The Kitchen

Nonduality & the Dark Side of the Psyche


The Dark Tetrad includes four types of disorder: Narcissism, Machiavellianism, Psychopathy, and Sadism. The Nondual approach treats these traits as endemic to the belief in the separate self. Pioneer of Nondual Therapy Georgi Y. Johnson explores more.

[extract from the upcoming book Nondual Trauma]


There is an Israeli comic sketch which shows the father taking his two young children out to the street and putting them into the trash can.
“No, Daddy, No!!” They scream.
“There’s no space for you,” he curses. “You’re failing at school. You’re good for nothing. I’m not going to throw good money after bad. You’re totally rubbish. That’s it.”
The boy is already in the big green wheely-bin, and the Dad is also shoving the girl in, when the distraught mother comes running out of the house.
“Amnon! What are you doing? We can’t just throw our children out! They’re not garbage!”
Amnon thinks about it and has a moment of regret.
“OK, you’re right,” he says, standing aside.
The mother lifts the girl out onto the pavement. The son stretches out his arms to also be rescued. The mother looks at him, pauses and recoils.
“No, not you,” she says, slamming shut the lid. She brushes her hands and returns to the house with her daughter with her nose in the air.

Personal Utility: Get the Max

Do you recognize the horror of feeling personally voided, cancelled, with no right to exist at all? This zone in which we feel ourselves disappearing is at the core of trauma, and is the power-source of many of the traits at the dark side of the psyche.

Psychologists have identified negative personality traits which have been organized into a group called the Dark Tetrad. The Dark Tetrad includes four types of disorder: Narcissism, Machiavellianism, Psychopathy, and Sadism. Let’s throw out some words to get an energetic sense of the psychological labels:

  • Narcissists tend to be arrogant, entitled, and concerned with image;
  • Machiavellians tend to be manipulative, calculating and deceptive;
  • Psychopaths are disinhibited, callous, and devoid of regret;
  • Sadists take pleasure in cruelty.

Together these personality traits – which are active to some degree with all of our personal dynamics and within the mechanics of every trauma – are called the Dark Tetrad. What do all these dark traits have in common?

Researchers have proposed a common factor to all four traits, calling it The Dark Factor of Personality, or “D”.[ref] Specifically: “Individuals with high levels of D will hold beliefs that serve as justifications for individual utility maximization at the expense of others.”

These individuals deeply believe that their life matters more than that of anyone else: they have value, and others should endorse that. Like all beliefs that originate in the belief of an ultimately separate self, this belief has a dark shadow. The core belief in the elated value of a separate individual is masking a deeper experience or trauma of being utterly and totally irrelevant.

At the heart of “D”, beliefs in personal elation collapse to reveal the shadow. Here, the importance of all personal utility fades to grey.  The energy here is about personal elation, but personal disappearance – showing up with flavors of vacuity, such as the horror of disappearance, personal futility, or the insatiable sense of lack. It is like a black hole of the personality, seeming to threaten total annihilation.

At the heart of “D” there is a denied existential emptiness or sense of pure negation. The person experiences themselves as voided, and they will do anything rather than let their consciousness enter the void of personal extinction. Strong beliefs in the separate self, and that individuality is an absolute form, rather than an essential expression of the whole, radically accentuate these dark punctures within the personality.

Traumatic in themselves, these energies of invalidation or cancellation are also a signature of the atmosphere of trauma. Here is the scent of those experiences which cannot “be”.

In this shadow within the shadow – the dimension of personal annihilation – your client will start to speak the language of negation. They will find it hard to speak in the affirmative but will rather speak through absence – not what is here, but what is not here. Here, there is “no love”, “senselessness”, “no hope”, “no belonging”, “no freedom”. The negation serves to distract from the visceral horror of loss which is the loss of connection with themselves and their True Nature. Indeed, when encouraged to speak in the affirmative, clients will often come to this sense of feeling utterly lost, in the words of the poet W.H. Auden: “Lost in a haunted wood, Children afraid of the night, who have never been happy or good.”[ref]

While this core negation is endemic to all trauma, in areas of “D”, the degree of intolerance toward the loss of the sense of self is far higher. The will to separately survive is invested into the belief in personal autonomy. This particular separate self must never die, and unity or interdependence from this perspective is a kind of death. The holy vow is: I’m the best. Fuck the rest. The dread of extinction can mask itself as a kind of insentient boredom, the kind of unbearable boredom that can lead to addiction, self-harm, or violence toward others. “All work and no play make Jack a dull boy,” repeats the iconic homicidal psychopath from The Shining.

The core Nondual realization of underlying unity to all things, translates into the personal horror of being “just another one” – not special at all. If esteem, service, purpose, worth, and uniqueness is universal to every form, then it is worthless. It makes life senseless. How can you be special if every moment of form everywhere and through all time is equally special? If every living form is partly in a state of suffering, then how can the suffering that is horribly and intimately experienced by you even matter?

There is a traumatic rage within it – the rage within the first violation of the trauma, and the next rage at the first cancellation of the horror that was directly felt. It is a rage in which unity has been overpowered by a demand for conformity and uniformity. First casualties are qualities of empathy, compassion, responsibility, and belonging.

The possibility of total and utter individual invalidation, of worthlessness, and irrelevance – precisely where the pain is the purest – is intolerable. The bottomless pit of existential lack and individual irrelevance on the inside generates an existential craving for validation, adoration, and respect from the outer world.

The personality traits within the Dark Tetrad are warrior traits – they are fueled with a certain fury of righteousness and the vitality of spiritual survival. It is as if there is a readiness to fight the war between good (the “I”) and evil (the “other” - including the “other” which is any disowned party of ourselves).

When the personality traits of the Dark Tetrad are in full swing, there is a righteous rage around the existence of personal suffering. The whole world must dance to its rhythm, if not willingly, then through manipulation or by force. When the outer world doesn’t comply or fails to appreciate the maximal utility of the individual in that moment, it can feel like personal annihilation. There is a kill-or-be-killed attitude that is operating with an essential – almost spiritual – charge: “I will soul-murder you before you soul-murder me.”

To some degree, there are times when we are all in this – for example, where adoration becomes jealousy; where the sense of elevation becomes superiority; where the sense of unconditional release becomes individual exemption; or where the where a moment of enlightenment becomes elite status. The traits and dynamics of the heart of “D” with a vengeance, precisely when our status feels undermined; our pain delegitimized; or our identity ridiculed.

The mechanics of “D” follow pathways of trauma: when we feel threatened, the physiology of fight or flight takes over. This brings a contraction of mind into the either-or, all-or nothing dimension of physical survival. It narrows our consciousness and activates emergency belief systems of “self” verses “other”.  

As the terror rushes through these dividers, there is an agenda that the pain will be with the “other” so that it will not strike close to home. Others must suffer this pain so that we can “be”. It’s either-or. This is the case whether the “other” is outside of ourselves or the “other” which is the disowned part on the inside – the enemy within. If the horror is of invalidation or core worthlessness, then we will trash the personality of the other, to defend our own sense of value. If we are hurt in connection with them, then we will throw the same pain back at them, making it theirs and equalizing the field. If we can’t win at this game through reflexes alone, then we will use our intellect to manipulate a situation where the horror is outwitted, and we come out on top. If our deeper care interferes with this, we will invalidate this sense, making it numb, as dead as cement, inviolable – so that we might be free to abuse as we choose. We steel ourselves and know that we are right, beyond any shadow of doubt.

Fred’s family is visiting, and he wants the house to impress her. He makes a comment to Mary about how to organize the kitchen better. It touches Mary in a place of domestic trauma. She starts freezing him out. When he comes to kiss her, she moves her head away. When he asks what’s wrong, she says “nothing”. Fred begins to feel confused, ashamed, and forsaken. He deals with it by being extra friendly and flattering toward Mary’s sister. Mary decides never to have sex with him again. Fred goes to work feeling numb. Family doesn’t matter to him anyway. On leaving to work that morning, he violently kicks the dog out of his way.  And here it is: Narcissism, Sadism, Machiavellianism, and Psychopathy all micro-dosed in the name of personal goodness, all over a petty quarrel such as how to do the dishes. Duplicity abounds, and in the background, we still feel righteously outraged, and shamefully isolated. So, the wheel of proliferating trauma innocuously turns. In the words of the singer and poet Leonard Cohen, it’s “the homicidal bitchin’ that goes down in every kitchen to determine who will serve and who will eat.”

Do you recognize the resonance of core worthlessness – feeling trashed, or the impulse to trash others? Can you relate to feelings of total invalidation, helplessness, and incompetence? Have you ever found yourself deliberately invalidating others? Do you dread others ridiculing you or bad-mouthing you behind your back? How often do you ridicule those that cause friction within you? The dark tetrad is as endemic as trauma, and the heart of “D” is a rite of passage that when we can contain it, could set us free.

Would you like to be notified about the pre-release of Nondual Trauma by Georgi Y. Johnson, and to join the initial team of proof-readers and/or reviewers? Contact us at [email protected]


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