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  • Writer's picture Dean Harrison - Counselling Psychologist

Untangling the Empathy Trap: Ending a Relationship with Compassion and Self-Care


Breaking up with someone is never easy, especially when you care about them deeply. Often, the fear of hurting the other person's feelings can trap us in a cycle of delay, prolonging the inevitable and causing prolonged pain. This situation is known as the empathy trap, and it can be incredibly challenging to navigate. In this blog, we will explore what the empathy trap is, why we get stuck in it, and how to find a balance between compassion and self-care when ending a relationship.

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Breaking Free: Untangling the Empathy Trap

What is the Empathy Trap?

The empathy trap is a term used to describe the emotional struggle that arises when someone wants to end a relationship but is hesitant to do so because they don't want to hurt their partner. The empathetic individual is so focused on their partner's feelings that they neglect their own and end up causing prolonged pain for both parties.

Why Do We Get Stuck in the Empathy Trap?

Several factors can contribute to the empathy trap, including:

  • Fear of conflict,

  • Lack of assertiveness,

  • Not valuing your own needs,

  • Guilt, and

  • A desire to protect the other person's feelings.

Often, we avoid confrontation and delay breaking up to avoid hurting our partner or dealing with the emotional fallout of a breakup. However, this approach can backfire, leading to more pain and confusion in the long run.

Who Gets Stuck in the Empathy Trap?

Anyone can get stuck in the empathy trap, regardless of gender or age. However, it is often more common among individuals who are highly empathetic or have a strong fear of hurting others' feelings.

People who struggle with assertiveness or have a history of being in codependent relationships may also be more likely to get stuck in the empathy trap.

Why is the Empathy Trap Unhealthy?

While empathy is a crucial component of healthy relationships, the empathy trap can be unhealthy and lead to prolonged emotional pain. By delaying a breakup, the empathetic individual is neglecting their own feelings and needs, which can result in resentment and burnout. Moreover, the other person may be left with false hope, leading to further pain when the breakup finally occurs.

Finding a Balance Between Compassion and Self-Care

Finding a balance between compassion and self-care is crucial when navigating the empathy trap. While it's essential to consider your partner's feelings, it's also crucial to prioritise your own emotional well-being.

Neglecting your own needs can lead to emotional exhaustion, burnout, and resentment, ultimately hurting both parties involved. By prioritising self-care, you can approach the breakup with clarity and kindness, ultimately leading to a smoother transition for everyone involved.

When is a Good Time to End a Relationship?

Deciding when to end a relationship is a deeply personal decision and depends on individual circumstances. However, there are some signs that it may be time to consider ending a relationship, including a lack of emotional connection, ongoing conflict, or a significant breach of trust. It's essential to consider these factors carefully and to communicate openly with your partner when making the decision to end a relationship.

You should also seek individual or relationship counselling and work through any issues or ruptures in the relationship before deciding to end a relationship.

Untangling the Empathy Trap?

Untangling the empathy trap can be challenging, but it's crucial to prioritise your emotional well-being and move forward with clarity and kindness.

Some strategies for untangling the empathy trap include:

  • Identify your own needs,

  • Learn to be more assertive,

  • Setting clear boundaries,

  • Seeking support from friends, family, or a therapist.

Additionally, it's crucial to communicate openly with your partner, taking responsibility for your feelings while also showing empathy for their experience.

Strategies for Escaping the Empathy Trap?

Getting out of the empathy trap requires a combination of self-reflection, communication, and assertiveness. Some strategies to consider include;

  • Practising mindfulness to better understand your emotions,

  • Seeking support through therapy or counselling,

  • Setting clear boundaries with your partner, and

  • Practising self-compassion.

Additionally, it's essential to communicate openly and honestly with your partner, taking responsibility for your feelings while also showing empathy and understanding for their experience.

While it can be challenging to break free from the empathy trap, taking small steps towards prioritising your emotional well-being can ultimately lead to a smoother transition for both parties involved.

How Can a Psychologist Help?

A psychologist or therapist can provide valuable support and guidance when navigating the empathy trap. They can help you understand your emotions, develop coping strategies, and navigate difficult conversations with your partner. Additionally, they can provide a safe and non-judgmental space for you to explore your feelings and work towards finding a balance between compassion and self-care.

Where Do You Find Help?

If you're unsure where to start, consider reaching out to a mental health professional for guidance and support. Consider seeking support from a psychologist, either in person or online.


The empathy trap can be a challenging and emotionally taxing situation to navigate, but it's essential to prioritise your emotional well-being and find a balance between compassion and self-care.

By setting clear boundaries, practising assertiveness, and seeking support when needed, you can untangle the empathy trap and move forward with clarity and kindness. Remember that ending a relationship is never easy, but prioritising your own emotional well-being can ultimately lead to a smoother transition for both parties involved.

Find a Psychologist

If you or someone you know is experiencing difficulty, professional support is available. Contact iflow psychology today at 02 6061 1144 to schedule an appointment.

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iflow psychology offers in-person, telehealth, and telephone counselling services.

As registered psychologists, we provide compassionate support tailored to your needs. Take the first step in your journey towards well-being.

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Location Details

Visit iflow psychology in Leichhardt, Inner West Sydney, NSW, Australia for in-person consultations. We also provide convenient telehealth services, ensuring accessibility no matter your location.


The information provided on this website is for informational purposes only. Prior to making any decisions, we recommend consulting your treating doctor, health professionals, and legal representatives. This is particularly important if you have health concerns, existing mental health or medical conditions, or if you feel you are not coping.

(c) 2023 Dean Harrison

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