Nuts and Bolts and Ego.

This is a submission in a series of posts on interpersonally destructive personality disorders.


If some of this comes across as excessive, there is actually a healthy reason behind it.  Because I am fortunately not fueled by resentments but rather by fascination, and a bit of obsession, with how each and everyone of us manages to maintain positive feelings towards ourselves in the face of unfavorable self-comparisons, failures or even abuse.

How this system works and self-regulates, to me, is a marvel of evolution, even if it is comparatively much simpler than many other systems its effects have enormous consequences to our happiness.  So this is not only about educating others on the perils of dominating and abusive people but also is self-serving because I too can learn from it.


Nuts and Bolts of NPD

What I just mentioned above – self-esteem regulation – actually is the dysfunction behind someone with narcissism.  It’s not so much about the addiction to wanting to feel more important than the rest or the romanticizing about how everyone will envy you when you have that perfect beach-front property and so forth.  It’s about the need to suppress feelings of shame and inferiority that theoretically drive a narcissist to behave the way they do.

The most concise way I’ve seen the causes of narcissism put is as seen below taken from “The Self-Conscious Emotions”.  This means that narcissists – we can all do this but again its a matter of degree – over time have become very good at getting defensive and inflating themselves when they feel threatened so much so that it becomes a feature of their personality.

Chronic experiences with certain self-conscious emotions can, in turn, shape people’s explicit self-esteem such that it differs in valence from their implicit selfesteem. In the context of the resulting fragile self system, narcissistic—that is, defensively self-aggrandizing—personality tendencies take root.  [6]

To illustrate the unstable self-esteem, with one possible scenario, the narcissist could sense a “put down”, priming the mind to send a burst of shame as a warning to take heed that their sense of ‘self’ is in jeopardy of being tarnished.  The defensive system then becomes engaged, and the narcissist focuses on the potential “threat to self” by getting defensive, angry and even inflating with hubris, anything but to feel the shame.  And they have lots of practice at doing this because most theories posit that this starts in early childhood.

Shame, the output of a much larger self-esteem system, is what’s known as a ‘self-conscious’ emotion in that it works when you perceive that you are unattractive and undesired to others.  To get perspective, imagine self-esteem as being something that encourages us to strive for status and acceptance by rewarding us with positive feelings (pride) upon meeting standards.  But can, arguably even more so, motivate us towards self-improvement, or conversely to conceal defects and not compete, by the prospect of being punished with aversive feelings (shame) if we fall short of standards.  But shame’s role only works well when we “care what others think”.

Shame emerges from our complex evolved abilities to be aware of “how we exist for others,” and make predictions of what they think and feel about us. [6]


The Ego in NPD

And it pays to “care what others think” at least it did for our ancestors in our distant past which aided them in figuring out how to be valued by others and to compete for resources and mates.  For those that did not have this quality of insight may have been destined to becoming “not enough” and at risk for being exploited or even ousted by their tribe.

But this facet of us, the ego, has a dark side too since the very act of imagining “not being enough” is quite taxing to the mind and body.  As much effort now a days is spent practicing how to quiet that nagging voice through mindfulness meditation and being more aware.

Ego is the one affliction we all have in common. Because of our understandable efforts to be bigger, better, smarter, stronger, richer, or more attractive, we are shadowed by a nagging sense of weariness and self-doubt.[1]

This ego, which is colloquial for us for describing the turmoil of the self-conscious emotions, the yin and yang of struggles – to be dismissed or to be recognized or be laughed at or to be taken seriously – must be ubiquitous.  In fact, I imagine the ego plays a bigger role than we admit to since our daily battles with it make us feel small if others knew that we were driven by such petty stuff, so its effects remain largely hidden.

In fact, self-conscious emotions play a central role in motivating and regulating almost all of people’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Most people spend a great deal of time avoiding social approbation, a strong elicitor of shame and embarrassment. We worry about losing social status in the eyes of others and, as Goffman noted, our every social act is influenced by even the slight chance of public shame or loss of “face.” In fact, according to the “Cooley–Scheff conjecture,” we are “virtually always in a state of either pride or shame”. [6]

And so the ego is quite vexing, but the narcissist, the disorder not the person, has a simple solution to this problem which is to block the part that hurts and which keeps us humble but at the cost of others witnessing it grow without bound.


References

[1] Epstein, Mark. Advice Not Given. Penguin Publishing Group.

[2] Gilbert, Paul. Genes on the Couch. Taylor and Francis.

[3] Leary, Mark. The Curse of the Self: Self-Awareness, Egotism, and the Quality of Human Life.

[4] Leary, Mark.  Interpersonal Rejection. Kindle Edition.

[5] Quartz, Steven. Cool. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

[6] Tracy, Jessica. The Self-Conscious Emotions . Guilford Publications.

On Diagnoses of NPD.

This is a submission on interpersonally destructive personality disorders that is lengthy but important to understanding narcissism as it highlights the pathological state in accordance with DSM 5.


I wanted to profess that my intentions here are not to be malicious, and we must remember that people have many facets to them, and this person was no exception as she had endearing qualities to both her personality and character.  But my goal again is to educate others and especially those that may be at high risk for being the victims of a narcissist’s domineering grip.


Background

In the previous submission we learned that a person has to have impairments in personality (self and interpersonal) as well as have pathological personality traits (erratic traits that society rejects that aren’t optimal to functioning) present in order for us to use the “disorder” label.  These impairments in personality are at the ‘self’ level affecting identity and self-direction as well as the ‘interpersonal’ level where empathy and intimacy plays a role (see Table 2).  Here we will use the diagnostic criteria we see in DSM 5 part II (see Table 1) to point towards a diagnoses based on the trait model but will also integrate section III’s model since it is much more insightful.

I’m sure I can read on the practice of how to diagnose and assess until I turn blue in the face but to truly be a good clinician takes actual experience, which I don’t have.  But I’d argue that in some sense I’m actually at a much better position to making an accurate diagnosis than a practitioner is as I have observations that stretch over ten years, which exclude the narcissist’s confessions to a therapist which are often contrived and of little value.  In fact, I am providing a very rare opportunity at looking at how a narcissist thinks because NPD is the least studied of personality disorders and many variations exist making it confusing and difficult to diagnose.

Method Used

Unfortunately there seems to be a lack of rigor and protocol to diagnosing that confirms my overall impression that I have had on the profession, and I say this in the most respectful way because I know it’s a social and behavioral science making variables more difficult to capture and measure.  But look at the first criterion (Table 1) and notice that there’s nothing to distinguish between how strong (severity or magnitude) or how often (frequency) the effect is.  So this makes me concerned about conflating the disorder with just having the trait.

And besides there being no attempt on capturing how often these nine tendencies show up over time, there’s also no way of characterizing the quality of how the traits are expressed under certain conditions which may be important.  I did, however, find a questioner that puts it in on a five point scale ranging from very often to never, which I decided to use.  But we don’t have access to the person’s personal thoughts and feelings, and she is socially skilled enough to know how to hide her unattractive ego with others.  So what are we relying on as data?

What I did was estimated an answer shown in the criteria scale below under Table 1 based on the degree and frequency of her  demonstrating these traits as seen in her actual behavior and in odd things that she’s uttered.  These utterances were in unique contexts that when extracted, I would argue, give lots of information about her inner workings.  She also had a very well hidden but highly developed ego, which could be quite disturbing, often coming across as if that were her authentic-self making all other sides to her seem but a facade.  

It was in these moments of egotistical truth, however, that revealed a highly insecure person that was very much attuned to my place, your place and her place in the social hierarchy so as she can best strategize her moves in her limitless quest for power and attention.


Table 1. Trait Model (DSM 5 section II)

  1. Has a grandiose sense of self-importance. (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements).
  2. Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, ideal love.  
  3. Believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions).
  4. Requires excessive admiration.
  5. Is interpersonally exploitative. (i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends)
  6. Has a sense of entitlement.  (i.e., unreasonable expectation of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations)
  7. Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others.
  8. Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her.  
  9. Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors and attitudes.

Explanation of Traits

The essence of grandiosity I take as to be the desire to feel “important” which can easily fall into a feeling of superiority.  The emotions involved here are those of the self-conscious type – namely pride and shame – which help us to function in social situations by making us aware of how we come across to others.  So important only makes sense in social contexts because it has to do with how we rank relative to one another.  And one of the reinforcers of feeling important – making you want to do it – is to feel the emotion of pride, but once you start comparing yourself in a superior way, then you will feel the inflated pride of a narcissist known as hubris.

The next trait is having the tendency of idealizing, fantasizing or romanticizing.  The kernel in these activities has to do once again with feeling important, special and powerful.  What happens is that we fantasize how perfection would be in the future – say the ownership of many houses or to be in the presence of a perfect lover – and we relish those feelings of pride and feelings of being special through our imaginations.

The third trait has to do with how important it is to associate with high-status others to affect your self-esteem.  This is where the trait model found in section II shows its limitations, so I will integrate section III, the hybrid model, shown in Table 2 below, that works with dimensions instead of traits, into this section since it will give us insight into how the trait actually works.  It will seem familiar since it follows the same structure as the previous section allowing you to diagnose personality disorders in general.


Table 2. Hybrid Model (DSM 5 section III)

A. Moderate or greater impairment in personality functioning, manifested by characteristic difficulties in two or more of the following four areas:

1. Identity: Excessive reference to others for self-definition and self-esteem regulation; exaggerated self-appraisal inflated or deflated, or vacillating between extremes; emotional regulation mirrors fluctuations in self-esteem.
2. Self-direction: Goal setting based on gaining approval from others; personal standards unreasonably high in order to see oneself as exceptional, or too low based on a sense of entitlement; often unaware of own motivations.
3. Empathy: Impaired ability to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others; excessively attuned to reactions of others, but only if perceived as relevant to self; over- or underestimate of own effect on others.
4. Intimacy: Relationships largely superficial and exist to serve self-esteem regulation; mutuality constrained by little genuine interest in others’ experiences and predominance of a need for personal gain.

B. Both of the following pathological personality traits:

1. Grandiosity (an aspect of Antagonism): Feelings of entitlement, either overt or covert; self-centeredness; firmly holding to the belief that one is better than others; condescension toward others.
2. Attention seeking (an aspect of Antagonism): Excessive attempts to attract and be the focus of the attention of others; admiration seeking.


To shed light onto the need to feel ‘special’ to the point of exclusively associating only with other high-status individuals, we need to see how we manage our self-definition and self-esteem.  If we rely too heavily on our associations to define ourselves or to manage our self-esteem, this can become maladaptive and is listed as an impairment in personality (Table 2, A, 1).  We will discuss why this is maladaptive in the post that focuses on causes and consequences of NPD.

The trait of excessive admiration is something that can be hard to see since it’s often a hidden requirement in narcissists, but it seems to be an important need to be not necessarily well liked but more importantly well respected and looked up to by others.  And jumping to the last two traits from Table 1, we can see that they will feel envious often or believe others are envious of them, which captures feelings of resentment and discontent over others’ achievements or possessions.  The ninth trait of arrogance is related to trait one of grandiosity but the focus seems to be on displaying it where you exaggerate your significance (inflate yourself) and importance by posturing around others and can even show attitudes of disdain toward those that don’t meet your standards.

The last three traits to discuss are impairments in empathy, exploitation of others and a sense of entitlement.  These in my view are the consequences of having narcissism as in they affect those around you.  It’s not that they don’t have the ability to be empathetic and often do but more often than not it’s in a self-serving way.  The exploitation of others then comes natural with low empathy, and people often become objectified and used as a means to accomplishing their goals.  And, lastly, a sense of entitlement means I deserve it because I’m important not because I earned it.


References

[1] Buss, David M.. The Dangerous Passion: Why Jealousy Is as Necessary as Love and Sex. Free Press.

[2] Dziegielewski, Sophia . DSM-5 in Action 3rd Edition. SAM Ficher.

[3] Gilbert, Paul. Genes on the Couch (p. 181). Taylor and Francis.

[4] Leary, Mark. The Curse of the Self: Self-Awareness, Egotism, and the Quality of Human Life.

[5] Quartz, Steven. Cool (p. 134). Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

[6] Ronningstam, Elsa. Ph.D. Dimensional Conceptualization and Diagnosis of NPD.  Harvard University.

[7] Tracy, Jessica. The Self-Conscious Emotions . Guilford Publications.

[8] Treatment in Psychiatry.  Narcissistic Personality Disorder: Diagnostic and Clinical Challenges.  Eve Caligor, M.D., Kenneth N. Levy, Ph.D., Frank E. Yeomans, M.D., Ph.D.

Personality Disorders.

This is a submission in a series regarding interpersonally destructive personality disorders.  Here I break down the relevant parts from the DSM to make sure we are warranted in calling what I have observed a personality disorder.


Definition

The American Psychiatric Association provides a concise definition of personality disorder, but they are explicitly measuring the defect if you will against culture’s standards.

A personality disorder is a way of thinking, feeling and behaving that deviates from the expectations of the culture, causes distress or problems functioning, and lasts over time.

The DSM-5, which is a reference for psychologists and psychiatrists for diagnosing disorders, organizes it in terms of personality functioning and the presence of pathological traits and defines it as follows.

The essential features of a personality disorder are impairments in personality (self and interpersonal) functioning and the presence of pathological personality traits. To diagnose a personality disorder, the following criteria must be met:

  • Significant impairments in self (identity or self-direction) and interpersonal (empathy or intimacy) functioning.
  • One or more pathological personality trait domains or trait facets.
  • The impairments in personality functioning and the individual‟s personality trait expression are relatively stable across time and consistent across situations.
  • The impairments in personality functioning and the individual‟s personality trait expression are not better understood as normative for the individual‟s developmental stage or socio- cultural environment.
  • The impairments in personality functioning and the individual‟s personality trait expression are not solely due to the direct physiological effects of a substance (e.g., a drug of abuse, medication) or a general medical condition (e.g., severe head trauma).

Pathology

So it’s best and most accurate to say that a personality disorder is one that has the features of impairments in personality as well as having the presence of pathological personality traits.  Well I usually think of the word pathological as meaning something that just doesn’t work for the situation at hand and is often extreme.  Let’s see what the DSM says about this.

characterized by adaptive inflexibility, vicious cycles of maladaptive behavior, and emotional instability under stress.

To define pathological correctly, it looks like it must have the features of not being able to be appropriate or adequate for the situation along with possessing an unstable pattern of it, especially when under stressors.


DSM-5 and Clusters

If you look at how the DSM organizes the ten personality disorders, then you’ll notice that they use key features to put them in groups called clusters.  The group that is of interest to us is cluster B, Figure 1 below, that uses the characterization of dramatic and erratic behavior to describe the four disorders: BPD, HPD, ASPD and NPD.

This behavior described seems to be similar to impulsiveness which means to have little control over behavior and emotions, but phrasing the behavior as dramatic and erratic seems to add nuances while avoiding unwanted connotations.

Those that show subclinical symptoms of Machiavellianism, narcissism and psychopathy may also benefit from reading this cluster, see the text in bold, since it describes the bold element to their behavior remarkably well.

The “Cluster B” personality disorders are characterized by dramatic or erratic behavior. People who have a personality disorder from this cluster tend to either experience very intense emotions or engage in extremely impulsive, theatrical, promiscuous, or law-breaking behaviors.

  • Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is characterized by emotional instability, intense interpersonal relationships, and impulsive behaviors.
  • Histrionic Personality Disorder (HPD) features a need to always be the center of attention that often leads to socially inappropriate behavior in order to get attention. People with this disorder may have frequent mood swings as well.
  • Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD) tends to show up in childhood, unlike most other personality disorders that don’t appear until adolescence or young adulthood. Symptoms include a disregard for rules and social norms and a lack of empathy for other people.
  • Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is associated with self-centeredness, exaggerated self-image, and lack of empathy for others.
Figure 1: Cluster B

References:

[1] Salters-Pedneault, Kristalyn, PhD.  Introduction to the DSM Personality Disorders.  https://www.verywellmind.com/personality-disorders-a2-425427

Egalitarianism and Narcissists.

This is a submission in a series regarding interpersonally destructive personality disorders and is a short piece on how there’s no room for narcissists in an egalitarian world.


A narcissist seems to hold people’s attention because of the, once thought of as ineffable, quality known as charisma, and they represent what we secretly desire which is to feel special and to have undue influence over people and control over resources.  When you break it down to those terms you can empathize with the wannabe narcissists because who doesn’t want power and control.  Well there are many reasons why an unchecked ego and unbridled desire goes beyond being just ugly.

And we did not always glorify these people as we do now, take for example the Kardashians of the world or even people such as our President Donald Trump who is “given to boasting, preening, and swaggering to the point of self-parody”.

The following excerpt touches upon how we would keep one another in check by putting each other “down” if we got too “full of ourselves” in our tribal past and would remain more or less egalitarian, while striking down those that would take but not give value back such as bullies and freeriders.

Boehm concluded that human beings are innately hierarchical, but that at some point during the last million years our ancestors underwent a “political transition” that allowed them to live as egalitarians by banding together to rein in, punish, or kill any would-be alpha males (or females) who tried to dominate the group.

And I can’t help but underscore the point again of street justice if you will when blatant domination occurs.  We can extrapolate from chimpanzees’ behavior for a lot of good reasons and one being because we are 98.6% similar in DNA to them like it or not.  To illustrate, look at a chimp named Foudouko in 2017 that was beaten and stomped to death and then cannibalized by his own community because he became a tyrant, in other words, a bully that took more of his fair share and that had little concern for anyone else.

After his death, the gang continued to abuse Foudouko’s body, throwing rocks and poking it with sticks, breaking its limbs, biting it and eventually eating some of the flesh.

The emphasis of this point is not just a Freudian-slip because of what I have experienced in my life, but it’s the rudimentary makings of our very own egalitarian society we strive for today.  Do I endorse such extreme forms of retaliation to oppression, well when I was being dominated and manipulated I certainly may have.  But that’s the point of our penal institutions which is to keep even the victim in check from our innate brutal capacities that are apparently still alive and well.


References:

[1] Boehm, Christopher. Hierarchy in the Forest: The Evolution of Egalitarian Behavior . Harvard University Press.

[2] Haidt, Jonathan. The Righteous Mind (p. 198). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.

[3] Kohn, Alfie.  “Narcissist in Chief.  A Psychological Take on a Political Reality.”

[4] Whyte, Chelsea.  “Chimps beat up, murder and then cannibalise their former tyrant.” https://www.newscientist.com/article/2119677-chimps-beat-up-murder-and-then-cannibalise-their-former-tyrant/

Gaslighting.

This second submission in a series is about how I was personally affected by someone with a narcissistic personality disorder that utilized a common technique of emotional abuse known as gaslighting.


What would you do if your significant other told you one day out of the blue in a very earnest way that you were living a double life?  Yes, you were living a double life and they were so convincing that you believed that you actually did something wrong for a moment – even though as you quickly jogged your memory for bad behavior nothing surfaced*.

That is the power of influence from someone that is determined to get their way at any cost.  That is a person that shows signs of the dark triad by using a technique of deception known as gaslighting.  And this is my story on how I was manipulated by my significant other in order for her to live her “double life” that she ever so thought she was justified in living.

Before jumping to conclusions of weak-mindedness, at least I did, as an explanation for being gaslighted, let’s define it and then look at why it’s more complicated than that.

Gaslighting is a malicious and hidden form of mental and emotional abuse, designed to plant seeds of self-doubt and alter your perception of reality.  In other words, the perpetrator destabilizes you by delegitimizing your beliefs.

The term gaslighting comes from the film “Gaslight” released in 1944 played by Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer where the husband (Boyer) is trying to convince the spouse (Bergman) that she is mentally ill and that everything she perceives is not really true.  The husband has plans on committing her to a mental institution to gain power of attorney.  It turns out that the husband had murdered someone and was trying to keep her silenced.

The above story is my story in a nutshell with one minor difference: my significant other was hiding her infidelities and not concealing a murder.  But it was even worse than the film’s scenario as I actually have clinical depression which is a mental illness, making it as a plausible tactic at least at face value.  And in a similar way she was also trying to commit me to a rehabilitation center in order to avoid confrontation as well as make a smoke-screen that would serve to protect her image in front of family and friends.

We probably can identify traits that make someone more prone to being manipulated, but I’m not convinced it is as simple as gullibility because we are also very cynical.  When you have deep affection and admiration for someone, on the other hand, then you eventually open your inner-world to them, insecurities and all, and become vulnerable.  This means to give them the benefit of the doubt and to have faith that they consider you when making choices, even when you are not around.  It’s beautiful but also tragic.

But perhaps for me there wasn’t love, only an unhealthy attachment, which would explain a lot.  I never did, however, give her the benefit of the doubt as some may have, but I stored that tactic that I know now as gaslighting in my mind until I gathered more evidence to support my intuition.  At that time I chose not to leave the relationship because of fear and a low opinion of myself.  Yes, indeed, I would have been in the category of high risk not just because of a tendency to undervalue myself but because of the disparaging messages that I was receiving from this person that I let into my inner-world.


Notes:

*This took some deep reflection as far as figuring out what exactly I felt when I was confronted for the first time with someone trying to dismantle my reality before my very own eyes.  My initial thoughts and feelings were as if I was sucker punched, stunned and confused.  So it worked for a minute but then immediately my analytical part took hold and said why would anyone have a need to exert energy to say such a crazy thing if they weren’t trying to hide something.  So I was angry and resentful and went on the offense immediately to attack her intentions.  But then afterwards I was saddened and having thoughts of how could someone that I loved be so malice.  It made no sense at the time.

These are actual notes I was taking during the gaslighting incidents to try to decipher the patterns, so I can spot them quicker.

  • fishing – inquiring whether or not I’m on to something
  • leading you on – she will quickly dangle a carrot in front of you that she knows your weak to fall for and then never deliver as long as she gets what she asked for first and as all tactics this was always in a deceitful and malicious way never jokingly
  • doubling down – when accusing or threatening to do something, she will always say “go ahead” or “I don’t care”.  What this does is raises someones commitment to their wager and signals to the other party that they must be telling the truth when they deny it since, after all, why would they risk you going and exposing them of the truth?
  • manipulation –  she will find what she knows what you want, which is then a weakness to be manipulated,
  • deflecting – turning the blame on me by either making me believe what I accused her of doing is something I did, or by her bringing up something that I did wrong or didn’t do enough of in the past in order to evade what she did
  • blatant denial – outright lying over unambiguous evidence
  • unfair accountability – do as I say not as I do and when you do it I come down on you ten times as hard
  • strings attached – I feel as though I’m “not enough” and I have to provide more to make her need me
  • evasiveness or equivocation  –  she is a master of creating confusion so no one knows what is true or false and she often if not always escapes the issue or what she needs to be held accountable for by putting you on the defense right away.  If you don’t agree with her, then she gets angry and says odd phrases such as “even the curl in spaghetti is wrong” or “I won’t defend the defenseless” that are just meant to confuse and make you question your own reality
  • intimidation and evoking guilt – resulting in unnecessary obligation

References:

[1]  Buss, David M.. The Dangerous Passion: Why Jealousy Is as Necessary as Love and Sex. Free Press.

[2] Kole, Pamela. The Psychology of Abusive Relationships: How to Understand Your Abuser, Empower Yourself, and Take Your Life Back.

[3]. Lancer, Darlene.  “Beware of the Malevolent Dark Triad.” Psychologytoday.com.

[4]. Lancer, Darlene.  “How to know if you are a victim of gaslighting.” Psychologytoday.com.

[5] Marmot, Michael. The Status Syndrome . Henry Holt and Co.

[6] McBride, Karyl. “How does a narcissist think.” Psychologytoday.com.

[7] The Self-Conscious Emotions . Guilford Publications.

[8] Subordination and Defeat: An Evolutionary Approach To Mood Disorders and Their Therapy. Taylor and Francis.

The Dark Triad.

This first submission in a series is background information on personality traits of people that when involved in romantic relationships with can inflict grave harm to you .  The upcoming submissions will be focused on how I was affected by one of them.


The machiavellian, the narcissist and the psychopath are commonly known as the dark triad by psychologists.  And there is a very good reason for this especially if you are the victim of one of them.  But strip these words of their ostracizing power which means to rid them of their connotations, and they all have one theme in common which means to maximize personal gain, most always at the cost of another and then to feel justified in doing so.

Now although these labels have become stigmas for most of us – unless of course you are OJ Simpson, Elliot Spitzer (former NY governor) or Jeff Skilling (former CEO of Enron) and so forth – I think it’s nevertheless important to realize that we all show characteristics of these traits given the right situation, but those that experience them often and do so with greater severity can be diagnosed as having one of these personality traits as an actual disorder (see notes).  Yes these are measurable personality traits that are heritable, so, for example, the tendency to want to exploit others varies from one individual to another.

But, on the other hand, these traits through a biologist’s perspective are not necessarily disorders since their frequency of occurrence in the population is much too high but are instead adaptations that helped us to survive and reproduce.  Yes, the Machiavellian, the narcissist and the psychopath are all here because they out maneuvered others in this jockeying for position in this game we call life.  Now that is an unsettling fact for someone as meek and mild as I am.

The focus thus far has been on personality while ignoring the situation at play.  Social psychologists, however, know all too well that a behavior is a function of not only your personality but also the very perceived social value that you hold relative to another person.  So, for instance, when I will describe the relationship that I was in, from an outsider someone could clearly see that there was a power imbalance – to be defined later – between the two of us.  If these discrepancies in social standings are great enough, then  the lower ranked member is at a higher risk of being exploited.

To briefly go over the triad’s differences which can be remembered in short as: narcissism is about grandiosity and is an addiction to feeling “special” or “important”, Machiavellianism is about deception and manipulation and psychopathy is about callousness and bold behavior.  Although not thorough enough at least this gives an introduction to their essence.  The details of each will be revealed in the next submission in the form of a narrative.


Notes:

The dark triad is a category that loosely refers to someone that shows signs (subclinical symptoms) of narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism but may not necessarily have a NPD (narcissistic personality disorder) or ASPD (antisocial personality disorder).  To clarify, all three of the dark triad are personality traits and if extreme enough are classified by the DSM as disorders while Machiavellianism is simply a personality trait.


References:

[1]  Buss, David M.. The Dangerous Passion: Why Jealousy Is as Necessary as Love and Sex. Free Press.

[2] Kole, Pamela. The Psychology of Abusive Relationships: How to Understand Your Abuser, Empower Yourself, and Take Your Life Back.

[3]. Lancer, Darlene.  “Beware of the Malevolent Dark Triad.” Psychologytoday.com.

[4]. Lancer, Darlene.  “How to know if you are a victim of gaslighting.” Psychologytoday.com.

[5] Marmot, Michael. The Status Syndrome . Henry Holt and Co..

[6] McBride, Karyl. “How does a narcissist think.” Psychologytoday.com.

[7] The Self-Conscious Emotions . Guilford Publications.

[8] Subordination and Defeat: An Evolutionary Approach To Mood Disorders and Their Therapy. Taylor and Francis.