Empath Heartbreak

by Caroline van Kimmenade

Empaths are the sensitives among the sensitives. Feeling other’s emotions so intensely that they assume these feelings are their own, empaths tend to struggle more with overwhelm than other HSP’s.

Empath heartbreak plays a big role in this. To heal, the brokenness needs to be faced.  I can’t speak for all empaths, but I have a theory that applies to many, if not all.

At one point in your life, your heart got broken. You “learned” that you didn’t deserve to be loved. Life showed up in a certain way, and the only logical thing for you to conclude at the time was that you must not deserve the love you craved…why else would it be denied to you?

From an adult perspective, you (hopefully) know that not receiving love does not mean that you don’t deserve it. Not everyone is capable of giving love. It’s like concluding that you’re unworthy of being held, when you’re surrounded by birds. They don’t have arms to hold you with, it has nothing to do with you.

Regardless, once the belief is formed, it becomes a subconscious pattern. You start expecting that there is no love to be had for you, and you start doing your best to “prove” being worthy, in the hope of finally being awarded with the love you crave.

In addition, the only way to feel any love at all, is when you are giving love. When you are loving someone else, you get to experience that love a little bit for yourself. In that moment of giving, you feel the love flowing through your system, and it feels good! so you want to give more, and more, and more…

This sets up a pattern of co-dependence, of becoming a giver only, and of attracting takers (aka narcissistic people) into your life. You get into a pattern of giving and giving endlessly, depleting yourself more and panicking that you are not proving hard enough how worthy of love you are. No matter how much you do though, you never feel worthy. This is because whatever you do or don’t achieve, it doesn’t change the underlying assumptions. Those assumptions of unworthiness need to be cleared out on a deep subconscious level in order for your self-image to be healed. It’s like a computer programme that needs to be deleted, not played. No matter how good you get at playing pacman, the programme itself isn’t going to delete itself, not even if you make it to the final level. Actually, you don’t need to play the programme at all in order to delete it, you just need to log in to the control panel on your desktop and remove the programme.

Why does all this matter? Because as a heart-broken empath, you will tend to devalue yourself, and slave away to prove your worth and “earn” love. It all feels very “obvious” to act this way, yet it’s only when you understand the underlying mechanism that you can see that the solution is not figuring out how to “give more and better”. Rather, the solution is to shift the pattern of 100% giving and 0% taking, to something more balanced by
– learning how to take more and better care of yourself and do less care-taking of others
– teaming up with people who are givers too
– learning to set boundaries with takers
– learning how to delete the unworthiness programme one step at a time

As much sense as this may make rationally, this whole story likely feels “off” to you at least a little right now. This is because as empaths, initially, we tend to take our emotions at face value. We feel it, so it must be true, right?

In the case of unworthiness, this is a risky scenario, that can take you down a road of being seriously abused. You need to rationally know that even though you may feel unworthy, that is not the truth of who you are.

Healing the broken empath heart requires acknowledging what you feel, without necessarily taking it all at face value. Yes, your emotions are real, but it’s important to be mindful of their interpretation. Feeling unworthy tends to be intepreted as: “I feel unworthy, hence I must be unworthy”. Yet, that assumption is unwarranted. More accurate would be to say: “I feel unworthy, so I must have come to believe that I am unworthy. Yet I know that this is not the ultimate truth about me, and so there must be a way to change this experience of myself”. See the subtle yet vital difference?

You still feel the same, but change what you take that to mean. Doing so opens up empowering possibilities. It allows you to reach out for help and support and then, when you need to commit to more self-care, yet feel unworthy of it, you know how to acknowledge the unworthiness without buying into it. This is crucial, because without this subtle inner shift, you’ll stay stuck in victim mode, always running after everyone else, but never getting the support for yourself that you need.

You can’t heal unworthiness by reading a blogpost, but you can get a sense of the mechanism of it that keeps you stuck, and the steps required to heal. Knowing this is super important, because it allows you to evaluate your triggers accurately. When you set out to heal your sense of unworthiness, you will still feel unworthy, and hence will be tempted to give up and give in. This vicious cycle is what often keeps empaths stuck in a wounded healer pattern: able to give to others, but not able to receive that which you need to heal yourself.

You cannot heal yourself through giving. You can only heal through allowing yourself to receive what you need in order to heal.

Healing unworthiness happens in steps, in layers. You take action to take care of yourself, you set a boundary with a needy person, you acknowledge the sense of “not deserving support” that gets triggered, and you learn how to let go of that. Then you set another boundary, do another nice thing for yourself, more unworthiness surfaces etc.

The point is, you can start anywhere with breaking the vicious cycle, as long as you understand not to let your feelings of unworthiness sabotage your steps towards better self-care.

Ultimately, a broken heart that isn’t tended to, will deplete you. You’ll keep running around until you’re empty and burned out, and even then – when you’re exhausted and spent – you won’t heal, because you still don’t know how to receive the love you crave.

We must learn how to take good care of ourselves. Only then can we truly be there for others in a way that is truly supportive (and not enabling). As long as your helping efforts are driven by guilt, shame and unworthiness, you’ll more easily be doing others a disservice. You’ll start doing other people’s spiritual and emotional homework for them, you’ll start meddling, you’ll start overextending yourself, all in an effort to give more. Yet in doing that, you’re taking away other people’s opportunities for growth. You’re filling in the blanks for them, stopping them from having empowering learning experiences.

Please stop. Please pause. Please take a moment to acknowledge the logic of this: following the commandments that come forth from unworthiness, lead only to further entrenching the unworthiness. It’s a way to dig your heels in, not a way to find your way out.

Unworthiness is an experience, not a god-given truth about the nature of your being. It’s a programme you’ve got running. It’s powerful, but it’s not who you are. Don’t let it take over your whole system. Don’t let it dictate your choices and abilities.


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1 Stasia July 21, 2013

Thank you SO much for this. I never really considered myself an empath, but always knew I was a “highly sensitive person” – I have always been told I am “intuitive”, etc. I am exactly at the point you mention in this blog – trying to replace that “I am unworthy of love” inner recording with one that says “I AM worthy of love, and I am not going to love someone who will not or cannot love me back!! A product of an alcoholic/schizophrenic father (my therapist calls the tyrant) and an enabling/co-dependent mother and the oldest sibling of 4 that held everything and everyone together, I found finally — at 48 — made the connection between this dynamic and the subtle patterns of love relationships in my life.

My ex-husband is NOT a narcissist but a sweet wonderful person who grew up with a passive father and a controlling mother who I now believe was a narcissist, and who was so repressed he could not connect intimately; in fact, I do not think he knows what that means! After 20 years I could not live in his world any more, and during the terribly guilt-rendering separation/divorce, I unfortunately made the worst mistake in my life and fell for a person that my therapist assures me week after week is a covert narcissist. It has taken me almost an entire year to accept that she is right. I just did not want to see him for who he really is; I wanted to hold on to who I experienced he was at the beginning of our relationship even though that person was not real and did not even hang around for too long.

I am a college professor. This person is a colleague who I felt comfortable with and liked for a few years before we were in a teaching abroad situation, both going through separation (he from his second wife). I thought we became close friends and confidantes; there were times during this abroad experience I felt a close spiritual connection. However, when we returned home, and slept together for the first time, he became a TOTALLY different person, one who, in a very short period of time did FAR more damage to my psyche, to my self esteem than my father ever did. His comments were exactly as those described elsewhere on this site – so insidiously degrading and manipulative, and covert that there was never any defense or response. And so I was left with that recording in my head of not only not being worthy of being loved, but of only being worthy of having sex with, of being a sex-object and a whore; of not being beautiful or good enough. Even though he never said those words to me. He didn’t need to; his expression, lack of empathy towards my own emotional expressions (although he had lots of emotions about his own problems, to which I ALWAYS responded with hugs, love, care and empathy). Examples: the day after we slept together> He: “I feel like I am over my ex-wife because of you (kind of a compliment?) BUT I don’t know whether I like you only because you like me or for yourself and I don’t want to use you.” Me: [unable to process this … repress feeling like I had already been used, and continue to be friends, and eventually we enter a “dating” relationship, although there were many such compliment/insults in between. In fact he initiated the dating relationship and I made it clear that if we were dating it had to be exclusive]. During the dating period he never complimented me on anything that wasn’t sexual. “You are the best sex I’ve had in 20 years. You should take that as a compliment” After attending church together: “After seeing your b____ in that skirt, I don’t know why I was worried about dating you.” At one point he even wondered aloud how he was going to bring home women he dated to meet his kids (I had already met his kids several times, so he wasn’t talking about me, and I was supposedly his girlfriend!) Fast forward to the breakup, “Don’t get me wrong, the sex was great, but it is too intense and I don’t have feelings for you and I want to date other women” (missing information, he already had slept with someone else, at the conference he had just been at, and they are still together in a LDR). But he has said over and over again that he wants to continue to be friends, which when pressed he can only say means continuing to get together to talk about spirituality and relationships. unstated: his relationships; he is only interested in mine insofar as they are conversation starters so he can talk about himself. He has made coffee dates and when he misses or breaks them or just doesn’t follow through, his response is, “well, it’s not like I can think of you all the time.” “It’s not like I thought about you and then decided not to call” and “to be fair to me, I was in a different place during that time.” (response as to why he never acknowledged my divorce when he said several times he was going to call to get together during that time). He wants me to be his friend. There is no intent for reciprocity. He is not my friend. Stupid me; it took a long, long time to figure this out. There never was any real reciprocity.

Did I mention I have to work with the person and see him frequently??? Even long after the relationship was over, the negative recording continued to get more embedded in my head with every encounter: he told me we could not be cordial colleagues unless I could feel comfortable sitting in a group of colleagues while he talked about the woman he cheated on me with. When I [mistakenly] disclosed I struggle with self esteem issues, his reply, “Well, you’re attractive, but I can’t say your the most amazing person I’ve ever met.” His response to what was missing in our relationship that made him cheat on me: “Let me choose my words, carefully. If anything, it was too deep.” His responses to any comment from me that I had been hurt in the relationship or that I felt humiliated by his comments about my sexuality: “I don’t recognize myself in your description; I can’t defend myself against things that happened that far back in the past; I feel like you edited the events; no one is responsible for the feelings of someone else” (of course this does not apply to his own situation, since his 2 ex-wives hurt his feelings so much).

To rub salt on the wound, his LD girlfriend he cheated with has now all but given up her job across the country to spend as much time here as possible and I have had to see her all semester around campus (we are college teachers). She is, apparently, looking for a position at or near our campus. Part of me feels sorry for her to be hooked into this web of deceit and she must be just as vulnerable as I was … I wonder how far he’s pulled her down and why she stays with him, but another part of me wonders if he treats her differently, with love and respect and care and mutuality — after all they are still together 2 1/2 years later — and that goes back to that old recording in my head of it being myself who was unfit and unlovable. Why should he love and be loved, when I was discarded so uncaringly (BTW – I have dated others and have had 2 pleasant relationships since then, but this one brief relationship left me feeling violated, used and humiliated, and I could not put my finger on it until recently. The others weren’t narcissists!)

But I AM in the beginning stages of changing that recording! Now that I recognize him for who he really is, I know it is not me who is the deficient one, but him. He is a great actor and has everyone fooled into thinking he is the sweetest, most empathetic person on the planet (this is very annoying to have to play along with this to other colleagues). But I am no longer going to be co-dependent or a doormat to that kind of treatment with any other person. Along with therapy, mindful awareness, and a lot of reading as well as support from hearing the stories of others, I am getting through it. Thanks for this great website; it is very helpful. Keep up your blogs and resources!

2 Caroline van Kimmenade July 27, 2013

Hi Stasia,

For empaths specifically (I will write more on HSP’s vs Empaths – similarities and differences soon) it’s important to acknowledge how other people’s projections go “straight into our brain” as it were. It really helps to make a list of all the things he said about you, so that it becomes easier to “catch yourself” when you’re thinking one of those thoughts…and buying into it. You can then instead decide to remember where that projection comes from and acknowledge that it’s his projection, not truth. Kind of like you’re wearing HIS shirt and realizing “ah, that’s why my skin is itchy!”

Narcissists have a tendency to “explain” their own behaviour through “logical arguments” that make the other person to blame (and when they’re trained academics, those “arguments” can get pretty convincing, rationally speaking). So for example, he’s terrified of intimacy (no doubt) so that automatically makes you “too deep”. It’s his defence mechanism for not owning any of his own stuff.

So here’s a suggested exercise: when you have a list of stuff he’s called you, add another column in which you imagine how this insult was intended to “cover up” his own issues. E.g.: “you’re too deep” = “intimacy scares me”. We can empower ourselves by reversing people’s projections, and use our sensitivity and empathic awareness to figure out the likely (reversed) truth behind the words. The other person doesn’t need to acknowledge that truth. We just need to acknowledge it. We don’t need to know for sure that we’re “right”. Having a different explanation that makes sense and is probable, is enough to get us out of “accept the insult mode”.

3 Stasia July 28, 2013

Thank you so much, Caroline, for your support and insight; I think your calling out his projection is right on. The column exercise sounds GREAT — I am going to do that right away! I hope that will be helpful to others in similar situations.

4 Marie D. Tiger October 9, 2013

Thank you for writing this, I’m sitting in my morning café, crying tears of recognition. I love the clarity and compassion that you write with. I know from experience that it is possible to decode these inner patterns, but it is a long road at times. Writing like this helps raise awareness and awaken insights. <3

5 Caroline van Kimmenade October 12, 2013


6 Jennifer D April 7, 2014

Amazing how certain things come into your life just when you need them most. Thank you so much for writing this! It was like reading someone else’s account of my own life story. It helps knowing that there are others out there who have or are going through the same things.

7 mishka June 24, 2014

Thank you so much for this article. I did not realize till today what I am. This described me to a T. I struggle everyday with deep emotions for so many and it feels overwhelming at times. It’s good to have some insight. Thanks again

8 Marcella September 9, 2014

Thank you! I’m a newly-recognized empath, and honestly may not have even known if not for being with my ex. Other than not having to work with my ex, my story is nearly EXACT to Stasia’s. My ex claimed to be an empath and talked with me about things as I discovered them, but as time went on I felt myself wondering more and more if he really understood a deep feeling. At one point I got so low I ended up cutting myself one night, he came in after work and basically scolded me for getting myself so worked up and made me feel bad for it. As he told me then and there after he looked at the small cuts, that I “wasn’t doing it for pain, but for attention.”

I broke up with him after not being able to take any more of his lack of affection towards me, and confronted a coworker of his who I suspected him cheating on me with. She didn’t know about me, and told me they had been dating for 7 months. I was literally in shock. I didn’t feel anything. This guy who I trusted whole-heartedly and swore up and down he would never cheat on me had made our relationship a lie. I felt like ‘the other woman.’ I still feel that way and it’s been a little over a week. I go through these moments of feeling like he never cared, because you don’t do this to someone you have any iota of feelings for. Even now I told him I need to cut him out of my life, but I don’t want to end things fighting. He flirts with me, and touches me with his hand, and wants hugs. The smell of him makes me sick. I have told him all of this and yet he STILL doesn’t seem to get how much it hurts.

But I’ll stop ranting. After reading this blog, and reading Stasia’s post it has helped alleviate some of the loneliness that I am the only one who can feel so deeply. To anyone else out there who may be reading this and wondering, YOU’RE NOT ALONE. There are people who will use and take what they want, but there are also people who want to see you succeed and love you. There is a community that I myself am just beginning to tap into, and even if you don’t think you’re an empath I encourage you to look into it for yourself.

9 Mia September 13, 2014

Wow! I want to thank you for analyzing me! I always felt alone and thought no one else in the world feels the way I feel. And that no one else in the world has been rejected, abandoned and unappreciated like I have been. So reading this made me still feel alone but at least I now know that there might be others like me in the world.

It’s been so difficult to be a giver and never appreciated, but as you said, it’s all been because I never saw myself worthy! I still don’t but at least I’m aware of the issue. It’s a tough road for someone who is about 90 percent feelings, but I have to still work at it no matter what.

It’s so hard being this sensitive in a cruel world! It’s so hard :(

10 Bethany September 24, 2014

I have had all these signs of being an empath and spent my whole life wondering why I could give and give and give. I saw how people would take advantage of me. Recently, I let my giving control my life and became a codependent victim of a lot of terrible and unspeakable things. Thank you for talking about heartbreak. I’ve only just begun to know what is wrong with me to be able to relate and see clearly why and how I got myself attached to someone who said they loved me but would do awful things to me, all because I could sense and see the little boy who was hurting and I kept seeing him that way. So, I let him hurt me so that I could make him feel better. Until, I had absolutely nothing left to give, no money and no self worth and no more positivity to give. Reading this article has opened my eyes so I can figure out how to help myself. You have no idea how healing this knowledge has brought me. …thank you so much

11 Caroline van Kimmenade September 24, 2014

Hi Bethany,

You’re very welcome. I’m glad you’re getting clarity on the pattern. Yes, the little boy is there, but his adult self is responsible for bringing healing – nobody else truly can.

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