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THE DARK TETRAD

“There is a class of individuals who have been around forever and who are found in every race, culture, society and walk of life. Everybody has met these people, been deceived and manipulated by them, and forced to live with or repair the damage they have wrought. These often charming—but always deadly—individuals have a clinical name: psychopaths. Their hallmark is a stunning lack of conscience; their game is self-gratification at the other person’s expense. Many spend time in prison, but many do not. All take far more than they give.” – Dr. Robert Hare, The Charming Psychopath

Just when you believed that the worst of the abuse – the character smear campaign, the stalking by proxy, the isolation from friends and all family – is over and you set out to distance yourself from anyone and everyone who is in the narcissist’s circle of control, do matters turn frightening.

You begin to understand that this is not your average malignant narcissist, but rather something much more sinister than you would like to believe.

Certainly, the abusive subject of this blog clearly displays most, if not all, of the negative character traits as outlined on the continuum of NPD, however, symptoms of Psychopathy and Machiavellianism are clearly present, also combined with sadism.

These four traits, when displayed in a single individual, are called the “Dark Tetrad”

Travis Langley Ph.D. the author of “Naming Evil: Dark Triad, Tetrad, Malignant Narcissism” Psychology Today, states: Psychologist Erich Fromm, who fled from Nazi Germany before World War II, spent much of his career trying to understand evil. Fromm stared into the evil itself. Eventually he coined the term malignant narcissism to describe extreme, exploitative selfishness, “the most severe pathology and the root of the most vicious destructiveness and inhumanity” which he considered to be “the quintessence of evil” (1964, p. 37). Psychoanalyst Otto Kernberg (1970) followed up on this, viewing the malignant narcissist as a sadistic psychopath. 

According to (Jakobwitz & Egan, 2006; Paulhus & Williams, 2002) psychopathy, narcissism, and Machiavellianism at their most extreme, maladaptive levels—together known as the dark triad is the most dangerous of the documented personality disorders.

Together, you are looking at the true face of evil.

Let’s revisit the definitions of the anti-social maladaptive personality disorders as written by Travis Langley Ph.d.

Psychopathy: Whereas diagnosticians assess the DSM diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder based mostly on overt antisocial actions (American Psychiatric Association, 2013), some clinicians find it more useful to look at psychopathy—a pattern defined largely by absence of empathy, lacking the emotional aspects of a conscience (Cleckley, 1941/1976). A psychopath indifferent to the feelings or fates of others might not actively want to inflict harm or control them either, so psychopathy is not by itself all-encompassing evil as most people would see it. 

Narcissism: More than mere vanity, the maladaptive form of self-obsession that people usually mean by narcissism is epitomized in the DSM’s narcissistic personality disorder. A massively egotistic person could still have a conscience, though, even if shortsighted and self-centered. A psychopathic narcissist, however, would be super-egotistical without a conscience to hold him or her back.

Machiavellianism: Named for Nicolo Machiavelli, who wrote about the manipulative nature of politics, Machiavellianism refers to a detached, calculating attitude regarding manipulativeness. The main test for this trait, the MACH-IV (Christie & Geis, 1970), identifies attitudes about pragmatism and manipulation rather than manipulative ability itself. 
As awful as a manipulative egotist who lacks a conscience might be, that person might still take no delight in other people’s pain. Cold indifference is not pleasure. The person who scores high in all aspects of the dark triad, though exploitative, might still fall short of Fromm’s “quintessence of evil” if that person does not actively enjoy cruelty for its own sake. So to the dark triad, some researchers added one more item to form a dark tetrad and maybe describe evil a bit better (Book et al., 2016; Chabrol et al.,
2009; Međedović & Petrović, 2015).

Sadism: Sadists enjoy hurting others. Named for the Marquis Donatien Alphonse François de Sade, sadism means deriving pleasure from other people’s suffering. When the manipulative egotist who lacks a conscience gets thrills from making people suffer, when that person enjoys ruining lives and hurts people just for the sheer fun of hurting them, that’s the person more people will call evil.

If all four of those overlapping qualities are so deeply persistently ingrained in the personality that the combination defines who that person is, it might be hard not to call someone with that mixture evil. 

As we shall visit in the next post, my thoughts and recollections of our early life will display that the root was not necessarily adaptive, but genetic.

A bad seed.

References

  • American Psychiatric Association (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association.
  • Book, A. S., Visser, B., Blais, J., & D’Agata, M. T. (2016). Unpacking more “evil”: What is at the core of the dark tetrad? Personality and Individual Differences, 90, 269-272.
  • Chabrol, H., Van Leeuwen, N., Rodgers, R., & Sejourne, N. (2009). Contributions of psychopathic, narcissistic, Machiavellian, and sadistic personality traits to juvenile delinquency. Personality and Individual Differences, 47(7), 734-739.
  • Fromm, E. (1964). The heart of man. New York, NY: Harper & Row.
  • Christie, R., & Geis, F. L. (1970). Studies in Machiavellianism. New York: Academic Press.
  • Cleckley, H. M. (1941/1976). The mask of sanity: An attempt to clarify some issues about the so-called psychopathic personality. Maryland Heights, MO: Mosby.

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