Why do narcissists and sociopaths cry?

Sometimes I hear clients say that they doubt their abuser is actually a narcissist, sociopath, etc. because they’ve seen them cry. Usually this is in reference to my client telling the abuser that they’re going to leave, or when they’ve called out the abuse, or even during movies, TV shows and news.

I suspect there could be a few different dynamics going on but the bottom line in all of them is the same: they’re crying for themselves, not for you. The best expression for most of the situations when you’ll see one of these cry is: Crocodile Tears.

If you’re wondering where Crocodile Tears come from, Wikipedia says: The expression comes from an ancient anecdote that crocodiles weep for the victims they are eating. A collection of proverbs attributed to Plutarch suggests that the phrase “crocodile tears” was well known in antiquity: comparing the crocodile’s behaviour to people who desire or cause the death of someone, but then publicly lament for them.[1]

Some of them are really, really good at their performances. Sometimes their tears might be real, it’s just that they’re probably not crying for the reason you think or want to believe. I’ve been observing this looking back in my own memories of experiences with abusers who cried and through listening to my coaching clients’ stories of when their abusers cried.

The thing about these types isn’t that they all have zero emotion. Sometimes they have a LOT of emotion about themselves but rarely do their emotions empathize with you or anyone else.

They’re usually crying because it gets them attention and narcissistic supply in the form of sympathy or your benefit of the doubt or you doing things for them out of pity. Cluster Bs often play the victim so the tears might come with that role.

They’re crying when you are ready to leave because they’re going to lose their source of narcissistic supply, not because you’re selfish for leaving and not because they love you and realize they might lose you if they don’t become a better person.

They’re crying because they think “you’re so cruel” for saying they’re abusive, or they’re “shocked and hurt that you think they were so cruel,” not because they’re ashamed of what they did and want to make things right.

They’re crying at the happy ending in the movie or some event in the news or celebrity gossip show because a celebrity or movie character is happy or has something they don’t have or sometimes it’s about the drama fest of “oh my god it’s just so awful what happened to so-and-so, did you hear?”

They’re crying the loudest at funerals because this gets them narcissistic supply in the form of attention or sympathy not because they genuinely loved the person who died or cared about that person beyond their mere function of giving them narcissistic supply and meeting their needs.

So yes, it’s definitely possible to see abusive people cry, but if you really pay attention and don’t get sucked into their pity ploy or your own fantasy of what you hope it means, if you really observe them you’ll see how hollow their tears are.

Feel free to share in the comments any insights you are having about narcissists and other abusers crying. Maybe you noticed something I didn’t mention so feel free to share that too!