7 Dark Traits People Often Mistake For Attractive Qualities
It's never a bad idea to stay away from people who exhibit dark personality traits, as psychologists call them, such as narcissism, psychopathy, Machiavellianism, or sadism. But interestingly enough, research has found that people who may exhibit certain dark traits tend to be seen as more physically attractive. It's not that people find sociopathic tendencies in themselves attractive. But seemingly irresistible personality traits can have a much darker side to them.
"Often the qualities we find most attractive in another person also have a shadow side," Deborah J. Cohan, Ph.D., associate professor of sociology at the University of South Carolina-Beaufort, tells Bustle. These are seemingly desirable qualities, which over time, can reveal personality traits that may actually be negative, and potentially toxic. These traits may even raise some major red flags that the person you're dealing with is a "dark personality."
But being careful and staying away from someone who has darker traits is much easier said than done. As clinical psychologist, Dr. Lori Whatley, tells Bustle, "We tend to be drawn to these type of people because opposites do attract and we are attracted to our shadow self." It may explain why some people with low self-esteem tend to attract and stay in unhealthy relationships with people who exhibit narcissistic personality traits.
It's important to pay close attention to the people who are genuinely interested in you, and distinguish them from the ones who are just interested in meeting their own needs. So here are some darker personality traits that are often mistaken for attractive qualities, acording to experts.
1. Charm And Charisma
"A person who is charismatic with a lot of charm can later be experienced as manipulative, controlling, [and self-absorbed]," Dr. Whatley says. There's a fine line between charm and manipulation. Although sociopaths tend to lack empathy, they can still be some of the most charming people you will ever meet. But it's often used for self-serving purposes. Once someone gets lured in by their charm, it's easy for a sociopath to manipulate and control them.
"We have to be able to decide if a person is interested and attentive for our purposes or their own," she says. "Sometimes biological reactions confuse us and we are not able to be logical about the dark traits in another. But once you have insight, you can become empowered to know if their charm is real or contrived for personal gain."
"Individuals with personality traits that comprise the construct of psychopathy (and to a somewhat lesser degree sociopathy/antisocial personality disorder) tend to initially be viewed as particularly attractive mostly in part to a 'fearless dominance' persona," clinical psychologist, Katie Payne, PhD, tells Bustle. Fearless dominance is one "dichotomy of psychopathy," Dr. Payne says. It's a type of boldness that can make someone jump into things head-first and can even make someone act in heroic ways. "They usually have no emotional biases while making decisions including a lack of fear, so they are often seen as self-confident and relied upon to make decisions in real life," Dr. Payne says.
But the shadow side to this is egocentricity, impulsivity, and irresponsibility. If you're dealing with a psychopath and things go wrong, you can pretty much bet that they'll find anyone else in the world to blame but themselves. "Remembering that you are not responsible for their actions, regardless of whether they place the blame on you will be of utmost importance," Dr. Payne says. "Individuals with these traits tend to treat anyone they encounter as an object. Don't engage in power struggles and speak with them calmly and quietly."
Confidence is often viewed as super attractive. As psychotherapist Jumie Duduyemi, tells Bustle, confidence shows that someone is clear about who they are and are unapologetic about it. But like charm and manipulation, there is a fine line between confidence and narcissism. When you're dealing with someone who is narcissistic, you may find that their "confidence" comes at the expense of you. They'll find sneaky ways to make you feel less than they are, yet still leave you begging for their attention. If someone is unsure of themselves before they get involved with a narcissist, Duduyemi says, they're more likely to get drawn into this toxic dynamic. That's why it's important to remember that "confidence is just the beginning," she says. "Know that you are quite amazing and the person who gets to spend time with you should also be amazing and value you. You'll know that you've found a good person when they go out of their way to continue to impress you."
Someone with dark personality traits isn't easy to spot right away because they know how to make the right first impression. According to Dr. Payne, there is often "significant flattery," which may be seen as over the top when they first try to lure you in. But sociopaths in particular will love bomb you — or shower you with attention, then abruptly take it away — in order to keep you hooked. "Many individuals attracted to these folks consider them 'too good to be true,'" she says. More often than not, they are. If all the love, attention, and adoration seems over the top to the point that it feels off, Dr. Payne says to listen to your gut. It may be right.
5. Being Carefree
Someone who is cool, calm, and collected can seem like an ideal partner for you, especially if you're someone who tends to worry a lot. Outwardly, they tend to look like they are carefree and lack anxiety. But as Dr. Payne says, "Individuals with these traits can be whatever you need them to be." Aside from putting on a front and hiding who they truly are, this initially "attractive" carefree attitude can also reveal a person who is cold and lacks empathy, guilt and remorse. According to Dr. Payne, seeking support from friends and family is crucial if you're interacting with someone who has a dark personality. They can help give you perspective on who the person you're dealing with actually is.
6. Being Organized And Productive
Being organized and productive can be really attractive traits. If you were to be in a relationship with an organized person, you wouldn't have to worry about "babying" them because they have it figured out. But there are shadow aspects to this that can indicate a darker personality. As Dr. Cohan says, "A manipulative person claims the frame and controls the timeline, all in an effort to manipulate things for their own gain." They may even use gaslighting, or a tactic to make you question your own reality and keep you under their control. "Manipulation is a form of emotional abuse," Dr. Cohan says. If you recognize it's happening to you, it's important to get out as soon as possible.
Someone who is secretly manipulative may give you gifts and take you on spontaneous adventures — but their ulterior motive will become apparent eventually. According to Dr. Cohan, they will push the relationship forward quickly in order to prevent you from seeing any of their red flags. But these manipulative qualities may exist in their relationships with other people, she says. So it wouldn't be too surprising to find out that they've been doing this to other people as well. According to her, people with dark personalities may have a history of unstable and chaotic relationships because they tend to engage in risky behavior, are deceitful, and are emotionally unreliable. In this case, setting firm boundaries is key. Someone who really wants to be with you will respect your boundaries without any complaints or pushing. If not, you can consider it emotional abuse.
It goes without saying, but not everyone who is charming and confident is secretly a sociopath, narcissist, or psychopath. At the same time, you can't easily tell right away whether someone has pure intentions or not. Paying close attention to people's behaviors and what your gut is telling you can prevent you from getting sucked into a dark personality's manipulative games.