Relationship Tips

The Dark Triad Personality Includes Narcissism, Psychopathy, and a Third Lesser-Known Demonic Trait

Mary Grace Garis

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Photo: Getty Images/CaiaimageTrevor Adeline
I've been on the dating scene for a very traumatic 13 years, and I would say that the narcissists were exhausting, the psychopaths were frightening, and the Machiavellians were very, very hard to get over. Wait, is that last one lost on you? If that's the case, you lucky soul, maybe you've never been trapped in the dark triad, a collection of malevolent personality traits that are code-red dangerous in any relationship. Narcissism makes up one corner and is marked by yuuuge ego and a lack of empathy. Psychopathy fills another corner, and is identified by impulsiveness and a complete lack of remorse. You might've heard of those traits—but, um, Machiavellianism?

"Machiavellianism is an extreme form of manipulation. [People with this trait] care less about others' feelings, and more about their own goals and success," relationship therapist Tammy Nelson, PhD, tells me. "Machiavelli wrote The Prince and taught a thousand years of killers how to prevail." That's why the term "Machiavellian tactics" points to ruthless, underhanded ways of getting whatever you want.

And since the other, buzzier components of the dark triad are getting all the attention, it seems Machiavellian characters may be able to float under the radar, totally in tact. Plus, the element of manipulation makes identifying Machiavellians tough. I've been seduced plenty of times by opportunistic types who have stepped on other people in order to ascend to the top, so, to help you (well, me) never get tangled with a Machiavellian again, I sought to outline the telltale signs that you're in the presence of one.

Check out 5 signs that you're in the presence of someone with a Machiavellian personality.

1. A fixation on power

Ambition is especially sexy if you can count on both hands how many baristas and DJs you've dated—what a success, right?! But, in all seriousness, while working toward a promotion at work is something to applaud, having a preoccupation with control isn't so great—at work or on the dating scene or anywhere else.

2. A genuinely cynical worldview

Cynicism here isn't a playful attitude of believing you have the worst luck because of course the bird pooped on you…again. Rather, it's having an overwhelming distrust for the rest of the human race. A Machievellian person is apt to believe there are losers and there are winners in life, and that that everyone else feels this way, which is quite obviously not the case.

3. A willingness to exploit others

One recent study asserts that women who use dates as free meals are flexing their Machiavellian muscles. While it does seem like an unfair, sweeping generalization that a gal can't be simultaneously romantically interested and also very hungry…if she always forgets her wallet? Well, that's a red flag. Sex, money, and favors being wasted on a person in an entirely one-sided way points to Machiavellianism.

4. A ruthless, self-centered desire to conquer

Anyone who needs to brag about their sexual conquests with an emphasis on conquest is someone to avoid. If they callously let know that you're No. 84 in their little black book, that isn't transparency. That is concerning.

5. A gaslighting machine

Gaslighting is a form of manipulation that involves undermining someone's sanity, and if the phrase "you're being crazy" is thrown around often by someone you know, you're probably familiar with the concept.

"If you even think that your partner has these traits, they're a master manipulator and will stop at nothing to get their way," Dr. Nelson says. "They'll lie without remorse, cheat without guilt, and gaslight you into believing you are the crazy one. If this is happening to you, run."

When I asked Dr. Nelson if there were any other other telltale signs of a Machiavellian that everyone can look out for, things got…ahem…political. I'll let you guess the example she gave.

Need advice on how to fight fair? Four relationship therapists lay down what not to say in an argument. And this will help you fact-check whether you're in a karmic relationship.

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