ERP 390: How To Recognize Emotional Immaturity & Abuse In Relationship — An Interview With Dr. David Hawkins

By Posted in - Podcast September 19th, 2023 0 Comments

Emotional immaturity can be a subtle yet profoundly impactful issue within relationships, often remaining hidden beneath the surface until it begins to erode the connection between partners.

In this episode, we will delve into the nuanced aspects of emotional immaturity and abuse within relationships. Drawing from expert insights, we will explore the telltale signs and behavioral patterns that may indicate emotional immaturity, shedding light on the damage it can inflict on both individuals and partnerships.

By gaining a deeper understanding of these dynamics, we empower ourselves and others to navigate relationships with greater emotional intelligence, fostering environments of trust, respect, and genuine connection.

Join us as we embark on this journey to uncover the tools and knowledge necessary to recognize and address emotional immaturity and abuse in our relationships.

Dr. David Hawkins is a clinical psychologist, director of the Marriage Recovery Center, and a best-selling author of over thirty books. Dr. Hawkins has helped bring healing to thousands of marriages and individuals since he began his work in 1976. He is passionate about working with couples in crisis and helps them discover a new way of doing things to have a healthy and thriving relationship.

In this Episode

9:36 Dr. David Hawkins: Pioneering the path to healing relationships.

19:16 The complex dynamics of emotional abuse in relationships.

29:06 Unpacking the lack of emotional connection: The role of avoidant tendencies.

36:03 Emotional abuse vs. Narcissism: Understanding the critical differences.

43:32 Dr. David Hawkins’ insights into the readiness for change among individuals in relationships with emotionally abusive partners.

45:32 Navigating the complexities of emotional abuse: Seeking help and resources.

Your Check List of Actions to Take

  • Recognize the signs: Learn to identify emotional abuse by acknowledging the patterns of dominance, dismissiveness, defensiveness, and stonewalling in your relationship.
  • Validate your experience: Understand that your feelings are valid, and seek support from professionals or trusted friends who believe and listen to you.
  • Educate yourself: Avoid misinformation and seek reliable resources to gain a deeper understanding of emotional abuse.
  • Evaluate your options: Consider your choices, whether it’s working towards change, seeking intervention, or even considering separation if your well-being is at risk.
  • Reach out for support: Contact organizations like the Marriage Recovery Centre or support groups specialized in helping victims of emotional abuse.
  • Engage in comprehensive treatment: Seek comprehensive therapy and treatment programs tailored to both partners to address emotional abuse and narcissistic tendencies.
  • Focus on your mental and emotional well-being by practicing self-care and seeking therapeutic support to heal from the trauma of emotional abuse.


When Loving Him Is Hurting You: Hope and Help for Women Dealing With Narcissism and Emotional Abuse (*Amazon Affiliate link) (book)

When Pleasing Others Is Hurting You: Finding God’s Patterns for Healthy Relationships (*Amazon Affiliate link) (book)

Increase Relationship Skills (Google Form) (survey)

Connect with Dr. David Hawkins






Connect with Dr. Jessica Higgins






Twitter: @DrJessHiggins 


Email: [email protected]

About Today’s Show

Dr. David Hawkins, thank you for being here with us here today.

Good to be with you on this podcast. Excited.

Yeah, and this is such an important topic, as we look at emotional abuse and intimate relationship. I imagine there’s subtleties to this, and this is something you can help illuminate. Before we get started on that, for people who maybe don’t know you, are you willing to share a little bit about yourself professionally and just give people a little bit of a sense of where you’re coming from?

Yeah. I’ve been doing this, I’ve been a psychologist for a long time, over 30 years. I’ve been a clinician for over 40 years. And I’m still excited about it. I think back on how I got into this whole field. I got to work on an inpatient unit in Portland, Oregon, and they were doing exciting things, working with people in really serious distress. I was just a young man, and yet I was given kind of the keys to the kingdom. I was like, we could do bug in the air, we could do one-way mirrors, we could do all kinds of psychodrama. It was just exciting, exciting stuff, and state-of-the-art stuff, Gestalt therapy and role-playing. All kinds of things to help people grow and move out of their crisis into a healthier place and into a healthier state of functioning. 

So yeah, I found it. I found my calling. I stumbled into my calling. So I went and got a master’s in social work, and I was like, this is so cool. I’m not working, I’m having fun. So I had fun. I worked with another team of clinicians, I grew professionally. I said, this is so much fun, I’m going to go get some more training. I got some more training and got a few more letters after my name and became a licensed clinical psychologist, and I’ve been doing that ever since with different iterations. 

Then what I discovered, Dr. Higgins, is that so many couples, when you scratch the surface, you find all kinds of problems. No surprise there. We’re all human. We’re all struggling. Relating is difficult business. I found lots of people with lots of problems, not just: Oh, they need more communication skills. Oh, they need that for sure. But they can’t really utilize communication skills, they can’t really just read a book and get healthier and better, because they’ve got all these dysfunctional patterns. Here’s the word, dysfunctional pattern. Patterns that don’t work, self-defeating patterns. That led me into the whole field of narcissism and emotional abuse. The word narcissism we’ll get into this, it’s used too much in my opinion, and what I have discovered is not so much necessarily narcissism. I mean, if you think of narcissism as selfishness and profound immaturity, there is all of that. But these patterns of these well-meaning folks that are stonewalling, pouting, powering-over, hypercritical, all kinds of thinking errors. You put that into the mix, and it’s a wonder that any two people can even remain in relationship with each other.

So anyway, there you go. I think emotional abuse is an epidemic. It’s everywhere, and it is one of the primary reasons relationships fall apart. It’s my specialty now. I’m excited about it, and I think I’m on the cutting-edge of treatment for it and intervention with it. So I better walk that back a little. I mean, I’ve been doing it for a long time. So there you go. That’s me.

Well, Dr. Hawkins, I appreciate what you’re describing that it is so prevalent. Typically, I think, as people are becoming more trauma-informed, and understanding relational trauma, and these patterns, even core relationships of early upbringing and those traumas, but how that tends to get impacted in romantic relationships. And what I want to say there is that more historically, people understand physical abuse, sexual abuse, and the emotional abuse, it can be a lot of grey area. So I’m really looking forward to what you have to share with us here. Also, even your background, the psychodrama, the Gestalt, the role-playing, it seems so experiential. And relationship is that. You’re saying we can listen to a podcast, read a book, and we can get insight. Yet when we’re in the experience of relationship, what gets activated live in our nervous system, those insights don’t always translate. 

They don’t.

Okay, wonderful. Well, where would you like to begin?

Let’s talk about that. That was well done right there, Dr. Higgins. So this well-intentioned couple, they’ve been married 25 years, and she’s feeling dismissed. So she confronts him, and maybe she doesn’t do it in the most elegant way. So she confronts him and says: “Look, man, you haven’t even told me that you appreciate me lately.” He’s feeling triggered now, and uh-oh, now he’s in his what I call protective self. Or we talked about the amygdala being hijacked or triggered, we’ve got all those words that mean the same thing. So he’s feeling jacked up? Does he sit and listen to her well? No. Does he attend to her concern? Not at all. Does he power-over her? He does, again, and again. and again, and again, and again, you get the point. So she feels dismissed again, and again, and again. Remember, this man is functioning really well out on the job, and she’s functioning really well out in the job; you would never ever know any of this stuff is really going on. But she feels diminished again and again and again. 

I’m using the gender he and she, it’s not always that way. But the prevalence is more a man being emotionally immature and DARVO-ing; DARVO is an acronym for Defend, Attack, Reverse Victim. “Hey, you’re criticizing me for not telling you that I love you? What about all the things I do do, and when’s the last time you told me that you love me?” This goes on again and again at these trigger points. So what happens is she learns, I can’t approach him. Now what’s the relationship, Dr. Higgins, going to be like if there’s no room for growth and adaptation. And what about the next thing that she brings to him? She wants to move because she doesn’t like living in the city anymore. What? You want what? What? 

“That’s ridiculous, you’re being too overreacting.”

There you go! So now he attacks her character, and she’s scrambling for like, all I wanted to do was talk about moving to the country for the kids. Anyways, so he diminishes, he dismisses. By the way, I’m doing a lot of research, we don’t have to go off on this tangent, but the topic of emotional neglect. 


“Emotional abuse isn’t always overt. It can be what we just described, very covert, and he may be neglectful; he doesn’t pick up on emotional cues, he doesn’t respond to her bids for connection. You know that language, Dr. Gottman, bids for connection. So bids for connection are dismissed again and again and again.”

All right. So you have this pattern, it’s called emotional abuse, and it is literally deadly. I’m doing more and more research on the physical impact of all of this. But we can stick with the emotional impact, and it is totally devastating, and the relationship dissolves. Her personhood is attacked and devastated. He grows larger and larger in this relationship, and she diminishes smaller and smaller and smaller. But they have three kids together, they have a house, they have a mortgage, etc. And so she tolerates, and I don’t want to go too far with this word, but in some respects, even enables. I mean, she tolerates, because he’s not always emotionally abusive. He’s only emotionally abusive in some of the key trigger point areas, and otherwise, maybe he’s actually a nice guy. So we got Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and that is a devastating tandem that she experiences.

I want to clarify, as we’re discussing emotional abuse, because I understand a lot of couples are in very problematic damaging cycles, where both people are in protection and have particular moves that hurt the other. So you’re distinguishing between that, if I’m understanding, and a dynamic where one is approaching the other with a level of kindness and tact and fairness, and the other is able.

Not always. 

Okay, so emotional abuse, this can be going both ways?

Well, yes and no, I want to clarify that. I’ve done a number of podcasts on, I’m not sure the best term was reactive abuse on her part or reactivity on her part. No, she’s not always showing up well. In fact, what these women, by the way, in my practice, The Marriage Recovery Center, we predominantly get women who call in. They’ve watched all my videos, hundreds of them. She’s read all the books. The difference here, Dr. Higgins, is she really is trying to create change. When you peel off the layers, she’s not critical just to be critical. She’s not trying to dominate power-over. She’s trying to be heard. And when we listen, when we clinicians listen with those set of ears, like, he says she complains all that time, and there’s an element of truth in that. But it’s not like he describes it, she’s not just complaining and complaining. She’s really trying to create change here. “I want to approach you on the getting a house in the country. I want to approach you on not feeling loved. I want to approach you on these different concerns that I have, please hear my heart.” 

Anyway, to the point of does she always show up kind? What she tells me is, “I am acting in ways that I don’t recognize. I have been pretzeled out of shape. I am distorted, contorted. I don’t know myself anymore. I can’t think straight. I have brain fog. I have physical symptoms. I’ve got fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, and all these different physical things. Am I showing up? I’m not. I’m not showing up well.  But I am open to showing up well.” There’s another critical difference. She is open to showing up well. She receives my critical feedback. He, not so much, not so much. So does she always show up well? No. Is she open to showing up better? She is. She’s reading the books. But again, remember, you used the word trauma. She is traumatized. She is hyper-vigilant. She’s waiting. What she says to me is, I don’t know when it will happen, but it will happen. I’m like, what do you mean? “Oh, it’ll happen. He’ll get triggered, and he’ll put me down. He’ll dismiss me. He’ll power-over me. I don’t know when, I don’t even know how, I don’t even necessarily know that it’s happening. But I will feel it.” You know that about trauma, it’s often felt before it’s fully understood. 

So, no, she doesn’t always show up well, but she’s open to showing up well. She can be reactively abusive. Yes, for the men who are watching or are going to watch this, yes, I understand. She doesn’t always show up well, and I get it. But there’s a term, Dr. Higgins, called mutualizing. He wants to say, “It’s a two-way street. Dr. Hawkins, you need to understand.” I say, probably not, it probably isn’t a two-way street. Is she doing some things that need attention? For sure. But no, we need to take care of your powering-over, your domination, your diminishment, your dismissal. We need to take care of those pieces, and then we’ll get to what she brings to the table.

Okay, this is helpful. So it sounds like you’re saying there’s a regard as you’re assessing or looking for certain indicators, that if one has the positive intention, is meaning well, is in service of the betterment. So the intention, the openness, the willingness to, again, be in service, working towards better ways of relating and participating in that collaboration. Then there’s engagement, reading the books and getting support and trying to get input. Then one of the things that I’m hearing you give examples to is the power, the power differentials. That when one is occupying a level of dominance or powering-over, that while both people might be behaving in unproductive moves, the one that’s occupying that power, maybe again, these things in reverse, doesn’t always have the best intention perhaps.

I want to speak to that. It takes a skilled clinician. So what a clinician needs to listen for, what is her level of involvement and what is his level of involvement in seeking the betterment of the relationship? Lundy Bancroft, who is a leader in this whole treatment field, and he wrote the book, Why Does He Do That, and then now he’s written and I’ve written on the topic of how do we know if he’s involved in this change process? I’m going to lambaste men here, and I get dinged for that, Dr. Higgins. It’s like, yeah, you’re only after men. But here are the patterns folks, and they stand up. The patterns are, again, she just watches the videos voraciously, her bookshelves are filled with books on how to improve the relationship. He? Not at all. Not at all. He has not read one book. This is a generalization, of course. But it’s 95% true, Dr. Higgins. He’s not read one book on helping the relationship, cover-to-cover. He has not read. Or if he’s now starting to do that, it’s at her insistence. 

So, in fact, I came up, I’m going to say this really quickly, but I came up with four I words to notice if he’s really changing. One I word, Involved: he’s involved in the therapy process. Not so much. Intensity: he’s really going after this. Not so much. Interested: he really is interested in personal growth. Not so much. Then I had to come up with one more word, you can laugh at this one. I’ve been chided about it. But I had to find another I word for sticking to it, and the only word I could find was Indefatigable. I know, I know, I know it’s terrible. It’s absolutely horrible. But anyway, the point is, sticking with it.

It’s impressive you found a word that starts with I.

Well, I had to look up the dictionary like “stick-to-it-iveness” with an I, indefatigable was the only word. 

Well, it’s clever. I appreciate it. 

Well, it’s something. Anyway, any women listening, you will know, and she experiences this. Is he really invested? Is he really involved? Is he really interested in therapy and personal growth? And yeah, I’m going to use the word again. Is he indefatigable? Does he stick with it, or does he drop out after eight sessions of couples’ counseling or whatever?

Okay, one thing again, partly where these questions are coming from is just orienting. Because they do think it’s difficult for people to understand the landscape of destructive patterns versus emotional abuse. Look, I do believe emotional abuse can happen within destructive patterns. But when you’re really trying to identify someone who’s engaging in emotionally abusive behavior, and really looking at treatment, perhaps there’s a different terrain that you are kind of helping us understand. 

One of the key underpinnings that I’m really hearing you focus on is the safety. That when we have a concern, and we need to raise our hand in relationship that there’s safety to approach, and that we’re going to get the responsiveness in some form or fashion. It might not be in that exact moment, but there’s a willingness to engage if my person is coming to me with something and is needing some attention around this issue, and I want to be helpful. There’s safety in that, and that’s one thing you’re really, really highlighting. 

The other thing I wanted to comment about is attachment. So a lot of times, some of the behaviors in what you’re describing, one who’s a little bit more avoidant in their profile or their tendency, and I know women that said this, and I’ve actually had them in my couples’ work, and the woman in a heterosexual relationship is quite content, doesn’t necessarily need to do all of the articulating and processing emotion and tends to turn away from those type of interactions. Do you see the avoidant tendencies showing up, in the way you’re describing, with the men that you work with?

Oh, very much so, Dr. Higgins, very much so. Many of these men, when I look at how attached are they, how connected, do they enjoy this marriage? No, no, no. They say that. They’ll say, oh, I love her. Well, what do you love about her? Well, ah uhm umm, her cooking, yeah, her cooking, and the way she keeps her home? Describe her. Tell me about her life and how exciting that is for you to be part of it. Yeah, hmm huh hmm. Well, I love her. I mean, it’s a very superficial involvement, a very superficial attachment. You talked about childhood trauma. So they have been traumatized, neglected in childhood. They didn’t learn how to conduct a healthy relationship, how to really approach and be approachable

And be connected to their emotional world even, perhaps.

Connected to their emotional world. I want to go back to something you said, because it is key. 


“So I want to highlight the primary components of emotional abuse, I call it the three Ds of narcissism: Dominance. Superiority, we’ll call it dominance. Dominance, Dismissiveness, and Defensiveness.”

I want to highlight defensiveness. So again, what happens in this relationship if he’s not approachable? She’s looking for the betterment of the relationship. She’s looking to be cared for in a more sophisticated way. He feels threatened by this. He feels criticized, hurt, and he has no skills to deal with hurt or frustration. So he calls upon childhood ways of dealing with that; stonewalling, withdrawing.

Lashing out, maybe.

He’ll either shut up or blow up. He knows how to shut up. 

“I tell the men in my group, if you’re passive long enough, you’ll be passive-aggressive, and these men are.”

So anyway, defensiveness, and not being approachable and not approaching. They’re not leaning in to the relationship. They’re not gently curious. “Tell me some more why you brought up the topic of wanting to move to the country, I want to learn about that. Tell me why you don’t feel loved. You said that I haven’t approached you.” Now, we haven’t used this word yet, Dr. Higgins, but you are probably hearing beneath my words, the word empathy, which they don’t have. 


“That’s another hallmark of emotional abuse, he’s not thinking about her pain. I’m kind of sick of this bumper sticker, Happy Wife Happy Life. So that’s kind of the best they can do.”

They look at me in the groups that I do and say, yeah, I’m just trying to keep her happy. I say, no, I don’t think so. “No, Dr. Hawkins, this is what I want. I want her just to be happy. I say no, I don’t think so. “Oh yeah, I’m a Do It kind of guy. I want to just fix a problem.” No, I don’t think so. “Wait a minute, what do you mean? That’s a hallmark of me, I’m a Mr. FixIt.” No. What did you do the last time she approached you with a concern? Oh well, I got a little upset. No, I heard that you got really angry. I heard you stormed out. I heard you slammed the door. I heard that you retreated from her for seven days and didn’t talk to her, and that you have a pattern of withdrawing for days at a time. Oh yeah, well. So that’s not a fireman. The fireman goes into the fire and says, I’m here. I’m going after this. I care about you. So no, you’re not a fireman. No, you’re not a Mr. Fixit when it comes to the relationship. No, you’re not approaching her, and no, you’re not approachable. Now, if you want to become approachable, if you want to learn how to put out fires and really take care of the relationship and take care of her, let’s get down to business. That’s really hard work, Dr. Higgins, and that’s what I do. 

Thank you for acknowledging that a lot of these individuals came from core relationships in their early life where emotions weren’t addressed, there wasn’t an experience of relating in this way, and they typically were alone in their emotional world; learned how to cope or comfort themselves in whatever ways, typically turning away or shutting down or just trying to grit through it, and how this evolves. So that kind of lends to the classic: hurt people hurt people.

Okay. So let’s turn towards the difference between emotional abuse and narcissism. Because you’ve mentioned both terms, and I know you help people distinguish, and you’ve given us some insight around that. Do you want to elaborate?

Yeah, and we confuse those two terms too much, in my opinion I mean, it’s become common parlance to say: Ah, he’s narcissistic. Well, narcissism comes with a whole set of attitudes and behaviors that may not actually exist in many of the emotionally abusive men. So in Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), the hallmarks are: preoccupation with fantasies of success. A lot of men maybe don’t have that. They demand admiration. Maybe. Maybe yes, maybe no. They take advantage of others. Maybe yes, maybe no. So anyway, there are many of these different hallmarks for the narcissistic. We can all think about someone who when they walk into the room, they take up all the air in the room. That individual indeed is narcissistic. Emotional abuse is what I talked about, in fact it’s better called covert emotional abuse. This is what we talked about. This is the lack of approachability. This is the three Ds: the Dominance, the Dismissiveness, the Defensiveness. And maybe not even so much overt dominance, it’s a covert dominance. Meaning she can’t approach him to bring about any change, because he is stuck in his ways, and he’s a toddler emotionally. 

So again, narcissism, this grandiose, arrogant, haughty selfishness. Can that exist out there? For sure. Are there way more men, and some women, who are emotionally abusive, and we wouldn’t see the haughtiness, we wouldn’t see the arrogance. With both, we would see a lack of empathy. But with the emotional abuse, Dr. Higgins, we would see these: the defensiveness, the dismissiveness the stonewalling. More covert patterns that other people, by the way, even family members, wouldn’t see. So, and we should mention this, she is literally alone. Because remember, now she doesn’t even know exactly what’s going on. All she knows is that she feels unwell. That’s what she’s going to say to me. Actually, the number one symptom is, exhausted. She is exhausted.

A real quick story. I had a woman I did an intensive with about a year ago now. In the middle of this three-day intensive, she lowered her head in her hands and began to sob. I didn’t see it coming. I said, what’s the matter? She said, “Do you not see it? Everything is so difficult. Everything is difficult. I can’t reach him without having to over-explain, over-function, over-work, over-try. And even here in this Marriage Intensive, I’m explaining, I’m petitioning, I’m approaching. I mean, I’m exhausted, I can’t do this anymore.” I hear that literally every day, Dr. Higgins, every day. I see it, I experience it, women who are exhausted. They’ve been working for so long, seen all the videos, watched all the books. Is it a stereotype? It is. Is it a pattern? It absolutely is a pattern. So those are the distinguishing factors between narcissism and emotional abuse, and it is an epidemic. 

Okay, thank you. I feel myself wanting to go towards how do you help people begin to change and really engage in treatment? But before we do that, is there anything else you want to say about common signs or behaviors? You’ve given us a lot of examples, so I don’t know if we’ve just already covered that. You’ve also talked about the impact of mental and emotional well-being, I feel like you’ve given us lots of examples. But is there anything else you want to say about either one of those?

I want to highlight what I’ve said. I did a video called A Simple Test of Narcissism. It’s not simple, but I want to just remind everyone. Is he or she approachable with a concern that’s on your heart? That is where it all comes down to, and that is what must be remedied. In fact, if you’re going to go into marriage counseling, or whatever you’re going to do, is he or is she approachable? Will they listen? You know the common parlance. It’s called holding space. Not an easy thing to do, but it can be learned; empathy can be learned, holding space can be learned. 

But if your mate will not hold space, will not do it, and you find yourself again and again and again withdrawing, I mean, you know then, that either you would need to find your own health in other places. You would need to bring about an intervention, which collaboration is my favorite word, intervention is right behind that, and on a different day, intervention is my favorite word. 


“I mean, the past is the best predictor of the future, unless there is an intervention, and then the future doesn’t have to mimic the past at all. But interventions are very, very difficult. They need to be done by a trained professional, and they need to know exactly, what is it that we’re confronting, what is it that we will no longer tolerate, and what are we expecting as far as treatment goes?”

So I wanted to highlight the defensiveness notion so everybody can know that that’s what you need to look for. Can I approach my mate with a concern? If so, great. If not, then let’s consider taking action.

Okay. Well, part of what’s in my mind, as you’re describing, for people that might be listening and recognizing there’s some degree of emotional abuse happening in their relationship, or quite a bit, to this exhaustion, and it’s every little thing. There’s a real alarm bell that you’re ringing, and that there’s some real importance to take this seriously, address it. If possible, being collaborative, and if not, the interventions, the boundaries, what’s going to happen, and what does this look like? 

Now, what is your experience for people that are in relationship with someone who is engaging in emotionally abusive behaviors, their readiness for change or their ability or capacity to address this? Because I mean, I think about the stages of change. There’s pre-contemplation: they don’t even know. Then what we’re talking about him bringing it in is some contemplation around what does this look like, what does this mean? Then there’s preparation around like, how do I address this, what’s going to happen, how do I do this? Then there’s action and maintenance. Help us, for people listening, what would you want to encourage for people that are identifying in the contemplation around this is happening, and perhaps there’s a lot of fear. Talk to us a little bit about what you see here.

Glad you brought up the stages of change. We teach our men those stages, too. But remember, before this man even does, we’ve got a comprehensive core treatment program; 14 weeks for the beginning core, 14 weeks for advanced core, six months for core strength. Anyway, so do the math, there’s probably a year and a half. But even before he comes to us, the first intervention is something that needs to happen within her. Now, why do I say that? I’m going to get some bad press from this, because it’s like: Dr. Hawkins, you’re really saying she’s got to do something? She does, she really does. But if she will, okay, so again, intervention, somebody smarter than me said, it takes a breakdown to have a breakthrough. 

It’s got to be painful enough to take action.

Yeah. Right now, I’m making up the names, Joe and Susan, they’ve been married 25 years, they’re a 45-year-old, let me see if I’m doing my math right, they’re a 45-year old couple. They’re out there. He’s not in pre-contemplation, not at all. You talk to Joe and he’s saying: “Look, I mean, we haven’t been intimate for a couple of years, and I’m not really happy. But I don’t know, it just kind of is the way it is.” She’s saying: “Yeah, no, I’m miserable.” Okay, so I’m really talking to her. Are you ready to bring about an intervention? And we talk to these women, we help prepare them. 

In my experience, Dr. Higgins, this is very, very rough. But I would say approximately 1/3rd of the phone calls that we get from women, the women are saying: “Man, I don’t know what to do. I am miserable, miserable. I’m just not sure what to do. I want to talk about it.” Fantastic. 1/3rd are: “Yeah, lead me the way. This is not tolerable. I hear that you have a treatment program for men, and I’m open for treatment for women.” Then the other 1/3rd is, “Let’s do it, Dr. Hawkins. Game on! Teach me all you can about interventions. Let’s bring about the intervention. Let’s make it very clear what Joe must do. Yes, we’re going to define what treatment will look like for him. Why are we having him engaged in treatment? What are the behaviors that are debilitating?” By the way, if you’re kind of hearing, that this sounds a little bit like an alcohol intervention or a drug, it’s very, very similar. We detail out exactly what are the behaviors? How are they? How is his dismissive debilitating? How is defensiveness? How is his dominance and superiority, his lack of empathy? Get it all specified. 

So anyway, we’ll take a phone call from whatever stage the woman is in. If you’re thinking about the stages of change for her, that’s right. So she’s already going through this pre-contemplation, something’s got to change. Contemplation, what must change? We’ll talk to Dr. Hawkins and his team about what exactly must change. Oh, let’s make a plan. Oh, let’s get him into treatment. It’s going to take the breakdown that leads to the breakthrough. 

Then what we notice, so these men will get involved in treatment. Everyone else out there says, no way! That’s so wrong, and it really frustrates me. Our program, true story, our programs are filled with men filled. I just talked to my team this morning, we couldn’t fit someone into our program today, it’ll be a little while. Filled with men who are narcissistically and emotionally abusive. Now, someone who’s going to ask the question, yeah, but does he really want to change? No, not at all. Zero. He’s coming into the program because she has said, I’m going to leave you. That’s what’s going to happen here. Or maybe she already has left him in. Maybe there’s an in-house separation. Or maybe she is pulled apart for a time apart. No, he doesn’t know. It’s externally motivated change, and I’ll take him with that. Then halfway through the 14-week treatment process, we see the gradual shifting from external motivation to: “Wow, maybe I really do need to change. Maybe I can be a little more interested, involved, invested, and yes, indefatigable.” You can smile, Dr. Higgins. Anyway, we notice the shift, and then by the time he rolls into the advanced core, now doggone it! This emotional toddler doesn’t kind of like growing. She’s seeing some change. She’s moved back into the home. And there’s hope for this relationship. 

So triage. First, he’s got to work on his dominance, defensiveness, dismissiveness, stonewalling, thinking errors, lots of them; playing the victim, blame shifting, minimization, rationalization, justification, just on and on and on and on and on. We work on all those thinking errors. And now after he’s got some treatment under his belt, now maybe, just maybe we can start to engage in some of those things that the rest of us clinicians like to do; communication skills, and paraphrasing, and validation, and so on. But not until he’s gotten healthier.

Yeah. Part of your program, are there groups? 


Yeah, I would imagine there’s some value at some stage for there to be real example of what it looks like. Now, just to hear a little bit to when you spoke earlier about how alone an individual will feel in a relationship where emotional abuse is happening, and just this felt sense. Sometimes it’s hard to even articulate because it is perhaps so covert, but it’s felt in the dominance and the dismissiveness and the defensiveness, as you’re describing. Would you talk a little bit about what friends and family, or how does one get more support, how do they not be so alone? Because it’s sometimes hard to really take action when we do feel this exhaustion and this feeling alone.

Tragically, Dr. Higgins, there’s a thing called secondary abuse. This is when a woman reaches out for help from well-intentioned pastors, friends, clinicians. This pastor friend or clinician approaches the problem as a mutual issue. “Oh yeah, well, it takes two to tango, Susan.” So now she feels so, so neglected secondarily. There’s research that says, this kind of abuse is as bad as the initial abuse, the emotional abuse. This increases her sense of isolation, and remember, she doesn’t even know how to put words to this. So first, a good clinician needs to help her put words to all of this. What is the trauma? How have you experienced the trauma? And then where can you really, really, really seek help? And who is going to be able to give you the help that you need, to define what is going on inside of you? Who is going to be the skilled clinician that can name this abuse and talk about it effectively with you, and then advocate for you? Not every clinician, not every pastor, not every rabbi, not every helping professional, doctor, whoever it might be, friend. There’s a lot of friends that are going to say: Yeah, well, I mean, Susan, I hear you. But you bring stuff to the table too.” They’re going to mutualize the problem. So seek out help very, very strategically, and you, the woman should, I would hope that you would ask the question. Are you familiar with trauma? Can you talk about trauma, clinician, pastor? Can you talk about emotional abuse? Can you talk about narcissistic abuse? Can you talk about that? If you can’t, God bless you, I’m going to look around.

Well, Dr. Hawkins, I imagine, for one listening to this episode, it could be helpful just to even have languages or describing and some articulation. Because I’ve often heard people say, it wasn’t until somebody helped me name it that I had this visceral, that’s it! It was kind of like this swimming around and this water, and it was rough, and all the things of how exhausting and painful, and nobody really acknowledged it. Or when it was acknowledged, that helped me feel hopeful, and then there was a path. But this could be a catch-22. Because if people don’t know or don’t have the language, and then they go to people for help, and perhaps there is that mutualizing, or even minimizing, or not have a sense of how to help, that’s a difficult place to be in.

She will know. You said it beautifully, by the way! You said it beautifully. 

“I can’t tell you how many times I have looked at a woman and I’ve said, I believe you, and she just starts sobbing. I mean, I hear this every day.”

Dr. Higgins, every day I hear a woman say to me, “Thank you. Thank you for believing my story. Thank you for understanding. I didn’t come to throw him under the bus. I want our marriage healed. I don’t need to make myself look better, I’m just looking for help. Thank you for your words, your writing.” My goodness, those of us clinicians, those of us in the helping profession, my goodness, we have such an opportunity! It’s a powerful opportunity. I never take it for granted that I can look at this person and say I believe you, and she will just melt. Like: “Oh, thank you. Okay, let’s take the next step then. So it’s a powerful, powerful thing.

Okay, so for people listening that maybe know someone or have suspicion or wondering, there could even just be this message that you’re conveying, because not everybody is super-direct around this is happening. There’s a level of believing oneself and self-worth and feeling like they deserve better and being able to advocate for themselves. Sometimes you’re hinting at it, or maybe it’s just witnessed and I feel uncomfortable watching the dynamic. Just to be able to hold space in a way that’s like, “Really, this is important. This does matter. I do see you. I believe you, and I’m here.” I don’t maybe know exactly for someone listening. I don’t know exactly what the next step. But do you want to talk about this? Or do you want to explore this more? Not that the person or the friend would be the helping professional, but just even the guidance of like, let’s walk together here.

Well, as you might imagine, at the Marriage Recovery Center, we have a client care team, and they are trained to listen to women with these kinds of issues. So we pride ourselves in offering compassionate care and understanding. So we’re willing to talk to any woman that might want to reach out to us. It’s Marriage Recovery Center, But I also think, she is seeking information. I would caution her, the Susan’s of the world. I would caution her, there’s a lot of hyperbole out there. If she goes after just any and all videos, she’s gonna find some that say, leave him, get out right now. She doesn’t want to get out right now. So get yourself, I’m going to reference my book. 

Yeah, please just tell us. This is a great time.

I’ve written two books. When Loving Him Is Hurting You: Hope and Help for Women Dealing With Narcissism and Emotional Abuse. So in When Loving Him Is Hurting You, I think I offer a balanced perspective on what is the gravity of what you’re experiencing, and what’s the hope that what can happen here? Then, with my two sons that are physicians, we wrote a book called In Sickness and in Health: The Physical Consequences of Emotional Stress in Marriage

By the way, 99% of women that are experiencing emotional abuse are experiencing physiological symptoms, as we would expect that they would. So anyway, getting help is finding good information. Good information, not just information. Because man, there’s a tonne of information out there, so you’re going to have to cull through the different videos and so on. I would say, watch our videos. There’s not a lot of folks that offer what I consider what we offer, which is a balanced perspective. If the woman needs to be apart from this man, we’re not shy about saying that, that a separation needs to happen. But we will say to her, let’s do an intervention and find out what the possibilities are. Because our programs are filled with men who are moving through the stages of change. So if, if, if, if, big IF, if you want to see if this marriage is sustainable, if you want to see if Joe can really get it, we will help you discern that and discover that information. If you’re ready to leave him, we will help you with that. If you want to stick with him and see what can happen, we’ll help you with that. 

But all right, get good information, get to our website, we’ll walk you through the different possibilities., and talk to our client care team, who will compassionately walk you through the possibilities and perhaps take you through an assessment phase, and we’ll see what is the best path forward for you.

I’ll make sure to have those links to your books, as well as your website. It sounds like in addition to your team that’s very compassionate, it will help to look at what the options are, where the person is, and that listening ear. Sounds like you also have a lot of videos and material for people. 

A lot, a lot, a lot. 

Okay, wonderful. I will make sure to have the link, again, on today’s show notes. Thank you, Dr. Hawkins, for being here, and your passion to help people navigate this very tricky terrain.

All right, thank you so much.

Signing Off

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Shifting Criticism For Connected Communication

Shifting Criticism For Connected Communication.

Stop the criticism loop, learn new ways to communicate
and strengthen the connection with your partner.


Dr. Jessica Higgins ~ Relationship and Transformational Coaching