Sociopaths and “The Crying Game”

Are sociopaths who cry “sensitive sociopaths,” or just extra clever sociopaths? What’s going on when sociopaths cry? Is their crying ever sincere, or always insincere? Is it ever deep, or always superficial? Always calculated, or sometimes spontaneous?

In short, what’s the deal with sociopaths and the crying game?

There are some sociopaths—more classical, Cleckley-like sociopaths—who can “cry on demand,” by which I mean cry, as if spontaneously, from a consciously manipulative agenda. Many of these sociopaths can summon displays of emotional vulnerability, like tearful anguish and contrition, with the skill of the gifted character actor.

In some cases, to extend the metaphor, some sociopaths—in the moment—may be so in character as to “virtually believe” in the authenticity of their presentations. These sociopaths may conjure tears, for instance, and then see the tears they’ve conjured as evidence, as ratification, of the sincerity of their response.

I use the term “virtually believe” to denote the sociopath’s capacity, in these cases, to almost delude himself into believing that he’s as sensitive and vulnerable as his presentation would suggest, when in fact—that is, when in reality—he’s, of course, shallow and fraudulent.

Conversely, there are also sociopaths who, producing seemingly spontaneous displays of vulnerable emotion, remain aware of the inauthenticity of their theatrics. That is, these sociopaths recognize that they are acting even as they may be successfully convincing others that they’re not.

What partly covers, or protects, sociopaths who engage the “crying game” is the inherent challenge of separating spontaneity and authenticity. That is, we tend to assume that what’s spontaneous is also authentic—indeed, that spontaneity itself virtually proves authenticity.

But this is a fallacy, which is to say that what’s spontaneous isn’t necessarily authentic. The sociopath’s ability, for instance, to conjure tears spontaneously—that is, at any given, self-serving moment —certainly doesn’t certify his emotional display as authentic.

But is this to say that sociopaths’ tears and crying are always, by definition, inauthentic? I wouldn’t say so, at least not definitively. But I would suggest that where, arguably, the sociopath’s tears are not a product of sheer manipulativeness and inauthenticity, the emotion(s) driving his tears will, by definition, be shallow and invariably selfish.

So, for instance, the sociopath choking up in the courtroom upon hearing the verdict “guilty” that will lock him away for life, may be conveying real emotion—he may really feel bad, upset; however, to the extent that he’s really suffering, we can know that he’s suffering not from what he took or stole from his victim(s), but from what he feels has been taken or stolen from him (for instance, his freedom).

He will suffer, in a word, as victim, not victimizer.

And should he appear to “grieve” his situation—versus protest it with his narcissistic rage—again let me stress: he will be grieving as victim, not victimizer. And his grief, like everything else about him, will be shallow, and dissipate quickly; and then he’ll reinhabit his usual state of emotional nullity.

But again, even in cases where his disarming loss of emotional composure—his tearfulness, for example—isn’t purely manipulative and play-acting, we can surmise that, often, this will reflect less the sociopath’s genuine, deeply felt emotion, like sadness, than a buildup of tension and stress associated with developments unfavorable to his interests (for instance, a jury’s return of “guilty”)—all of which may culminate in an emotional discharge of tension, which occasionally may take the disarming form of a passing squall of tears.

(Thanks to Lovefraud member Newlife, inspirer and friend, for prompting my initial consideration of this subject, which I intend to expand in a near-term post. As always, my use of male gender pronouns is for convenience’s sake, and not to suggest that females are incapable of the behaviors and attitudes discussed. This article is copyrighted © 2010 by Steve Becker, LCSW.)  

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236 Comments on "Sociopaths and “The Crying Game”"

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I love getting all hilarious online…..there’s something about the lack of visual / physical exchange that just cracks me up. I develop these pictures of who each of us are, and when people start getting silly, I generate these GREAT visuals. LOL

Choking, snorting, bwahaha-ing…..what a healing place this is! (guffawing)

This seems to be my favorite post lately. Spath was sniffling again this morning. He wrote me a letter and said he got down on his knees this morning and prayed I would let him prove to me what a good husband he can be. I don’t believe he has really prayed a day in his life. My therapist said he might use religion, she called it! It’s only because I have prayed more lately.

Again, Buttons, I am listening, and thank you for everything. We go to the psychologist in the morning, hoping that he will be able to convince him to move out. If not, the court order might be my only recourse.

I keep visualizing meeting all of you and how wonderful that would be. Can you get connected to people on line? I tell my kids to be careful about who you ‘friend’ on the computer, but somehow I feel most of you are genuine. Maybe my instincts do work!

I am new here, but I need to post this for my friends on this site.
I was married to a SPath for 20 years. I was a good wife, he cashed in on my goodness, he knew right from the beginning that my weakness were children. I was brought up to believe that kids are everything and that you must take accountability for everything you do with them and try to bring them up the best you can. I had two beautiful children they were 17(girl) and 13(boy), when my and my kids world crumbled. For most of my married life, I never questioned him on anything, he was a good father, and i could not believe my luck in having a husband that was my mirror ! I had no idea what a Path was …I heard about it but never knew ABOUT it. I had my own house, a career when I met him. He was bankrupt, and had just divorced, had 4 kids. I fell in love with him, and could not believe how unlucky he had been, his previous wife had be abusive and horrible (I beleived him). I married him. Soon after I started finding out about his previous debts with child support, he had lied to me. I made sure he paid for his previous family, which put a strain on me, however I needed to know that I was doing the right thing for those kids. To make a long story short, 2 years ago, I really discovered him, or I woke up, not sure what happened to me. I felt that I was missing something emotionally, I needed more. I started asking questions about money, and general things, he was vague and soemthing was wrong. Sex was not interesting for me because it was all about him….I started abstaining. He started changing, his mask slipped, and one day I did not know who this man was. Cold eyes, cold heart, cold, cold, event he kids felt it. He had been cheating on me, he had taken my son for coffee with him and the new women, my kids did not know what to think about it, never told me till after. He was preparing his departure. I knew it, and I made sure all my important documents and paperwork were safe. Apparently during the day, he was removing stuff. He left on his own accord, I provoked it of course. Starting giving him no peace whatsoever, what a nag I was, questions, questions, questions. I wanted him to leave, not me. I know I was pushing my luck, but I knew that if he left, he would leave for good, wheras if I kicked him out, he would be back. In the meantime he was tryign to get the kids to depart with him, the mistake he made (paths are not too too smart) he told the kids he was mad at me and he refused to pay child support. My kids are very smart, they picked up on the fact that it was all about him, not them. They refused to leave, but they certainly were memsmirized by his pleading and tears. He finally left, the next day came back and broke the door down and violently hurt me. My son called the police and it was definate after that the kids wanted nothing to do with him. He finally left and never came back. He has not contacted the kids, has a new women with 4 kids, she is 22 years younger (he is 52 and she is 30) he pays child support and hates it, is often late. My life is better because I actually was in survivor mode….I needed to think about my kids mental well-being. He actually did everyting himself, he ruined his relationship with the kids, not me. He decided to manipulate the wrong kids. They were brought up with lots of unconditional love from me and my family. And they recognized immiediatly that he was up to no good. I am now battling divorce, he wants my stuff even previous to marriage, I guess he feels entitled to it. I just feel fortuntate that I am able to take care of my kids, and I did not fall for the love I felt for him. I still love him, but I now realize its an illusion. He did not love me, never did, but I did. It is very hard for me, and even harder for my kids. Their Dad was an illusion…how fair is that ? We have gone for family therapy, and we are getting on with our lives. We work well together, we have a pet…never would have happened with the spath, he woudl have killed it for sure. We are as happy as we can be, lots of family support. My cousins and friends knew me from before and knew that he was the crazy one, no way I could have been as evil as he wanted everyone to beleive. It turned out good. I am hurt, I do not know if I ever will heal. But when I look at my kids, I know that I did good. they are stronger and understand everything. They will never forgive their father, but then again, i do not care about him, I care about them. I cannot immagine how he could have contributed to their mental well-being, they are much more whole mentally without him, and he did it all by himself, I had nothing to do with his ruined relationships with his kids, my conciounce is clear, something he does not have. So thats my story. Be careful of them, they will turn on you one day, mine lasted longer because I was so passive and so involved in life in general. I trusted him implicitly. He was the one who tried to alienate the kids against me, tried to get my relatives to think I was crazy….did not work, I was too good of a person all my life. He was the one who looked stupid. He could not care less about the kids know, wants nothing to do with them. What a fool ! I realize he might be back …but in the meantime my relationship with the kids has never been better. We are fortuntate, and like I said, he made his own bed. He destroyed any possibility with the kids, they absolutely have shut him out of his life, I have repeatilty told them that they can talk to him anytime they wanted to. My daughter took me up on that and went to see him at work, guess what ? He lied to her face, she turned away, and that was that.
Hugs to everyone and thank goodness for your posts, it helps me.

survivorlady, welcome. At least you know what he’s all about, which is half the battle for healing from the likes of him. You are not alone, all of us on this site have gone through the same experience, just different names, locations, scenarios.

Peace to your heart and soul as you heal from this non loving entity (sorry for the sarcasm, but they are just an illusion, not real). Best thing to explain at the beginning of your journey, which you seem to have figured out on your own … is have NO CONTACT with him. Period. No phone calls, no answering and allowing him in your space, no e-mails … NADDA … nothing. NO CONTACT and you will heal sooner than you realize.


Hope you can get some comfort here at Lf I can feel the pain and the struggle but you have come through! the love is an ILLUSION but when you look at your kids you KNOW YOU DID GOOD…celebrate that and know you are in good company here!

Survivor Lady,

You have the spirit of a survivor and such a wonderful attitude. Way to go!!! Your children can see what a spathy your ex is, you didn’t even have to enlighten them. This speaks to your ability to love them without bounds. Your family is a wonderful support system and didn’t fall for his manipulations.

I just started on lovefraud a few weeks ago and have found some wonderful people here. They really get it! So many of the spathy people in our lives have the same behaviors and talking with other victims of spathys is like an “aha” moment. Wow, they understand!
Thanks for sharing your story. I can’t wait for my no-contact moment, it makes total sense.

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