By Joanie Bentz, B.S., M.Ed., CCBP, BC
The term Dark Triad always fascinated me. The name sounds so ominous – images of Darth Vader from Star Wars come to mind, as if nothing worse could possibly exist in the universe. The Dark Triad encompasses three sociopathic disorders — psychopathy, narcissistic personality disorder and Machiavellianism. These individuals are considered to be the most socially harmful of all sociopaths. Still, they often don’t get away with their exploitation forever — they may eventually crash and burn, usually due to self-sabotage.
People of the Dark Triad meet diagnostic criteria (per the DSM-5) for Narcissistic Personality Disorder coupled with psychopathy and a Machiavellian nature. They are prone to consistently conning and scheming their victims, gaining supply in the process.
Dark Triad traits
The breakdown of Dark Triad traits are as follows:
Narcissitic personality disorder — characterized by the need for excessive admiration with a high level of self-importance.
Psychopathy — encompasses personality traits such as glibness, manipulation and a lack of remorse, combined with antisocial behaviors.
Machiavellianism — is a personality trait, not a disorder. It is characterized by lack of a moral compass with a duplicitous state of mind.
Dark Triad and escaping accountability
For an individual on the Dark Triad, their life is one of blatant disrespect — for people’s boundaries, feelings and the constructs of life. They lack the emotional intelligence to maintain healthy relationships. Blame and projection are always the name of the game for them and other narcissists. They have an almost magical quality that enables them to escape all moral culpability for the deep physical and/or emotional wounds that they have inflicted on their targets.
Narcissism is often not treatable
Most always, narcissism, especially when it is part of the Dark Triad dynamic, is not a treatable disorder. Why? Narcissists love the power and control and do not want to give them up. Individuals of the Dark Triads severely victim shame and distort obvious truths about people and events, and they are more clever and cunning than a typical malignant narcissist. But at some point, the charade will end, and many times, their demise will come about through self-sabotage.
What causes the narcissist’s downfall?
Benjamin Franklin once said that nothing in life is certain but death and taxes. Taxes certainly will not kill the narcissist, but death will. So, if the Dark Triad you know is not dead and gone, what will cause this horribly dangerous person to spiral downward and fail miserably?
Contrary to the superhuman image Dark Triad individuals project, they do have weaknesses. Let us examine some examples of how the Dark Triad’s overconfidence can eventually cause their ruin. Below are 6 situations that can cause any narcissist to fail:
1 . They refuse to resolve a conflict in good faith
For this reason, they may find themselves in a courtroom with a judgment hanging in the balance — perhaps not only once, but many times. Dark Triad individuals love to compete with other narcissists (narcissistic rivalry). They will never compromise. They are committed to chronically misunderstanding you, so they do not have to be accountable in considering the truth. They want their delusional narrative to be at the center of any litigation. It would be unthinkable to resolve a problem with a neighbor, friend, or colleague without a third party. However, they take a risk that the law will not be on their side and they will lose.
2. They disregard expert advice
Somehow, the Dark Triad individual knows what every expert does not. They love to mix facts with self-serving lies. They have some secret formula or new theory that attempts to completely debunk all professional opinions and facts, except theirs, of course. When they are encouraged to receive therapy, a medical examination or other intervention, they never take the advice, to their misfortune. A physical problem or mental health issue could go undetected, and they will find themselves suddenly very sick or in a mental health facility.
3. Pride will not allow them to self-examine
Pride is at the core of the Dark Triad mentality. Pride hides a multitude of disordered thoughts and the emptiness they feel inside. Instead of feeling a sense of remorse about some transgression, especially ones that are repeated, they will blame shift and justify. Their lack of self-examination leads to continual bad behaviors, which can reach criminal level, and most likely indicate antisocial behaviors. Do not be surprised if the Dark Triad individual you know is an experienced thief or con artist who eventually gets caught.
4. Reckless behaviors escalate
This example ties into #3. Dark Triad individuals thrive on the adrenaline rush of having complete control. They believe they are above the law and that it does not apply to them—here we see the psychopathic disorder rear its ugly head. Since they are addicts of this rush, however, their supply is their addiction. Many Dark Triads, as well as narcissists and psychopaths, are addicts (drugs, gambling, sex, alcohol) and high-functioning social predators. It is only a matter of time before this person is in poverty, a rehabilitation center, or jail.
5. Dark Triad individuals can have co-occurring mental health issues
These mental health issues can be diagnosed or undiagnosed. Narcissistic personality disorder is a Cluster B disorder. Sometimes Cluster B disorders can overlap. Another common Cluster B disorder is borderline personality disorder, which is characterized by an unstable sense of self, possible self-harm and other reckless behaviors. Dark Triad individuals have an increased chance of committing suicide or seriously injuring others especially with co-occurring disorders.
6. Losing supply
Narcissists and Dark Triad individuals thrive on gaining their supply. Rarely do they continue in life without a source. They usually they have one favorite “drug” of choice that feeds their inflated ego and false sense of self. If they have a romantic relationship with someone, it is only a façade, and the person in the relationship is an extension of the disordered individual. If the relationship ends, the extension is damaged and their source of supply cut off, which they need to feel superior and in authority. Losing supply can cause Dark Triads to collapse or implode, but eventually they will find another source. Most likely this will be a temporary failure, and not a permanent one.
Dark Triad individuals and other narcissists cannot live forever
There are many scenarios that will lead to narcissitic and Dark Triad failure, but it is important to remember they will never consider themselves at fault in their own delusional minds. Someone else will always be to blame and their self-imposed victimization becomes tiresome for everyone. Eventually they will not live up to their own ideals and will be required to overcome all sorts of barriers to maintain the façade, especially Dark Triad individuals, who engage in more damaging behaviors.
Time may be on their side for a while, but eventually:
- They run out of money to do their dirty work—they cannot keep conning the same people repeatedly to finance their schemes.
- They lose flying monkeys (the toxic enablers) to support their twisted agenda and cannot find additional or new supports.
- Evading the law their entire life can exhaust all covert operations and they eventually get caught.
- Someone who is on to their game snitches on them, and the deception is exposed, possibly being reported by the media.
- Dark Triad individuals believe they are invincible, but they cannot always anticipate an emotionally exhausted and fed-up target’s reaction, especially when the target uses a weapon to defend him- or herself
In any of these situations, the people of the Dark Triad may implode, and it will be their own fault.