Understanding the Dark Triad can help us navigate mysteriously troubled relationships in all spheres of life. Psychologists coined the term to describe a trifecta of malevolent personality traits: narcissism, machiavellianism, and psychopathy. Although less sinister than any one full-blown personality disorder, it still affects the soul plagued by it and those in reach of its host.
Narcissism has become a widely-discussed topic, often misused to describe anyone who is frustrating or displeasing. At its core, narcissism is a soul-sickness, with individuals exhibiting entitlement, devaluation of others, and a lack of empathy. They suffer deep self-esteem wounds, alienation from their true selves, and an inability to connect with others.
Machiavellianism is inspired by the strategies in Niccolò Machiavelli’s famous book, The Prince. It promotes the idea that the ends justify the means, an approach that may be increasingly appealing in today’s virtualized world, where others may seem less human and more like avatars.
Psychopathy disturbingly captivates us, as we see in numerous films depicting violent, manipulative, and sensation-seeking characters. Driven by an intolerable emptiness and a desire for omnipotent control, psychopaths are often recast as heroes, despite their harmful actions.
Dark Triad types are subtler than their full-blown counterparts yet still identifiable by their disagreeableness, dishonesty, lack of empathy, and social exploitation. They may initially find success in our current cultural climate but are often forced to move on as they fall from grace.
The anonymity provided by social media allows these individuals to act with little consequence, even finding communities that celebrate their destructive behaviors. Skilled in manipulation, they may appear to champion a cause only to exploit it for their own ends.
To recognize the Dark Triad, look for callous indifference to the suffering of others. These individuals often project their dark traits onto others and manipulate the vulnerable into serving their agendas. In the end, those who need help remain unserved.
In Gravity and Grace, the French philosopher and political activist Simone Wiel offers a profound insight to help us discern the way forward. She wrote:
The false God changes suffering into violence.
The true God changes violence into suffering.
She means that violence in all its forms is only a way of discharging our anguished feelings but does not address our wounds. Instead, suffering requires a soulful engagement with what has happened to us and a struggle to master the pain and confusion left in its wake.
~ Joseph R. Lee
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