For the past thirty years, the Western world’s zeitgeist has been shaped by the core values of materialism and power. The social structure of patriarchy values hierarchy. Cultures that value hierarchy emphasize the legitimacy of asymmetries in power and the distribution of wealth. While sensible, intelligent people go to therapy to deal with their mental health, they are collectively unconscious of a pathological personality that abuses power, loyalty and wealth: the Dark Tetrad (DT).
Our modern world is sick from abuses of power. Society’s symptoms are painfully apparent: the economic crash of 2008, the systematic harassment that prompted the #MeToo movement, the condemnation of the Catholic church due to sexual abuse, racial reckoning in the police and political system, and the Boy Scouts leaders’ brutal treatment of innocent boys. As a psychotherapist, I believe that the catalyst for the deterioration of our public and private systems, organizations, and institutions is the pathological personality of the Dark Tetrad.
Every individual has a unique personality. Personality constitutes habitual traits that drive a person’s thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) classifies personality disorders as dysfunctional patterns of behavior and perceptions manifested across many contexts that differ from those accepted by the individual’s culture. Therefore, if one has a personality disorder, it can negatively influence one’s life.
I am questioning the DSM, as the media has illustrated how individuals with pathological personality traits get ahead in life. Personality scholars diagnose individuals who consciously engage in socially aversive behavior as belonging to the Dark Tetrad. The DT consists of four overlapping yet distinct malicious personalities: the grandiose or vulnerable self-absorbed narcissist, the antisocial psychopath, the manipulative Machiavellian, and the spiteful sadist. The conception of the Dark Tetrad of personality disorders was discovered in 2002 in the Journal of Research in Personality.
Grandiose and vulnerable narcissists have the core trait of antagonism. Entitlement fuels the DT’s motive to humiliate others to protect them from slights to their intelligence, status, or wealth. We witnessed antagonism last month when Ted Yoho called Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez a sexist slur. Psychopathic traits of boldness and fearlessness are elevated among leadership positions. Such dominant features produce social predators who take what they want and do as they please. Devoid of empathy, such predators violate social norms and expectations (e.g., Harvey Weinstein). Machiavellian con artists manipulatively overclaim their skills and stretch the truth to deceive others (e.g., Bernie Madoff, Donald Trump, Steve Bannon). Sadistic maniacs willingly inflict harm on innocent people for their sexual gratification (e.g., Jeffrey Epstein).
DT people have a core mission to maximize personal power and success, callously ignoring any financial cost or emotional harm it causes others. Socially aversive behavior is justified by the DT’s feelings of entitlement and superiority. DT individuals see humanity through a lens of power and control, and they project that distorted lens onto others. Paranoia and spitefulness are traits that justify their parasitic efforts to benefit at the expense of others. A prime example comes from a 2012 study which rated U.S. presidents on two factors of psychopathy – fearless dominance and impulsive anti-sociality. Results revealed that presidents’ scores on impulsive antisocially predicted things such as allowing subordinates to behave unethically, participating in extramarital sexual relationships, deserting responsibilities, engaging in abuses of power, and impeachment resolutions by Congress.
Socially aversive behaviors cause critical challenges for cultures. DT individuals wear a mask of sanity, yet their misuse of power feels like whiplash over time. Often, you don’t know what hit you until long after the damage is done.
Acceptance, Prevention and Protection
Prevention begins with awareness through acceptance of the DT as a private and public health issue. Secondly, one has to recognize these social predators who ruthlessly plow their way through our nation’s institutions and organizations: “We need to name it to tame it.” With acceptance and knowledge of the DT’s existence, we can protect ourselves by understanding the deliberate manipulative tactics DT individuals employ to secure their power, status, and wealth.
DT individuals are controlling because their world is about power and control. Dominance is the practice of persuading through intimidation and is a core trait of a DT individual, as it ensures their resources and status. There is a fine line between persuasive reasoning and coercion. While an argument may start off civilly, with manipulation, it can quickly lapse into antagonistic threats and oppression with a DT personality. Dominance is an efficient way to conquer.
Ever been terrorized by someone’s irrational rage, even though he or she never touched you physically? Overt meanness is an offensive action. DTs disparage without guilt or remorse. Quickly, you develop spaghetti brain — your cognitive sharpness blurs and you fall victim to the DT’s control.
Western culture reveres extraversion, so the James Bond trait of social boldness is a vital means to influence others. Polished charm seduces people to lower their defenses and trust the DT mask. The DTs’ fearless confidence and risk-taking influences others to follow their lead.
DTs lack an internal moral compass, so they habitually lie. A prime example of this is Bill Clinton’s infamous line, “I did not have sex with that woman.” When confronted, the DT defensively lies and denies. DTs are void of empathy, and they will consistently mislead and yet provide you with credible explanations supported by unscrupulous accomplices. Lying by omission is an intelligent, clever form of dishonesty that DTs practice.
DTs excuse behavior that is destructive to others due to the trait of callousness. They disregard the impact that their conduct has on other people’s feelings. Executives who exploit their employees and con artists who swindle elderly pensioners operate from callousness (e.g., Jordan Belfort). Both fail to see others as genuine people with emotions. In their perceptions, others exist only as objects to exploit or use.
Gaslighting is a mental strategy that makes victims doubt their reality. Gaslighting maneuvers involve deflecting, feigning innocence, and playing the victim. Gaslighting is hostile mind twisting, and it generates cognitive dissonance in the perception of others. Mind-twisting is a way of manipulating another person by inserting a picture meant to make a person do what someone else wants that person to do or think what that person wants another to believe.
Ordinary neurotic people have difficulty accepting those pathological personalities who intentionally manipulate and obtain wealth and status to obtain power and success. However, current research attests that yearly, 60 million people are critically harmed emotionally, physically, and financially by the Dark Tetrad.
Mental health professionals need to recognize the pathological traits, tactics, and antisocial motives of a DT individual. When a DT individual comes to therapy for treatment, I identify, confront, and then apply leverage to invoke change. Contemporary research states that mentalization-based therapy works with pathological narcissism.
As a trauma clinician, I have treated sufferers of the Dark Tetrad’s psychological abuse. The DT victims present with PTSD symptoms caused by the pathological, emotional, and mental torture they have survived. Clinicians need to employ trauma-informed theories when working with patients who were deceived. Victims are not to blame for falling into the cunning devious network of a DT.
Government organizations, public institutions, and professional workplaces need to utilize computer-automated testing to assess people in positions of leadership and power (Appendix A). The confusion and toxic harm caused by DTs must not be overlooked, neglected, or supported. Otherwise, their callous, self-serving ways will continue to ravage families, systems, organizations, and institutions. My years of personal and professional experience and deep research are an offering for all of us to evolve.
Appendix A: Dark Tetrad Personality Assessments
• The Conspicuous Consumption-Extra Money Scale (Lee et al., 2013)
• Reactive-Proactive Aggression Questionnaire (RPQ Raine et al., 2006)
• Trait sadism CAST scale
• Self-Report Psychopathy Scale II (Williams & Paulhaus Hare, 2004, 2016)
• Self-Report Psychopathy Scale III (Mahmut, Menictas, Stevenson, and Homewood 2011)
• The Hare Psychopathy Checklist- First and Revised Manual (Hare, 1991,2003.)
• Psychopathy Checklist: Screening Version (PCL:SV; Hart, Cox & Hare, 1995)
• Antisocial Process Screening Device (ASPD; Frick & Hare, 2001)
• Personality Assessment Inventory Antisocial Features scale (PAI-ANT; Morey 2007)
• The Psychopathic Personality Inventory-Short Form (PPI-SF; Tonnaer et al., 2013)
• The Triarchic Personality Measure (TriPM; Patrick, 2010)
• The Five-Factor Narcissism Inventory-Short Form (FFNI-SF, Glover, 2012)
• The HEXACO Personality Inventory Revised-Honesty Humility (HEXACO-60, Ashton and Lee, 2009)
• The Big Five Inventory-2 (BFI-2; Soto and John, 2017)
• The Portrait Values Questionnaire-Revised (PVQ-RR, Schwartz et al., 2012)
• The Cognitive Triad Inventory (CTI; Beckham et al.,1986)
• The Unified Motives Scales (UMS, Sconbrody and Gerstenberg, 2012)
• Roadside Aukland Annual Driving Survey (RoadSafe Auckland 2000)
• EQ-i2.0 Emotional Intelligence Assessment for Leadership
• Violence Risk Scale (VRS; Wong & Gordan, 2006; VRS-SO (Sex Offender Version); Wong, Gordon, Gu, Lewis & Oliver, 2012).
• Violence Risk Appraisal Guide-Revised (Rice, Harris & Lang, 2013)
• TOSCA-3 Test of Self-Conscious Affect (Tangney, J. P., Dearing, R., Wagner, P. E., and Gramzow, R., 2006)
• Utilitarian Moral Dilemma’s
• 16-Item Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI-16) (Ames et al., 2006)
• Narcissistic Personality Questionnaire (NPQ) ( Motter 2009)
• Personality Diagnostic Questionnaire-Fourth Edition (PDQ-4) (Hyler 1994)
• Elemental Psychopathy Assessment-Short Form (Lynam et., 2013)
• The Short Sadistic Impulse Scale
• The HEXACO-60 (Ashton & Lee, 2009)
• The Affective and Cognitive Measure of Empathy (ACME; Vachon & Lynam, 2016)