The Dark Triad of Handwriting
Malevolent, malicious, malignant. The three m’s that describe the “Dark Triad” of personality traits which consist of narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism. In handwriting there is not one stroke of the pen that pegs the writer specifically as any one of the three horses on this troika. However, a conclusion can be inferred when the analyst is able to stack precise traits in definitive combinations.
Let’s take a look at the definition of each of these traits:
Definition of Narcissism
According to Greek mythology, Narcissus was the beautiful son of the river god Cephissus and the nymph Liriope (Lyriope). He was a hunter renowned for his beauty and who loved everything beautiful. Walking by a river, he stopped to drink water. Upon seeing his own reflection in the water he became entranced. As he could not obtain the object of his desire, he died on the bank of the river due to sorrow and starvation as he could not part with his own image.
The word narcissism comes from Narcissus and the main personality traits that define it are attention-seeking, charm, vanity, pretense, insincerity, ostentation, low self-esteem, impulsivity, and manipulation. Narcissists’ arrogance, sense of entitlement, grandiosity, dominance, authoritarianism, selfishness, and self-admiration make them difficult to deal with. One does not expect them to also be so sensitive to criticism, so in need of attention and sensations, and to have low self-esteem at times. During job interviews, narcissists were found to be more self-promoting and talkative.
Definition of Psychopathy
Psychopathy is characterized by persistent antisocial, self-serving, egotistical, bold, unrestrained, thrill-seeking, manipulative, impulsive, merciless, and remorseless behavioral patterns. Psychopaths do not feel emotions, but they are master chameleons as they can learn how to imitate feelings. Therefore, they are unable to construct emotional attachments. Psychopaths will wear your down, because they feel little to no fear, have a high tolerance for stress, unfamiliarity, and danger, and have high self- and social-confidence. Their poor impulse control leads to problems with controlling urges, which is exacerbated by the need for immediate gratification. Their lack of planning and foresight, coupled with manipulative, self-serving, callous behavioral reactions, result in impulsive antisocial conduct. As if that’s not enough, their lack of empathy and moral restraint, exploitative propensities, rebellion to authority, and destructive thrill-seeking are all often linked to violence, delinquency, or crime. Psychopathy is probably the darkest leg of the triad. Its prevalence in the general population is about 1%. As CEO’s the percentage jumps to 10%, and as criminals the percentage jumps to 25%.
Definition of Machiavellianism
Niccolo di Bernardo dei Machiavelli was a 15th century Italian diplomat, political thinker, historian, philosopher, and author. According to Wikipedia, the term “Machiavellian is widely used as a pejorative to characterize unscrupulous politicians of the sort Machiavelli described most famously in The Prince. Machiavelli described immoral behavior, such as dishonesty and the killing of innocents, as being normal and effective in politics.”
The psychologist Richard Christie conceptualized the term Machiavellianism for a specific set of psychological traits. Although Machiavellianism and psychopathy overlap heavily, they are considered distinct personality constructs. The main differences are that Machiavellians show less impulsivity, are better at long term planning, and have more self-control than psychopaths. The main traits that define Machiavellians are cold, calculated, tactical, strategic, immoral thinking; well planned (long term) manipulation; strategic flexibility; blunt practicality; and a drive for power, money, or success. High-Machs (individuals who score high on Machiavellianism) easily interpret social context, allowing them to adjust strategies between cooperation and competition. During job interviews high Machs were found to be more dishonest.
THE HANDWRITING STROKES
Are you afraid yet? I sincerely hope that you, the reader, will never have to deal with a personality who falls within the Dark Triad. The Dark Triad overlap in many personality traits, especially in disagreeableness, callousness, dishonesty, and manipulation. To complicate things further, many of the traits, such as lying, may not always appear in the Dark Triad writer’s handwriting. The analyst has to stack different traits to reach that conclusion.
To see how these personality traits are illustrated in the handwriting, I collected handwriting samples from the more notorious serial killers and known dark triad personalities. I point out some of the traits in the handwriting samples and then discuss a few of them in more detail below.
DONALD JOHN TRUMP: 45th President of the USA
The first sample we will look at is the handwriting of everyone’s favorite assumed narcissist, Donald Trump. Donald John Trump is the 45th president of the USA, a businessman, and TV personality. He went to the Kew Forest School until age 13. Due to behavioral problems his parents sent him to the New York Military Academy. He received a degree in Economics from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania (1966-1968). President Trump was described as “a very modest and even a shy person” by a classmate, Ted Sachs, while at Wharton. Another classmate, Luis Kalomaris, described the young Trump as ambitious, who studied only what interested him and discarded what he considered unimportant.
The outstanding feature of President Trump’s handwriting is the angularity of the letter formations. Angular writing means that the writer is a quick thinker (pointy tops of letters) and analytical (pointy bottoms of letters). However, the more angular the letter formations, the more rigid and inflexible the writer. The excessive angularity in Pres. Trump’s handwriting means that he is quite rigid and dogmatic in his thinking. I call this “my-way-or-the-highway” type thinking. Immediate gratification is the name of the game for him!
In this sample the domineering stroke is somewhat difficult to distinguish because of President Trump’s penchant for writing with markers or broad pointed pens. However, the downslanted crossbar ends slightly narrower than the width at the beginning of the stroke. This writer equates leading with control and power, and will manipulate, whine, gripe, or throw tantrums to get his way. Traits that usually accompany this stroke are aggression, sarcasm, temper, and stingers, all of which are present in the sample above. Aggression, sarcasm, and temper are all self-explanatory terms, however, stingers are a category unto their own.
Stingers/Need for a Challenge/Anger at Opposite Sex/Manipulation:
This trait is probably the trait closest related to the concept of narcissism and is considered a hell trait by Bart Baggett of The International Handwriting University. All misogynists have this trait in their handwriting, as do most narcissists’ handwriting. This need manifests itself as a predatory attitude and is considered a masculine energy. This writer likes to play games (even though he will deny it vehemently) with the opposite sex and gets a thrill out of stinging/hurting others. This writer is attracted to the rebel, the untamable, the “bad” boy/girl, and is interested only in the thrill of the chase, the conquest, and satisfying his own needs. Passion and fulfillment in the relationship is lost because of the tendency to be controlling. Females with stingers in their handwriting have an underlying resentment at the opposite sex, whereas males with stingers in their handwriting have an anger at the opposite sex. Stingers are a consequence of the writer’s troubled relationship with the parent or caregiver, usually of the opposite sex, but it can also be with a parent/caregiver of the same sex, if that was the main caregiver. This writer feels as if he is not enough.
President Trump has had difficulties in his multiple relationships with women, and also with his behavior towards the leaders of female led countries. He revered his father, but is mum about mom. Apparently, they had a difficult relationship and he talks minimally about her. This may also be the reason for his anti-social tendencies and his difficulty in trusting others. So, is the Donald a narcissist? I am not qualified to make that diagnosis. However, he has many narcissistic type strokes in his handwriting, which means that he will exhibit narcissistic behavior when under stress or feeling threatened. Many CEO’s, lawyers, and politicians have both narcissistic and psychopathic traits in their handwriting.
EDMUND EMIL KEMPER III (BIG ED): The Co-Ed Killer
Big Ed Kemper is a serial killer and necrophile who stands at 6 feet 9 inches (2.06 meters), and has an IQ of 145. He killed 10 people, including his paternal grandparents and his abusive mother. His mother was a neurotic, domineering alcoholic who derived pleasure from frequently abusing, humiliating, and belittling Big Ed. Most of his hitchhiking victims were students at co-educational institutions, earning him the moniker of the “Co-ed Killer”. Big Ed exhibited cruel behavior towards animals from around age 10 (probably earlier). He killed his grandparents at age 15 and was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic by court psychiatrists. He was released at age 21 from the Atascadero State Hospital after convincing psychiatrists that he was rehabilitated (December 1969). Big Ed was regarded as non-threatening by his victims, which made it easy for him to lure them into his vehicle and drive them to secluded spots to murder them.
Big Ed’s handwriting has many angular strokes which points to a quick and agile mind. The right leaning slant of the handwriting indicates impulsiveness. The smaller than normal middle zone indicates good concentration abilities. The tall strokes into the upper zone indicate vanity, whereas the inflated upper zone loops are another distinguishing factor, which will be worth looking at.
Vanity is a preoccupation with the self that stems from “vulnerable narcissism” where the vain individual constantly strives to feel more important, successful, and attractive. The vanity compensates for the inner feelings of inferiority and weakness. The vain individual is arrogant, cocky, pretentious, condescending, self-inflated, and thinks that he is always right.
Loops in handwriting signify imagination. In the upper zone, loops signify imagination regarding philosophies, religion, beliefs. Big Ed is open-minded and searching with regards to philosophical or religious beliefs, morality, or ethics. In the lower zone, loops signify physical energy, sexual energy, and beliefs.
- Paranoia – In Big Ed’s writing, many of the lowercase letters ‘d’ are formed with a loop in the ‘d’-stem that is so big and wide that it looks like a balloon. This stroke signifies paranoia. In his teens he was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic. He takes everything personal and believes that the rest of the world is out to get him. If we stack the traits of Paranoia + Vanity the outcome is an individual who is overly concerned with what others think of him and who tries to overcome that by acting pretentiously, condescendingly, and self-inflated.
- Entangled writing – Many of the lower zone loops are so long that they run into the writing below (entangled writing). This illustrates confusion, as the writer has too many interests, scattered energies, and is always on the lookout for something new.
- Angular loops in the upper zone – We see some angular loops in the upper zone which signify apprehension. The writer feels dread that he cannot verbalize and therefore, cannot control his response to it. This causes the writer to have trouble making decisions.
- Angular loops in the lower zone – Angular loops in the lower zone means that the writer finds his partner sexually unsuitable or unsatisfactory. This blocks a healthy sex life, leaving the writer feeling anxiety in intimate relationships. The writer will also be impatient, irritable, aggressive, nagging, quarrelsome, or contentious.
- No loop in the lower zone – No loops in letters that should have a loop (g, y, j) signify trust issues due to a lack of confidence is other people. The writer fears getting hurt emotionally, making this a block to intimacy. This writer will be a loner with a fierce need for independence and freedom, and who enjoys being alone.
Angular t-bar stroke – This stroke has an angle at the baseline that goes up, then to the left, where it ends. This writer is self-critical and uses it as a defense mechanism. This trait is rooted in the need to feel significant in order to offset a sense of worthlessness. The writer feels inferior and constantly struggles to be perfect and superior to others in all aspects. This leads him to fear any endeavor where the outcome is uncertain. This writer has problems with human relationships. He fears expressing his inner thoughts resulting in an inability to communicate well with others. This deprives him of the acceptance that he so desperately seeks. Big Ed would compensate for his inability to communicate well with others by being very talkative (open letter ‘a’ in the middle zone). That way he could just talk and talk without having to listen and communicate inter-personally with someone else.
An unusually long stroke such as the crossbar of the letter ‘t’ signifies enthusiasm and endurance. The longer the stroke, the more endurance and enthusiasm the writer possesses. However, enthusiasm will increase anger, hatred, destructive behavior, sarcasm, and aggression as it is considered a trait intensifier. In fast writing (such as Big Ed’s writing), the long t-bar signifies that the writer is dynamic and enthusiastic about his purpose and goals and applies most of his mental energy towards achieving his objectives. Extremely long t-bars mean that the writer is self-protective and insecure. He over-compensates by applying excessive mental energy towards aspirations, often without actual follow-through. He lacks a sense of reality and may react emotionally in an uncontrolled manner.
This trait is shown by the backward crossed ‘t’-bar (from right to left). This signifies the need to punish oneself. This writer returns to the past because he has an inability to face reality or the future. He will see himself as the victim and feels guilty because of it. Big Ed’s mother belittled him and made him feel insignificant, hence the need to punish himself and the feelings of guilt.
JEFFREY LIONEL DAHMER:
The Milwaukee Cannibal/Monster
Jeffrey Dahmer was a serial killer and sex offender who raped, murdered, and dismembered 17 boys and men from 1978-1991. He was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, Schizotypal Personality Disorder, and Psychotic Disorder. Jeffrey was neglected by both his parents, especially his mother, who had decidedly narcissistic tendencies (she had to be the center of attention; was always the victim; overreacted to trivial matters, etc.) Dead animals seemed to fascinate the young Dahmer. He was described by his teachers as uncommunicative, polite, and highly intelligent. He started abusing alcohol from a very young age.
Jeffrey Dahmer has many similar handwriting strokes as Big Ed Kemper such as entangled writing, the domineering stroke, self-deceit, angular loops in the lower zone, anger ticks on the t-bars, and a right leaning slant that points to impulsivity. Two different traits of interest show up in his handwriting: pretense and his organizational ability.
According to Erika Karohs, the double curve of pretense consists of two unrelated curves in the horizontal or vertical position, such as this formation “()” shown here in the vertical position. In Jeffrey’s writing, the trait is executed in the horizontal position. The writer feels less than others. To counteract this, he often name-drops or boasts. His basic fear is that someone would see through the facade and detect his inner insecurities. He does not want anyone to discover how he truly feels about himself, which includes feelings of inferiority and inner helplessness. He puts up a false front to keep others from seeing him for who he really is. In order to gain an advantage for himself, he may say one thing and do another, which makes him a good manipulator. He may use excuses or alibis to avoid liability. He cannot be counted on to act in good faith.
This trait is shown by balanced upper and lower loops in the lower case letter ‘f’. The two loops bisect the entire letter. This writer will have the ability to create order out of chaos. This writer can plan ahead (upper loop), as well as execute his plan (lower loop), and is therefore well organized. Why is this important? I believe that this trait may differentiate the psychopath from the Machiavellian personality. Remember that there is a big overlap between the two personality types, but the Machiavellian personality is better at long term planning and shows more self-control (less impulsivity). Organizational ability requires both planning and self-control. So, I would venture to say that Jeffrey Dahmer had a Machiavellian personality.
THEODORE ROBERT BUNDY (COWELL):
The Campus/Lady Killer
Ted Bundy was a serial killer and necrophile who kidnapped, raped, and murdered at least 30 women and girls between 1974 and 1978 in seven US states. Bundy was handsome and charismatic, which was how he gained the trust of his victims. Biographer Ann Rule, who worked with Bundy, called him “a sadistic sociopath” who reveled in human suffering and the control he exerted over his victims. Apparently, Bundy referred to himself as “the most cold-hearted son of a bitch you’ll ever meet”.
Ted lived with his maternal grandparents, Samuel and Eleanor Cowell, from birth to age three. He was told that they were his parents and that his mother, Eleanor Louise Cowell, was his sister. Ted’s biological father was an unknown entity. There is speculation that Louise’s own abusive, violent, tyrannical, bullying father, Samuel, fathered Ted. Samuel abused his wife, daughters, the family dog, neighborhood pets, and quite possibly Ted as well. Bundy described his grandmother as timid and obedient. Julia, Louise’s sister (Ted’s aunt), described disturbing behavior exhibited by Ted from an early age. Once she woke up from a nap and found her three-year-old nephew standing by her bed smiling. He had surrounded her body with knives from the kitchen while she was sleeping.
Once again we see many similar strokes between Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, and Big Ed Kemper. Two strokes that stand out in Ted Bundy’s handwriting are resentment and insincerity.
Resentment (Chip on the Shoulder)
Resentment is illustrated by inflexible upstrokes at the beginning of words. This writer harbors anger, resentment, or hate towards something or someone. The writer is bringing this resentment from the past into the present and the future. The further down below the baseline the stroke starts, the further into the past the root cause of the anger is.
Resentment (Rooted in Childhood)
This stroke is formed as an ‘X’-like formation at the baseline. This type of resentment is very deeply rooted all the way from childhood. This stroke is often found in the handwriting of criminals and serial killers.
According to Dr. Erika Karohs, the double curve of insincerity consists of two unrelated curves in the horizontal or vertical position, such as this formation, “(( or ))”, shown here in the vertical position. In Bundy’s writing, this trait is executed in the horizontal position. The writer intentionally misleads or deceives others by obscuring his real intent from them. He hides, misrepresents, or even lies to evade the truth. His leading motivation is for personal advantage at others’ expense.
Ted Bundy’s organizational ability is not as pronounced as Jeffrey Dahmer’s. The lower loop on the lowercase letter ‘f’ is much bigger than the upper loop, which means that he was more of a “doer” than a “planner”. His psychopathic tendencies were stronger than his Machiavellian tendencies. The same conclusion can be reached for Big Ed Kemper’s organizational ability and psychopathic classification.
One question that I asked myself regarding the Dark Triad is what the evolutionary advantage is for these personality traits to exist. Dark Triad personalities commit more crimes, are anti-social, cause social distress, and emotional damage especially if they are in leadership positions. The strong genetic component ensures that these traits are passed on to subsequent generations. Dark Triad personalities are quite successful in society, even if only for a short period. Their charm and skillful manipulation strategies allow them to mate and reproduce rather successfully. We may even need the fearless, risk-taking, “big thinking”, manipulative strategies of the Dark Triad personalities to push ordinary people to make new discoveries, find creative solutions to problems, and to push the boundaries of perceived limitations. I am referring to the benign side of the Dark Triad spectrum, not the evil, serial killer extreme on the opposite end of the spectrum.
By highlighting some of the handwriting strokes of Dark Triad personalities, the rest of us may have a tool to verify those nagging suspicions regarding the difficult people in our lives. My hope is that this will lead to a better understanding of the Dark Triad personalities, which in turn will reduce the anxiety that comes with dealing with these difficult characters.
Psychopathy by Wikipedia
Machiavellianism by Wikipedia
Does Donald Trump Have a College Degree?
Handwriting Analysis: The Certification Course by Dr. Ray Walker, Bart Baggett, Curtis Baggett
The Secrets to Making Love Happen! By Bart Baggett
The Grapho Deck by Bart Baggett
I Hate Evaluated Traits but This Book Makes Them Easy! By Dr. Erika Karohs
Handwriting Analysts’ Companion: Comprehensive Explanations and Illustrations For (Almost) All Handwriting Indicators Volumes 1-5 by Erika Karohs, Ph.D., Ed.D.