People with strong narcissistic, sociopathic, psychopathic, and other dark traits have been studied and observed for a very long time. There are many articles and books analyzing both their behavior and their psyche.
And yet, there are still many people with strong narcissistic, sociopathic, psychopathic, and other dark traits. Most people have worked with or around somebody like that, been raised by or around somebody like that, or have been in a close relationship with somebody like that. Everyone has probably had the misfortune of dealing with somebody like that in one capacity or another.
When you look at these dark traits on a societal level, there are large segments of certain populations, even countries, that exhibit these traits. So why is this happening? How do these kinds of people blend into society and affect it so much?
In this article we will look at common tactics people with strong dark personality traits (hereafter narcissists) use to function in our society.
Social Adaptation Tactics
It’s hardly shocking to anyone that narcissists lie, but in the context of social adaptation, pretending is a big part of it. You’ve probably heard the phrase, “Fake it till you make it.” Being fake is the narcissist’s life motto.
They pretend about anything and everything: that they are virtuous, successful, busy, in demand, happy, courageous, talented, caring, generous, serious, wise, trustworthy, and all around wonderful.
A common example is buying expensive clothes, or accessories, or gadgets, or vehicles, or simply lying about their professional success—all to appear rich and successful in order to sell others whatever they’re selling. Or, pretending to be a loving parent by talking about it online and posting pictures, and being in the community, and giving parenting advice, and otherwise painting a social picture of how great of a parent they are when they actually aren’t great at all.
These are just two examples, but there are hundreds.
Some people can see through all the smoke and mirrors immediately, while for others it takes some time. But for way many, all of it may seem legitimate.
A low-functioning narcissist wants to be in a position of higher social status: money, power, and social pull. However, unless they have a wide social network or are born into privilege, they aren’t or can’t be.
One way they cope is by mimicking those they want to be similar to, and whom they secretly despise for being more successful than they are. They observe what others are saying and doing, and they say and do the same. This creates an illusion that the narcissist genuinely believes what they are saying, possesses a certain trait, or has competency in something that they actually don’t.
3. Showing off
It’s all about social status with narcissists. A part of their social adaptation is showing off what they have. It’s often a part of their fake persona (see #1). But if it’s legitimate and the persona has something to actually show, then it’s usually done by comparing themselves with others and rubbing it in their faces. For a healthy person, all of this is clearly very off-putting, toxic, and pathetic.
However, some people may see all of these status symbols that the narcissist may have (money, social power, fame, sex, etc.) and feel awe, “Oh my, that’s so great!” And then they are more likely to give the narcissist what they want.
4. Being a chameleon
This is a form of lying and pretending where the narcissist changes their behavior depending on the environment that they are in. If they are around Christians, then “Praise the Lord Almighty!” If they are around a more secular company, they will exclaim how believing in God is stupid. If they are around promiscuous people they will brag about their real or imagined sexual adventures. If they are around people with traditional family values, then they are all for that.
In other words, they will tell you what you want to hear in order to get what they want from you. Or, they will tell you what’s necessary in order to manipulate you and play you in relation to others they are also trying to play.
5. False confidence
Many narcissists convey themselves with false confidence. Sometimes it’s fake because they are mimicking someone else and actually don’t feel confident. Other times, it’s fake because they are actually incompetent or severely lack knowledge even though they may strongly believe it.
The latter is known as the Dunning-Kruger effect, where the person thinks and feels that they are competent, knowledgeable, or superior when they really are not. Since narcissists severely lack self-awareness, they are unable to accurately assess their level of competency.
Whatever the case may be, confidence is socially appealing. If the narcissist appears confident, then they are more likely to get what they want from those they seek to exploit and manipulate. Narcissistic confidence can be very appealing, especially so to those who don’t recognize it as such.
With the rise of the Internet and social media, it’s much easier for everyone to find others who agree with you, no matter what you believe. It’s also easier to spread misinformation and propaganda.
In the context of narcissism, it’s easier to normalize it. Narcissists and other toxic and severely unwell people have communities where they live in a bubble and reinforce their harmful beliefs. Moreover, they spread false information that all of this is normal, and by doing so they mislead and even radicalize “newcomers,” especially younger people.
All this normalization of destructive tendencies makes it appear that it is more socially acceptable to be this way, which leads to it actually becoming more socially acceptable if it’s left unchallenged.
7. Fitting fields and professions
Since narcissists crave power and narcissistic supply, some professions are more fitted for them than others. Therefore, many narcissists become politicians, lawyers, CEOs, doctors, lecturers, sport stars, celebrities, police, military, priests, and so on. These types of careers and fields are social environments where dark personality traits are either required, are a benefit, are rewarded, or are easier to hide in.
Again, with the rise of the Internet and social media, it’s very easy these days for narcissists to become celebrities, scammers, fake intellectuals, or outright propagandists online. Spewing nonsense and propaganda, tricking people into giving them money for useless or even harmful goods and information, playing a persona, mimicking confidence and competency—all of these are epidemic online. And there are many people who fall for it, unfortunately.
8. Sabotaging others
Narcissists inherently feel insecure and compulsively compare themselves to others to the point that they are jealous, entitled, and callous. As a result, they attack their perceived “competition” and prey on those of the “lower status.”
If they feel threatened by you in any way, they see you as their enemy and will do whatever it takes to destroy you. This includes, but is not limited to, the following: slandering and character assassination, gaslighting, playing the victim, turning others against you, getting you fired, sabotaging you, twisting the story, damaging your property, or even causing you physical harm.
And while sometimes they may get away with some of these things, often narcissists who exhibit such antisocial behavior eventually get what’s coming to them. They go to jail, run out of money, get fired, are ostracized from a community, get injured, and even die or get killed.
Summary and Final Thoughts
All of us have encountered a truly malicious person, or have been in a social environment where you are mistreated and nobody cares. Narcissistic and otherwise toxic behavior is epidemic in our society. And since that’s the case, for a narcissist integrating into it is not as hard as some may think or would like it to be. So it is kind of a cycle: the society is somewhat toxic, which produces some toxic people that can adapt to it, which makes it toxic, and so on.
On top of that, people with dark personality traits have developed certain tactics to function in our society. Some of those tactics are pretending, being a chameleon, mimicking, seeking social status and showing it off, appearing confident and faking self-esteem, trying to normalize their behavior, finding professional fields that fit their tendencies, and simply by hurting others.
In battling and overcoming this, first thing is noticing this behavior, and then identifying it for what it essentially is. It’s a pathology. It’s not okay. It’s not normal. It’s not “just how some people are.” It’s not acceptable.