Do Narcissists Ever Cry?

Last Updated on April 16, 2021 by Alexander Burgemeester

Whilst narcissism is often characterised by bombast and a seemingly unwavering self-belief, there are times when even a narcissist may cry. Do Narcissists cry? It seems impossible but it is true.

So how can someone who is so tied up with their own success, self-image and the presentation of themselves in their everyday lives suffer the kind of emotion or tearful outburst that is more characteristic of us other mere mortals?

The clue is that like any other “disordered personality” they are not uniform. Psychiatric disorders as outlined in the diagnostic and statistical manuals of the American Psychiatric association (the bible of defining psychological conditions) are based not on absolutes, or objective criteria like neuro-imaging but often on subjective decisions about behaviours.

In the DSM a condition is often defined by a list of possible behaviours which a person may exhibit as a result of their condition. A person does not have to have all the behaviours to be “diagnosed”. These are the characteristics of Narcissism as defined in the DSM V:

  • Grandiosity with expectations of superior treatment from others
  • Fixated on fantasies of Personal attractiveness power, success, intelligence,
  • Self-perception of their own uniqueness, superior and associated with high-status people and institutions
  • Needing constant admiration from others
  • Sense of entitlement to special treatment and to obedience from others
  • Exploitative of others to achieve personal gain
  • Unwilling to empathize with others’ feelings, wishes, or needs
  • Intensely envious of others and the belief that others are equally envious of them
  • Pompous and arrogant demeanour

Aspects Of The Diagnosis

To qualify for a diagnosis, the behaviours must have developed by early adulthood and the abilities and experiences must be less than those claimed by the narcissist.

There are also other aspects which interplay with the formal diagnostic processes, making it more of a social construct than a scientific process.

Firstly, is a label useful to a person in dealing with aspects of their social lives? Being labelled as having narcissistic personality disorder may be less helpful for a person than say, being labelled with Asperger’s which, in the scheme of things is a much more socially acceptable these days.

Secondly, in most conditions, there is a gradient between low and high functioning. A person with “low functioning” may be unable to manage in the social world, whereas a “high functioning” individual may not only be able to cope with the real world but thrive. A fine example of this is Moffat and Gatiss’s crafting of “Sherlock” in the BBC TV series where the eponymous hero played by Benedict Cumberbatch describes himself as a “high functioning sociopath”.

The results of the diagnostic criteria and its interplay with other subjective criteria is that it is possible to end up with someone who has “high functioning narcissism”. Another term for this is “extreme narcissist” and they may be invisible to all but the most emotionally literate observer.

High Functioning Narcissists

High functioning narcissists are energetic, outgoing, confident and excel in superficial relationships but there’s the rub, they may have problems maintaining and deepening them in the way that most of the rest of us can. They make friends easily on a superficial level and can be very “hale fellow well met” someone who it is nice to have at a dinner party, social gathering, or as your dentist or sales manager. Unlike a frank narcissist, they are more charming and at first at least, a better listener.

The trouble is they can’t keep friends and will keep running up against the barrier that people will walk away from someone who is self-absorbed. They then enter a cycle of made and broken friendships and relationships and end up lonely. And that loneliness will be so deep that they may end up crying themselves to sleep for want of what other lesser mortals have, a friend. Worse still, they could end up as a virtual Peter Pan as their friends all settle down to domesticity. Being Peter Pan without Wendy or the lost boys isn’t much fun.

Early Infancy Attachment

But the deeper sadness is the tears may have had their origins years before, in early infancy. One possible cause of NPD is a failure in the attachment bond between care giver and infant. John Bowlby, and English psychiatrist in the mid 20th century came up with attachment theory (as it happens on very little empirical evidence but his theory was to developmental psychology what Newton’s theory of gravity was to physics). Attachment is the bond between a care giver and infant which acts as a template for all future intimate relationships and close friendships.

If a child does not experience this bond by about 2 years, then the critical period is passed, and in most (though not all) cases, the child lacks the ability to make enduring friendships. We know this is so because on the rare occasions where children have suffered maternal deprivation (it can be either parent) all aspects of their development are affected. The case of Genie, the girl found tied to a potty chair aged 12, is a sad illustration of this (Curtiss, 1977).

In the case of high functioning narcissists it is clear that the bond is disordered rather than deprived and the child may have suffered inconsistent parenting or conditional love and affection which in turn left them emotionally scarred (feeling empty but constantly trying to succeed to earn the love they lacked). The wounded child and later adult then develops a way of dealing with this hole, one strategy can be Narcissism.

To Conclude

No matter how socially skilled an extreme narcissist is, he/she has a major attachment dysfunction and wound. This wounded person constructs one or more false fronts in order to survive and insulate themselves from people because of distrust and fear (Lopez De Victoria, 2008).

Attachment therapy, is time consuming and difficult to access, but access isn’t the main issue: who will help the lost child of the narcissist access therapy when they don’t recognise they need it in the first place? Lonely narcissists who are left to cry big, wet, salt tears and they don’t know why. Hell, I feel like crying for them too.

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Alexander Burgemeester

Alexander Burgemeester has a Master in Neuropsychology. He studied at the University of Amsterdam and has a bachelor's in Clinical Psychology. Want to know more?

8 thoughts on “Do Narcissists Ever Cry?”

  1. Don’t you think that people are forever evolving and like theirs some people smarter than another there’s people more self absorbed than others. There’s givers and takers, criers and bullies, liars and honest to the core people. Everyone’s making a big deal about a narcissist but what about a person who has addiction issues that are out of control that Didnt flair up until that person was in their mid 40’s. This person was the total caregiver type who never got her own needs met. She just one day like the light switch was flipped off walked away from the ungrateful ones in her family. People are quick to label. She said she was told she was narcissist. I can’t see it. I think she the victim of one for 24 yrs & she has two sons like her husband.
    I think the cell phone with backwards facing Carmera turned half the population into porn stars and attention loving narcissist.

  2. I’m sorry I wasn’t finished. I have a hard time crying because I think crying about things just makes it worse whatever it is. I think instead of crying we figure out a solution to things. When I do cry it’s for serious loss or intolerable pain. Am I a narcissist?

  3. I have often wondered about this. My current narcissist (and the one I was married to for over 20 years) shows no real emotions nor feelings, yet I have seen both of them cry. I find myself wondering if it is fake crying (really good fake crying) or if somewhere in there they do have a bone of caring. Pretty mind boggling.

    • In 9 years I never saw my ex cry. I never saw him upset except a few times. Very cool. My mom, on the other hand, would cry BUT ONLY FOR HERSELF!

  4. Narcissists will cry to elicit pity, or to feign empathy for someone they’re manipulating for some personal gain. They do not possess any genuine feelings of concern, love and support for family, friends, or other people they meet throughout life. The focus is: How can I get what I want? If tears are part of the pity play, or required to get something they want, then tears will appear (especially in a court room). One they get what they want, it’s a big victory and the tears quickly turn to laughter. These personality types are empty shells, unable to form any type of lasting bonds. Their children are their victims, as their relish in asserting control over them. They top at nothing to get what they want, even if it involves hurting their own kids.

  5. Yes, narcississt cry, usually it’s for themselves, or to manipulate people to feel sorry for themselves. They are very convincing actors


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