The Rise and Fall of Elizabeth Holmes: Spitefulness, Narcissism, and Moral Disengagement in The Theranos Scandal

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About this sample


Words: 1677 |

Pages: 4|

9 min read

Published: Jan 31, 2024

Words: 1677|Pages: 4|9 min read

Published: Jan 31, 2024

Elizabeth Holmes is a popular name known for her unrealistic failed invention. At the age of 19, Holmes dropped out of Stanford University ending her journey of her pursuit to obtain a degree in engineering. This began her journey in the medical field unsolicited. She founded the company called “Theranos” where they allegedly performed blood tests by only a simple prick of the finger. While many experts who were knowledgeable about the medical industry informed her that her creative and hopeful idea, while clever and innovative, was simply impossible, she still blindly dove into her unrealistic plan. This plan was perceived as genius and helpful, but in actuality, it was the complete opposite. Her simple idea flourished into a billion dollar company that in hindsight, was seemingly unstoppable scam. Although her idea seemed innocent and hopeful at first, she continued to fool others by continuing the faulty test for her own gain. Elizabeth Holmes is a flawed idealist who desperately craved fame and notoriety like many of the inventors and geniuses she achieved to resemble. Through her actions, she displayed spitefulness, narcissistic characteristics, and moral disengagement through her reign as founder and CEO of Theranos.

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Elizabeth Anne Holmes at a very young age always knew that she wanted to be an entrepreneur, and she wanted to be extremely wealthy like her family and the individuals she looked up to like Steve Jobs. She did not portray the playful and carefree personality like most children. She was very ambitious and determined about her future goals even during her adolescence, and she took her goals seriously. This behavior is thought to possibly be inspired by her family’s long line of success and natural business-minded family lineage. Her father, Christian Holmes, was the vice president of Enron Corporation, a once highly successful energy company. Her father was a descendant of intelligent, prosperous, and wealthy individuals as well. Her grandfather, Dr Christian Holmes was a physician with a lot of networking advantages through his wife, Bettie Fleischmann, family. His wife‘s family had a thriving business and became one of the most wealthiest families during that time period. Due to this, Dr. Holmes had a significant amount of connections, and he had the opportunity to establish Cincinnati General Hospital and the University of Cincinnati Medical School. On the other hand, Holmes mother, Noel Daousts Holmes, was a congressional committee staffer who came from a military family. All in all, Holmes was raised alongside a driven family with natural entrepreneurial genes and medical background. Elizabeth was surrounded by success all around her, and she was expected to achieve nothing but success as well.

Elizabeth Holmes was simply a young adult with an idea gone wrong. Her plans were innocent at first, but when the Edison Machine, her invention that supposedly quickly tests blood samples, were faulty, instead of her recalling the machine and ending all uses on humans, she continued to have the machine be used to preserve the heightened image she gained at the expense of innocent people including her employers and consumers. Throughout her reign she displayed several dark factor personality traits. The D Factor is defined as “The general tendency to maximize one's individual utility — disregarding, accepting, or malevolently provoking disutility for others —, accompanied by beliefs that serve as justifications.” (Moshagen, Hilbig, & Zettler). Holmes displayed this throughout her scheme as CEO, and she seemed to increase these traits the more and more she became engulfed in her scandal. Many factors can affect someone's D factor personality traits which is similar to regular personality traits. Personality traits are influenced by genes, environment, and a human’s situation just like the D factor traits. This is useful because the reader gets an understanding for how and why she developed these traits. Holmes was raised in an environment around nothing but extremely successful people. When she was put in a situation of potentially becoming successful, she decided to do everything possible to maintain that achievement even at the expense of others. This is where the dark factor personality traits become most prevalent. Some of the limitations when using the dark factor personality is that some of the traits are quite broad and can fall into the same category as others. For example, the trait psychopathy is pretty broad and can also get intertwined with the Machiavellianism, narcissism, and self-interest dark factor personality traits due to all of them having close characteristics, but regardless, the D factor is vital to describe Holmes.

One of Holmes's most noticeable characteristics was her spitefulness. She is a confident woman with an inflated ego. She believes that she is equivalent to great inventors like Steve Jobs or Bill Gates so when she is questioned or challenged, her first response is to retaliate. All Holmes wanted from her employees were quick results, and if they disagreed with her, they were often quickly terminated. For example, Ian Gibbons was one of the main people Holmes sabotaged. Gibbons was an extremely intelligent biochemist who had a passion for blood testing. He was one of the first experienced scientists to work on The Edison. Although he loved what he was doing, he had an issue with the inaccuracy of The Edison and Holmes and Sunny Balwani’s management. He disliked the “stealth mode” and her willingness to lie to several of her employers about important information. Gibbons would often vent to his employees about these confusing and tiring situation to his colleagues, but the information got back to Holmes because of his old friend, Channing Robertson. This led to him getting fired, rehired, and demoted. Gibbons went from being head of the general chemistry department to technical consultant. Gibbons was completely humiliated and lessened just because Holmes felt like she lost his loyalty and trust which, in hindsight, was a threat to her.

Her spitefulness effortlessly falls in line with her narcissistic personality. Narcissists often only see black or white. If someone supports a narcissist, the narcissist views them as a friend and a supporter of their great ideas or achievements. On the other hand, someone who does not agree with a narcissist is automatically viewed as a threat or enemy (Stieg 2019). A lot of times when narcissists are facing a conflict, they often lie, distract themselves, blame others, develop strong loyal friendships for support, or just threaten lawsuits. Holmes did all of this to protect her image and ego. She also displayed narcissistic qualities because of her willingness to invent and start up this company with no medical knowledge. In the book, “Bad Blood” by John Carreyrou, it stated, “...She sat down at her computer for five straight days, sleeping one or two hours a night and eating from trays of food her mother brought her. Drawing from new technologies she learned about during her internship”. Just because of the knowledge she gained from her internship, it inspired her to drop out of college where she was studying engineering, and she pursued a career in the medical field with no substantial knowledge about it. She feels as if she is above college, and she wants to do like Jobs and Gates who did not go to college but still had great accomplishments. In actuality, she wanted to enforce her ego by making a name for herself in something big by not following the status quo.

Her last most notable dark factor characteristic is moral disengagement. One of Holmes main instances of moral disengagement was when she took The Edison to be tested on cancer patients even though it was not working properly. Aaron Moore, and engineer for Theranos, was troubled by the study on cancer patients in Tennessee. They never got the microfluidic system to work properly, therefore, he was hesitant to use it on live patients. Regardless, Holmes wanted to do the study so that the device got more notice and publicity. All the people working on the device believed that they made major improvements, but the device was working cohesively with all the parts to it. Moore addressed his concerns about the device and recommended for Elizabeth to put the study on pause in order for them to work out some of the kinks within the device. Without hesitation Holmes immediately turned down the option, and continued with the study. In addition, she used a plethora of unethical practices by lying about the originality of the device, lying to many customers who thought they would be tested by a simple prick but they “were not a candidate for the prick”, and promising that it can test for many things although it could not.

John Carreyrou, the author of “Bad Blood”, believes that her idea was honest, innocent, and innovative at first, but when she realized that her invention was completely impossible, she was afraid of failure and continued with her facade. He believes that she truly believed that she was equivalent to her idols Gates and Jobs, so when she realized she was not, it was too hard for her to face reality after all of the fame and wealth. This was her dream ever since adolescence so she was willing to do anything to maintain that dream. Carreyrou uses Theranos previous employees to back up his claim. This strategy is persuasive because numerous amounts of employees came forward to expose the truth about Holmes after many years of silence. It is also persuasive because it somewhat answers many of the confusions readers possibly had about Theranos and Elizabeth Holmes. Carreyrou’s claim is accurate because success and wealth is all she knew growing up, anything other than that would have seemed foreign to her.

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Elizabeth Holmes portrayed several dark factor personality traits, but the most prominent were her spitefulness, her narcissistic characteristics, and her moral disengagement. She did this because as her scam of a company was getting exposed more and more, she became more defensive and felt threatened. Carreyrou wrote this book to accurately depict that Holmes was a big, dedicated, and driven dreamer with a skewed moral compass that left a lot of collateral damage on her journey to wealth and notoriety.  

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The Rise and Fall of Elizabeth Holmes: Spitefulness, Narcissism, and Moral Disengagement in the Theranos Scandal. (2024, January 31). GradesFixer. Retrieved July 15, 2024, from
“The Rise and Fall of Elizabeth Holmes: Spitefulness, Narcissism, and Moral Disengagement in the Theranos Scandal.” GradesFixer, 31 Jan. 2024,
The Rise and Fall of Elizabeth Holmes: Spitefulness, Narcissism, and Moral Disengagement in the Theranos Scandal. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 15 Jul. 2024].
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