How To Know When To Pull The Plug On A Relationship

Psychologist Miguel Diaz reveals the dark truth behind intimate partner abuse and manipulation.

By Mark Travers, Ph.D. | July 13, 2022

A new study published in Acta Psychologica picks apart the psychology of dark personality individuals and reveals why they often commit reprehensible acts in their intimate relationships. The paper targets a specific portion of the population with dark personality traits who frequently express highly toxic behaviors with their partners.

"I began to use the concept of dark personality traits when trying to find explanations for the fact that some divorced people were capable of dedicating the rest of their lives to doing all kinds of things, even using the justice system, to make life impossible for their ex-partners," reports psychologist Miguel Diaz of Coruna University in Spain.

Diaz measured these toxic behaviors using a set of personality traits termed the "Dark Tetrad" to better understand this phenomenon. These personality traits are:

  1. Machiavellianism (referring to someone who is manipulative, tricky, and ingratiating)
  2. Narcissism (referring to someone who is self-obsessed and believes that they are special, gifted, and superior to others)
  3. Psychopathy (describing someone who is dangerously risk-seeking and lacks empathy for others)
  4. Sadism (referring to someone who finds intrinsic pleasure in hurting others)

Diaz and his team of researchers also decided to include a novel dimension, called "moral disengagement," which they believed would complete the profile of these dark personality individuals.

"The inclusion of moral disengagement is due to the investigations of my team, since any person who is capable of carrying out cruel and clearly antisocial actions needs to look for a series of moral justifications that allows them to think that their way of acting is correct," explains Diaz.

In his paper, Diaz highlighted a set of behaviors that were typical of these dark personality individuals, such as:

  • Frequently changing partners
  • Exceptionally brief relationship duration
  • Cheating/infidelity
  • Constantly seeking out new emotions and experiences through sexual relations

Consistent with previous research, they found that men scored higher than women on these personality traits and tended to express these behaviors more frequently than women.

"Within a partner, the abuser continually expresses that he is the victim, and continuously tries to annul his partner, informs Diaz. "The victim fears going against the designs of the abuser. It is something similar to the so-called Stockholm syndrome."

Diaz argues that this is a pattern that can be seen in many troubled relationships. There is a recurrent theme where dark personality individuals force their victimized partners to accept small things out of politeness, ultimately leading to the concession of their well-being and dignity. The unfortunate thing, says Diaz, is that: "many victims accept the abuse and call the abuse love.''

According to Diaz, the overarching goal of this research is to use these concepts to understand the criminal mind better and find ways to identify these traits early, so people know what to avoid. There are also hopes of developing cognitive restructuring therapies to help rehabilitate dark personality individuals and mitigate the risk they pose to society.

Too many people have been victims of intimate partner abuse and violence. Moving forward, it is crucial that research like this informs the public on how to manage and avoid dark personality traits, as the consequences can be debilitating for many.

A full interview with psychologist Miguel Diaz discussing his research can be found here: One possible reason why your ex will not leave you alone