6 Signs, Examples & Ways To Deal With It

Machiavellianism is a personality trait describing someone who is deeply manipulative, prone to lying, and cynical. The term is derived from Niccolo Machiavelli, the Italian Renaissance diplomat and political philosopher best known for his work The Prince, which is a political roadmap for achieving goals by any means necessary. In modern psychology, Machiavellianism is considered part of what is referred to as the “Dark Triad” together with psychopathy and narcissism, all of which are personality traits associated with malevolence.

“Machiavellianism, while not an actual clinical term, is used to describe an individual with manipulative tendencies,” says therapist Anim Aweh, LCSW. According to Chaye McIntosh, MS, LCADC, an addictions counselor and Clinical Director of Outpatient Services at ChoicePoint, Machiavellians are “deeply centered on cunningness, selfish behavior, manipulativeness, and indifference to morality.” She says that at their worst, Machiavellians are attracted to power, money, and control and would do anything to gain all three.

The 1970 book Studies in Machiavellianism by psychologists Richard Christie and Florence Geis mainstreamed the term “Machiavellianism” in the field of psychology. According to Christie and Geis, Machiavellians do not form real bonds or true relationships with others, and they show a lack of concern for conventional morality. Yet, they typically show no signs of gross psychopathology or cognitive deficits.

Over the decades, researchers have struggled to grasp a theoretical foothold on this trait. Machiavellianism is the only leg of the Dark Triad to be non-clinical, and some researchers have debated whether it is in reality just a less severe and subclinical manifestation of psychopathy. Christie and Geis also posited that Machiavellianism may not be a singular trait but several connected components, including interpersonal manipulative tactics and a cynical view of human nature.

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