Do narcissists cry?

crocodiletears

This is a revision of the Jan. 1, 2015 article.  It’s one of my most popular posts, so I figured I’d post it again, with a few changes.

Do narcissists cry?  Sure, they do. Of course they do. And the histrionic, somatic types will cry conspicuously and loudly and convulsively and make sure everyone notices.  Think of Joan Crawford’s over the top histrionics in he movie Mommie Dearest.  The attention they get from this show of dramatics (which you cannot ignore) elicits lots of narcissistic supply for them and gets them the sympathy they crave.  Remember, positive attention isn’t necessary to serve as supply to a narcissist.  Any sort of attention–even disgust and anger–will do.

Self-serving crying and fake empathy.
Narcissists cry for themselves, never for you. They *might*cry when they see a sad movie, if they experience themselves through that character. Movies are a safe way to shed tears, even for those who don’t cry easily (and that includes non-narcs too). But narcissists aren’t really crying for the characters in the movie. They are really crying for themselves.

Some narcissists who are good actors can pretend to cry for others–these are dangerous narcissists able to feign empathy but show their true colors after they’ve charmed you and duped you into thinking they’re the nicest, most sympathetic person in the world. But it’s all fake. Those “empathetic tears” are crocodile tears. A narcissist can never cry for anyone but themselves.

Narcissists are just big babies.
Kim Saeed, a writer who has an excellent and extremely popular blog here at WordPress about narcissistic abuse, wrote an insightful article about what makes a narcissist cry (basically, self pity and attention getting). It’s a good read. Narcissists cry the way an infant cries–to have their immediate needs met. Whether they admit it or not, they need a mother–and most likely never got adequate mothering, so they’re still trying to get it. Like an infant, they are incapable of separating themselves from others and can feel no empathy for anyone else.

babycrying
Here’s who your narcissist really is.

While some narcissists take pride in their appearance, professional accomplishments, athletic prowess, or outstanding intelligence, there are some narcissists (the covert type) who take a perverse pride in being as pitiful and pathetic as it’s possible to be. These are what I call “needy narcissists” (Kim Saeed refers to them as “extreme narcissists”).  Many of our mothers (not mine–my mother was overt and aggressive) fall into this category.  They guilt-trip you and constantly whine about how badly you’ve treated them.  They remind you of all the wonderful things they’ve done for you.   They are emotional, financial and spiritual vampires who will suck you dry if given half a chance. They tend to attract empaths and HSPs and codependent types of people who are willing to give them the pity and sympathy they crave. And they use tears to elicit those things. Tears are powerful and contagious and get babies what they want–why not narcissists? Hey, if it works, use it.

Can a narcissist ever cry non-self serving tears?

A narcissist crying for reasons other than self-serving ones is rare.   But if one ever enters therapy or gets to a point where they recognize their own narcissism and is able to grieve for their lost true self, it’s possible.  Don’t get your hopes up though.    That being said, I read an article by Sam Vaknin about the way he cries in his dreams, which I thought was pretty interesting.   If something like this can happen, maybe it could be used as a catalyst to healing.  Maybe.  (Sam is not cured of NPD and probably never will be.  It’s his livelihood).

Dreaming and “lucid” dreaming: a possible key to healing?
Dreams open us up to the subconscious mind, so remembering dreams is useful in therapy.  For a narcissist, dreams have the potential of tapping into the atrophied and depressed true self–the self that dissociated and went into hiding during early childhood to protect itself from abuse by caregivers. Sam Vaknin writes about this phenomenon in this journal entry, in which he describes two nightmares that briefly brought him in contact with his true lost self, at least until he woke up.

He writes:

I dream of my childhood. And in my dreams we are again one big unhappy family. I sob in my dreams, I never do when I am awake. When I am awake, I am dry, I am hollow, mechanically bent upon the maximization of Narcissistic Supply. When asleep, I am sad. The all-pervasive, engulfing melancholy of somnolence. I wake up sinking, converging on a black hole of screams and pain. I withdraw in horror. I don’t want to go there. I cannot go there.

One’s narcissism stands in direct relation to the seething abyss and the devouring vacuum that one harbors in one’s True Self.

I know it’s there . I catch glimpses of it when I am tired, when I hear music, when reminded of an old friend, a scene, a sight, a smell. I know it is awake when I am asleep. I know that it subsists of pain – diffuse and inescapable. I know my sadness. I have lived with it and I have encountered it full force.

Perhaps I choose narcissism, as I have been “accused”. And if I do, it is a rational choice of self-preservation and survival. The paradox is that being a self-loathing narcissist may be the only act of self-love I have ever committed.

cryingofthestoneangel
Crying of the Stone Angel by Eternal Dream Art at Deviantart.com

Can a narcissist’s true self ever see the light of day?

The true self is there in hiding, sometimes peeking out in dreams.  A narcissist without insight (which is almost all of them) would not be able to write the post quoted above.   Even if they were aware of having such a vulnerable inner self, they would never admit it.   They’re so walled off from their true feelings they can’t access it even in dreams.   Instead, they shore up a fake self that takes the place of the true one–but it’s not sustainable and will fall apart without a constant source of narcissistic supply that keeps it inflated like a balloon.  The constant inflation keeps their false self alive and as long as it’s there, they never have to face the black emptiness inside where the atrophied child-self exists.  If they fall into such a depression, they may go insane.  Suicide is not unheard of.

Sadness and tears that could arise from being able to encounter one’s true self, even if only briefly in a dream, could be the key to healing.  If only anyone really could figure out how to harness this and keep it accessible long enough for the narcissist to start doing some difficult internal work before they slap that mask back on.   Harnessing any brief moments of emotional nakedness is like trying to hold onto a dream while awake–most of the time, it dissolves and fragments like soap bubbles before being  swept away in the the river of day to day reality.   It’s still there, buried in the narcissist’s unconscious the way a clam buries itself deep in the wet sand near the shore after the waves recede.  But in all likelihood, the narcissist will die a narcissist, and no one (including themselves) will ever know what could have been.   I think most of them choose to remain living in the darkness because it’s a whole lot “safer.”  Maybe “lucid dreaming” (a skill that can be learned) could be one way to capture the true self when it emerges in a dream, and keep it there long enough to work with.

Most people don’t believe narcissists can be cured (and in most cases, they can’t be and are perfectly fine with being the way they are).  That being said,   I like to remain optimistic.   I can’t believe there are people walking on this earth who have completely lost their souls.  Unless a person has consciously chosen evil and has become sociopathic, I don’t think most narcissists are that far gone. The challenge is catching them when their guard is down, which is almost never.  I don’t recommend you try  doing this yourself.  Leave it to the professionals or to God.   You cannot fix a narcissist.   All you can really do is stop giving them supply, so stay (or go) No Contact.

Advertisements

The tears of a clown.

clown1

Here was one of yesterday’s search terms:
vomiting after seeing ex.narcissist begging me back

Really now? The narc’s begging you back actually made you puke?
But yes, I can definitely understand it though.

Sometimes those over the top emotional displays when you take away a narc’s source of supply by leaving them are pretty nauseating to say the least. I don’t know if it’s “acting” or desperation or what, but I know it’s not “love.”

I remember back in my 20s, witnessing the incredible reaction of a malignant narcissist boyfriend when I finally worked up the courage to tell him I was leaving him.

This was a verbally and sometimes physically abusive man who treated me like dirt most of the time, made fun of me, tried to turn my friends against me, and cheated on me as well. I had waited far too long to disconnect from him. I honestly didn’t think he would care that much because his behavior was anything but that of a man in love. In fact I thought he’d probably be relieved I was letting him go.

But oh, I was so wrong. SO wrong about that.
When I told him I was leaving, this narcissistic jerk literally exploded into the loud, violent, gasping, wracking sobs of a very young child, torrents of tears and snot pouring and mingling together on his fire engine red face while he begged me through choking sobs not to leave him. He actually was gagging. I don’t think I have never seen an uglier crier than him at that moment. It made me feel sick to see this, and I actually did feel vaguely nauseated. I felt no empathy for him at that moment. I just sat there with my mouth hanging open, not quite believing what I was seeing.

Then to make matters even worse, he kept telling me over and over how much he loved me and couldn’t live without me (my bullshit detector was at full volume). Then he begged me to hold him too, but I just…couldn’t. Ew. I felt myself recoil in disgust. God, I felt so repelled by him. It wasn’t even because of his over the top (and rather gross) emotional display, but because I knew all those tears he was shedding “for me” were really just for himself. They were an elaborate act. Maybe not fake, because no one who wasn’t really hurt would be able to cry like that, but they were manipulative tears, meant to “win back” me as his source of supply. This love-bombing loser should have gone into the movies–he would have won an Academy Award for that incredible performance.

I knew he never loved me, and true to form, two weeks later he found a new girlfriend source of supply.

Blargh.

puke

Laughter and tears.

comedy_tragedy

Laughter and crying are biologically very similar, and while they seem like opposites, both are methods the body uses to relieve stress, and they involve similar movements of the same groups of muscles. Both can involve tears.

Stress isn’t necessarily bad–it can even be present in overwhelming positive emotions such as joy, gratitude, or love–or in that moment when something strikes us so funny we double over with peals of laughter. Sometimes very intense laughter can bring on tears and even lead to sobbing; the opposite can happen when a big breakthrough happens in therapy. The laughter comes because the patient feels an immense sense of relief.

I decided it would be interesting to categorize the various types of crying and then talk about laughter, because they really are so very different but similar in some ways, and both are good for us.

Crying

crying

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Crying is underrated in western society. In our culture, tears are still thought of as a sign of weakness and something that’s only okay for women to do, and even then only in certain situations. A man is only allowed to cry if he wins the lottery or his team won the Super Bowl or his dog died. And that’s a crying shame! (pun intended).

But being able to cry is the most effective way to get better if you’re in therapy trying to heal from a mental disorder or recover from psychological trauma such as PTSD. It can be liberating and feel great. Many people have problems crying though, but there are ways to make it easier.

There’s also the unfortunate stereotype that crying always means a person is sad. Not so. I don’t know the exact percentage, but I believe I read that 50% of emotional tears are caused by positive or ambivalent emotions, not negative ones.

Not all tears are the result of actual crying: Irritant tears are shed by animals as well as humans, and are a physiological response to an irritation of the eye, such as the tears we shed when slicing an onion. Even though tears are shed to rid the eye of the foreign object, there is nothing emotional about this form of “crying.”

From here on, the types of crying will be listed from the shallowest and least emotional type of crying to the deepest and most emotional. The farther we get up the scale, the more pleasurable and similar to genuine belly laughter crying becomes.

1. “Crocodile” tears/fake crying.
This category possibly shouldn’t even be on this list, because it’s not genuine and sometimes doesn’t even involve tears. There are two types of false crying, both common among narcissists and sometimes people with other Cluster B personality disorders such as BPD or HPD.

The first type does involve actual tears being shed, but the person is usually a good actor who is able to squeeze them out at will to manipulate, get pity, show fake “empathy” or other emotions meant to make them look good or less malignant than they are. During his trial and police investigation, the psychopathic murderer Scott Peterson was expert at making copious tears run down his face when questioned about his wife’s disappearance. But he still had an odd blank look and a hint of a smirk between questioning–and Peterson’s odd speech patterns and hesitations made it obvious he was lying.

The second type is more common since most people aren’t very good actors and cannot generate tears at will. This is the embarrassing fake sobbing some narcissists use to get pity or attention. Don’t fall for it if they hide their faces so you don’t see their bone-dry eyes.

2. Manipulative, childish crying.
Narcissists who cry do so for the same reason a baby does: to get what they want. Older children cry this way too, and it can involve loud sobbing and whining. Adult narcissists (especially the “needy” types) may not sob like a child, but if they don’t get their way expect a display of waterworks, especially if the narcissist is of the somatic type and is female. Some somatic female narcissists do try to make their crying displays as dramatic as possible, in order to manipulate their target and get their way. It works too, especially if the woman is attractive and seductive, and this type of narcissist usually is.

3. Crying from frustration, fear, or anger.
Many people cry when they become frustrated, frightened or angry, but the tears tend to be scant and watery, and any sobbing is minimal. Breathing tends to be very shallow.

None of these first three types of crying are cleansing or healing, and because the tears shed are mainly just salt water and don’t include oils and other substances that come from truly emotional tears, they aren’t as effective in releasing toxins from the body and the person will not feel better afterwards.

The next forms of crying are all healing and cleansing, and the tears associated with them are full of oils and hormone like substances that make them heavier and more likely to cling to the skin and leave more visible streaks after drying.

4. Bereavement/grief.
Most people, after suffering a devastating loss such as death of a family member or close friend, or being left by a long time partner or spouse, at some point, if not immediately, will cry. Crying arising from tragic loss is usually convulsive, cathartic, intense, and involves deep sobbing that causes spasms in both the diaphragm and stomach muscles, copious amounts of tears and a loosening of mucus from the sinuses. A person undergoing such convulsive crying may gag or even vomit. The crying is so intense it can be physically painful as well as emotionally excruciating, and it may go on for a long time. But the tears are healing and the crying is cathartic. If the painful emotions are held inside and not released, a person experiencing grief or loss will take much longer to get better, and may become very ill.

In some cultures, such crying is formalized into a social event after the death of a family member, with special times set aside for family members to engage in grieving together and this can go on for weeks. This is probably a very healthy thing. In our society, group grieving is primarily reserved for funerals, and the bereaved are expected to get on with business as usual in a fairly short time, after all the casseroles have been eaten or have gone bad.

5. Cathartic crying in psychotherapy.
Most if not all psychodynamic therapies consider the moment the patient breaks down and cries in the therapist’s office a breakthrough for the patient. Because painful emotions from the past are being released, this type of crying can be as intense and convulsive as the crying of a bereaved person. A good therapist will not judge, and if a limited touch waiver has been signed in advance, it may be beneficial for the therapist to hold or stroke the patient in a nonsexual way during their breakdown. There may be more than one breakdown, with each one bringing the patient closer to healing. Laughter may sometimes follow a session of crying as the patient realizes a huge emotional burden has been lifted.

6. Shock/surprise crying.
These are not true tears of joy, but the kind of tears you shed if you find out you won the lottery, your team won the Super Bowl, or you were just presented with a great honor or gift. They are tears of surprise and shock as much as they are of happiness. They can tie in with tears of gratitude–for example, a movie actor who just won an Academy award may thank her supporters profusely as she chokes back sobs and tears stream down her cheeks. This type of crying isn’t particularly intense, but it does come on very suddenly and the tears can be copious. It’s short lived though. Smiling or even laughing usually accompanies the tears.

7. Crying from the heart.

tears

This type of crying is never seen in narcissists, because it involves an opening of the heart that connects people to each other and narcissists cannot connect on any level. Tears from the heart exist on the spectrum of love–and involve positive, pro-social emotions like empathy, overwhelming joy, spiritual or religious experience, feelings of connectedness with humanity, the arts, or nature; or overwhelming love. These are all emotions narcissists are incapable of feeling.

The emotions felt can be overwhelming even if very pleasant. Crying serves two purposes here. First, it helps the body release the excess stress that comes with an overload of such euphoric feelings. It’s also nature’s way of connecting us with each other and tears tend to generate even deeper feelings of love among those who cry together. A good example of this is a couple so overwhelmed by their love for each other that they find themselves in tears during lovemaking, and this opens their hearts to each other even more.

Laughter.

laughter

There aren’t as many types of laughter (giggling and polite laughter don’t really count), but the best kind is the belly laugh–the kind of deep and convulsive laughter that explodes almost uncontrollably when we see or hear something we think is hilarious.

Belly laughter, though it doesn’t usually involve tears (but it can), can be just as cathartic and cleansing as a good long cry. Different types of things make different people laugh, and it’s hard to say what exactly will strike just the right part of your funny bone to send you into uncontrollable, convulsive, rolling on the floor shrieks of laughter.

The process of laughter is physiologically almost identical to crying–both involve gasping intakes of air, convulsive movements of the diaphragm or stomach muscles (hence the term “belly laugh”), and animal-like vocalizations similar to sobbing. But we can all tell the difference. A person enjoying a good belly laugh will never be mistaken for someone who is crying, even if there are tears.

laughter2

Laughter usually involves a form of surprise. We laugh when we see something unexpected in a situation that doesn’t call for it or where its placement is ludicrous. A baby will laugh when her dad makes funny faces, because it’s unexpected. If you’re told something is funny, it probably won’t be as funny to you as if you discovered it on your own. It’s also the reason why a good joke can be ruined by bad timing or getting to the punch line too soon (or the punch line being spoiled by someone else). The surprise factor must be there for a joke to be funny.

Narcissists can laugh, but as with their crying, it’s usually shallow, exaggerated for effect (narcissists may be laughing louder than anyone in the room, but their eyes will remain flat and their laughter joyless and forced sounding).

As for what makes them laugh, narcissists are likely to find the misfortunes of others funny, or enjoy belittling forms of humor such as jokes that negatively stereotype an ethnic or other group, mean sarcasm, insults, or embarrassing practical jokes. Few narcissists have any sense of the absurd or any kind of subtle or sophisticated humor, and of course they can never laugh at themselves. They really have almost no sense of humor, unless it’s at someone else’s expense. If a narcissist’s mean “joke” at your expense offends you, you may be accused of being “too sensitive” or having no sense of humor, even though it is really they who are challenged in the humor department.

For the rest of us, it’s always a great thing to have a sense of the absurd as adults, because that sense of humor can get us through all the rough times. That’s why I keep a page of narcissist jokes, because when we can laugh at something that is threatening to us, some of its power over us is taken away and we can see the absurdity of what scares or upsets us.