All my life I thought I wasn’t any kind of an empath, but just yesterday I learned I’m not only an empath but a dark empath, “the most dangerous personality type”! Run for the hills, everybody! Nah, seriously, I show the bulk of the signs of the Dark Triad, and fit like a glove with almost every sign of the Dark Empath. Yikes. But on the other hand, dark is not evil, and these “bad” qualities, when properly channeled for oneself and others, are a powerful force for good in the world.
My surprising Results
As for myself, specifically on the short-form Dark Triad test I took yesterday I score at the 99th percentile in Narcissicism, the 99th percentile in Machiavellianism, and the 78th percentile in psychopathy. Well, at least I score only in the top quarter in that last one instead of the top hundredth, so there might be hope for me yet!
On the Light Triad test I took today, I score 44% on empathy, 38% on compassion, and 16% on altruism; all of them, especially altruism, were below average, making me “29.24% darker than the average person”, whatever that means exactly.
I’m very morally principled and feel things much more deeply than most other people, so I didn’t think I had “Dark Triad” traits, but the concept of the “Dark Empath”, from quite recent psychological research (just a few years old), reconciles the vast majority of my traits that don’t fit into the Dark Triad archetype.
You keep using that Word…
The association with a lack of morals is still curious, but apparently psychologists’ (and most people’s?) definition of morality is “pro-social” behavior, self-sacrifice, obeying authority, and going along to get along, which is not only orthogonal but often antithetical to the “don’t hit people and don’t take their stuff” kind of concept I associate with being moral.
In particular when it comes to morals I care not one whit what other people think about any of it, only my own conscience and judgment. It’s a measure of how sinister and dystopian our society is that such a trait is tarred with villainy! Of course, in real life as in dystopian fiction, such an assassination of powerful traits serves the interests of the ruling class in general and the state in particular. The proof has come in the COVID-19 pudding; absurd and despotic restrictions have compelled tearful compliance from those normal, “light”, and “empathetic” types vulnerable to emotional blackmail, while Dark Triad and Dark Empath types have resisted and not complied without a second thought.
This might be related to the research studies, criticized harshly by many people (myself included), that find lockdown, mask, and restriction scofflaws and opponents tend to show more “psychopathic” traits; apparently in the personality-studies sense psychopathy is thrill-seeking, risk-taking, impulsiveness, being out for yourself, and marching to the beat of your own moral drummer instead of everyone else’s, rather than in the sense I use it: lacking the faculty of a conscience.
…I don’t think it means what You think it means
Most people’s concept of empathy is also quite curious, being associated with feeling what other people are feeling and being coerced into “pro-social” behavior by other people’s emotions, often associated with a whole complex of traits that make you a goody-goodie, rather than, you know, being able to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and understand what they’re feeling, which is what I always thought “empathy” was!
Apparently the kind I’m most familiar with is called “cognitive empathy” (understanding), as opposed to “affective empathy” (actually feeling what others feel). I do have some affective empathy (who among us has not been swept up in a friend’s laugh or smile and felt better as a result?), but I’m far higher in cognitive empathy; indeed, I have a lot more of it than most people do.
The Dark Triad and the “Bad Boys” Question
Knowledge of the Dark Triad and the Dark Empath, whether in the truer nuanced version or the falser “run for the hills!” version, has found a variety of uses, but perhaps none is as boutique as certain sections of “the Manosphere” (well, aside from that one consultant I heard about who sells his teachings to cultivate the Dark Triad for success in careers and women; talk about a niche!). Those who have taken “the red pill” it seems often believe what women really want is a man with Dark Triad traits, which is the more intellectualized version of the common sentiment that “all the girls want bad boys”. But is that really true?
I suspect it is, but not because women have some deep-seated secret desire to be abused or some such like some of these people think; rather, because Dark Triad traits have side effects that make men more attractive through rather conventional channels. It’s been found in studies that Dark Triad men focus more on their appearance, have more confidence, are more dominant, and love spontaneity and the pleasure of a thrill.
Women tend to love all these traits in a man, no matter if they come from the dark side or not; indeed, I wouldn’t be surprised if women preferred men who have these qualities and who are not Dark Triad. Alas, things are not equal; in real life the Dark Triad is the foremost source of the qualities that make the highest-value men what they are. Women find power so sexy because it’s profoundly good for them to join their souls to powerful men, provided such men’s power is directed toward protecting, providing for, comforting, and loving them.
That right there is the fundamental difference between a relationship of passionate love where the woman enjoys the thrill of being on top of the world in the arms of her darling man for the rest of her life, the kind of relationship where a high-quality woman fulfills her destiny; and a relationship of one-sided love where the women might be seduced but ends up exploited, chewed up, spat out, and left back out on the street feeling used and discarded at best, or descending into a lifelong living nightmare at worst, the kind of relationship where a high-quality women only comes away with a sense that a part of her soul has been drained out of her.
Men with Dark Triad traits can give a woman a life at either pole, or anywhere in between. Women: the mark of a truly good man is not whether he has light or dark traits, but rather whether he puts whatever traits he has to work for you and your relationship first.
The Dark Triad and the Femme Fatale
Speaking of women, an interesting aspect of the Dark Triad is how it tends to be more common and more pronounced in men than women, leading to the cultural trope that women just aren’t like that, which gives the relatively smaller (but still very significant) feminine contingent of the high-Dark-Triad population a distinct advantage: the element of surprise. This despite the prevalence of the femme fatale archetype in popular fiction, perhaps most prominently in the film noir genre.
My mother, who it seems is also a dark empath, reports that when she was young and playing the dating game people tended to be either scared of her or really attracted to her. She was outright told at one point that she would be an extremely dangerous woman if she wanted to be. Which checks out with both the femme fatale archetype and the experiences of Dark Triad men. Indeed, it seems not just my mother but both of my parents were high in Dark Triad traits, and possibly one of my grandparents too.
With a background like that and everything else I’ve got going for me I could honestly be a real homme fatale if I wanted to be. For that matter it’s amazing I haven’t gone full Palpatine already.
If you only knew the Power of the Dark Side!
But that’s the point, isn’t it? These are just traits; they’re not inherently evil. Machiavellianism lets you manage and manipulate emotions and events to make everyone happier and more fulfilled, and also gives you the nimbleness and flexibility to use whatever means necessary to meet the demands of the moment for you and the people you care about. Narcissism can give you the boundless confidence you need to fulfill your true potential and get what you deserve. Psychopathy makes it easy to say no to malevolent and misguided authorities and do what you know is right. Cognitive empathy shorn of affective empathy lets you understand with a clear head what others are feeling, why they’re feeling it, and how it can be made better.
Light traits seen as more desirable by society, such as the light triad, have their strengths, but they’re not inherently good. Empathy can leave you overwhelmed in the face of great suffering when goodness is the most needed, and can be weaponized to make others wish they’d never been born. Compassion can make you lose sight of solutions instead of constant maintenance of people’s problems. Altruism can be twisted into sacrificing your own life and livelihood for nothing.
I’ve got to chew on this for a while, how it seems I have “the most dangerous personality type”. Honestly, I don’t feel quite that formidable, but in the fullness of time, who knows?