By | April 4, 2016 7 Comments

If a sociopath cries at movies, does it mean he has feelings?

crying man

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Lovefraud received the following email from a reader whom we’ll call “Alana.”

Thank you for this wonderful site. Unless you have been through it, no one can understand the insanity of a Narcissist/psychopath.

There are three things that I have noticed about my Narcissist.

  1. He can cry at movies, at cute you tube videos about kittens, but if I am upset, he stares at me blankly. I understand that he does not have any empathy toward me, but what is the deal with the crying at movies, etc? You know, for a long time I thought that was a sign that he really did have feelings that would eventually show themselves. That he had the capacity for empathy. But I was so wrong. How is this possible?
  1. I read somewhere that Covert Narcissists are “empty” people. I had to sit down when I read that. They don’t really have any passions in life. They live in a space of “ho hum.” No real goals, never really finish anything they start, like to hoard because one day they are going to get to that. This describes my current ex and my mother. Empty. Languid. Sorta sad. Lost. What are your thoughts on this?
  1. Very concrete. In the movie, “This is where I leave you,” (which offers great portrayals of Narcissism), Justin Bateman says to Dax Sheppard’s character, “You know, until I met you, I thought I was the biggest loser.” Now this is not a compliment. But Dax Sheppard’s character says, “Thank you.” I have seen this in my own life. It is like they are not paying attention to what is being said, or they don’t get the nuance that this is not a compliment. What is going on here?

Donna Andersen responds

Before I address Alana’s questions, I want to lay some groundwork.

We all know that there is an infinite variety of people in the world. People all have different traits, behaviors, virtues, faults, habits, strengths, weaknesses, passions and fears.

This applies to disordered people as well. Even when psychopaths, antisocials, narcissists and borderlines are all diagnosed as disordered, they can still exhibit an extremely wide range of traits and behaviors.

More formally, psychopathy is considered to be a “syndrome” and a “continuum.”

A “syndrome” is a collection of traits, characteristics or symptoms that tend to cluster together. The key symptoms of a psychopath, for example, include the traits glib and superficial, egocentric and grandiose, lack of remorse or guilt, lack of empathy, deceitful and manipulative, and shallow emotions, plus indications of an antisocial lifestyle. See more here:

Key symptoms of a psychopath

Many psychopaths are glib, meaning they have really good social skills. They always seem to know what to say and have an answer for everything. My ex-husband was charismatic and charming. But plenty of readers have told me that the disordered individuals they were involved with had no social skills at all.

That’s where the “continuum” idea comes it. Any particular psychopath or narcissist can have any of the traits to a greater or lesser degree. In fact, just about all of these traits, in smaller doses, may be considered to be normal.

For example, most of us lie from time to time. We usually have a reason, such as getting out of trouble or sparing somebody’s feelings. Psychopaths, however, lie all the time, and often just for the fun of it. So lying once in awhile is normal, but constant lying is pathological. It’s a matter of degree.

So let’s take a look at Alana’s questions.


Many psychopaths and other disordered individuals are great actors and can turn on the tears at will. However, they many not always know when it is appropriate to start crying.

The man Alana is describing may have learned, through observation, that crying at certain movies and videos is appropriate. But if he is disordered and lacks empathy, he may be unable to register Alana’s distress, or can’t be bothered with responding.

If this is the case, crying at a sad movie is an act, and failing to respond appropriately when Alana is crying is the truth of his personality.

Empty people

Psychopaths, sociopaths and narcissists are usually empty when it comes to emotions. Typically the range of emotions they experience is very narrow limited to negative emotions such as anger, rage and jealousy.

Psychopaths and narcissists do not experience love. That is the core of the disorder.

But plenty of psychopaths and narcissists have passions just not the same passions as the rest of us. They have a passion for power and control. They may pursue money, sex or notoriety.

Yes, many psychopaths do not finish what they start but some of them do. And yes, I’ve heard of other psychopaths who are hoarders but certainly not all of them have this trait.

So I’d say that disordered people are empty, but this doesn’t always manifest in the same way.


About Alana’s observation about a person who doesn’t get the nuance of a statement as an isolated behavior, this may or may not be related to a personality disorder. But if Alana is seeing other traits and behaviors linked to psychopathy or narcissism in the individual, it could just be an example of the general disconnect between disordered individuals and the rest of us.

So here’s the take-home message: Disordered individuals are not all the same. They may have the various traits linked to personality disorders to greater or lesser degrees. What’s important is to look at the overall picture. If you see most of the behavior patterns that we talk about here on Lovefraud, get the person out of your life.


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Rosie Jackson

In twenty four years I didn’t see him cry once, not even at his mothers funeral, which was heartbreaking.

As for hoarding?

There are three things that he hoarded – money (stolen from me and the kids), gloves and knives. I found tons of different kinds of knives and gloves in the garage after he left.

I hope that he never, one day,” gets to THAT”

He’s a psycho.


My ex admitted he’s never cried in his life. I believe that’s the truth. I didn’t know about sociopaths for another 7 years. But, at the beginning of the relationship, after the idealise phase and into the devalue, he accused me of lying. I was telling the truth so he upset me so much it made me cry. He then said that was ‘proof’ I was lying. If I’d known what I know now I don’t think I would have been so upset. He just hoarded money – mine.


My ex spath could certainly turn it on. He did it in church a lot. It was obvious to ME it was fake like Donna said. On the other hand he NEVER showed emotion at other times that it would have been appropriate. His daughter came in at night and told him his father had passed away after falling asleep in his chair suddenly. My ex turned over and went back to sleep!!! Did not cry at the funeral. He supposedly “loved” his Dad. I never saw him show real love to anyone.


Thank you Donna! Crawling out of the deep hole that one falls into when you partner with a Spath is very difficult and very hard. Not only do you question your sanity, if you shared what they are/were doing, other people will question your sanity!

Who would believe the stories? I told my Spath that it was important to me that the house was secure and the alarm set at night. So what did I find in the morning? The alarm was on but all the doors were unlocked! Who would believe that someone would do s–t like that? I have realized that I can’t tell him what is important to me. I bought and watched the movie Gaslight. I recommend it to everyone on this site.

Thank you again Donna! Sending best wishes to your husband for a speedy recovery!


My ex psychopath is an excellent pretender. He could cry at movies, but had no empathy for me when I was heartbroken over his cheating. In fact, he loved it when he could hurt me because it made him feel so very powerful. He actively has many false fronts: He has his Facebook harem believing he is vegan, but enjoys meat. He claims to be all about women’s rights, but delights in sexually exploiting them. He says he is a strong animal rights supporter, but has engaged in sexual acts brutalizing animals. He claims to love children, but has no patience for them and will only spend time with them if it makes him look good.
The one thing I am absolutely sure of is that this man is the opposite of what he says he is. However, his grandiosity is so huge he actually thinks people will believe the persona and image he puts out there. If ever caught in a lie, like being a vegan he will simply lie and shift the goal posts and say something like he only just started eating meat (to get more protein), but was a vegan for 20 years. If ever asked about his appetite for extreme sex, he will say something like he’s not exploiting women, he is enjoying them because he loves women so much. His wide sweeping glib justifications delivered with charm, and confidence would make my head spin. I’d be left thinking how wrong I was for judging him. It’s amazing how they can get us to accept their horrid, unethical behavior and justifications and make us feel like we were wrong for judging them.

Here’s my arm chair philosophy on why psychopaths can tear-up at a movie, but not in real life:

A movie can’t expect anything from them.They don’t have to do anything for the actors like provide emotional support. So they have nothing to lose by acknowledging what they see on the screen or stage, or what they hear on the radio. (My ex, a true psychopath, would cry over tango music. I used to think it was charming.)

When they cry over a book, movie, theater production, music, etc, they are doing so out of sympathy, not empathy.

KIM- there are three kinds of empathy and the reason for all of it is to help and get along with your fellow man. They don’t have to get along with or help the people on the screen so they can have sympathy for them, but not empathy. Sympathy is a feeling. Empathy propels us to react for someone’s betterment.


I understand what you are saying completely! I think it is different with different spaths. Mine never got REALLY emotional at ANYTHING. I never saw a real tear only wiping his eyes for show when there weren’t any tears really there! I also thought it was “charming” for a while until I came to realize they weren’t real. Then it was sickening.

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