Abusive Relationships: Don't Let Abusers Waste Your Empathy

April 28, 2013 Kellie Jo Holly

Waste comes on all forms. Plastics, bodily wastes, and characteristics like empathy for others. Yeah, I know, we don't usually consider a good quality in ourselves as a waste - but in some cases, empathy is a waste of energy. When you're in an abusive relationship, your loving empathy for your abuser is a definitely a waste of your energy.

When you waste empathy in your abusive relationship, you throw your thinking and emotions off balance. Unbalanced thoughts and feelings lead to hasty and usually detrimental actions. When was the last time you did something in a state of anger that you wish you could take back? How often have you been so fatigued from dealing with your abusive relationship have you neglected important tasks or other relationships?

An unbalanced internal state causes an unbalanced way of living. Once you start the slide downhill, the negative energies gain power and you just keep on sliding down (Verbal Abuse Signs and Symptoms).

Why Abusive Relationships Are A Waste of Empathy

An abusive person requires you to stick around so they can maintain the will to survive. If your abuser had no one to abuse, they would be forced to turn on themselves, to beat themselves down. Due to the nature of an abusive person, they cannot remain alone for very long because they cannot take the punishment they inflict on themselves (it's like the pain they inflict on you!). They're weak. They require the energy you provide to them by acting as their punching bag, their stress relief.

However, if the abuser didn't project the illusion of a person that deserves your empathy, you would leave your abusive relationship straight away. Keeping you around by showing their nice face every now and then strengthens your empathy for the good person they want you to think they are deep down (Cycle of Violence and How to Break the Cycle of Abuse). It is easier to be nice to you ever so often than to go out and fool another person into loving them. The abuser's payout for using energy to fool you comes back to them 100-fold when you let them abuse you because you feel sorry for them.

While your empathy fuels your abuser and makes them stronger, wasting your empathy on an abusive person turns you into a sick person. Your self-esteem drops, your decision-making ability declines and eventually your body deteriorates. Your brain creates new pathways to handle the negative energies going on in your mind and spirit. You will develop depression and/or anxiety, and your body could lose its ability to fight infection or its strength to fight a pre-existing malady.

Your abuser does not deserve your empathy. There are better things you can do with it that will help you and the world around you!

3 Ways to Conserve Empathy In Abusive Relationships

Reduce Empathy Used in the Abusive Relationship

Reducing your empathy requires detachment. The ability to detach requires knowledge about abusive relationships. The more you know about domestic violence and abuse and why your abuser acts the way he or she does, the clearer it will become that you shouldn't take their words and actions to heart. In a way, whatever your abuser says or does isn't directed at you. It's directed at themselves, but instead of abusing themselves, they choose to abuse you.

Check out the picture next to this paragraph. In the center is the word empathy. Read the words around empathy. Does your abusive relationship offer anything like understanding, nurturing, relating to one another honestly, caring, good communication or love? No. So you don't have to give empathy to your abusive relationship either.

Reuse Your Empathy

You can reuse your wasted empathy. You know how much effort you put into understanding your abuser? Figuring out what they need and want and then giving it to them is good practice for figuring out what you need and want and then giving those good things to yourself.

It may feel weird to reconnect with your feelings at first. For a long time, you have ignored how you feel and allowed your abuser to manipulate you into feeling false emotions like guilt, shame, and hate for who you have become. Your abuser should be the one feeling those horrible things, not you! But your abuser won't feel bad for anything they do - they expect you to feel bad for them.

Stop wasting empathy on your abuser and the abusive relationship. Use your empathetic skills to help someone who deserves them - YOU!

Recycle Your Empathy

When you slip and decide to stick around after an abusive episode because she's having a bad day or this is just how he is, forgive yourself for staying. Admit that you gave the abuser a pass. Instead of enforcing your boundaries, you caved and let your abuser hurt you. Oh well. Everyone makes mistakes.*

Figure out exactly when you decided to stick around to listen to your abuser's nonsense. Were you trapped in the room or the car? Did they wake you up from a sleep and you didn't realize what was happening until it was too late? Maybe you were just too exhausted or afraid to get away. Whatever the reason you didn't walk away from them, it's okay.

You aren't stupid. You aren't weak. But prevent the abuse from happening again by empathizing with your feelings about what happened (not theirs) and make a safety plan for what you will do the next time your abuser sideswipes you like that.

Always remember that you deserve as much or more empathy from yourself than you give to anyone else. You deserve forgiveness, joy, and love as much as you want to give good feelings to your abuser. But since your abuser doesn't want to accept your loving gift, stop giving them something they don't want. Give it to yourself instead.

Reduce, reuse and recycle your empathy so you can stay strong and make clear-headed decisions that will increase your positive energy.

See also: Compassion Fatigue Test

*Hey! If you are physically abused, forgive yourself but leave your abusive relationship as soon as possible! Don't hold out for the next time.

You can also find Kellie Jo Holly on her website, Google+, Facebook and Twitter.

APA Reference
Jo, K. (2013, April 28). Abusive Relationships: Don't Let Abusers Waste Your Empathy, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 17 from

Author: Kellie Jo Holly

April, 20 2022 at 7:16 am

I disagree with you, abusers do deserve empathy, but perhaps not from a spouse or an intimate partner. Abusers abuse cause they were abused in their childhood. They often have a mental illness, now that does not excuse abuse, but more than often they have little to no control over their reactions. They have an illness, and like anyone with an illness they deserve empathy and help. But I agree with you they should not be in intimate relationships, and anyone in an emotionally and physically abusive relationship should get out and get help. But there should be caring, empathetic and loving community supporting the abuser and helping him overcome his illness. Abusers are abused children grown up.

July, 31 2022 at 8:47 pm

Adam, empathy?….no. Absolutely not. Help? Yes. Unfortunately most will NOT seek the help they need because they don’t see themselves as having the problem. It’s not our jobs to “fix” ANYONE and certainly not someone who is abusive. I understand that some people THINK that abusers were abused themselves in childhood but that too is not always the case. Please be careful with telling people they should be “empathetic” to abusers or believing that yourself. Unfortunately that is what a lot of us have done and that’s why we are here reading this article. We’ve become too tolerant as a human culture to bad behaviors and we are now reaping the consequences to bad advice like showing “empathy”.

November, 6 2022 at 5:27 pm

Adam- abusers DO have control over their actions because they trick lots of people outside an abusive relationship that they are kind, compassionate people. They lose control at home towards their intimate partner. Also they quite often are NOT mentally unwell, AND ANOTHER point- I HAD A terribly childhood I don't abuse anyone. I don't want POWER AND CONTROL. ABUSERS DO. A bad childhood does equal an abuser. I know plenty of folks who have had rough childhoods and they don't abuse.
These are very archaic myths you are spreading about abusers. You need to read ' WHY DOES HE DO IT' by Lundy Bancroft. Abusers don't need empathy they need re-educating, deprogramming from the patriarchal ideologies that women are here to serve. etc etc. PS. Abusive men are entitled, they think they are above women, the law etc etc. They have no regard for their intimate partners. Hate to break it to you, but empathy ain't gonna do anything to change it!

November, 3 2019 at 12:16 am

Not an exclamation I would like to attach to this blog but this acted like a balm for me.
This mental and physical health deterioration is what I was going through & finally have found the courage to leave couple of weeks back.

November, 27 2014 at 7:59 am

I am really glad I discovered this blog. God knows I really need to share and find support.

November, 10 2013 at 9:13 am

I half-agree about the need to understand where victims of trauma like PTSD are "coming from" as I seem to have developed a rage problem coming from abuse that's so far gone unrecognized or unadmitted by those around me. I rant and vent a lot which seems dangerous but is actually a displacement, as I feel out of control of the situation unless I can get someone to believe me (the abuse has been ongoing, but subtle) and care enough to intervene on my behalf, so I mostly feel helpless. If I didn't feel so helpless I don't think I'd get half as angry as I do now, but I find it very hard to take verbal and other forms of social bullying as I have a pathological fear of embarrassment and of being misunderstood, or misjudged, and just about everyone seems to think I'm crazy by now, and I don't know what to do.
I need real help, not more humiliation and embarrassment and put-downs. I need for people to recognize any good qualities I have, and promote or encourage them.
But I haven't actually done anything to retaliate besides acting-out and frequent verbalizing of my frustration and rage. So I tend to disagree about empathizing or feeling sorry for those who are being abusive due to PTSD or similar trauma-induced disorders, if that means staying in a potentially dangerous relationship, particularly marriage.
I am trying to understand, when I manage to calm down and think rationally, but my emotional problems are worst in the mornings. I'm also worse whenever I get tired or haven't been getting enough sleep, and nobody seems to appreciate all the stress I've been through, maybe they think I was exaggerating or making things up. I've actually been attacked on the street, this happened in November of 2011 while I was briefly homeless because I didn't want to contact my relatives, I was thinking they might be planning to call the mental health dept. and have me "put away" even if they thought this was for my own good, so I took off after getting evicted, and was mostly living on the streets for 2 months.
That can be dangerous but I can't charge them with endangerment, after all, it was my choice to be homeless, I wasn't wandering around confused, but just didn't want to call my brother or relatives. They tended to talk down to me and give me unwanted advice, at least, according to my perspective. Though for all I know it might not have been sadistic on their part, maybe they just didn't understand what was happening in my mind and the struggles I was trying to overcome.
The apartment I'd been evicted from, part of the reason was that my next-door neighbor might have had a rage disorder, and even said in my presence talking to another neighbor, he had a history of being in prison (the police acted like what I told them was a joke, I'd just withdrawn without titrating from psychiatric prescription drugs that diminished my IQ, quality of life, made me dull and unmotivated and unhealthy, anhedonic (unable to enjoy anything) less communicative, or socially responsive, and unable to remember things clearly, particularly people's faces, even those I had known for years if I met them in an unfamiliar place.
But brain damage makes people passive, what can I say, whether or not it qualified as "damage" is moot, it didn't seem reversible, except for the lingering effects of SSRI discontinuation syndrome. Stimulates nerve growth factor release, which might explain my increased IQ, social response, and heightened emotionality. They might have thought I was lying and probably believed I was using cocaine or some other stimulant, and not admitting it. My behavior actually seemed theatrical. The initial result of sudden withdrawal was extreme emotion but at first it was positive, and manic, or euphoric, which can be dangerous (admittedly) if you get too reckless and have too much confidence to have any sense of fear, and engage in potentially dangerous activities. But that was temporary, and since having had so many negative experiences since then, I'm timid, at least socially, not reckless anymore. I'm too afraid to make major decisions and tend to hide away when people do or say things that offend me or put me in a defensive state.
I want to deal with this, but it's difficult unless I can get them to understand where I'm "coming from."

October, 27 2013 at 3:21 am

The abuser contacted me after months of being out of my life. I had been through surgery which the abuser knew about and never contacted me (although the abuser is immediate family). Then when all is good, the abuser contacts me s if there's concern for my well-being. My response to the abuser's email was short, sweet, and upbeat. "Actually, I'm doing great," I wrote, and then I said to a friend, "I wonder who she's been abusing all these months when I've been out of the picture? Immediately, I suspected she needed me to dump her anger as maybe her relationships were being destroyed. I'm always her dumping ground which, in fact, saves her other relationships. It's very tempting to step back into a relationship, especially when it's immediate family, (after they've left you alone when you actually needed help and knew it), but I am staying strong, realizing that nothing will ever be different, and time away changes nothing. It doses not instigate a change in the abuser's behavior. It never has. It never will. The abuser needs me to dump her anger on to save her other relationships. I've always been her scapegoat. I won't be her scapegoat anymore. Being a caregiver, it feels "uneasy" not to be friendly, but I have to remind myself over and over that narcissists do not change no matter what. They do not change. What I would like really has no relevance. Their fixed behavior is reality. I found your article to read at the precise moment I needed reassurance that my "short and sweet response saying i was doing great" was exactly what I needed to say and do. The only way to survive an abuser is to get them out of your life, and then exert the empathy on oneself where it will do some good.

August, 12 2013 at 11:11 pm

Thank you so much for your insight. I was slipping , even though the "logical" words were coming out of my mouth, ( I am NOT being mean TO you when I tell you that what you HAVE and ARE STILL doing to me HURTS! YOU were the one who was Mean TO me!), RIGHT BACK n2 the same old patterns. I began "explaining" to him that he ,(& his narcissitic mother who he has allowed & even invited to abuse me & others in "their" lives), ABUSED & HAD BEEN MEAN TO ME. He is in counseling & has "Realized" (AGAIN) who his mother truly (Truth is not defined as many other key terms are to them, to be the OPPOSITE of what it is. Unless of course those terms pertain to what THEY EXPECT from others) , is. We were evicted from his father's rental property months ago (God doing for me what I could not do for myself & our precious son). My "love of my life"/ abuser now lives with his mother. My son & I have a place to stay for now , and although I felt my life had been turned upside down, I am actually doing better than I was when my only real contact (that without consequences) was with this man & his mother). He hates living with her, he is "sorry" (so that should be enough for me to "stop being mean" to him(?!!WTHeck?!!). He STILL says mean things , still makes my son & I feel bad (Yes, I have been spending time with him b/c he was improving. My son has begun acting as though daddy is wonderful; daddy was always wonderful; ect.). I am no stranger to abuse,(I had my own sets of childhood trauma. That led to drug addiction, then to finding recovery ,& allowing Jesus to begin His True Works for me. What kind of mother does it make me to KNOW what abuse causes & to let this man & his mother damage myself & more so my precious, innocent, beautiful, & undeserving son to go through all of this?!:(:(:()
As for the comment about PTSD and having EMPATHY FOR ABUSERS?!!! HELLLOOOO?!!! I have complex PTSD and I dont run around doing things to intentionally hurt people to avoid feeling bad about myself. Giving the abuser my empathy has hurt me & my son. It also hasnt helped this love of my life. I STILL have empathy for him& he still claims to have "empathy" for me. Being an ultra-sensitive type, I feel pain from another as soon as I look into their eyes. I could never look into their eyes & be so EXTREMELY CRUEL to them . I CAN FEEL OTHER's PAIN. My abuser claims that he "just didnt realize" the pain that he & his mother were causing . There is SO MUCH MORE TO THIS STORY- (a pregnancy I terminated that I'll regret for the rest of my life((of which he laughed at my pain about several times. My 1st visit to jail- after I was clean- b/c he wouldnt stop yelling lies & Gosh-Awful things that my son was crying about . I "hit" him & I ended up in jail (instead of the like the ONLY other time I'd "hit" him- pregnant and being strangled (again!) & kicked down & dragged down the hall in front of my then 3year old). I'd better leave room for other replies here! Thank you again! Please pray for my precious baby & for me to do right by Him, Myself,& My Savior. I may be a stranger, but I send my love to all of you & your children who have been victims of soul-suckers (who were really good "deep-down")

Irene Renteria
August, 1 2013 at 7:58 am

I do not know why I have stayed in a verbally abusive relationship for 14 years. Just thinking of leaving brings on a panic attack and I do not know why. For the first three years of our marriage the abuse was physical, but I left called the cops and he went to anger management courses and improved considerably. He sobered up and became a somewhat normal version of his previous self. What I failed to recognize until five years ago was the abuse never ended it just became more allusive. The problem for me is I keep believing there is a better person in him and that he will eventually realize how bad he has hurt me and then fill remorseful. Additionally, it is my faith. I have been raised in families were divorce is prevalent. From a very young age I determined that my marriage would last forever. In my faith, divorce is wrong, period. I fill as if I am sinning and failing as wife if I were to be divorced. Constantly I am encouraged by others that God will save my marriage. I keep hanging on to those to hopes. Thirdly I am afraid that I will hurt my 13 year old and 8 year old sons. I have four children, two of my own and two with my spouse. My older children would be ecstatic for me to leave, but my younger two, it would hurt them. Their father is very involved in their schooling and sports. He is there hero. The last time I left two years ago my husband wanted to talk it out with me and he came to my door and begged to come in and he lay on the floor and cried with our younger children in his arms saying that nobody loves him but his sons. The police had my husband in cuffs and let our sons come out and see him like that and they clung to him crying. I stayed because of them. There are many reasons I stay, such as no money, nowhere to go etc. but ultimately it is my sons that keep me with their dad. I fear that I will have no respect from them when I leave either, because my spouse has made sure to let the kids know that he is the boss and that I have zero authority. I am scared.

June, 3 2013 at 9:57 pm

My husband of 5 years is extremely physically and mentally abusive, I cannot do anything right on a daily basis Im called a whores, simple minded, lazy, fat, bitch, cunt, spit on, hair pulled, threatened he going to knock me in my fat mouth, calls me uneducated, waste of skin, ugly, ect. He doesn't keep steady employment always looking for a way to pay our bills, on top of this has allot of debt from previous marriage. He drinks vodka every other day if he can, he has accused me of things I haven't done, I have tried to understand what is going on w him. He has been diagnosed w bi/polar, ptsd, and anxiety. I myself suffer from anxiety he knew this when we met, he uses that against me. We have a 3 yr old little girl he has called retarded, I haven't had a day off from this in 4 years. He demands sex and Will say how he can just get somewhere else, calls me broken because I have a fibroid which makes sex uncomfortable. He has forced me to have sex. He has lied about me to family and friends, Im trying to get out but hard he has ruined my credit, he keeps keys from me, he Will take the phones, computer ect Will take and hide cords so I can't use them when batteries go dead. He has blooded my nose and told me I walked into door, he has Sat on my lap and choked me and w other hand over mt mouth. I'm trying mt best to get out of here, funds are limited, Im isolated from what friends I had and family scattered in different states.

May, 8 2013 at 5:46 am

This is sooooo what I needed to read,,Im out of an abusive relationship with an alcoholic/addict for about 7 months now and still recovering from the emotional scars. Its amamzing how I ignored the "RED FLAGS" even on the very first date. I am now able to verbalize my feeling without shame or guilt and empower myself again,,thanks to Blogs such as tis one and for wonderful books out there on this subject,,,thank you again <3

noel wells
May, 5 2013 at 9:15 pm

I have tears in my eyes as I finish reading this article. How well this woman knows exactly how I am feeling right now and telling me just the right things. How alone I thought I was and how I am grateful to have found answers here as well as on the battered womens syndrome site. I thought I was crazy, turns out I am just all of those things next to each asterisk in the list describing a battered woman. Holy crap, I am glad there is a name to these feelings and who this person is that I am now. I guess now I can get help, now my symptoms have a name.

May, 2 2013 at 1:37 am

What a very bad article. Uncontrollable rage is a symptom of many ptsd survivors. Being denied empathy through opinions like the above is cruel. Of course there are abusive persons, who take a delight in abusing someone, just like there are many people thriving on controlling others. And of course those with intentions to abuse, should be avoided, but in many cases abuse comes from rage that simply cannot be controlled by our brainfunctions. And noone is ever their symptoms. Much better would be to develop systems to learn to direct the rage in a different way, to learn coping with the rage instead of having to explode with it. Mindfulness is a good method. In order to do that people need to be much loved and much forgiven for every time they fail. Building new neuropaths takes time. According to Daniel Siegel some 10.000 hours to form myelinisation, so that the new patterns are stable. To heal as a society we need to be allinclusive. When people with certain diseasesymptoms are ostracized, denied access to cohesive groups in society, where then will they go and to what greater harming others may they then fall prey to. More important is to become aware of the abuse we are dealt with by wars, medialies,GMOfood and adding fluoride to drinking water. As long as someone abusing can acknowledge his acts, one can strive for healing and to do that much love and empathy is needed.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Kellie Holly
May, 7 2013 at 5:13 am

We must take care of ourselves first. If someone is abusing you, and they won't stop or can't stop or haven't been through enough "treatment" to learn how to stop, it is our right and responsibility to protect ourselves from them. Empathizing with their "plight" "disorder" and "lack of social know-how" takes vital energy away from the victim/target of their abuse. Let them get their treatment and their knowledge - allow them their space to heal. Sticking around in a relationship where you see them every day is like taking a daily dose of s&*t that poisons and slowly kills.
Save your empathy for healing yourself. I'm not in the business of healing the abuser - if they want to heal, more power to them and it can be done (in some cases). I don't see one good reason why I or anyone else should feel so sorry for them that we need to stick around and allow them to practice on us. That's why marriage has a term called "separation" attached to it - separate, live apart, and let the abuser PROVE through his or her actions that s/he will learn how to behave like a decent human being.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

June, 19 2018 at 8:10 pm

No. You are dead wrong. This article is great. If you think PTSD causes abuse, then consider that only a qualified psychiatrist can treat it. Not a spouse, girlfriend, or best friend. You can love someone from afar. Dont ever think you can cure an abuser it only prolongs your own self being abused.

May, 1 2013 at 6:25 am

I am still in the abusive relationship. He says he loves me, but then turns around and says things that don't even make sense. I'll just give you a couple and let me know if he is an emotional abuser or not. Talking on the phone with him, he gets mad if I interrupt him, he yells at me. Aren't you going to listen, what did I just say. See I knew you weren't listening cause your are talking over me. He asked me whay my favorite hobby was, taking pictures, we went on vacation, I started taking pictures. He looked at mine. You took them too close, you need to take pictures with a wider view, stand back you are too close. He even told my whole family that I don't take good pictures and my family just looked at him becasue they know how much I enjoy taking pictures. Because of this I don't even take pictures anymore. Then if he wants sex I don't want to he gets mad. This is after the 2nd or third time having sex. I feel like a sex object. I was watching a program and he changed the channel, I said hey I was watching that, he said oh it will only confuse you. what do ya think?

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Kellie Holly
May, 7 2013 at 5:21 am

Yep. Those examples show verbal/emotional abuse.

April, 28 2013 at 6:40 am

Even though my abuser has left, your blogs continue to be a source of valuable information and emotional relief for me. It seems that after each one that I read, I have to stop and take a deep breath. It is enlightening to read things that I can immediately identify with, but often not very comfortable.
In the part of this writing you encourage us to recycle our empathy on our selves. When I read that it strikes me that the way I started doing that was to listen to and validate my gut feelings rather than shushing them and telling myself that I was paranoid, self pitying or just crazy like he liked to say. Unlike anything else out there, my gut NEVER lies to me.
Your blogs were something I came upon accidentally. The information I gained specifically about detaching were immeasurably valuable. They sparked my courage and got me rolling on getting free of what was a terminal relationship. I can't thank you enough.

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