There’s a lot of debate on whether narcissists cry or not. Some people say they do, while others claim they don’t. So, what’s the truth?
According to experts, some narcissists may shed tears when they’re feeling vulnerable or emotional, while others may only do so when they’re trying to manipulate someone.
To help us better understand this subject, we asked experts to share their insights.
Ross Rosenberg, M.Ed., LCPC, CADC
Psychotherapist, Self-Love Recovery | Author, “The Human Magnet Syndrome: The Codependent Narcissist Trap“
All pathological narcissists cry
Understanding the term “narcissism” cannot be reduced to a catch-all non-descript general term. Instead, it has to be addressed by an officially recognized diagnostic term(s).
In my book, “Human Magnet Syndrome: The Narcissist-Codependent Trap,” I coined the term “Pathological Narcissism” to represent three Personality Disorders that have the most distinct pathological demonstrated narcissistic core traits:
- Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD)
- Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)
- Antisocial/Sociopathic Personality Disorder (ASPD)
To the question, “do narcissists cry?” my expert opinion/belief is unequivocal yes! All pathological narcissists cry.
Considering this fact, the better questions to ask are:
- “For what (internal and external) reasons does a person with NPD, BPD, an ASPD cry?”
- “What consequence causes a person with NPD, BPD an ASPD to cry?”
- “Is the expression of tearful affect (behavioral description of crying) a natural emotion/body reaction to an external event?”
- “Like a believable actor, is it contrived for a manipulative purpose?”
Below are just a few bits of diagnostic-specific information to the above questions, including the different consequential antecedents that provoke each of the three pathological narcissists to cry (BPD, NPD, and ASPD).
People with NPD cry if their unconsciously hidden core shame is activated
People with NPD cry if their unconsciously hidden (from them) core shame is activated, which is often the case when held accountable for their actions and suffer a humiliating/shaming/relationship-ending consequence, i.e., divorce, losing custody of children, job termination, etc.
Related: How to Divorce a Narcissist
People with BPD cry when they perceive any action from a person interpreted as abandonment
People with BPDs cry when they perceive (accurately or not) any action from a beloved person interpreted as abandonment.
In situations like a relationship breakup, or a statement indicating that they made a mistake, the person with BPD will exhibit a torrential expression of tearful affect and highly vocal (and noticeable) versions of crying.
Such crying is almost always followed-up with secondary vindictively motivated punishing reactions/actions.
People with ASPD cry when they are subjected to painful consequences
People with ASPD cry when they are subjected to painful consequences for their sociopathic driven actions.
Even though they lack empathy and remorse for other people, they feel emotions, especially the ones activated by:
- Getting what they need/take, not getting it.
- Getting caught at trying to get it/them.
- Facing the consequences for it/them.
A specific example: An ASPD sentenced to prison or whose exposed or consequence actions result in the loss of freedom, financial support, or ability to be independent.
It is essential to know that the absence of tearfully expressed emotions or crying does not reflect any pathologically narcissistic disorder. Instead, it is an evolution-based human response to painfully upsetting consequential internal or external events.
They cry if they lose everything they manipulatively and dishonestly accumulated for themselves
Even people with ASPD, who are understood to have shallow and, in some cases, absent emotions, especially empathy and remorse, will cry if they lose everything they manipulatively and dishonestly accumulated for themselves — no different from a dog, monkey, or porpoise.
All higher-level mammals (including humans) experience some form of behaviorally observed and emotionally inferred crying response when experiencing some form of physical or emotional pain, including loss, grief, capture, injury, etc.
One of the few exceptions to the above assertion that all people cry is individuals suffering from specific internal or external trauma, for which the brain/mind determines the best line of defense requires the severing of emotions.
In mental health terms, this process is referred to as dissociation. Dissociation is the primary symptom of Dissociative Disorders. It is a secondary symptom of several mental illnesses, including, but not limited to Schizophrenia or similar mental health disorders.
These include symptoms often described as no or blunted effect or, in extreme cases, catatonia.
External causes include pervasive poverty, physical suffering, chronic/ongoing trauma, and other situations that naturally provoke an immediate/real-time or delayed dissociative effective response.
In addition, high levels of psychoactive medication or recreational drugs can cause the blunting of effect.
Elodie Santoro, LMHC
Clinical Director & CEO, Harmony Outpatient
They do have emotions and can become very emotional
Narcissists are known for their lack of emotions, but it does not mean they don’t have any. Narcissists are often believed to be heartless, but they do have emotions. Narcissists are known to be very self-absorbed people.
They often don’t care about other people because they do not have the same feelings and emotions. Narcissists are often seen as the epitome of selfishness and self-absorption but also have emotions. In fact, they can become very emotional and even cry.
They cry to show off to the world how strong they are
Narcissists do sometimes cry, not because they’re sad, but because they’re showing off to the world how strong they are. Narcissists cry and show other emotions, such as being happy or angry.
They try to hide the tears and pretend that nothing is wrong
However, these emotions are only shown when the narcissist thinks it is necessary to show them off to the world to increase their self-esteem. In fact, they try to hide the tears and pretend that nothing is wrong.
This can be a big problem for their loved ones because if the narcissist doesn’t feel comfortable opening up about their feelings, it could lead to problems in the future.
They fear people will see them as weak and vulnerable
Narcissists have a tough time crying in front of others because they fear people will see them as weak and vulnerable. They are also afraid that others will try to take advantage of their vulnerability and manipulate them.
They can even cry, which is a sign that they are not as cold-hearted as people perceive them to be. Narcissists usually don’t cry in front of other people, but it doesn’t mean they don’t experience emotions. They might feel lonely or fear about something, especially if it’s important to them.
Narcissists, like all other people, have a range of emotions. They can feel anger, sadness, happiness, and many other emotions that we experience on a daily basis.
Jocelyn Hamsher, LPC, CSAT
Licensed Professional Counselor | Course Creator, Courageous Living AZ
Narcissists have feelings — just not for you
Narcissists can feel the same range of emotions as most other people. They are able to feel joy, passion, pain, and anger (though their attunement with shame and guilt is often less).
However, unlike most people, the narcissist’s emotions do not often respond to sympathy or empathy for others.
In fact, the DSM 5 criteria for narcissism include a characteristic of “lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or classify with others’ feelings and needs.” Their emotions directly respond to the impact of others’ behavior on them and their ego.
Narcissists are fragile
Because narcissists need to be favored and held in high esteem by others, when they are not or if they are slighted in any way, it cuts the narcissist deeply.
The DSM 5 reports that “their (narcissists) self-esteem is almost invariably very fragile.” Because of that, they may cry or become emotional if they are not held to the status or seen the way they want to be seen.
This is known as fragile narcissism, which is a trait in some but not all narcissists. The narcissist is highly impacted by the views of others, which at times can trigger sadness and tears.
The tears aren’t always genuine
While a narcissist is capable of crying due to their own wounding, they can also use tears as a way to try to manipulate or control others. By using tears, they can elicit others’ sympathy, which the narcissist then uses to manipulate to their own advantage.
This is where gaslighting comes in as well, where the narcissist causes the other person to believe that the victim is actually the one being manipulative or narcissistic.
Related: How to Respond to Gaslighting
Dr. Jeff Ditzell, D.O.
CEO and Lead Psychiatrist, Jeff Ditzell Psychiatry
They don’t cry for genuine emotion
Narcissists spend years learning how to control their emotions and suppress their true selves. When faced with a painful truth that has nothing to do with you, they attempt to convince themselves that everything is okay.
This emotional numbness allows them to function in the world while misleading everyone around them into thinking they’re capable and successful individuals despite the fact that they have absolutely no self-esteem or confidence when it comes to their actions.
They don’t cry for real unless they are actually in physical pain
Crying is something we do as humans. It’s a physical expression of our vulnerability and pain. We cry to vent or because we feel something so deeply that it can’t be held in. Narcissists don’t cry for real unless they are actually in physical pain.
They may fake tears for sympathy or other superficial reasons, but they don’t cry for genuine emotion. Crying is a sign of weakness, something people like narcissists will never allow themselves to do. Narcissism and empathy are often linked, but they’re not necessarily all that connected.
Empathy is an emotion experienced by the person with whom empathy occurs. Narcissism is a personality disorder characterized by a lack of real emotional depth and an overwhelming need for attention and admiration.
While these two concepts are often used interchangeably in conversation, they’re actually quite different. While it is accurate that narcissistic individuals have less empathy, this does not imply that they have no empathy.
Almost everyone knows that narcissists are very self-centered and rarely show any empathy. They believe in themselves and want others to see them as perfect.
Therefore, it can be hard to believe that narcissists could hide their feelings so well, especially since they don’t seem to care about how others feel about them.
They use tears as a tool to get people to feel sorry for them
The most common way of crying is when someone doesn’t know any other way of getting their needs met. People who are emotionally deficient or insecure use tears to meet their needs. Someone with narcissism easily uses tears as a tool to get people to feel sorry for them and give them attention.
Related: Are Narcissists Insecure?
Narcissists cry alone
The question might be, “If Narcissists Cry, Why?” In my experience treating and knowing narcissists, if they do cry, it’s alone.
The narcissist who has been humiliated, ignored, and feels defeated over some time during which their strong wish is to be acclaimed and aggrandized, will surely be distraught.
But letting someone know is another question. Rage is far more common with others than crying. To cry is to feel what’s inside because efforts never to feel what’s inside predominate. This is seen behaviorally and in their actions aimed to demonstrate power and control over others.
The wounded narcissist does everything they can to dissuade themselves, nevertheless others, from ever viewing them at a disadvantage or worse, at a loss for words and actions.
This person revels in acclaim. They will dismiss and sidestep others’ attempts at critical insight over and over again with expertise and tactical maneuvers.
- To cry is to feel the failure constantly avoided.
- To cry is to either trigger a chance for change by feeling the humanness put off over and over and the suffering that has been delayed — maybe for years — or to double their efforts to take on the challenge of overtaking these feelings and turn them into a rage.
- To cry is to surrender to feelings of emptiness that would or could turn into a deep depression.
- To cry is to give in to the deepest aching pain.
- To cry is to potentially, eventually, live in the human world and feel directly what others feel — dismay, aloneness, confusion, disorientation, loss of a self one has tried to preserve at all costs despite hurting and exploiting others.
If you see a narcissist, you love to succumb to tears. Monitor this soul carefully because they are coming apart and need help from a steady and deeply empathic person.
Managing Editor, Texas Divorce Laws
They may utilize their tears to gain the attention they need
It is no surprise that narcissists, like other people, cry, but the reason why and under what circumstances may differ from ordinary people. Narcissists will indeed cry to gain sympathy from others or obtain their desired outcome.
When they are unable to find another means of meeting their demands, they may cry in this fashion. Therefore, a narcissist may utilize their tears to gain the empathy and attention they need, but they may also cry for the same reasons that other people would.
They are capable of feeling emotions
Narcissism, in reality, does not mean a lack of emotion. Although narcissistic tendencies are frequently self-serving rather than altruistic, narcissists are nonetheless capable of feeling emotions.
Although they may have distinct motivations for doing so, people with narcissistic personality disorder or narcissistic tendencies may laugh and cry like everyone else. People who lack compassion, for example (a narcissistic trait), would not feel sorry when they witness another person in distress.
Still, they might feel sad or upset if violated or degraded, for example, if they are blamed for their role in a stressful situation. They could feel sad or guilty if what happened negatively affects them.
They are incredibly vulnerable to criticism
We might have opinions about narcissists, but that doesn’t mean they are emotionless. Narcissists are incredibly vulnerable to criticism, whether it’s real or imagined. Usually, they can’t bear to think of a situation where they live like a “regular” person.
As a result, they create an ideal self-image to mirror a reality in which they are unique and highly regarded. They may become angry, ashamed, frustrated, or suffer a loss of self-worth if anything questions this sense of superiority and entitlement.
Narcissistic individuals may also struggle with despair, grief, and low moods. Of course, physical discomfort is something that almost everyone encounters. Any of these situations could cause real tears to flow.
Founder and CEO, Practice Health
Sometimes they may cry for different reasons than us
Narcissists certainly do cry, though sometimes they may cry for different reasons than us. Though some might assume that since narcissists are selfish, they are also cold and without emotion, they have access to the full range of human emotions — with the possible exception of empathy.
But a narcissist can certainly feel sad, and they can cry because of it, just like anyone else. But there are some differences.
They are less likely than others to cry because of someone else’s suffering
One difference, as alluded to earlier, is that narcissists lack empathy. Therefore, they are less likely than others to cry because of someone else’s suffering. Or, if they cry because of someone else’s suffering, they do it because they feel bad for themselves, not for the other person.
Since narcissists tend to experience everything they encounter in terms of how it relates to their own narrative, they may witness a friend or relative suffering and think, “Oh, how sad my life is that I have to experience this person going through this hardship.”
Such an attitude could possibly lead to tears. Also, the narcissist may feel jealous that the other person’s suffering is drawing attention away from themselves, which could also lead to tears.
They are more likely to cry for manipulative purposes
Another distinction between how narcissists and other people cry is that narcissistic people are more likely to cry for manipulative purposes. Narcissists are known to be master manipulators, and they will use the full range of emotional responses to get the reaction they are looking for.
For every authentic emotional response a narcissist has, there is a virtually identical version in their arsenal for use in manipulation.
In terms of tears, a narcissist will cry whenever they think it might get someone to do something they want or just to draw attention to themselves.
Don’t bother trying to distinguish between the crocodile tears and genuine sadness, however, because some narcissists are so committed to the manipulative act that they are not even aware they’re doing it.
Relationship Expert & Author, PeopleLooker
People cry as a way of empathizing and bonding with others, and if you’ve heard the myth that narcissists never cry, this makes sense.
It seems reasonable to assume that people without empathy never cry since tears are a result of empathy, the ability to understand and consider the feelings of others.
It is a common misconception that narcissists are evil and inflexible. This isn’t the case. Even though narcissists are known to lack empathy, that does not automatically mean they are apathetic.
Narcissists cry depending on the reasons
In short, yes. As for the long answer, it depends. There are plenty of reasons people cry.
Tears may well up when you are:
- In need of help
- In pain
- Feeling a rush of anger
- When someone else’s distress moves you
It’s normal to cry, but people who rarely or never cry don’t necessarily have personality disorders. There are a variety of reasons why people can’t cry, so tears aren’t a definitive indicator of empathy.
They cry to gain sympathy from other people
Tears can be used to earn sympathy and attention by someone with narcissism, but they can also be shed for normal reasons. Some people cry to gain sympathy from others or to get something they want. These tears occur when someone does not know any other way to meet their needs.
Narcissists may also experience depression, grief, and low moods, and nearly everyone suffers physical pain at some point in their lives, which may cause genuine tears.
They cry if they are criticized for their role in a distressing situation
People with traits of narcissism can cry, but their reasons may differ from those of someone who doesn’t. It may make them feel embarrassed if they are criticized for their role in a distressing situation. They may feel sad or regretful if they are painted in a negative light by what happened.
Legal Specialist, Adamson Ahdoot LLP
They do so as a way to get what they want
It often depends on the narcissist, but many of them cry a lot — and they do so as a way to get what they want.
They’ll do anything to bring attention to themselves, even sympathy. Narcissists want to be the center of attention, and if that means having an emotional breakdown, then that is what they will resort to.
They often do so when those they manipulate and abuse finally walk out on them
Even the tears from a narcissist can be sincere, however. Narcissists will have an emotional reaction when they realize someone has abandoned them.
I knew a narcissist who rarely cried, even when he was a child. He wept for days — even weeks — after the woman he had been dating for a year left him and (finally) never looked back.
This narcissist cheated on his girlfriend, embarrassed her publicly, and even bragged about how rottenly he treated her. She finally had enough and left him. He pleaded with her to return to him, and those pleas were ignored, which only made him more emotional.
That was the proof I needed that narcissists do cry. They often do so when those they manipulate and abuse finally walk out on them. It’s a lot for them to handle. Tears are usually shed when that happens.
Clinical Director, ChoicePoint
Narcissism can be defined as a trait in which a person thinks highly of themselves and regards themselves with utmost self-importance. They may not feel empathy for others and constantly want to be admired.
On some occasions, a narcissist may cry, and one wonders if this is a genuine action or just a fake one.
Listed below are some reasons why a narcissist might cry:
When they feel embarrassed in a situation
Many times when a person is in a social gathering, anyone could say something that could be very hurtful or embarrassing to a person. If a narcissist is called out or if they are embarrassed, they may cry because it means their reputation has been painted in a bad light.
When they have regrets
Although narcissists may not have a wide range of emotions, they can still feel regrets. They may regret some of their past decisions, or they might even regret their behavior. In this instance, if overcome by regrets, the narcissist can cry.
Phillip Imler, Ph.D.
Founder and President, National Parks
They cry to persuade another person
Even though they may lack empathy for others, narcissists do cry. The ability to persuade another person by crying in the circumstances with a hidden motive can be one of those instances.
They may cry to appear vulnerable
People are aware that narcissists are self-centered, and if their goal is to acquire others’ trust, they may cry in front of them in order to appear vulnerable.
Their disguised intention could be anything from manipulating the other person for their personal gain to just coercing them into staying, even if the other person wishes to escape the toxic environment.
This strategy typically works for them since they can convince the other person that their feelings for them are genuine and that they are innocent.
They cry if they see bad news about their pet
This doesn’t imply narcissists only cry when there is a selfish reason behind it. Some people may have a cold heart toward humans but a soft heart toward animals.
Narcissists may not easily form human connections, but they may develop strong bonds with their pets. Seeing sad news about any animal or experiencing the loss of a pet may be upsetting to them.
Their pet is their closest companion; they don’t hesitate to show them their vulnerable side. They may feel extremely heartbroken if they lose their only friend. This may result in overwhelming feelings and a desire to express them through tears.
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