The "Dark Triad" theory in psychology refers to three malevolent personalities – narcissism, Machiavellianism and psychopathy. The Dark Triad theory is closely related to the well-known "fight, flight, fawn" responses and the psychology of trauma, and it can help us understand and possibly even solve the recent surge in suicides.
But first, a short lesson in the psychology of trauma.
Looking at the personalities, we can derive the core components of abuse and trauma. Unlike the simple experiences of getting hurt, an abusive behavior and/or a traumatising circumstance damages you along three domains: the "Self-esteem/Authority" domain, for eg you feel defeated in a power hierarchy, you are treated as though you are far beneath me, and/or as though I am far above you.
The "Logic/Control" domain, for eg you could not have predicted the situation, and nothing that you do or could have done can possibly change the outcome.The "Emotions/Understanding," domain, for eg you feel vulnerable, your subjective experience and your emotions are completely invalidated.
The workplace is a good example of how they work. The top three "toxic boss behaviours" that statistically cause employees to quit are - the micromanaging boss, the condescending boss and the ill-tempered boss. Independent research into employees shows what they look for in jobs as well - relatedness, competence and autonomy.
This isn't too different than what we want from our interpersonal relationships, making this information extremely valuable. Now, let's look at the suicide statistics in the recent years.
For decades, the global highest incidence of suicides was seen among "Men, over 35 years of age, unmarried and living alone." But nearly every single parameter has completely flipped in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Suicides have claimed nearly double the number of Bangladesh lives in 2020, compared to the deaths from Covid-19. Nearly half of the suicides were from young adults, with 35% in the age range of five to 19 years. Around 60% of the cases were female.
Data from 2022 shows that the top three "suicide precipitants" were domestic disputes, conflicts in relationships and academic pressure. And it's here that we find the same three components of trauma. Note that each precipitant contains all three in variable degrees, but we can highlight their major contributions for simplicity.
Parents in South East Asian cultures commonly hold near-absolute authority of major decisions over their children, well into the mid-20s. Indeed, parenting styles strongly affect all three components of trauma, with the self-esteem component marginally winning out over the other two.
Most of us have heard some version of the phrase "Everything that parents do, they do for the best." This line is a cherry-picked derivative from multiple religious teachings, and sees its usage in the average Bangladeshi household as a default trump card to end a debate between parents and their children.
When faced with this sentiment, it often helps to split the phrase into "intention" and "action." This allows you to agree that parents have the best of intentions in mind (which preserves their respect and authority), and then make a case for which actions and behaviours are creating rifts in the family.
Relationships and marriages are where we drop the guards that were put up by our social persona. There isn't much point to a partnership if we can't allow ourselves to be emotionally vulnerable in their presence, and naturally this brings with it the risk of being hurt and invalidated. As harsh as this may sound, the average couple in our community has next to no conflict resolution skills. This problem is then compounded by unhealthy perspectives on gender norms held by both men and women, but that is a topic deserving of its own conversation.
Lastly, our academic performance and/or job prospects are meant to give us some degree of control over our future. They can even act as our "way out" from the other two precipitants, giving us something to work towards even if the present circumstances are less than ideal. Significant improvements need to be made on all levels before our education system can be considered "fair."
Even then, the students more or less managed with what we have, until the recent few years. A lot is to be said about colleges and universities, and the attitudes held by the authorities especially after the lockdown restrictions have been lifted. Just like the other two, a discussion on this topic is beyond the scope of this article.
The coming years will not go easy on us, and awareness of problems alone is no longer enough. But these are solvable problems, so maybe there is hope for us yet. Maybe it's time for awareness of solutions.
Dr Zakiul Abrar MBBS, FCPS-I is a doctor of psychiatry, cognitive behaviour therapist & life coach.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.