Why is A Lack of Empathy in Relationships so Hard?

The level of happiness, understanding, intimacy, security, and connection that you feel in your relationships will always be directly linked to the level of empathy that both you and your partner have.

Same goes for the relationship that you have with yourself. The level of confidence, self-love, and power that you feel is, 100% of the time, linked to the level of empathy that you have for yourself.

If you have no empathy for yourself, you’ll keep chasing love, acceptance, and validation from those who cannot empathize with you either (but that you somehow, continue to have an abundance of empathy for).

Empathetic bankruptcy is the common denominator of all toxic relationships

So, what do you do when you’re in love with someone who lacks empathy?

How do you deal with an unempathetic partner?

Is it even possible to date (or have any kind of relationship with) someone who has a lack of empathy?

What is Empathy?

Wikipedia defines empathy as “the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within the other being’s frame of reference, i.e., the capacity to place oneself in another’s position.”

Empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. It’s about feeling and being there with someone, even if you haven’t been through exactly what they are going through. It’s also about being self-aware.

If there is a lack of empathy in your relationship, you don’t have a mutual and healthy relationship. You have a very painful transaction.

In the past, I would overly empathize with others but continued to find myself in relationships where the other person had zero empathy for me.

Why?

We will only tolerate relationships with people who treat us no worse than we treat ourselves. You can’t give a dollar that you don’t have. I didn’t have any true empathy to give others because I had no empathy for myself. The “empathy” that I felt for others was nothing more than me feeling for them. I would make it all about me needing to “be good enough,” and then tie my worth to impossibility of ever being able to do so. For me, empathy = giving second chances that were never earned and excusing sh*tty behavior from toxic people. That’s not what empathy is about.

 Empathy is when you can be there and feel with someone, not for them.

I used to find myself in relationships and friendships where I felt more alone than if I were to be physically alone in a jail cell. This is because there was a lack of empathy.

If you’re involved in a relationship where you feel as though there is a lack of empathy, here’s what you need to know:

  • Just like you can’t be a millionaire and claim poverty when it suits you, you cannot be selectively empathetic. You can’t.

The reason why some people seem to “withhold”/have no empathy for you and so readily give it out to others is NOT because you aren’t good enough. They do this because as long as they can prove to you that they have the capacity to “empathize” with others, they can keep you in a state of fear-based hopefulness that one day if you are “good enough,” they will do the same for you. This is what makes you ignore red flags and stay in relationships way past their expiration date. You’re constantly trying to “be better” for and understand them on a deeper level.

These people aren’t truly empathizing because selective empathy is impossible. They have no empathy for themselves and therefore, give out selective validation wrapped in a cloak of pseudo “empathy.”

  • Empathy and vulnerability go hand-in-hand. If someone can’t be vulnerable, they have no empathy to give. In order to connect and empathize with you, they would have to be vulnerable enough to connect to something within themselves.
  • Just like empathy cannot be selective, it also can’t be conditional. If anyone puts conditions around their empathy, that’s not empathy. It’s “let’s see how desperate you are for my validation/approval.”
  • Judgment and empathy cannot coexist. To judge is to pedestal yourself while failing to see the very connectedness that empathy is defined by – the connectedness that we all share.

How do you deal with people who lack empathy?

Understand that without the other person being able to put themselves in your shoes, feel with you, and see themselves within you and your experience… a healthy relationship will never exist. Your love and devotion will never be enough to extract empathy from unempathetic people.

Yes, this can be very painful to acknowledge and accept but I promise you, the pain you that feel in that acceptance will be short-lived and will ultimately, translate into a lifetime of peace.

Accepting people for who they are is scary. It’s scary because the moment that you stop fighting it, tying your worth to it, and trying to make sense out of nonsense, you have to do the one thing that you’ve been avoiding at all costs… Accept yourself for who you’ve become and use that acceptance as motivation to rise above your triggers.

If you find that you keep getting involved with people who have no empathy, the best thing you can do is start to work on empathizing with yourself.

And the only way to do that is through vulnerability.

Be everything that you needed when you were younger and didn’t have.

If you’re involved with someone who lacks empathy, let go of the expectation that one day, they will magically empathize for someone better. Let go of ALL expectations and remember…

Once you know that you’re dealing with an unempathetic person, if you keep re-engaging, that’s not them hurting you, that’s you continuing to immerse your head in the toilet and then cry because you’re sick and smelly. Keep your boundaries intact and understand that you wouldn’t be in this situation if you had more empathy for yourself.

Unempathetic people are all about themselves. This is why they’re so impactful on you and your emotions. They withhold from you and keep you in the emotional desert. And then, when they do give you a little drop, you overvalue it and mistake it for a gallon. It’s just a dirty drop.

And just because they appear to give gallons to others, that doesn’t mean that you’re only worth a drop (or that the gallons they’re giving out aren’t contaminated).

x Natasha

If you need further and more personalized help with your relationship, please look into working with me here.

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39 comments

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LOVE it! I was ALL ABOUT them dirty drops, girl! Bahahahaha! I was filthy! But I’m clean and fresh now, and he’s still DIRTY, in EVERY way. What a LOSER! Thank you for EVERYTHING! Love you! -Diane

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LOL! 🙂 Thanks sister! Love u xx

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Love love love you girl…I tell everybody about you. You help me alot you have no idea.

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Thanks Gem! I’m happy to have helped 🙂 XOXO

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DIANE V,
ME too…I was so filthy..I am clean now. We go girl!

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YAY GEM! Gotta wash that man right outta our lives! Lol ❤️??❤️

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You are both making me LOL! Love you! XOXO

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🙂 WOO HOO! XOXO

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This is resonating. I had a fwb that i was not expecting to be my man, but i do have an expectation that when someone engages and says they will be somewhere, they will. Well, he stood me up… i did not get mad, i disappeared. Then ran into him amd he had the gaul to blame me for not getting an invite day of, and that he should be pittied because he was studying. For a few moments, i thought, if i were prettier and thinner then he would not have done those things, which may or may not be true, but if it were, it was just another way he is a jackass. Thinking bad thoughts about an ass is the same as overindulging in candy and wondering why i feel gross. I did nothing at all to deserve being stood up and i don’t need to add disappointing myself to his grotesque behavior. I erased his number when he stood me up and did not approach him when i saw him. For a moment i thought i should be sweet, or tell him off…but being sweet would have told him it was ok. And telling him was wasted breath on an unempathetic jerk.

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Thank you so much sharing! I’m glad that it resonated with you! XO

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You’re the best Natasha! Since I’ve came across your enriched knowledge of PMS, it’s made me a stronger woman who lost her self-worth. Reading your articles has empowered me. Thank you so much for sharing!!!

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It takes one to know one GG! You are amazing and stronger than you even know 🙂 That makes me so happy to hear; I’m happy that the posts have helped! Thanks sister! XOXO

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Still cant read the font! Your articles are so amazing, but after my kast response on the font you said you woukd get it changed 🙁

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Hi Linda! Thank you so much! I’ve done my best and unfortunately cannot currently alter the font. There should be a setting on your computer where you can enlarge the size of the text 🙂 xoxo

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Natasha, you’re blogs have saved me so much. I just got out of a relationship with an emotionally unavailable man. I know it’s the right thing to do but as you say, I’m addicted to the idea of being in a relationship with him. And yes dating other guys just make me miss him (or the man he promised me he would be) even more. What’s sad is that if he calls me now, I will go back, but of course he hasn’t. I can’t stop thinking about him. I want to touch his face, hug him, and fall asleep next to him. And it hurts so much knowing that he probably thinks I’m crazy if he’s thinking about me at all and probably has moved on already. Is it bad for contemplating contacting him again after 60 days?

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Hi Yoyonez! I’m happy that the posts have helped 🙂 What you are feeling is totally normal and you’re not alone. I would refrain from contact. I know it’s hard xoxo

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I can definitely relate to this post. It’s almost like I was trying to pull teeth from my ex just to give me empathy. Sometimes I found myself lacking empathy when it came to my ex because I felt they were a attention whore. Everytime drama corrupts my ex’s life, it would corrupt mine as well. Most times my ex would attract drama and I was collateral damage. But I lacked empathy because I didn’t want to ignite my ex’s already inflated ego. So I didn’t react to whenever my ex had issues going on. In turn my ex started lacking sympathy for me. It was the most annoyingest relationsh*t ever. I’m so much happier because now I don’t have to pretend not to care. I am typically a very empathetic person, but not when I feel that I’m contributing to a person’s drama filled life full of ego inflation and attention seeking. I can’t see myself being empathetic towards those type of behaviors. Wonderful and brilliant post Natasha!!!! ?

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Thank you so much for sharing this sis! You are brilliant and the level of self awareness that you have will take you to the highest of heights. I never thought of it that way! Loved this, love YOU and so PROUD of you. Get it girl! XX

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My mind is exploding every time I read a different post from you on empathy. I wish I had found your blog much earlier because it would have saved a lot of self doubt and me feeling like I was crazy when dealing with my ex. So many things are coming together and starting to make sense now. I know I am an empath and after realizing that I’ve started to come to terms that the ex was in was taking advantage of that quality in me. Your example of the drop in a bucket was perfect. His bucket was overflowing and mine had a hole in it. I would almost be out of water and start to have doubts but right before that happened he would add a drop and I would excuse everything (lesson learned). I need to be a little more aware and love myself more instead of giving it all away. Sanity restored.

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Yes! You go girl. Thanks so much J 🙂 I’m happy it helped! xoxo

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Sooooooo glad I found this!! It was right on time and gave confirmation and a diagnosis to what I’ve somehow known all along without knowing what to call it! Thanks for offering this path to freedom!

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Thanks Jaybeau! I’m so happy it served you 🙂 XOXO

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Hi Natasha,

This post on empathy really touched a nerve with me EVERYTHING you said is true. What I have also found is some emotionally Unavailable men lack empathy for the ones that love them because to these men you do not deserve the compassion. The cousin of the friend/acquaintance/coworker etc is a truly innocent person that did not ask for their predicament. However, you (the girlfriend) did by constantly re-engaging with them when they have either said/shown you in the past your (in)significance in their lives. In his way of thinking you should have known better. Another universal truth is most people do not feel sorry for others if they think they brought the problem on themselves.

“Once upon a time, a woman was picking up firewood. She came upon a poisonous snake frozen in the snow. She took the snake home and nursed it back to health. One day the snake bit her on the cheek. As she lay dying, she asked the snake, “Why have you done this to me?” And the snake answered, “Look, bitch, you knew I was a snake.”

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Happy that the post helped!! 🙂 Thanks TavaMac! XOX

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Thank you Natasha! It’s because if you.. I’m a 2.0(way better!!! ) version of myself!

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YAYYY! I am honored to have helped but it’s ALL you 🙂 SO proud of and happy for you Ipsita. XOXO

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Lots of great, though-provoking information here, thanks! I agree that feeling for (pity) is very different than feeling with (empathy). And yes, everything starts and ends with US, that’s how we grow and heal. Where it breaks down a bit for me (and perhaps I’ve misunderstood you?) is what came across as a somewhat all or nothing view. I believe that regardless of the virtue (e.g., empathy, compassion, humility, ability to forgive), most of us (until we’re realized beings), are somewhere on a continuum of becoming. I don’t believe it’s a matter of either we are able to feel genuine empathy or not, but rather that there is a degree to which we are able to feel empathy. And that may change depending on the situation, what’s going on with us at the time, etc. I also think it’s quite possible to feel genuine empathy for someone………or an animal, or a tree………..even if one doesn’t always feel full empathy for one’s self 100% of the time. Lastly, in my experience, it’s extremely rare to come upon people who have the ability to be fully empathic 100% of the time with everyone, including themselves. Same goes for forgiveness, etc. So for most people the choice then comes down to having friends that may not meet their ideals and being good with that or being alone and true to their own ideals..

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Some people are naturally devoid of empathy. It gets complicated though, because there are two types of empathy: ’emotional’ and ‘cognitive’. Emotional empathy is the most important type, it proves you’re human. It’s instinctive – we feel others’ pain, and others feel our pain too. It’s one big reason the human race has survived.

I’ve learned through past friendships that some people are just devoid of empathy and to be honest, this truly disgusts me. So now, when I make new friendships I take my time getting to know them first before I emotionally invest in them.

Why are those devoid of empathy disgusting? Because they allow evil and suffering to happen more easily in the world. Because they benefit from everyone else’s empathy (which is pain that we suffer for the greater good) but they don’t return the favour.

They take but they don’t give back – which makes them parasites.

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I’m dealing with a father in law who lacks empathy. We live in the same house so I often have to deal with him. Most recently he trashed my whole room and went through all of my personal belongings. When I asked him if he thought this acceptable to do to someone I was told that if I dont like it I should just go f myself. I have done nothing to piss him off and he truly thinks its his right to do this if he feels like it and has no consideration for how I might feel about this.

Another example is that he thinks you can buy someones love. His wife left him because he never considered her feelings and he thinks she will come back by buying her a diamond necklace. Whenever they went somewhere together he would suddenly leave without saying anything to her and not understand why it upset her. He would then offer to pay for something hoping she would stop being mad at him.

Aditionally, he disconnected our internet because the flashing light on the router kept him from falling asleep. He had no answer when asked if he had considered we may need to use the internet.

He is not violent or physically harmful and has a social life but his lack of empathy is ruining my life, leaving me depressed and suicidal. Its obvious that theres no point in trying to reason with him as he simply can not understand that his actions may affect others emotionally. Ive also tried doing (what I perceive to be) equally upsetting things back and the response was that I am treating him unfairly and he has done nothing to me to deserve this. Im working on getting out of this situation but any tips on how to deal with this for now would be more than welcome.

Xx

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Hi Donan,

If you are feeling at all suicidal, please contact suicide prevention in your country immediately. I’m so sorry that you are having to deal with this. Wish I had the time to advise in the comments section. Thank you for your love, support and understanding. You are not alone. xx

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Donan, I see this is an old post. If you are still in this situation, please seek support of others. It is never worth trading your literal life for someone else’s comfort. I don’t know what the right answer is but sometimes it is just not safe to live in the same dwelling with some family members. It is ok to love yourself and believe YOU have value and YOU have a right to survive! Prayers to you!

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♥️??

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Thank you for writing this. I’m in a long-term relationship with a man who lacks empathy towards me. Tonight has been a particularly bad night, and I’ve spent hours googling ‘how to convince your partner to work on building empathy’ with depressing results. I don’t feel capable of getting out – due to loving the hell out of the jerk, a seriously bad financial problem that I’m too ashamed to admit to let alone seek help for, and my own mental health issues – exasperated by the suicide of my closest friend. It’s just too much. Anyway. You really hit me in the chest with this bit: “if you have no empathy for yourself, you’ll keep chasing after the love, acceptance and validation of those that cannot empathize with you either (but that you somehow, despite their disconnectivity, continue to have an abundance of empathy for).” That is me. My whole stupid love life has been that. What I’m trying to say is: that’s something I can actually work on and make progress with, because it’s just me, I don’t have to rely on someone else being willing to grow. It’s a sliver of hope and a nudge in the right direction, and I really needed it right now. Thank you

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Your analysis of this type of male behaviour is spot on. That and the life comments of other respondents is familiar. Where I differ is that I don’t seek empathy from him. I don’t long for him emotionally. He is unavailable to me as I now am to him. He doesn’t understand why as he has a total lack of insight into his behaviour.I also know I can’t change his behaviour. I feel stronger because of this realisation which came to me some years ago resulting in me looking at how to make my life better. I have created social contacts with other people and find that people are drawn to being friends with me. I have no interest in romantic connections with anyone. As an older woman there is some freedom in this. I enjoy my life. I largely ignore his rudeness; his unhelpfulness; his constant conversational interruptions and his lack of empathy. He grows more miserable and seems not to understand that without empathy for your partner you can’t have warmth and a truly sharing and caring relationship. It is very easy for him to place the blame on me. This type of man always seems to do that. I refuse to take responsibility for his behaviour. I take responsibility only for my own. It is sad really because I am a person who likes to smile with others and am naturally a warm and empathic person. I just know those qualities are wasted on him. I can show them to family and friends and I have great relationships with his adult daughters. My message is change what you can change but don’t waste time and energy trying to change an attention seeking; hypercritical and unempathic male. Only he can decide whether to do that. If you have the option of removing yourself from the situation then do so. Find other things in your life that make you feel happy and be thankful for what you have.

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Amen. Love this. Thank you so much for sharing L 🙂 xx

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This sums up my relationship perfectly. The problem is as much as I know (and have tried) to end it, we are business partners as well. I moved out of the home we shared over a year ago – we aren’t married – so that created the distance I needed at that time. Because I have to see him literally every day at work, it makes it hard to completely break away. I don’t know what to do. I know ending it is the right choice for my sanity.

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Search “work with your ex” here on the blog. I have a post on that. I’m happy that the post helped – Thanks for being a part of this tribe Stephanie. xoxo

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That’s brilliant advice ? I have been struggling to understand my partner of 9 year’s lack of empathy and have questioned my own personal emotions. Is it me? Have I done something wrong or this and that? Until sometimes I wonder what I am worth to be treated this way ! He treats his mother and daughter (who do very little for him) with much more consideration and respect. He never asks me anything about my day or if I need anything doing. It’s always about him and when I speak he often interrupts my conversation and ignored what I’ve said. I have often wondered if he is a narcissist and or sociopath as he displays many of the traits. I’m at the point of sending him off for good. I don’t seem to be getting anything of any value from this one sided relationship. I’m just being taken for a ride. It’s taken me so long to realize that he has nothing to lose because he hasn’t invest ed anything I’ve done all the work both physically and mentally while he’s done nothing ! What an idiot I’ve been. Well as Elkie Brooks sang “No more the fool”

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Hi Sian!

Exactly – No more. The good thing is that you have LEARNED <3 We've all been there and you are not alone. Thank you so much for sharing and for being a part of this tribe 🙂 xx

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