We may not want toxic people in our lives because we know how badly they affect us, but we also need to avoid supporting, working or voting for them.
Over the course of our lives, we may have learned from close personal experience that certain people are not good to be around, and certainly not good to work for, but it may have only been certain actions by those people that triggered our wish to avoid them. However, in order to avoid such people in future, we need to have some criteria that doesn't require us to be in their close orbit before we get burned again.
There are many people whom we will probably never meet, but who will hold great sway over what happens to us in the future. How do we tell who are the toxic ones, just so that we don't create future problems for the many? Fortunately, there are key personality traits that signify red flags for possible avoidance, so it will be good to have an understanding of how these traits manifest in public and business life so that we don't get caught up in their sphere of influence.
Unfortunately, these particular traits, and in particular, their combination, are what makes those who hold them become very successful at rising to the top echelons of society and thus bending societies to favour them, helped by those who want to play their game and so see them as somehow being worthy of being put on pedestals for all to admire, even if it means pain and suffering for the many subject to their control and influence.
The dark triad is a set of three traits that builds individuals capable of great influence, but also great damage.
While anybody can manifest some aspects of psychopathy, narcissism or Machiavellianism when they overreact or are under pressure, these terms only apply to those who have a long-standing pattern – often from childhood – that defines how they approach almost all of their interactions with others. In other words, their actions are a result of their psychological outlook rather than a reaction to their working situations. Their toxic actions are a deliberate and conscious choice as they try to micromanage their interactions with others.
In the real world, there is some overlap in these definitions, and some may have some of these traits at particular times of their lives but at a low level. There is also debate about how people with these traits came to be. Here, the issue is that we are dealing with those who have them so thoroughly ingrained into their personalities that the how is irrelevant.
Having a lack of empathy and callousness means a person will not care whether their actions cause pain and suffering. That is not a consideration in their choices about what they see as needing to be done. Such people in a military battle will readily throw thousands to their deaths if it will result in a win. The ordering of waves of unprotected troops into mass machine gun fire at Flanders in WWI and Normandy beaches in WWII are examples. In general, wars provide countless examples of prioritising goals over people, so are going to be more suited to those without empathy.
However, the business world provides plenty of examples as well. Coal mines and lung disease, child labour exploitation in Cobalt mines, pollution of water and soil by chemical companies, tobacco companies hiding how they knew their products caused lung cancer, fossil fuel companies hiding how they knew they were causing climate change. Mass layoffs in economic downturns. Hanging onto billions knowing that millions could be pulled out of poverty and starvation.
CEOs are now earning many times what the median person in their company earns, all based upon the premise that they are so much better than others that they are worth it. Sense of entitlement is what kept monarchies in power, but what also caused many to lose ground to barons and others who also thought they were entitled to the riches of their countries. Their delusion about their own importance plays out into their world view, where any competition to their power is seen as a personal threat which must be suppressed or crushed at any cost.
To some, being able to manipulate people to do what they know is not in their best interest is a challenge. Life is a game where the battle is for hearts and minds. For them, the real challenge is to see how far people can be manipulated, seeing how much of their moral compass they can be persuaded to exceed. They pander to peoples' desires and selfishness in order to break their will to protect themselves. Divide and conquer is their modus operandi in making sure they are always in control.
People with these three traits in abundance will be formidable, so what does the world they create look like?
Such people work to put themselves at the centre of as many lines of influence as they can. Politically, such people will want to become dictators, manipulating political systems to ensure they remain in power, by bribes, handing out favours with heavy strings, suppression of challengers, even having death squads doing their dirty work. Even in so-called democracies, they will take advantage of the good-will of others to strengthen their own power.
They will feign agreeableness to lure others into bending their way. Most people don't expect callousness and duplicity when it appears reasonable, but once acquiescence is obtained, actions are taken to lock in more nefarious outcomes. We can see this in the use of seemingly independent think tanks and institutes to present lines of reasoning that support their often secretive backers' world view, but which are then used as justification for further subversive actions to undermine democracy.
In their rise up through the ranks of a business, they will appear to be successful, often usurping credit for those working with or under them, and will thus appear more worthy of promotions, especially to those with similar personality traits. They will employ whatever affectations they need to get others' cooperation, while plotting how to prevent those others from advancing, such as spreading rumours to undermine respect for them. They will form alliances, but will have no problem with abandoning them if they no longer work for them. All part of taking their rightful place in the world!
Some will want the world to see how great they are, so they will make sure they create publicity that puts keeps them in the public eye. They will position themselves as more aligned to the sentiment of their followers than their competitors who they will often label derogatorily, implying that those others are the ones that are holding people back. They will ride on the adoration of their followers to amass fortunes while exploiting their workers.
They are often hailed as heroes, and seen as advancing humanity, whereas the reality is that they don't do anything to help the oppressed, downtrodden and exploited, whom they despise as weak. They don't really care about their followers, as they are a tool for gaining influence. In effect, their efforts divert the resources that makes societies resilient to their own ends, thereby cementing their own places in the rich and aggressive pantheon at the expense of the welfare of everyone else.
Then there are others that prefer to remain relatively hidden from the public view, but within their world, they still try to be at the centre, manipulating all around them to keep them at that centre. They are the ones that create a public face of respectability while they go about undermining and destroying the hopes and dreams of others. They don't need the blessing of the masses, because they are of no consequence, as they can be manipulated to do whatever is required and don't have the power to resist. They are only concerned that those closer to them are under their control.
The people that surround or follow these predators are often like them, to a lesser extent, and so see them as some sort of ideal to aspire to. Others who come into their closer orbit are hoping for some reward even if they know that it will require them betraying the duties of their position. Of course, those at the apex have long used advertising and promoted memes that makes being selfish seem like a good life-strategy, but which also keeps those caught up in it distracted from questioning the inequities in wealth and power.
These people come from somewhere. If they are not born into it, how do they get to the top?
Here we only have to look at the two cases of Harvey Weinstein and Denis Handlin, the former CEO of Sony Music Australia. Both were celebrated as hitmakers, with high profile artists extoling their virtues at awards ceremonies. Yet they were able to conceal their nefarious activities from the public.
Firstly, they avoided very successful artists, as that would have thrown up red flags very early in their careers. Instead, they only picked on those at the start of their careers or who were struggling. These artists were grateful for help, but when threatened by these industry heavyweights with having their careers squashed if they didn't comply, they usually did. Those that didn't found their careers stalled.
Weinstein was rebuffed by both Ashley Judd and Mira Sorvino, so Peter Jackson was told
they were a nightmare to work with and we should avoid them at all costs, resulting in them being ruled out for roles in The Lord of the Rings. This is the second reason why they were able to keep getting away with it. They were believed because their peers respected their ability to pick winners, thus assuming that those they didn't recommend deserved to be ignored. Thirdly, they threatened and harassed those who threatened to expose them, using private investigators to dig up anything that could be used against them. This could go on for years.
Of course, successful people make people money, and those moneymakers want their investments to continue to be successful. If that means covering up abuse and exploitation, that is seen as a small price to pay. That is until it all blows up in their faces. Then those facilitating the long-term abuse will try to find ways to diminish their culpability. Michael Jackson had many who knew about his abuse of children, but were either dependent upon him or were star-struck, so they shut up. Elvis Presley had many who covered up his drug problems, with mothers of those he damaged still revering him.
These were heavyweights who could afford to throw their weight around, so what do those of lesser statue do? They will find opportunities when they have some measure of power over others, but where others cannot see their behaviour. For example, a GP or HR person with malicious intent has a measure of power over the life of a person they are attending to, because they can make decisions that will affect their quality of life or career. With that power, they can make life more difficult or reduce opportunities. Even if they don't want any favours, some may just enjoy making others' lives harder.
Those in managerial positions can play favourites, or put procedures in place that are discriminatory. To those above them, they can be seen as being successful in meeting their performance indicators, but those under them will be disaffected. In hard economic times, their victims will feel trapped. In better times, they will quit and be part of a higher turnover which may be dismissed as part of the economic climate. These people are skilled in making sure their bad activities fly under the radar, while their ill-gotten achievements are proudly promoted so they climb up the influence ladder.
In industries that have lots of positions where people could exert their power to their advantage, there will be many who will do so. It pays to be realistic about what to expect in such industries, as having delusional glamours about them can easily lead to being exploited. How important is a career in them? Is there someone trustworthy enough to help avoid the predators? Those who have been severely exploited don't usually fare well, becoming more prone to addictions and other means to avoid their feelings of helplessness and shame.
Many assume that there is always some good part of people that can be appealed to, but that is not true for all.
When issues occur between people, attempts at reconciliation are attempted, followed by arbitration, and if those fail, legal means are undertaken. Each of these stages can take a very long time, depending upon the positions taken by each party. If a party does not want to compromise, they can stretch out each stage to the point where it exhausts the time or money of the other party. Determined people can stall any real action against them for years, during which time they can continue to do whatever they were doing that brought about the issues in the first place.
Those who clinically deal with psychopaths and narcissists are generally of the opinion that the best strategy for dealing with them is to not be in their sphere of influence. Except for a few low-level individuals who feel some small measure of genuine remorse for the suffering they create, there seems to be no treatment that will rehabilitate them. For even those few, the best may be a level of drug-managed control of their urges.
The prognosis for those who have been successfully exploiting people for decades is that there is no way of negotiation with them because they are experts in giving the impression of contrition, and so manipulating every negotiation mechanism for their own advantage. This means that the only way to deal with those who have successfully climbed to the top echelons of corporations or governments is to remove them so they cannot do any more damage. There is no accessible good part of them to appeal to, and trying to will likely only create delays as they manipulate every stage of the process.
We are dealing here with very sane and manipulative people that are experts in making sure they come out on top of every situation they can manipulate to their advantage. They do not act in good faith, and that means that they will deliberately appear to act in good faith when cornered, but will attempt to undermine those who are trying to negotiate with them in any way possible. There is no negotiation possible with them. The only way to deal with them is to stop them from having any power over the lives of others.
We cannot make them good people. They have made so many choices over such a long time to kill that small part of them that they are not willing to change for anyone or anything. They have chosen who they want to be, and have learned to make sure that never gets challenged. They only care about themselves, and any appearances of affection or concern are feigned. They cannot be trusted at all. The only way to protect from them is to isolate them from having any influence. Negotiation is useless.
The intractability of these people is what is often underestimated when dealing with them, especially on the level of nations. We see how Putin keeps offering to negotiate, but only on his terms, and even then he would be bargaining for more, all the while buying time to improve Russia's military force. Many leaders want Ukraine to go into talks with Russia, but that is pointless if Putin is in charge, as there is no good faith on his part, which is really obvious given the invasion itself. Peace is not the wanted outcome for such people, but domination.
It can be difficult to avoid the influence of such people when their reach is so great, but there are actions we can take to keep them at arms length.
We are bombarded by images that promote success and self-indulgence, but we don't have to buy into them.
We mostly grow up in the orb of our parents, teachers and peers, taking on a lot of their emotional worries about life and their place in it. From them we get get the impression of what it takes to make it in the world. If they are caught up in the world of compulsive delusion sown by those in power, we will emotionally inherit that as well. A few years of that is enough to start us on a path of stress and worry.
If we take steps to wean us off our inherited worries, what comes to take their place? Mostly vague ideas and promises of a wealthy and successful life seemingly absent of all the worries we grew up with. We are getting sucked into the delusion that the rich and famous are who we should model our lives upon, but we can only get there by gathering particular possessions as if they will automatically bring prosperity. Of course, doing anything like they say starts a process of accumulating debt but getting no closer to the illusion. We are mice on their treadmill of endless effort but no freedom.
If we are to break their created cycle of stress and delusion, we need to undo the beliefs that we took on that made it all seem worthwhile. Firstly, we don't have to accept what other people think is best for us. Those close to us may have some idea about what we could make of our lives, but it is still us who has to believe it is worthwhile to our wellbeing. Of course, the younger we are, the less likely we are to have any idea what is good for our wellbeing. Mostly, we are caught up in a sea of emotions without a strong mental capacity to control them. We think they are what defines us.
Only later do we come to realise how transitory and elusive emotions can be, but we will probably be thoroughly caught up in the images that we have wrapped our emotions around. We need to divorce our emotions from the delusion, and thus regain the emotional strength to put to what we may really want, when we get to work out what that is. A simple step is to ask what is so valuable about what we are getting so worked up about. Even if we don't have a strong mental capacity at the time, it does set up the process by which we might recognise the futility in some of our pursuits.
We tend to want to wrap our emotions around something, so rather than focussing on what we have been subliminally fed, we can decide to pursue something that we can focus our attention over a longer timeframe than wanting instant gratification normally allows. Building something that requires us to do research and craft materials will give us a sense of accomplishment, even if we lose interest in at the end. It is the journey of emotional focus that is the key. It may take time to find what really takes our interest, but we will have learnt to take our own path, and away from the manipulators.
We live in a society where we need to work to survive, but we can still avoid getting caught up in the people games that some use for their own advancement.
By the time we get to the end of high school, we are expected to have decided what we want to do with our lives so we can choose what to do next. Our parents and teachers will have ideas about what we should do, but we may still be trying to get heads around life, let alone how to support ourselves. We will have been told what are good jobs to have and how much we can expect to make in them, as if that is the goal of life. But given the dearth of alternatives that don't seem like dropping out, we choose the work-our-lives-away option.
For many, it is about choosing the place to work that sets us up for a successful career, and thus a fulfilling life. Reputation seems to be the only consideration required for making the choice of where to work. But what is it about certain places that gets them ranked as worthwhile for a career jump-start? Why are they so successful? If only we ask that before we start such career paths, we may avoid being caught up in the delusion vocation.
We have seen that the ruthless, self-aggrandising and manipulative tend to be the ones running the really successful businesses that rate high for such career dreams, so who are the people who are rating it so? Well, we have seen that people are enthralled by the powerful and successful, without much thought to how they got there, and even less about what effect the working environment set up by them will have on those whom they make the recommendation to. Certainly, the people working there will be exploited, but what does that really mean?
We know the corporate world pushes people to work long hours and sacrifice home life, but that is only part of the whole drink-the-kool-aid regime required to push people to the limit. The CEO et al don't care if people burn out, because that only proves they didn't have what it takes to succeed. Sacrifice can be a noble deed, but what is being sacrificed for here is not noble, as it is just plain greed, selfishness and aggrandisement. The question to ask about such advice is about what they think makes it so good. If the answer is rumour, it fails as a recommendation.
Such corporate CEOs and executives are not adverse to marginal, predatory or illegal business and accounting practices. If we want to keep our moral slate clear, highly successful and aggressive companies are usually not the place to gain ethical business skills. Taking it slower by working with those who recognise the right balance in life is going to lead to a healthier life. It is the actions that CEOs engage in that count, not what they say they do. Manipulators are masters at spinning lies to get what they want out of people. Get wise and stay away from them.
Manipulators appeal to our selfish desires. By knowing ourselves, we can defend ourselves against such manipulation.
Emotions can be powerful things, but they are easily manipulated by our minds. People skilled in getting into our heads can thus tap into our emotions to persuade us to work against our wellbeing. If we can recognise our emotional states, we can prevent unwarranted interference in them. However, that means that some part of us has to be able to be our observer, which is a bit tricky in the middle of being swept up in emotions.
The first step is to contemplate those episodes where uncontrolled emotions have distracted us from dealing with the then situation in the best way. The trick is to not re-stimulate the emotions, but just backtrack the memory to see what led up to losing it. There will be several points at which a different choice will have dramatically changed the outcome for the better. Upon looking at several similar situations, there may be a decision point early on that would have changed all the outcomes for the better.
Remember those embryonic emotions stirring at that time, because that is what to notice the next times such situations occur. When they occur again, become part observer and then take control to change the outcome. Becoming familiar with this process will serve well in preventing being manipulated in future. Of course, it may ruin enjoyment of some lesser-quality movies as it will be easy to see how crude the scriptwriter and director are in trying to engage us. Self-awareness raises the bar in many aspects of our lives.
While we can contemplate the past and future, the present is the only time we can make decisions.
We often consider decisions as being a big thing that we are very conscious of making, but a lot of our lives is in making the choice to go along with previous choices. That is what reinforces habits, but it is also the means by which we can build new habits. If we consciously decide to do something in a different way a few hundred times, we are more likely to bias our next decisions to reinforcing that. After a few thousand times, we are barely conscious of the decisions, but nonetheless, they are still decisions.
If we build many new habits, we have transformed our characters, and thereby have reinvented ourselves. The more we know how to change ourselves, the better we can see when others are trying to manipulate us to change in the way they want. We can then more easily undo their programming so that we re not swayed by them. We have taken more control over our lives.
The process of deliberately being aware of what is happening in the present is called mindfulness. Being present allows us to be independent of our past so that we are properly free to change our futures, because those are the extension of our past unless we intervene by making a decision to do something different in the present. Then we can be truly be our own masters.