Why Narcissists Fake Empathy (And Shed Crocodile Tears)

Crocodiles cry when they eat their prey.

But not because they are sad about their dying prey. Rather, their wide-open jaws are squeezing their tear glands to shed tears.

Narcissists show the same crocodile-tears behavior. They deceive you with their fake empathy without feeling your emotions.

Empathy is our ability to understand and feel another person’s emotions. Narcissists can understand, but cannot feel our pain.

So, they put up shows of faux emotional empathy. But why?

Do narcissists fake empathy?

Yes, narcissists are excellent at faking emotional empathy. They can mirror our gestures and expressions to make us feel that they are empathizing with us when they are only acting. They can understand what another person may be feeling but do not respond out of compassion to help them.

Why Narcissists Fake Empathy

• Related reading: What do the researchers conclude from new data on empathy?

Why do narcissists fake empathy?

The following are the top three reasons why narcissists fake empathy:

  1. To keep people in their lives who feed their narcissistic supply.
  2. To maintain tight control over their relationships.
  3. To present a social reputation for being sensitive.

1. To maintain a narcissistic supply.

Narcissists, especially those with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), constantly crave praise.

That desire for appreciation makes them demand attention and validation from their partner. This, when supplied by the partner, is called narcissistic supply.

“Narcissistic supply is the price of emotional dependency that you pay a narcissist to get their on-and-off affection.”

Now, if narcissists were to appear their apathetic and cold selves to others, people close to them would gradually distance themselves from them. This will cut off their narcissistic supply.

So, they need you to maintain their source of narcissistic supply. To keep you, they must show that they care about your feelings. To make you feel they care, they fake emotional empathy.

Actually, they are unmoved by your suffering.

2. To control their relationships (victims).

Narcissists are expert manipulators.

They will quietly ask you about your past, listen to you reveal your regrets, and prod you to tell your secrets. Then they will create a “mental dossier” of your vulnerability profile.

They carefully “collect” your flaws, low points in life, and other sensitive spots to use them against you when you are at your weakest or go against them.

They know how to evoke feelings of breakdown or frustration in you so they can gain control over you.

They know which emotions to coax out of you, and you know that they know which of your buttons to push.

A narcissist knows how to make you feel high, dejected, confused, overwhelmed, anxious, stupid, lonely, and lost.

Most of all, they know how to confuse your mental and emotional state.

You may often find yourself debating whether to feel good or bad about something they or you just did:

“Should I feel sad or good about it?”

Moreover, they train you to get used to their controlling tactics, like dogs that are pushed into learned helplessness.

3. To present a social reputation of being empathic.

Narcissists are quite good at virtue signaling (behaving in ways that show people they have good character and moral values).

Virtue signaling, a term that debuted around 2015, means the same as moral grandstanding in psychology. Narcissists use it to win praise from others.

Narcissists understand how important it is for people to see them as ones who care for issues that plague humanity.

So, they make it a point to express concerns about social causes like child labor in developing countries, racial and gender inequity, and lack of pay parity, without actually doing anything about them.

They also make it a point to criticize leaders who are grandiose and dictatorial.

Worse, they loudly express their concerns about domestic abuse while being offenders themselves.

How do narcissists fake empathy?

Faking empathy is a two-step process for narcissists. First, they meticulously analyze your preferences and decision-making methods. Second, they read your mind to determine your mood and deliver to you the mannerisms and gestures of empathy that you prefer.

Narcissists love people who are excessively emotional, like empaths, in their lives. It helps them learn the whole array of emotional expressions from them.

They watch your facial expressions closely, observe your behavior minutely, and painstakingly store the details in their memory.

With time and practice, they get so good at it that they don’t even have to think twice before bringing out that manipulative emotional act.

Aristotle said, “To perceive is to suffer.” Narcissists know this, so they restrict themselves from perceiving the emotions of others to avoid suffering from them.

Narcissists are incapable of caring about your feelings because of how they were treated as children. They developed narcissism as a defense mechanism.

It’s a high price to pay to risk damaging their self-esteem. So, to prevent you from knowing this, they pretend to act out of emotional empathy.

If you still feel that a narcissist can be high on empathy, read this: Do narcissists really feel empathy?


What does a narcissist with fake empathy want from you?

Narcissists want admiration, validation, special treatment, unquestioned obedience, and personal sacrifices from you, their victim. If you are in a relationship with them, they are inevitably manipulating you and making you subservient to their demands. They don’t love you; they love what they get from you.

Should you tell a narcissist you see their fake empathy?

Never tell a narcissist that they are faking empathy; they will immediately resent you for seeing through their mask and plot retaliation against you.

Even though narcissists aren’t concerned about your boundaries, they are quite sensitive to what you can and cannot say to them. And telling them you saw their true face will cause them narcissistic injury.

Final Words

If a narcissist were to honestly admit facts about their empathy capabilities, they would say,

“I can understand how you feel, but I cannot feel what you feel.”

If you are feeling sad, they will understand. But they won’t bring out their fake emotions until you don’t begin to leave to seek another person’s comfort.

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Do you know about Narcissistic Rage, its causes, triggers, & how to handle it?

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Author Bio: Written and reviewed by Sandip Roy — medical doctor, psychology writer, and happiness researcher. Founder and Chief Editor of The Happiness Blog. Writes on mental health, happiness, mindfulness, positive psychology, and philosophy (especially Stoicism).

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