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Dr. Nilufar Ahmed

Academic – Psychologist – Psychotherapist – Behavioural Expert – Diversity Trainer

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The Dark Triad Personality

eyes peering out from darkness

What is the dark triad personality?


The dark triad personality refers to a cluster of three socially negative personality traits: narcissism, psychopathology, and Machiavellianism. The term comes from the fact that these traits – which we all have to some extent – are associated with the ‘darker’ side of our personalities, or from our shadow as Jung would say. Narcissism often exhibits as a sense of entitlement or gross self importance; psychopathology presents as being callous towards others and cynical about people; and Machiavellianism is associated with deception and exploitation.


Everyone has elements of these negative characteristics at times, we are all at times a bit selfish, or cynical, and who hasn’t engaged in some deception whether it’s embellishing a CV or taking a cheeky sick day off work. But for those with a dark triad personality, these are their main characteristics and usually expressed in more serious ways more or less constantly. Crucially there is a lack of guilt or remorse about behaviours and consequences, and a lack of empathy for others.


The only person that matters to someone with a dark triad personality is themselves, Initially they may be hard to spot – at first meeting they often come across as high achievers who are exceptionally flattering and charming – and this is how they see themselves. It is only over time, that those around them begin to see a different side or begin to get a sense of unease and discover that under the veneer of charm lies a calculating and manipulative nature, which can be hidden very quickly. their behaviours are characterised by excessive risk taking, short term or controlling relationships


What can I do if I have this personality?

It is unlikely someone with a dark triad personality will recognise they have this personality precisely because the traits work together to convince them they are charming and clever. When tensions arise,  the problem is always with other people – if they just saw things from your perspective they would see you are right and they are wrong.


If you are concerned that you have some of these traits and they are affecting your relationships with others and your performance at work or study, then it might be useful to keep a journal and document your day to day activities, was someone upset after a interaction? What happened to make them upset? What is your understanding of the situation?


Are you frustrated by others – what is it that that bothers you? What is your preferred outcome for situations – are you always favouring yourself or do you want mutually positive outcomes even if it means that it is less ideal for you?


Being highly driven and ambitious can lead to you alienating others, and this is different to having a dark triad personality, so it might be useful to talk to somebody who can help identify triggers and techniques to respond in alternative ways.


How should you deal with others who have a dark triad personality? 

It can be very difficult to live and work with people who have a dark triad personality as often there is a lack of willingness to accept any possibility that they are not wholly in the right, or that there is any need for a compromise.  It is important to ensure your own sense of safety – bringing up these traits can trigger someone to respond negatively, so try and have conversations about the impact of behaviours in a safe and public space. Their need to appear charming and always correct can minimise an immediate negative response.


Finding specific events to talk about can make the individual aware of examples of inappropriate and unacceptable behaviour as often they do not have the filters to be aware of any wrongdoing, but they will hate that their image as someone who is brilliant could be tarnished, so they may attempt to engage.



Can therapy help?

People with dark triad personality rarely seek help. And there are limits to how helpful it can be. Therapy can be helpful for managing narcissism and Machiavellian behaviour but only if the individual is committed to making change (which is true for anyone in therapy).


Perhaps therapy is more helpful to those around people with a dark triad personality. Has their behaviour had an impact on you and your behaviour? Wanting someone else to change is often futile. In waiting for others to change, we often end up becoming changed ourselves, and with people who exhibit dark triad traits, people around them can lose self esteem, lose confidence and become more uncertain. If that has happened to you, it might be worth seeking help for yourself.


Some of these comments were used in a Glamour Magazine feature see:



Read more

Crysel, L.C., Crosier, B.S. and Webster, G.D., 2013. The Dark Triad and risk behavior. Personality and individual differences54(1), pp.35-40.


Furnham, A., Richards, S.C. and Paulhus, D.L., 2013. The Dark Triad of personality: A 10 year review. Social and personality psychology compass7(3), pp.199-216.


Jung, C.G., 1973. Collected works of CG Jung: The first complete English edition of the works of CG Jung. Routledge.


Paulhus, D. L. (2014). Towards a taxonomy of dark personalities. Current Directions in Psychological Science23(6), 421–426.

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