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Are You Mistaking Machiavellianism for Narcissism?

Are You Mistaking Machiavellianism for Narcissism?

What’s inside this article: A comparative look at Machiavellianism and narcissism, pointing out some similar and different personality traits that can help you determine whether someone may be a Mach or a narcissist.

Narcissism is a well-known personality disorder in which people have an inflated opinion of themselves. Narcissists are also known for their need for attention and admiration from others. 

However, there is a lesser-known, similarly toxic personality disorder known as Machiavellianism. Since there’s less awareness of Machiavellianism, you could actually be mistaking the two.

Machiavelli’s, or “Mach’s” account for approximately 1% of the population, and they share some unique (and undesirable) personality traits. 

The Dark Triad

Both Narcissism and Machiavellianism are both parts of what’s known in psychology as The Dark Triad. This triad also includes psychopathy. 

These are the three most malicious personalities in psychological literature. And although they each have their own unique traits, there is enough overlap that they are grouped together and can easily be mistaken for one another. 

Narcissism or Machiavellianism – What’s The Difference

Let’s review the common personality traits for both narcissists and Machs. We’ll look at how they’re similar to one another and what personality traits are unique to each. 


  • Believe they are special or better than other people – love talking about their accomplishments, don’t show excitement when you share something with that’s exciting to you. 
  • Seek attention and admiration from others – Will brag about things they’ve done in a bid for praise, charismatic and flirtatious with their preferred sex
  • Very defensive when faced with criticism – will dismiss other people’s opinions, argue, or gaslight
  • No compromising – they believe they’re always right and never apologize


  • Care about nothing other than achieving their own goals of success & power – will use manipulation, deceit, and exploitation to meet those goals. This goes beyond healthy levels of ambition.
  • Lack of morals and core values – Very little, if anything, is off-limits if it results in getting them closer to achieving their goals.
  • Exploit other people’s feelings – Machiavelli’s have a natural awareness of other peoples’ feelings and use this to exploit or take advantage of them for their own gain. 
  • Avoid emotional attachments and commitments – usually preferring emotionally detached or short-term relationships. 


  • Both Narcissists and Machiavelli’s are charming and charismatic.
  • Both have (or at least appear to have high self-esteem)
  • They also both use emotional abuse such as gaslighting to manipulate others, but for different reasons. 


  • Narcissists believe they’re always right and will never apologize, even when they’ve made obvious mistakes. A Machiavellian will apologize to you if they think that’s what you want to hear. Remember, they’re discreetly manipulative. Their apologies are rarely sincere.
  • Machiavellis use manipulation, deceit, and gaslighting to achieve social status, power, money, or to advance in their careers. Narcissists use the same tactics to gain attention and admiration. 
  • A narcissist will use emotional abuse to put you down and damage your self-esteem because it makes them feel better about themselves, and they need to feel superior to others. However, a Machiavellian will do business with or form a relationship with someone who has a higher status than them if they see it as an opportunity for advancement for themselves as well. 

Of course, people can have both narcissistic traits and Machiavellian traits – it’s not always one or the other. And, both personalities exist on a spectrum; some people’s traits are more obvious and severe than others. 

Both types of people can easily influence and manipulate you, and it’s nearly always impossible to have a healthy relationship with them. They’re also both unlikely to seek professional help. 

Simply being around people who fit into the dark triad is often bad for your well-being and mental health. It’s important to remember that their malicious personality traits have nothing to do with who you are as a person, and you should remove that type of toxicity from your life. You don’t need to feel guilty for cutting somebody off for displaying these personality traits. 

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