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Can you spot psychopaths? You better learn to

Says Dr. Grande:

Grande: it left him appearing shallow.
Some people were able to detect this shallowness but others couldn't. Something that we see with a number of psychopaths:  certain people know right away that a person is a psychopath whereas others have no idea

This is something I confirm from personal experience: I've noticed it many many times in my life.

Even on this forum.

Some people are blind to power dynamics, as well as to other people's dark triad traits -I suspect there's a major overlap between the two-. 

Instead, some others have an instinctive feel for both power dynamics, and for spotting dark triad traits and manipulators -again, I'd bet that there is a major overlap between having an instinctive feel for power dynamics, and for spotting dark triad people, as well as general red flags of takers-.

Example: my friend fails to spot the most obvious liar

There's an example that I used several times in this forum.

From the same group, I had met one of the most obvious takers I've ever met in my life, and one of the most obvious "good person" who's now one of my best friends.

The "good person" was completely, totally oblivious to the taker's real nature.
He made excuses upon excuses for shitty behavior, trying to come up with reasons why "he might behave a certain way".

Then, one evening talking about this taker, he said:

Hmmm yeah, that story he shared, it made me think it might not be true

There is BARELY ANYTHING true of whatever that taker says.
It's either something that starts from some shreds of true story twisted into something completely different, or wholly made up.

Besides being a taker and, I'd bet, scoring extremely high in dark traid traits, he's also one of those guys that you don't really take seriously when he shares any story.
You listen to the story and take them as "just for fun", but know -or better SHOULD know- they're absolutely not true.

But my good guy friend was still failing to his unrealistic "truth by default" standard.

Example: Bel's "friend" spots the psychopath in one single meeting

This example is from talking with Bel some time ago (Bel can correct me if I remember poorly, it's been some months ago now).

He had a psychopathic and a manipulative person in his network.
After the two of them met, the manipulative person told Bel that he didn't want to work with the psychopath.

When Bel asked him why, the manipulator said (something like this, can't remember the exact words) "but can't you see that he's a dangerous crook".

Bel was shocked: the two had only met for a relatively brief time, and it had taken Bel quite some time to see the true nature of the psychopath.
But a short meeting was all that it took for an "aware" person to spot the red flags.

TPM community: spotting dark triad is one of our biggest goals

We learn about red flags here.

So the TPM community, given the very nature of what we learn, is most likely above the population average when it comes to spotting red flags of various manipulators, takers, and psychopaths.

And still, some time ago I was surprised to see that several folks in here missed several red flags of a user.

Heck, sometimes I also underestimate(d) several red flags.

I think it takes some time for some people to learn to spot and correctly weigh the red flags, even while actively learning this stuff.

And, especially in the beginning, it may be safer to over-weigh the red flags (of course: this is not to say that it's good to go to the extreme, just slightly more skewed than a perfect middle).

This is because my guess is that most people, by default, tend to over-estimate the goodness of others.
That is even worse for:

  1. Good people, who fall even harder for the "good by default" pitfall
  2. Power unaware people, who can't see the power moves, many of which are important red flags of personality
  3. When first meeting someone, when the default "people are good" provides a positive but non-existent background and reputation to any new acquaintance
  4. When we start liking someone, because of the "people I like must be trustworthy" bias. This means that red flags are especially important in dating
Ali Scarlett, Kavalier and 2 other users have reacted to this post.
Ali ScarlettKavalierAlexBel
Have you read the forum guidelines for effective communication already?

Now a tough question is:

Are these "natural readers" of manipulator personalities crooks themselves?

Such as: do you need dark triad traits to spot other dark triad traits?

I think it's a great advantage.
And sometimes, that's exactly a case of crooks recognizing crooks.
Many people who are "naturals" at reading others' red flags are indeed high in dark triad themselves.

However, I don't think it's a blanket rule.

Much of it has to do with general social/emotional intelligence and, of course, power awareness (there's an overlap among the 2 anyway).
And anyone, even non-dark triads folks can be born lucky in the sense of being high in power awareness from birth.

Probably even more importantly, people can learn this stuff.

We also have plenty of examples/data here of people who have taken huge leaps and bounds in their power awareness, and in their ability to spot manipulators, which provides evidence that you can learn it.

Ali Scarlett, John Freeman and 3 other users have reacted to this post.
Ali ScarlettJohn FreemanKavalierAlexBel
Have you read the forum guidelines for effective communication already?

This is a great thread!

How they may recognize each other

Years ago, one person engaged me with a big legal case. Since the case was big, I introduced this client to a colleague of mine, and we all talked about the case for ten minutes. My idea was to work on the case alongside this colleague.

When I presented the power of attorney for the case to the client, my client unexpectedly asked me to remove my colleague from the document, as he wanted only me to assist him. Later I asked him why. He basically told me it was obvious to him that my colleague was not to be trusted, and out for his self-interests only.

My colleague above later asked me if I knew a professional who could assist one of his clients in another field. The very same client mentioned here above (the one who brought me the big case) was one such professional. I asked him if he could present a fee quote for his services to my colleague.

Then another one of my colleagues came to me, and told me that the colleague above had told him that my client (who had submitted the fee quote) was not to be trusted, never to be engaged, and was out for his self-interests only.

Still later, when I had my "awakening", I realized that both of them (my client and my colleague) were identical in character (and I disconnected from both, just in time I would say). They were able to recognize each other precisely because they had the same behaviors, mannerisms, way of thinking, etc.

How to spot them

Unfortunately, there is no hard and fast rule here.

These people basically operate under a "mask of niceness", that is most prominently worn at the beginning of the interaction and that makes them appear as more polite and more nice than most others, precisely because they have to hide their real nature. While a normal person may be prone to get explicitly out of place if something happens (because a normal person has little to hide), psychopaths (who live double and triple lives, break laws, engage in criminal behavior, and ruin lives without conscience) are usually more self-controlled than most when in public, and come across as more nice.

But, they do tend to behave in ways that can be seen as indicators of danger:

  • they have a tendency to test people at the earliest opportunity. They are the most likely to use "handshake opening gambits" or "disrespect power moves", precisely to see if you are unaware and can be manipulated, or if you are a danger to their cover;
  • they have a constant grandiose and contemptuous disposition toward all other people, which one can learn to recognize from minimal clues (both verbal and facial-expression wise);
  • they are likely to criticize other people to "teach you" how to behave (example: "I gave so much work to this other person and he didn't even send me a card for Christmas");
  • they trigger a gut feeling of uneasiness, that is most often discoverable by one's tendency to rationalise: when you find yourself telling yourself "Hey, X is such a great guy. I'm lucky to have met him. I had better catch the opportunity to work with him / go out with him / whatever", you are in danger: you are rationalizing yourself out of the gut feeling that this is a person to be avoided;
  • they come across as too nice and too perfect, precisely because what you see is not true. It is a mask, designed to mirror what you expect in a person and how you are, but which is not true in the least (example: you tell them "I like dogs", and they start petting every dog you meet; if another person had told them "I hate dogs", they would have behaved very differently);
  • they lie even when it would be better for them to tell the truth (to confuse people and gain the upper hand);
  • they have a constant tendency to bait and switch, to project and to use manipulative mirroring (ie accusing others of their own motives and behaviors);
  • they manipulate and disrespect even when they have no interest in taking something from a person (they are constantly practicing);
  • they are likely to suddenly disappear, or they will stop answering your calls and messages suddently precisely to make you uneasy;
  • they never apologize, but are great at fake apologies ("I don't recognize myself in what you say");
  • they have a tendency to get unexpectedly angry when you say innocent things (for you), because those innocent things you say touch something they are doing to you underhandedly, and thus trigger their insecurity that you may be up to their lies (seeing these "abrupt anger moments" is actually one of the best clues to understand you are dealing with a dark triad);
  • they are great at spotting (from body language clues) people who are being manipulated by someone else, or who have unresolved traumas; they will let their mark open up about those traumas, and then deliberately trigger them again to gain the upper hand;
  • they use language as a weapon: no real communication ever goes around, it is all used to brainwash the mark into unconsciously internalizing specific behaviors and beliefs, as per the famous Asch experiment (example: a psychopath mother will constantly say to her son: "You will never find a girlfriend if you continue behaving like this!", not because he is behaving badly or even because she believes it, but just because she wants her son to internalize this belief and remain single, thus more prone to being a servant to her for life).

And many others. And all the above are done subtly, much more subtly than I expressed here.

I would say that having interacted with them for a long period of time when one was unaware provides great clues to spot them when one becomes aware. The price one pays for this is living in hell for years.

Aware vs. unaware people

When it comes to spotting dark triad people, I think we can simplify, and divide normal people in two big groups: aware people and unaware people.

Unaware people simply do not understand, at an unconscious level, that there are such people as "dark triad". It is impossible to explain to an unaware person the behavior and motives of a "dark triad" person: the unaware person is going to project his own "inner goodness" on everyone else, and discard or discount clues of their real nature. They are the best targets of dark triad people.

When one is unaware, one of the things that will happen is that the "dark triad" in one's life will want to be around you, but not around your other friends or connections. That is because they will unconsciously understand that you are unaware and likely surrounded by others like them.

Unaware people can become aware through a "lightbulb moment", usually when the suffering becomes so much that they either feel they are going to die or become aware.

Aware people understand the concept and real meaning of "narcissist", "psychopath" or "dark triad". This provides in itself a basic level of protection.

I would say TPM is the next level of protection, teaching how to interact with dark triad (when unavoidable) on a level playing field.

Lucio Buffalmano, Kavalier and Alex have reacted to this post.
Lucio BuffalmanoKavalierAlex

Awesome, awesome post, Bel.

And thank you for clarifying and expanding on my initial (partial) recollection: the full story is even more telling and enlightening.

Quote from Bel on August 18, 2022, 1:04 pm
  • they never apologize, but are great at fake apologies ("I don't recognize myself in what you say");

Yeah, this is a good one.

It's the power-craving component of many psychopaths -and many high-power, non psychopaths- that makes it painful to apologize.

As a testament that psychopathy -or dark triad- does not mean effectie at live, an apology when an apology is called for is instead the best one can do to keep good relationships and a good reputation.

When it's not called for, and sometimes when it's a grey area but a strategic better choice to maintain power, then the "non-apologies", including the one you listed, are golden.

Quote from Bel on August 18, 2022, 1:04 pm

I would say TPM is the next level of protection, teaching how to interact with dark triad (when unavoidable) on a level playing field.

Yeah, great point, I was selling TPM short actually, thank you for the note.

Awareness is the all-important first step, then knowing how to engage -including how keep at a safe distance without making an enemy, and sometimes maybe even gaining, as per PU's example- is the next level.

Kavalier, Bel and leaderoffun have reacted to this post.
Have you read the forum guidelines for effective communication already?

How dark triads lie

They lie constantly. As they breathe.

But they lie in a very particular way: they lie by "faking honesty".

They lie by finding a nugget of truth, even if it is unrelated to the situation they triggered, and then twisting it by using subtle innuendo, omitted truths, distorted realities, subtle implications, fake additions, projection, etc.

Since they lie constantly, it is difficult to pinpoint it by "baselining them", ie by confronting their lying behavior with their "normal behavior".

But one can often recognize it, if trained to look for it, by noticing abrupt contradictions or shifts in thinking, where they divulge what they do by relating it to others; and especially to others like them.

It's really interesting to see how they do the same when talking about themselves, including in cases where they are self-proclaimed or self-divulged dark triads.

Commentary on a sociopath's interview, by a sociopath

She is a self-proclaimed sociopath.

In this particular video above she is commenting on another self-proclaimed sociopath's video.

Here is the transcript of the relevant portion of what she says.

At 38:24:

Her: And i want to emphasize that I do care about all my friends and my family; my pets are so important to me; I'm not a different person than who I was before just because you get to see a more clear picture of who I am internally; I still have the same values and morals.
Then a bit later at 38:50:
Her: I wanted to comment on video. So for one I really really like this guy I don't know his name I think he wants to keep it anonymous or whatever ...
But I do think he's playing us a little bit, because I can recognize that in another person because I know when I'm doing it ... I think he's handled this the best way he can because if the mask comes off completely is very hard to be palatable ... and being fully upfront with your thoughts about manipulation and hurting people and all of these things that we have gone through to become better people it's just not really possible so I understand why he's playing the audience a little bit because there's no other option really but it's just that I completely recognize what he's doing and the way he looks and the way he laughs like I know because that's me so it's really cool to actually see someone else that is like me because you just don't see them in real life that that often.
Notice that in the second portion she says she has "gone through" "manipulation and hurting people", implying that it is a thing of the past.
But in the first portion she says:
Her: I'm not a different person than who I was before.

Written interview with famous self-proclaimed psychopath

Quoting from this article here where a famous self-discovered psychopath talks about himself:
Him: Although I made pipe bombs as a kid, and did some joy riding in stolen cars and broke into some liquor cabinets as an early teen, we always returned every piece of stolen property.
When I first read that, I wondered: which parts of the above sentence were more likely to be true, maybe slightly neutered down, and which were more likely to be additions to paint a better picture?

Another video interview with the same person

Here the transcript, and my comments in grey:
Interviewer: Do you ever feel remorse?
Lucio Buffalmano and Kavalier have reacted to this post.
Lucio BuffalmanoKavalier

Nice one, Bel!

Also noticed this one:

all of these things that we have gone through to become better people

Spins the former aggression/manipulation/value-taking into a form of "(unavoidable) past harm leading to self-development better future".

I'd also call (possible) BS on that.

Another theme transpires here:

  • Listen less to the literal words, and more to the subtext and actions: while you can learn something from what these (self-styled) psychopaths say, just like for Machiavellian marketers, you can probably learn more about the sub-communication, lies, and what they do, than what they say in their polished self-presentation (and products)

BTW, that second guy is James Fallon.
He's a neuroscientist with a penchant for alcohol consumption and we reviewed his book here.

Kavalier has reacted to this post.
Have you read the forum guidelines for effective communication already?

The stories dark triads tell

Dark triads tell stories for three purposes.

  1. Stories to "preempt the truth"

Ever had a dark triad "confess" or "admit something"?

It was a story to preempt the truth.

The dynamics are that the dark triad:

  • knows that a portion of the truth is about to come out
  • wants to slant the view of the mark about this truth, painting it better than it really is
  • wants to be the first person to let the truth come out to gain a "fake honesty effect"
  • wants to assure that the remaining portion of the truth rests hidden from view.

Dark triads are bundles of malevolent intentions. The "bad things" they do are potentially infinite.

Example: a dark triad who uses women will likely have dozens of unrecognized children.

Now, let's suppose his current "wife" has just been contacted by another woman, and this other woman is about to tell the wife about her concurrent affair with the psychopath and their two children.

And let's suppose the dark triad has gotten wind that this is about to happen.

The dark triad will invariably talk to his wife, and between (fake) tears tell her that he has to confess something.

And he will tell her about the "manipulation" he endured from this other woman, and how she "got him to have two children with her", and how he is "devastated" about having had to lie to his wife about this, and so on...

In other words, he will admit to a portion of the truth (that was about to come out anyways) all the while putting a "pretty slant" on the whole story. So that, when his "wife" gets to hear from the other woman, she will likely not believe the other woman.

What the dark triad will do is also: leave out of the story all the other 15 women he seduced during the "marriage", and the other 7 children he had with them.

Dark triads never admit the truth. They are incapable of doing that. They just fess up to the "inevitably coming out portion of truth", while slanting it in their favor.

This, btw, generates in their marks a feeling of dark triads "always jumping on the winning chariot".

As soon as they see that the primary objective is unreachable, they adapt to the secondary objective, and so on.

Dark triad parents tried to subjugate their child so that he would never marry and remain alone in their house to take care of them in their old-age? Let's suppose the child is able to marry: they'll forfeit their old objective, admit to the smallest portion of truth they can (eg: "we made some mistakes, but it was not intentional") and now try to shamelessly manipulate their child and his spouse to support them.

Dark triad boss tried to convince an employee to lose all his personal clients to work as a slave in his business? Let's suppose the employee gets away and starts his own business: now the boss will ask him to work for him in the "spare time", all the while still trying to sabotage him as much as possible.

It never ends.

       2. Stories to brag

Dark triads, as all normal human being, enjoy telling others what they did.

Their problem is that they can't.

Normal human people can tell tales of how they had a nice vacation, or how they beat a record on their new sport, or they started a hobby.

But dark triads can't tell others that they bullied people, or that they were able to get a good competitor fired out of the company with mobbing underhanded tactics, or that they had 15 affairs, or that they beat up a person, or that they threw rocks on the highway.

So, they will solve the conundrum by telling stories about:

  • another person doing something to them, or
  • another person doing something to someone else.

But it really was them doing these things.

     3. Stories to test the mark

Especially in the beginning, the dark triad will test marks by telling small stories and watching for the mark's reaction.


I had a friend who was married with a woman, and once after he had an argument with his wife he flirted with another woman in front of her.

The purpose of these stories is to test the mark's reaction.

Will the mark say that his friend was totally in the wrong here, and that - in her place -  she would've gotten away immediately?

Or will she say that it's "somewhat normal" to do these things?

Now he knows how far he can push things.

The next story is going to push things even further, to check the mark's potential reaction to even worse behavior on his part.

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