power, statecraft, rhetoric, propaganda and on rare occasion, philosophy. These texts are Machiavellian at their core, but will of course not be marketed as such. As I’ve yet to form an official reading list of relevant texts, I will list a brief yet non-exhaustive compendium here:

The 48 Laws of Power
The Prince
The Art of War
The Art of Worldly Wisdom
The 33 Strategies of War
The Craft of Power

What you will find with texts on power is they outline strategies, distil certain aspects of power and give historic examples of implementation. There is not a contemporary step-by-step guide on how one can apply element of powers or specific military strategies to daily life.

These are books that require intelligence and imagination, they describe power but they do not methodically instruct one on how to obtain it. The books thereby require somebody with a refined sense of logic to take a principle from a historic context and make it fit their personal situation. If you are unable to do that, you will be unable to utilise power despite developing an understanding of it, application demands imagination.

The immutable implication of power is that it is not to be wielded by the unworthy. If you’re not creative enough to know how to make the theory fit, you won’t be sharp enough to fend off future threats to your power base. Books can only communicate how to defend power via theory, they cannot through act of clairvoyance predict what will befall you and instruct you specifically on how to defend yourself.

When it comes to power, initiative and intelligence are rewarded if not outright necessary. Therefore instruction manuals designed for idiots make little sense, for whatever power an idiot is permitted per the advice of another man will surely be lost when the idiot’s mental dullness sees that same power pissed away.

Going by the feedback I’ve seen online surrounding The 48 Laws of Power, it seems many are incapable of applying the theory to their everyday lives and so there is a demand for “a precise and contemporary manual on the application of power.” If you ever want to be a force to be reckoned with, persevering until you can adapt the theories you read to your own circumstances is essential, not optional.

I can depict power in a more relatable context, but I cannot write a “how to” guide. If you are stupid enough to need one, you are not cut out for power. That is not an insult in so much as it is a statement of truth. I have considered writing such articles for my Patreon subscribers, although it would be quite some time away as I’m inundated with projects. In regard to this idea, I welcome your speculation in the comments.

6.) How Do You Become Narcissistic?:

People who are elite in some manner become narcissistic due to success, this creates self-belief, feeding into success, fuelling further confidence in a self-perpetuating cycle. Narcissism is based on a consistent supply of affirmation, success, and one’s acceptance and belief of their success.

Positive feedback loops form from success as well as other’s respect and desire for you. Narcissism is in effect, a natural by-product of high value. The value can be given (highly attractive, great genetics) or earned (worked hard, became the champion) narcissism doesn’t care how you became successful, simply that you are.

People who are successful receive a constant stream of compliments and have to put effort into being humble. Otherwise, narcissistic supply overwhelms the ego and the individual becomes incapable of thinking or behaving outside a solipsistic frame of reference. If you are good at a sport, a video game, or anything where others perceive you as superior, you have a line of narcissistic supply.

Attractive women are an example of narcissism brought about desire rather than ability. Many beautiful women are narcissists because they are universally desired, being drunk on the power of beauty is an effortless and intoxicating form of narcissism. In this way, one could see cosmetic surgery and makeup as a way of maintaining not only social influence, but narcissistic supply.

If you lack confidence you must set up infrastructure to provide yourself with regular ego boosts; there are many ways to do this. A self-sustaining one would be the gym, you see gains, you get high off your gains, you work harder and then you see more gains. This is a positive feedback loop, it’s why men who get into the habit of working out become more narcissistic.

Where such a man previously may have had no line of narcissistic supply, he is now in possession of one. With men who were really insecure about their weight, working out in particular kills two birds with one stone as a negative feedback loop is being destroyed whilst a positive one is erected in its place. For example, a fat man who works out is a lot more confident than a fat man who doesn’t.

This form of ego acquisition is self-affirming, not external nor automated. If you were to stop working out, you would lose your narcissistic supply. For a man who derives his sense of narcissism from his physique, the need to work out is as much a craving for endorphins and testosterone as it is a need to maintain self-worth.

Lifting starts as purely self-affirming and for many remains exactly that, but should weightlifting make an ugly man handsome, your fitness efforts will likewise garner external validation in the same way feminine beauty does.

Any online platform where you are the centre of attention provides narcissistic supply. For instance whether I want it to be or not, this very blog acts in said capacity because people compliment my work, thank me for my efforts and tell me how much I’ve changed their lives etc.

Women use social networks as a funnel for narcissistic supply, this is somewhat common knowledge in the sphere but bears mention. People who manage a social media account actively maintain a line of narcissistic supply, as such becoming popular on social media is another way to increase narcissism.

Above I describe rational ways in which narcissism is attained. Alternatively there is the delusional repetitive method, although I heavily suspect the readership here’s far too grounded in reality to successfully apply such a method.

The method is as such: dissociate from reality and live a lie. Tell yourself what you want to believe until you brainwash yourself into believing what you’re telling yourself.

This is the basis on which narcopaths develop narcissistic personality disorder as children, the only difference being they had the highly plastic and suggestible minds of children when dissociating, and you are in all likelihood an adult man far too logical to effectively dupe himself. In light of this, “fake it until you make it” is unlikely to work for you.

7.) In Closing:

Theory learning from books is necessary should you wish to not only understand, but diversify your ability to project power. It should likewise go without saying that the vocational application of what you learn is necessary, a lack of practice makes for crude awareness and pitiful competence.

Wherever reputation matters and money flows, there is politics. Analyse the politics at not only your place of work, but likewise your place of play. Understand socialising is a game of chess, not an organic randomness in which you are passive and acted upon. Some games have higher stakes than others, but the principles remain the same – this is a game.