How To Sniff Out Alligator Tears & Shut Them Down

As toddlers, we learn that crying does, in fact, get much work done. We start screeching a little harder, and suddenly our bedtime is extended, or our parents finally give in and buy us that big Barbie house. So, since crying gets awarded, we turn to it when we want things to go our way. Come adulthood, fake crying gets dangerous; it's no longer used for innocent things like a new Barbie or extra play time but is employed as a tool of emotional manipulation. And, hence the proverb "alligator tears."


Alligators shed tears while eating their prey, dinner is never that much of an emotional experience, and we're sure the alligators aren't feeling sorry for the deer they just bit into — so, surprise, surprise — these tears aren't the real deal. Though we can't psychoanalyze the alligators out there for their reasons, we have used this phenomenon to coin the phrase "alligator tears" to indicate someone's deceptive waterworks.

Knowing when someone's faking their tears to entertain your empathy is vital to stay clear of manipulators and toxic individuals, especially if you are a people-pleaser or a grade-A empath. From recognizing if it's fake crying or not to learning healthy responses that'll protect your peace, we are here to help you through it all.


Fake or not

How do we know? Well, lucky for us, there are professionals out there who are hell-bent on finding out who's a liar and who's not. According to a 2012 study by the University of British Columbia and Memorial University of Newfoundland in Canada, people faking remorse will rapidly switch from one emotion to another. You will notice that they will switch from being sad and tearful to being joyful without going into a neutral phase in between. Furthermore, if they speak hesitantly and include many "umms" in their speech, their remorse or sadness is probably fabricated.


Other signs of faked sadness include squeezed eyebrows, extended periods of sadness (genuine sadness only lasts short periods), one eyebrow being raised slightly more than the other, there being no smooth transition from being sad to being happy, and the lower parts of the face not being engaged at sad peaks along with brow movement. So, when in doubt, trust everything else on their face except their tears.

Gaslighting, playing the victim, and blame-shifting

Alligator tears usually come in a package. The package includes either a gaslighting session, a playing the victim session, or a blame-shifting session, and on some occasions, it's an all-in-one deal. 


Gaslighting in a relationship is a situation of emotional abuse where the perpetrator will have the victim questioning their reality and sanity. Adding alligator tears to the mix will play on the victim's emotions and drive home the abuser's point of view, so alligator tears and gaslighting go hand-in-hand. When it comes to playing the victim, alligator tears will appear almost all the time, and it not only adds to the theatrics but will also dress up the abuser's "truth" as the absolute truth. Blame-shifting only gets better with a few fake tears. They will start the waterworks, and now you're suddenly apologizing for something you didn't do.

It's important to separate the tears from their words in all of these cases. Listen to what they are saying, and if it sounds like they are trying to gaslight you or make you believe that they are the victims, you can disregard all those tears.


Recognizing a pattern of behavior

Is there someone in your life that always comes to you in tears? Do they always seem to want something done? Have they never contacted you when they were happy or in a good place? If you answered yes to these questions, you have a serial manipulator in your life. And it's important to recognize this type of behavior early on.


All human relationships are based on giving and taking. You give some, and you also receive some. Try to recall instances where they attended to your emotional well-being. If there aren't any, it's probably an emotionally draining relationship where you are the sole giver. If they always come running to you, crying, seeking your help or empathy, and the entire relationship with this individual is built on you helping them out, it's time to question those tears.

Once you recognize this pattern of behavior, you can move on to the shutting them down part.

Setting boundaries

If you have sniffed out the alligator tears and the whole fake crying act, it's time to put down some boundaries. And here's how you can go about it. Refrain from entertaining their whole act of hysterics; the more you concern yourself with their tears, the more they will play it up.


Remember that you can always remove yourself from the situation. That is correct — we do have free will. Make up an excuse when you feel a fake crying session coming up; say you have a lot of work you need to get back to and leave the room. But, if you are uncomfortable with lying, you can always tell them you don't have the emotional capacity to help them out.

Another way of setting boundaries is by limiting your contact with them. Once you recognize them as emotionally abusive or manipulative, don't feel bad about cutting them out of your life.

Saying no and sticking to it

If you have people-pleasing tendencies, saying "no" to people is definitely never on your agenda. But it's a crucial word you must learn to say to emotional manipulators. Most of the time, the tears will follow after you've said "no"; this is their attempt at guilt-tripping you into saying "yes." Do not give in. Spot the fakeness in their sadness and remember that those tears are staged.


If you feel yourself tapping into your empathetic self and giving in to their alligator tears, try to leave the situation. Make a physical exit, or call them out on their fake waterworks. Remember to use "I" sentences instead of "you" when calling them out; this will lessen the accusatory nature of your claims. Whatever you do, ensure you are not giving in to their demands and drama, which will only establish you as an easy target.

Turning a blind eye

This is a hard one for the empaths. We are inclined to help and console our teary-eyed friends, but turning a blind eye is a must occasionally. If you know you're being deceived by a show of tears, walking away from that situation is justifiable. If you can't walk away from the situation, try to pretend that the person in question is not crying, those tears aren't real anyways. And, if you did decide to stick around, talk to them without addressing their tears, pretend you are talking to someone with a straight face, try to be matter-of-fact as much as possible, and make sure you are not using emotional language.


Tears, fake or not, will bring out our nurturing selves, and it can be tough to turn a blind eye when our instincts tell us to console and protect the person in front of us. But remember that your mental well-being won't survive all your selfless acts, so it's important to try and be selfish occasionally.

Saying the right thing

Your emotional manipulator knows exactly what words to use and the exact cue for the waterworks. So, here's your chance to have the upper hand when dealing with them.

The first step is finding the right balance between being kind and straightforward. Make sure you let them know you're on to their act, then try to express how that makes you feel. Furthermore, tell them they need to change their ways if they want to be in contact with you. Forming all of this into a sentence can be difficult, especially if you are overwhelmed by their behavior, so prepare what you will say beforehand.


Here's an example of how you can phrase it: "I am aware of you using your tears to manipulate and play with my emotions. I value genuine and honest relationships, and I feel hurt and disrespected by your actions. If you want us to continue our friendship, please mend your ways."

Understanding their mindset

It's important to understand why and when people would use alligator tears. The question of why is simple: By triggering an emotional response and garnering your empathy, their prime objective is always to get their way. But the motive can differ depending on where and when it is used. For example, if someone uses this tactic regularly, it could mean they want themselves painted as an all-day-every-day victim, hoping you'll always go easy on them. And, if they use it during arguments, they intend to gaslight you and manipulate you into succumbing to their wishes.


By understanding their mindset and motives, we can plan our exit strategy. But if you're the type to not give up on people, you can always point out their behavior and refer them to help. However, make sure you are not doing it at the expense of your mental well-being.