Speaker 1: Welcome to The Gaslight Effect podcast. I'm Robin Stern, co-founder and associate director of the Yale Center For Emotional Intelligence and author of the best selling book, The Gaslight Effect. I'm an educator and a psychoanalyst, but first and foremost, I'm a wife, a mother, a sister, aunt, and healer. And just like many of you, I was a victim of gaslighting. Please join me for each episode as I interview fascinating guests and explore the concept of gaslighting. You'll learn what it truly means to be gaslighted, how it feels, how to recognize it, and how to understand it, and ultimately how to get out of it.
Speaker 1: Before we begin, I want you to know that talking about gaslighting can bring up challenging and painful emotions. Give yourself permission to feel them. Some of you may wanna go more deeply with your emotions. While some of you may hold them more lightly, no matter what you're feeling, know that your emotions are a guide to your inner life. Your emotions are sacred and uniquely you respect and embrace them for they have information to give you. If you want to listen to other episodes of The Gaslight Effect podcast, you can find them at robinstern.com or wherever you listen to podcasts. Thank you for being here with me.
Speaker 1: Welcome everyone, and thank you for joining this episode of The Gaslight Effect podcast. I am really thrilled to have my dear friend Hara Marano on this podcast episode with me. Uh, Hara is the editor at large of psychology today, um, honored to be a blogger on Psychology today and to, to have written pieces with hero's help for many years now. Psychology Today is a wonderful, uh, place to get important information about what's going on in the psyche of the American public and in the world, and all kinds of interesting topics. Today, we are going to talk about one of those interesting topics, gaslighting And Howard, do you wanna say a little bit more about your own background at before we jump into gaslighting? I'd love that. Sure. Be happy to. Um, uh, I've been thinking about writing, about researching, um, um, things related to the psyche for probably more years than listeners have been alive.
Speaker 1: Um, so I've always been interested in nonfiction writing about health and especially mental health pro, um, uh, uh, elements. And the reason why I am interested in mental health is because there's, I knew from an early on, even though the world is categorized that way, there really is no separating mind and body. Um, and everything that affects the body affects the mind and vice versa. Um, and, uh, uh, you know, there's a lot of thinking that has to be revamped and a lot of, a lot of misunderstanding in the world because the two are not necessarily connected. The mind is a very messy thing. Um, it isn't, Symptoms are as simple and discreet often is as physical things. But anyway, I've been writing about these things, try and to capture big pictures, little pictures. And at this point I've written about almost everything. Um, and I'm the author of three books.
Speaker 1: And the one is, my first book is a book on style, which I believe has a lot to do with psychology. It's kind of the expression of personality, the influence of personality on one's immediate environment, personal environment. Um, my second book is on the Social Development of Children. My third book, it's called A Nation of Wimps. And it began by looking at why are so many of our young people breaking down psychologically, uh, when they leave home and go off to college. Uh, and my research, um, led to, um, understanding how parent child dynamics had changed in the early part of, or, and just around the turn of the millennium and the influence of things like, um, cell phones that connected kids to their parents all the time and just changed a lot of things and, um, um, had a major influence on coping skills and ability to, whether disappointments and difficulties.
Speaker 1: Um, that book sounds so relevant to today's world as well. And, and I'm thinking, um, as you're talking that, uh, I'm gonna invite you back just for a, a separate, uh, episode simply on children and, um, their parents at that time of their life and see if there is relationship between that and gaslighting that goes on in the families, which I know there is. So that's a whole other episode, But I'm, I'm gonna ask, did you wanna to respond to that? We, yes. I think it's very relevant to gaslighting even because gaslighting is one of the harms in the world. And you and I are gonna talk about the harms, and, and it's more than harm because it's harm that's evil. There are a lot of harms that are accidental or just happen, but it's a particular one with a intent to do, intent to do harm, which makes it evil.
Speaker 1: Um, but the ability to withstand, to recognize and withstand is a coping skill. Now, there's no very specific, this is the coping skill to, uh, get you to overcome gaslighting, but it's part of a whole bag of skills that allow you to deal with external pressures. And I think that coping skills in general have declined. When your coping schools decline, everything is an emergency. Everything is a disaster, everything is a crisis, and you can't fight back. You don't even recognize when you're being gas lit. So there is a relationship when you, I think that's very interesting. Thank you for making that connection. I'm, I realize I just cut you off again, but, um, thank you for making the connection between your important book and gaslighting in that time in, in children and, and parents' life and, and the things that, uh, are often going wrong.
Speaker 1: Yeah. When, when, when you're preoccupied with yourself and your hurts and your wounds, because you have no coping skills, so everything damages you. You can't recognize easily, you know, when you're being manipulated by others. And, and so you can't bring any defenses to your own aid in that situation. I, I think that's right. And there often, uh, is as I'm thinking about parents and kids, parents inadvertently gaslighting kids, um, at that time, and kids not being able to, uh, to recognize, to recognize that, that that's happening to them as well. So I have a question for you. Tell me, do you define gaslighting? The question of inadvertently gaslighting I think is really important is do you consider gaslighting if it's accidental? Because if it's accidental, there's no intent to harm it, It's a consequence, but it isn't, and it's harmful, don't get me wrong, but it isn't intentional.
Speaker 1: So I'm just curious to what you think, um, about that. So I'll, I'll answer that in, um, with a couple of different, uh, answers or I'll respond in with a couple of different answers. One is that the premise that gaslighting is always has the intent to harm, um, is not a premise I agree with. I think that there are many times it does. I think that certainly in the, in the 1944 movie and the other movies, it was based on the other stories it was based on. And in many of the stories and cases that I see in my practice, gaslighting is harmful and it is intended to harm, but it can be harmful even if the intention is not to harm, but rather to change your mind. Give give me an example. Okay. Um, I'll give you an example from, uh, from a story that I've heard, uh, from a young woman and have encouraged her or to write about it.
Speaker 1: So I hope that she will, and I hope this will end up in an article as well as on this pot. Um, young girl, junior, senior in high school tells her, Mom, I wanna go to, um, this party with my friends. Mom says, You don't wanna go to that party. That is a party that kids who are like taking drugs go to, you know, um, the good girls don't go to that party. And she says, Oh my God, that would just invalidate my whole upbringing. You know, It's like, Oh my God, I was gas lit for years. So then of course she says, Um, don't be silly. That's not true. Um, I do wanna go to that party and I'm, I
Speaker 1: And the kind of people who in fact were going and was there something wrong with her that she didn't know about? Maybe she wasn't such a good girl after her. All if the people who were going time and time again were really not such good people. And that was, that was how it harmed her. Okay. So the truth there was manipulated to influence her behavior. That's right. For what the parent wanted. That's exactly right. And so the parent didn't intend to harm the child. Well, the parent didn't know that twisting the truth, you know, under any circumstances, harms everybody, you know, um, at any level and any relationship, you know? Yeah. It's really important point because there hasn't been an education about that. People don't really talk about, well, what is the consequence if you tell your child that they're wrong about something? If you invalidate their reality?
Speaker 1: Simple example, um, two people in the grocery store, One's the mother, one's the the child, one's the father or the oldest sister, one's the child, kids grabbing for the cookies. You're not hungry, you're tired. Right? Right. And simple example, we probably talked about that already in, in our many conversations. And there's nothing wrong with, um, the parents saying, you know, I, I'm wondering if you're really hungry, Like, think about it for a minute. Slow down, let's talk about it. We just ate two tuna sandwiches for lunch. Or are you still hungry? Or is something else going on? Perhaps. But when you tell your child what they're feeling, or when you tell your child that you know what they're feeling and they don't, and you do it over time, like, why would he do that to you? Why would your uncle do that to you? He loves you.
Speaker 1: No, he would never say something like that. You must have heard it wrong. Your uncle loves you. And over time that child, then, as they are growing up, more vulnerable to somebody saying, No, that's not what happened. And to second guessing, the way they see the world, the way they experience their own feelings, do they even know what they are? So you bring up something really interesting because constant here is harm. Harm is being done of a certain kind that makes you question yourself. That's a particular harm. Yeah. That gaslighting does. So I, I made my, my thinking may evolve over the course of our conversation, but it seems to me that the kind of gaslighting that we're talking about in the film, Gaslight mm-hmm.
Speaker 1: Um, somewhere in there, I, you, there, there's definitely evil if you're doing it with the intent to harm. Like bullying is Yes, is a form of harm. It's not gaslighting, it's a d a different form of harm. Yes. That is evil because it is the manipulation of power of among unequals with the intent to cause harm as opposed to just, you know, a common fist bite between two equals. Um, um, and, um, so, but I'm wondering when there seems to be a line in there, I don't know what the line is or where it is, but how these, how the definition kind of includes that parental element, um, which parents do all the time. All the time. I mean, you don't even think about it, you know, uh, we know that there are kind of gross examples where parents will not allow children. There will be no sadness in my house.
Speaker 1: Mm-hmm.
Speaker 1: So in a, in a very common example, um, in, uh, my couple's work, if somebody were to say, let's say someone, uh, one party in the couple, the more powerful person who's never home is working all the time, but, um, seems to, uh, be in charge of the, um, uh, emotional, uh, piece of the relationship, the closeness and the distance says, Well, I'm, I'm sorry, I'm gonna be traveling for a few days. And, uh, that person often is a man in my practice, cuz I see mostly women. And the woman says, Well, but you know, I, I'm really worried about it. I'm very nervous because the last time you were away, um, I couldn't reach you. There you go again. Are you, will you stop your paranoia? No, I'm not being paranoid. I just really, I, I don't know what's going on. Like, I, you always have your phone on you when we're together, when, but somehow when you're gone, I can't, I can't reach you and I, I'm worried and I'm afraid I'm losing you.
Speaker 1: Okay. You need to see your therapist more often. You're paranoid. Don't even, don't even continue the conversation. So in that case, that feels pretty manipulative. Yes, it's pretty manipulative. It's pretty nasty. Also, name calling is never okay. And it's also, um, designed to get the woman off his back. Well, that's the immediate, right? Yes. I mean, there are several motives there, you know, to Yeah. To get her off his back because he probably is doing something. That's exactly right. And often in a case like that, when the person doesn't wanna take responsibility and also blames the, the interaction or the feeling that the woman's having on herself, and there's on some character flaw or emotional, um, uh, lack of emotional development on the woman, the blaming, um, there is a reason that he won't step into the space and say, Oh my goodness, like, let me check my photo.
Speaker 1: I'll call you, or let's make a, an appointment to talk. So this is someone who doesn't wanna take responsibility, who wants to deflect it all, and at the same time wants the woman to stay attached to him. So not totally alienating her, but rather keeping her attached even more so by telling her that she's paranoid. And so he's now in charge of the way she thinks about herself. So lots of stuff is going on there that is, none of it is nice. All of it is evilly. Um, it is, has a malevolence to it. How do you handle that? It depends on who I'm talking to, you know? Um, Of course. And so I, I, but I would say, I think something important that's coming up for me to say to the audience, and um, I'm interested to hear your take on this as well, is that people are not born gaslighters and gaslight gas lighting or the tendency to gaslight or your capacity to, to do that to someone else is not something that is genetically determined.
Speaker 1: Uh, it, it might be easier for some personality types to engage in that kind of interaction, but it's learned behavior. It's learned by either you being the victim of gaslighting at an early age, or it's learned by your witnessing it, or it's learned by your happening into it and finding out that it works. It shuts people up, it gets 'em off your back. It keeps you stable in, in that moment. Like, you don't have to feel anxious. You're not gonna get caught. You don't have to admit anything. You don't have to do anything different. You just have to get rid of it, the responsibility and throw it on someone else. Yes. No one is a born guess later. Um, very true. Um, there are some people, however, who are as with bullies, um, who, who, um, go through life, um, um, misusing their power.
Speaker 1: Yes. Okay. And some people who mis some people will misuse a particular form of power, but there are some people who will use any instrument to misuse their power. Anything that they can grab at. And gaslighting is one instrument that some people use. And of course we all know that there are personality types, um, who are gonna be more prone to, um, misusing power or not even caring about it, not even caring about what happens to other people. There are people who feel there. I am sure, and you can tell me whether I'm off my rocker or not, but I would bet that there are people in your practice who, when you point out to them in the couples, the effect of their behavior probably show a little bit of remorse, not knowing how it lands on their partner and how it's so undermines someone's sense of themselves in reality.
Speaker 1: But a lot of people who guess, like are really don't care about the, um, the effects on someone. They, they're driven by their own self-interested motives. I completely, Yes.
Speaker 1: You know, what I'm, what I'm doing is if you know what's going on here. Oh, wow. And so it can be, it can be dangerous to try to stop the dynamic, um, uh, is psychologically dangerous and you need a lot of courage. So that Right. Because what you just told me was a perfect example of someone abusing power. You are gonna tell me, Right. I'm the powerful person. Who are you to tell me, you know, Mr. Or Miss Big? Right. Um, what's going on? So yes, it's, there is that power manipulation going on there. Yeah. What's interesting to me is that in the last half decade, maybe a little bit longer, you would be the expert on this guess lighting has become a much more prominent topic. Um, I'm sure you have thoughts about why. Um, I have some thoughts about why. I mean, I think, I think it's a political to observe that our political structure, um, involves gaslighting these days in the sense that, um, we had a president who deliberately lied, knew he was lying, knew he was manipulating public attitudes and opinions for whatever purposes.
Speaker 1: I'll leave that to investigators, but, um, manipulating power, um, to do that. And I think it unleashed, on the one hand, it unleashed a lot of bad behaviors because when people at the top commit or allow or to or tolerate it has a trickle down effect. But also lots of people just became aware of it and, and it became part of the cultural discussion. Um, so, so I think that it's become a much more popular cultural phenomenon at the same time, what happens when, um, very specific behaviors become popular or very specific concepts become popular. I feel like they get fuzzer as they expand sometimes. And I think that's partly what's been happening with gaslighting. And one of the things that concerns me, and I'd love to know how you who think about this professionally, think about it, is, um, what's, what a lot of people call medical gaslighting.
Speaker 1: Um, and, um, an example being someone goes to the doctor and very often it's a woman. And immediately we're queued in because it's a woman to what is going to be a power dynamic. Okay? It's unspoken usually mm-hmm.
Speaker 1: That isn't part of the, that isn't part of that situation that I question. I think that, um, first of all, there's no intent to harm. There's no, there's no easy way to diagnose or doctors aren't rewarded for spending the time and the procedures for doing the diagnostic diag all the diagnostic, right. Chasing down all the diagnostic possibilities. Um, they're not intending to harm, but they're suggesting to someone that, Look, I've run out of possibilities. This is the only possibility left. Now often it's not explained so carefully, um, like that, and, and so it lands perhaps is heard in a different way, lands on someone in a different way. But I really have trouble calling that medical gaslighting, even though it can be a form of harm to someone. So I I'm glad you up because it, because that's become popular lately as well. And as you rightly said, a lot of people are using the term gas lighting and, and you and I have talked about how fuzzy it is, you know, that it, um, it used to be just defensive when people would be talking about it.
Speaker 1: Now it's offensive, right? People are, you are doing this to me, you know, rather than I'm, oh my God, I'm being gaslighted. I don't know what to do. But, um, I, I think there's a difference between being careless and thoughtless, mindless and, um, intentionally gaslighting. So it could be that a doctor in a moment can't find a, a ready, um, diagnosis and is really struggling and is not a good communicator, which is not okay. But there are many and is being careless, which is also not okay, however it happens. So I would say that if it happens once, um, and your doctor says that to you, it's a potential, it's a red flag. It's a potential gaslighting situation. Because if you go back the following week and you say, I'm still not feeling well, and the doctor says, Honey, it's in your mind. And maybe he doesn't actually say honey, although it's happened to me, and I'll share my story in a second.
Speaker 1: But, um, he basically wants you then to believe that there's something wrong with you, that you keep coming back and, and saying this thing. And years ago, right after I had, um, one of my children, uh, I was not feeling well. And I called my doctor and, um, who, uh, maybe I wouldn't even tell this story where he's still with us, but he passed many years ago. And, and I won't use his name anyway, I did love him very much as an obstetrician. But, um, he called, he said, Honey, um, you just gave birth. Just have a drink and, uh, you'll relax. And called him. I said, I'm really not feeling well. It's stress. You had a baby. Have another drink. Just relax. Call me. You know, do that for a couple of nights and then let me know how you feeling a few days.
Speaker 1: Um, if you're not feeling better, called him the next day, I really don't feel well. I'm feeling even worse. Told you have another drink, call me the night. Cause it turned out I had hepatitis so that not only was it not okay that it was not stress that he was telling me, but also
Speaker 1: I just had a child. I'm totally stressed out and, um, because I'm not sleeping, that's why I was stressed and I'm just gonna have a drink. And after a couple of days, I just thought, no. Um, and maybe my memory is not accurate. Maybe there were three days in between the first call and the second call, but it was a repeated, uh, situation where he got more insistent that I was stressed and needed. Yes. That certitude is k kind of part of the problem there, where, where saying it once was one thing, but defending the certitude where there really wasn't certainty. That's right. Would you have reacted differently if the doctor said, I don't think it's anything, um, but you know, why don't you try having a drink and relaxing, You've just been through this stressful period. Would that have changed your mind about the situation?
Speaker 1: Absolutely. Because it wasn't somebody telling me there was something wrong with the way I was thinking, you know? Mm-hmm.
Speaker 1: I'm, I've worked long enough to have confidence in what I do. I'm not infallible. I always question myself, but I know that I generally perform at a reasonable level, although I'm very often question myself, not boastful hair. Just very realistic. Okay. Thank you. So I was in a situation where I was being criticized constantly, and it took me a while to realize that the criticism, it, it was intended to keep me from asking for things like a raise or some other kind of, uh, reward, earned reward. I have to say, I wasn't asking for anything, um, extraordinary. Um, and I doubt that I am the only person, so who has ever been so treated, and I will have to say in all fairness, that I don't think a guy would've been handled the same way. Now, I don't know if that's just specific to the situation I was in and the nature of the person who was doing this, or I suspect this juror across the board, because generally speaking, men have had more power than women and still do in many situations.
Speaker 1: So it, the object of the, um, of the gaslighting is often a woman. We know it also occurs among men. But in that kind of a situation, um, I suspect I'm not the only person and certainly not the only woman. And I did begin to question myself. Um, I did, I, um, seriously, and then I realized, no, you know, I, I'm can't be me. So this is such an important point that you're bringing up, and thank you for sharing your own story. But, um, I wanna elevate the, the moment or the series of moments that led you or your thinking around, um, what led you to say, No, it can't be me. So if you, if you went through the process of hearing this for the first time and, and not believing it because of your confidence in yourself and your confidence in your competency, and then you began to believe it, what happened that, that brought you back to yourself or that woke you up? Do you remember?
Speaker 1: Uh, don't remember. I suppose I could vote some time trying to remember the situation. I really, frankly, d don't enjoy going back and thinking about that situation. So I haven't really analyzed, you know, what were the steps. Mm-hmm.
Speaker 1: No. And people who know you outside of that relationship and hear what's going on offer a completely different point of view. And suddenly you realize they're right. You know, and I certainly don't wanna to ask you to go back into a situation that's super uncomfortable for you to think about. Um, I'm sure there would be learning for you if you did decide to do that. Yeah. Uh, but I, I'm not surprised to hear that was that you didn't do it alone, because it's really hard. It's like when you start to listen to a radio or like an old fashioned radio only on one channel, Right. Because that's all that's coming in. It's hard to think that there's another perspective, Right? It reminds me of some of the stuff that happened during the pandemic with people listening to the news, only from one perspective. But, um, but often when you tune in to another channel or you have that other perspective, it wakes you up.
Speaker 1: It's that, ah, oh my god moment. Right. And I think it was a steady drumbeat of others that really, uh, got me. I mean, I always had one foot in reality. I, you know, I, I knew that there was something going on, but I didn't really see it for what it was. Um, and I will say, um, I am and pride myself on being a pretty strong human being, but I have to say that that said, it was very important to have others in my life with the different perspective. Yeah. It was necessary. Yeah. And, um, just to bring us to a close at, uh, on that note, one of the reasons that I'm so thrilled to have you on this podcast is now you are offering that voice and we're offering that conversation as another in someone's life. Someone who's listening to us and, and thinking, I'm really stuck and, and there's something wrong with me.
Speaker 1: Maybe listening to your story, maybe hearing the other episodes of The Gaslight Effect podcast becomes more awake and aware. So I really appreciate your, your coming on. Is there anything last minute that you'd like to say about gaslighting, um, to our listening audience? It's Hell