Dr. Robin Stern: 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 bestselling 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.
Dr. Robin Stern: 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.
Dr. Robin Stern: Welcome everyone. Thank you for joining me for this episode of The Gaslight Effect Podcast. I'm really thrilled to have with me today my friend, Dr. George Bonoano, who is a professor of clinical psychology at Columbia University, and the author of fantastic book that you all should read, The End of Trauma, as well as his other groundbreaking book called The Other Side of Sadness. So, George, I'd love for you to tell us a little bit about your work and tell the audience a lot more about who you are and why you said yes to coming on The Gaslight Effect podcast.
Dr. George Bonano: Well, okay, great. First of all, hi Robin. Happy to talk with you here. So my work has really been for about, for 30 years, it's been about how people cope, how people manage to get through the worst things that happened in life. First it was, I began with studying bereavement loss, and that gradually expanded into studying potentially traumatic events more broadly. Um, and we've over the years studied everything, you know, from terrorist attacks and natural disasters to, you know, traumatic injuries, et cetera, life-threatening medical events, et cetera. And over those years, really from the very beginning, we began to see that most people were resilient to these events. Most people were able to get through such events, maybe a minor disruptions or, you know, some disruptions right away. These events are disturbing and people do get upset, but otherwise they'd continue to function well and not have any lingering problems. And we've, you know, I've spent my time over those years trying to articulate and define what that is and how that pattern I just described is different from other patterns. And then what, what makes people, what, what tells us who's going to be in, in that category and who not, and why. That's really what I've been doing for, for these years.
Dr. Robin Stern: I remember, thank you for that. And I, I remember when we, uh, met many years ago after nine 11 mm-hmm.
Dr. George Bonano: Okay. Um, there was a lot in there,
Dr. Robin Stern:
Dr. George Bonano:
Dr. George Bonano: Um, and they, they're, we move to the next part of your question, which is then, well, what, what do we do about that? They're saying, I, I can't, I can't think at all. I can't think creatively, I don't know what to do. I'm stuck. And so from a flexibility standpoint, so I, I mean, there's a lot I could tell you to get to that point. I got interested in flexibility because I'd been trying to understand what differentiates resilience from other types of outcomes. And, um, at some point I realized that there are lots of different things that we find, predict or correlate with resilience. And, um, there's so many of it in fact that we can't even make sense of it. And so it began to wonder how do people make sense of these things? Um, and, um, I began to hit on the idea of flexibility as the method or the, the procedure, what's, what people do to become resilient. Can you
Dr. Robin Stern: Say a little bit more about that for our listening
Dr. George Bonano: Audience? Sure. Yeah. So, so, um, I mean, there's a lot I could say, again, there's a whole lot here to, to ba to to by way of background. But basically the gist of it is, in the simplest terms, what works in one situation doesn't always work in another situation. We have to figure that out. And so the, the, what I mean by flexibility, I call it regulatory flexibility. It's how we do that. And it has three basic steps. The first step is to, to kind of take a look at the context, the situation moment by moment. So we do this for every situation, and we ask us, what is happening here? What do, what do I need to do here? And then we look to what we're able to do a repertoire of possible responses. That's the second part of this. And then the third part is we correct as we go along, it's a matter of trial and error.
Dr. George Bonano: I think there are, there's a lot of, there are a lot of myths about that, that you either sort of just cope and then you're done. But really, coping is a matter of trial and error. So if a person is feeling stuck, they're at the very beginning of that process. They're at the beginning of saying, what do I need to do here? And they don't know what they need to do, or they just feel like there's nothing I can do that then becomes the problem, then the problem is that I don't know what to do. Right? That's the problem. Like, the problem is not I'm in this really crappy situation and I can't get out of it. The problem is I don't know what to do. That's really the answer to that question. What's happening, what's happening is I don't know what to do. So then we focus on that, that problem.
Dr. George Bonano: We need to find out what to do. We need to find out what the problem is. Obviously, listening to your show is a, is going to have something to do with reading your book on gaslighting is going to help people articulate that, or at least, you know, understand for themselves learning about the situation and learning what the options are and learning about the things they can possibly do to move the needle a little bit to get them started along the way. And that's really, I think the, the step right there, that's really, you know, the, the first push, push forward a little bit.
Dr. Robin Stern: Yeah. So I love that you're identifying it in that way, because you're right. Being stuck and, and not knowing what to do is in and of itself a huge problem for people who are in these, these relationships where they're being driven crazy and and they don't, they don't know what the ground is that they're standing on. Yeah. But then the other problem is that as they move forward and they're looking for feedback about, is this working? Is this not working? When they finally make a decision about something that they could do, talk to a friend, listen to their, their headache and stomach ache and, and, um, nervous laughter as information givers, uh, they're now screening that or sifting that through a distorted lens of not trusting their own experience anymore because they're constantly second guessing themselves. So, and I'm just thinking out loud with you now, like I often do, and, um mm-hmm.
Dr. George Bonano: Yeah, well, I think in that case, that's a, that's a really interesting conundrum. Um, but I think in that case, um, the, the, the, the task again is to, to focus on that, that deficit or that difficulty. I, I, I tried something and I don't know if this is working or not, I don't know if this is what I should do. And again, though, then solve that problem because, you know, and that problem may be talking to friends, you know, giving feedback to people, um, you know, or I mean, uh, talking to friends and getting their feedbacks, sorry that, you know, that they may say, yeah, well, that, you know, you did that and this is what happened, and then they might give you some perspective on it. Um, you know, there, there's a lot of different ways to do that. And I think each one of these steps is got to be, these are all small pieces of the pie.
Dr. George Bonano: We, we tend to get, when we're in a really bad situation, we tend to think all the way project out to the kind of the, play it out in the future and say, look at how, how, how bad this is and ins and when we instead focus on the piece right in front of us right now. So I, I, I tried to work out what was happening. I finally kind of did, and I, I took an attempt at something that I thought I'd tried this approach to, to addressing that problem. And I don't know if this is the right thing to do or not. Then that's the new problem is, is this the right thing to do or not? And then, you know, what are the resources there? Ask somebody, talk to somebody, think about it, reflect on it, you know, whatever sources of information, you know, we can get our hands on, um, try it again or try something different and see what happens then. You know? And I think it's all about testing the waters and we're continually testing the waters.
Dr. Robin Stern: Yes. Thank you. And so I have a question making this personal. Have you ever been in an interaction with somebody in, in a relationship at work or out outside of work where you felt like you were stuck where you were looking for a way to either change the person, change you, change the dynamic, and, um, use that kind of, uh, let me see if I can find an alternative, A creative solution that flexibility to help you?
Dr. George Bonano: Yeah. Well, uh, of course, um, I'm human, you know, so these, the, these things happen and, and I, you know, I've been married for a long time, which, um, narrows it down. But then there's also, you know, marriage as anyone who's been married a long time knows marriages is not always easy, right? And so, um, and I, you know, if I, the first thing I thought of when you mentioned that was back when I was younger and I was in a lot of different relationships, but I think I'm just gonna leave that in the past and not go there
Dr. George Bonano: And it can mess up, you know, your whole day can seem a little off. Um, and you know, one that you're not sure who you can talk to about these problems, et cetera. But I think at, that's really the time when you can, you pay attention and try things. And, you know, I, I do try to talk with people when, as best, as much as I can to, to, there's a sounding board, you know, and you have to be very careful in relationships when you talk to other people cuz of the, you know, we, there's a lot of confidentiality to uphold. But I think, you know, it's a, it's a, it's a time to, to try something, you know, to, to, to, to test the waters, as I said before, you know, to try a, an approach and see what happens. But then when you do try something, it's always important to do that third step and to pay attention to the whatever outcome you get, you know? Mm-hmm.
Dr. Robin Stern: You know, it's interesting because listening to you, I was thinking about the, um, the gaslight side of the relationship. And, um, by the way, thank you for sharing that story, um, from your own experience. But people are not born gas liters. So they learn how to do it by watching other people, by experiencing it themselves. It's social learning. And often people will come to gaslighting because they need to be con in control of the moment they feel destabilized. They need to be, they need to use their power. So they try it and it works. And so is the flexibility model of building resilience and, and going after those alternate solutions, values agnostic, for example. Emotional intelligence is not based in values. It's an intelligence. It's about being able to recognize emotions, understand label, regulate, express or express and regulate emotions. And, um, we think of people who are emotionally intelligent as also being, um, aligned with their values, because that's the way we teach it as Yeah, yeah. Mindset, etcetera. But when you think about flexibility mm-hmm.
Dr. George Bonano: Yeah. Um, so there's a part of, of the flexibility, um, that I hadn't mentioned in that week. I call it the flexibility mindset. That's really the motivating part. And we need to be motivated, but it also involves values and goals. You know, we have longer term goals and short-term goals, you know, we have things, we, the shorter term goals are the things we we're working on right at this moment in our short-term goal. Could be, you know, I want to feel better, but our longer term goals are where values come in really. And the, the things that we want, the things that we want for ourselves, the kind of person we want to be, the kind of life we want to live, the things that we want to achieve in our lives. And really, those are very value laid. You know, I wanna have good marriage, I wanna be successful in my career.
Dr. George Bonano: I want to be a nice person. I want to be somebody somebody looks up to, you know, and that, that's there, there's a lot of self-examination that comes into there. You know, I think people may have unexamined values, like, you know, I wanna be famous on YouTube or something like that, you know, which is apparently a very common value these days,
Dr. Robin Stern: Or maybe their goal is to just keep that person connected to them. And the only way they know how to do that is to make sure that they're in charge of the reality so that person becomes dependent on them.
Dr. George Bonano: Yeah, that's a wonderful point. That is a wonderful point. In which case, um, I mean, you know, there are layers and layers here, but in which case it would be, it'd be, it would be really, um, important to somehow bring that to their attention.
Dr. Robin Stern: Well, it, that, it's really interesting that you said that and very insightful, because I think that yes, it is something that somebody could say, but then the gas slider probably never learned how to do it any other way.
Dr. George Bonano: Mm. Quite as possible. Yeah.
Dr. Robin Stern: Or else be the gas slider, as many of us might just be allergic to discomfort, and so they can't, um, go through that, uh, wade through those waters, if you will, to find out that maybe there's something that they can get on the other side without that car.
Dr. George Bonano: So then is it possible, um, this is entering the terrain that I'm thinking out loud and speculating about, but is it possible then the person, the person being gaslighted, the gaslightee mm-hmm.
Dr. Robin Stern: And then Yes, exactly. And not be controlled by the gas lighter and not be controlled by my own feelings of, um, longing for that approval from the gas liter. Hmm. Both of those things, right? So I, whichever you wanna take on first as the gaslight is your problem.
Dr. George Bonano: Yeah. And so I see that as, as kind of this, um, I guess you almost see flexibility as an kind of an experimental approach where you say, okay, that's the problem. So what I need to do is not be, let's just say I need not to let this person control me. Mm-hmm.
Dr. Robin Stern: This. Yeah. I love that. That's, uh, we'll have to work on that together. I think that's
Dr. George Bonano: Um, yes, very much. And I think, I think it, I, I first began to, to use this work personally for some, for other kinds of things. I had some medical problems, and it was very helpful in that regard. But I think in relationships, yes, I have found it very helpful because it, it allowed me to try doing things I was very uncomfortable with, or things that just didn't feel like my, my natural inclination. Mm-hmm.
Dr. George Bonano: And sometimes being very measured, very calm, and, um, you know, not, essentially not doing anything without being, without being rude about that, you know, as soon as you cannot do something and you can really communicate, I'm not listening to you, you know, which can be just, which can really rile somebody up. But, you know, just simply just trying to let something roll off me for a while. And it, that I've discovered that I needed to do that for like 24 hours. And that's not natural to me at all, you know, to, to just let something like that sit without acting on it. Very active person. I'm an emotional person, very active. So to do that, to just say, okay, I'm gonna just let this sit. I'm, I'm not gonna react to it, and I'm not going to be mean, I'm not going to be, you know, I'm not gonna try to set somebody off.
Dr. George Bonano: I'm just going to let something, you know, move on, on its own. And that, you know, that the data came in, that that worked really well, you know? And so, you know, and it, that's not around my natural inclination. So I think that's where you get a chance to do these things. You say, I'm gonna try this and I'm gonna give it a real try. And, you know, then you might try it next week if something happens and it doesn't work. And that's because next week is a different situation. Yes. You know, then we can collect more information. So when does it work and when doesn't it work? You know?
Dr. Robin Stern: Yeah. So interesting. Well, thank you for sharing that. Um, I'd love to pivot to, to a different part of your work, uh, about sadness and grief. And one of the things that, um, that I tell people all the time when they are at the point where they want to separate or leave a relationship that they feel they can't change because their gaslight is just enjoying too much or too bought into that way of relating or just unable to listen and, and uninterested in working on it, that in order to leave a gaslighting relationship you have, in order to stop it, you have to be willing to leave it. In order to leave it. You have to be willing to give something up. Yeah. You may not have anything left to give up when you finally leave, but often people do. Often the, the, um, particular gaslighter might be what I call a glamor gaslighter, who's very charming and charismatic and, and bringing flowers on Monday and screaming on Tuesday, and bringing, uh, chocolates on Wednesday and, um, sweeping you off your feet. So along with letting go of the relationship, there's this grief and loss about, uh, as a alongside of relief.
Dr. George Bonano: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Dr. Robin Stern: Sure. Um, about what you have to give up. And I often hear from people, I'll never have that again. I'll never have that again. I can't, um, it's gone forever. And people can be melancholy about it. People can be, um, upset about it long term, and eventually they move past and they go forward and they, in my experience, find someone new or decide to be alone or, and or are simply happy that they're out of it. And then they leave therapy. And I don't hear from them for a long time. But what do you think about that kind of sadness and loss when you're giving up something but it's so necessary for Yeah. Reclaiming yourself?
Dr. George Bonano: Well, and the, well, what I know about the, from the years of studying bereavement, I mean, most people when there, there is grief, you know, and you can definitely grief, you grief in grieve anything that's crucial to your identity, when you lose something like a piece of yourself in your, something, in your identity, your identity that's important is lost. And there's usually a process, a very painful process of turning within and kind of recalibrating. And, you know, there's a, a process of, of, in a way your mind adjusting to the fact that I, I don't have this anymore. I won't have this anymore. But the question I think I would ask in this case, um, because there's already a lot of reflection going on already, is what is being lost? What is it that you are losing? You know, obviously you're losing the relationship, but what is that exactly that you're losing?
Dr. George Bonano: You know? And, and, and that's where you get into the sense of, of, um, I think what is actually, you know, can or cannot be replaced, you know? Uh, every relationship is unique and we will never, you know, we'll never have that particular nexus of, of two people coming together again when we lose a relationship. But, you know, if by this, by thinking about what, what we've actually lost, we also have to do kind of the, the accounting for what we still have, who we still are, and what is what, who are we and what's still there? And then how
Dr. Robin Stern: Do you do that when you're grieving though? How do you do, how do you switch and just do the accounting?
Dr. George Bonano: Well, I think that is what grieving is. Grieving is about recalibrating and, and sort of taking stock. And we realize, okay, this person was the person that I spent a lot of time with, or this person is the person that made me laugh all the time. But then, you know, is that not possible with anybody else? You know? And who are we and what do we care about? We care about our work, we care about the other people in our lives, our children, our parents, our friends, you know, we care about, um, going out and being with people. Any of those things that we care about, we care about a private time alone, whatever that is, um, is, you know, that's still there. We have to remind ourselves of that. It's not a, you know, immediately a parent, but we have to remind ourselves of that.
Dr. George Bonano: But we also, I think, need to, um, the, the process is really in a relationship that ends, is just, what was that relationship in terms of who I am? You know? Um, you know, the, the person may seem charming, charismatic, as it sounds like that's a typical trade of, of gaslighting from what you said. So the, the person may be charming and charismatic, but that's them. How much of that did they, a did you actually experience and enjoy, you know, and is that something that you can't ever get again anywhere else? You know, not, not the exact same form, but, you know, there, there are other possibilities in life. So I think, you know, the total, especially when a relationship is difficult, the pain that also goes along with that. And, you know, and, and I, I, I've personally felt these things when I was younger with relationships that were very difficult where I, you know, and younger, I was much less wise than I am now. Of course. And, um, and, um, you know, I remembered, you know, thinking, well, I'm never going to have that again. And it is a common thought, as you just said, you know, it is a common thought, but, you know, life goes on and we find other things and sometimes we find the things that we thought we'd never have again, also.
Dr. Robin Stern: Yeah. So true. And so was, thank you for that. So I'd love to know what you see next for you. You studied bereavement, sadness, trauma, grief, loss, resilience, flexibility. What's next for you?
Dr. George Bonano: Well, that's a wonderful question, Robin. And, and I, I don't have a great answer for that. I mean, I'm getting older as you know. Um, I'm actually, um, closing in on the age when many people retire and they have no interest in retiring at all. Um, I do have, have thought about changing the course of things, changing the directions a little, changing directions a little bit, you know, shifting gears. Um, I run a big research lab and I would think that should, I should maybe start winding that down cuz it's very busy work. There's a very demanding, on the other hand, I love, I love the lab, I love the interpersonal side of it. My, I have a great time with my students and colleagues and also we're constantly asking new questions. Um, I I will probably write more, um, in the future. I've, I've been writing more. You and I have talked about developing workshops together and we'll, we'll, I'm looking forward to doing some more of that. Me
Dr. Robin Stern: Too.
Dr. George Bonano: Um, yeah. And so I think those all are part of, of how I think, you know, but my, the, the ideas, playing with ideas and, and, and having that in the back of my mind, you know, something I'm trying to solve some, a puzzle that I'm trying to solve. Anybody who's really a scientist has that disposition though. Anybody who enjoys being a scientist is a try, sort of, sort of constantly working out the puzzles. And I don't think I would be happy ever at this point in my life is like completely forge for by if I forgo that experience. So it may be writing books will solve that and I'll write a little bit more or, or teaching more. Um, but I think playing with ideas is at the core, and I, it's hard for me to imagine not doing things the way I do it right now, you know, but it's, uh, it is becoming a little taxing in terms of, um, you know, the, the time, you know, that I have to spend with these, uh, with these tasks. But, um, I think always, you know, I think it's possible. It's one of the nice things about being a scientist and a, and a mental health professional and other things, is that you always have that option of, um, you know, it, it's of, of continuing this kind of work for a long time, as long as the brain holds out, you know, uh, it's, it's possible.
Dr. Robin Stern: Yes. Thank you. Um, as long as the brain holds out, I think that's a long time given
Dr. George Bonano: Sure. So the end of trauma, it's, it, it, it was motivated in part because I've been doing this research for so long and over the years we've found, you know, we've, we've discovered a lot of things and we've, you know, researched a lot, a lot of, uh, different, many different aspects of, of what people go through when they're exposed to what I call potentially traumatic events. And most people are resilient, but some are not, and some struggle in different ways. And I've come to believe over the years that, you know, we really can't understand what people struggle with. We can't understand, you know, when people get stuck or have prolonged trauma symptoms, we, we, we can't understand that if we don't understand why other people don't. And it, when I first began my career, it was, it was very clear to me that we really didn't pay much attention to people who were resilient.
Dr. George Bonano: In fact, when I began to throw around the word resilience, and really my work was, was some of the first work to really talk about resilience to trauma. And, um, we got a lot of pushback. You know, either, either we're, either it was ignored or we were just told this is dead end. You know, this is wrong. You're, you're gonna, you're gonna upset the Apple cart here and you're gonna harm people. People actually told us we were going to cause harm. Wow. And I think now it's more widely accepted, but it's for this reason, I think that we are learning this, how it is that people get through these events, what it is they, what is it they do. And so the book, the End of Trauma is really about that. It's about a little bit of history about, um, how trauma came about, how PTSD s d came about, when it did, how it changed how we think about trauma, how potential trauma, um, I, i take on a little bit.
Dr. George Bonano: There are are what seems to me almost our obsession with trauma these days. You know? Um, and I I I've thought about this the other day, recently with, in the six, in the sixties and seventies there was the human potential movement. Um, and I think now we're in the human limitation movement. We tend to think a lot about what, what's wrong with us mm-hmm.
Dr. George Bonano: And at the, at, at the core of that is the flexibility ideas that I've been talking about briefly. And I know those ideas, I think deserve a kind of a nice long, uh, meditative exploration. And so there, I have a chance to do that in the book and to think about that a little bit and how we can become more flexible mm-hmm.
Dr. Robin Stern: Yeah. Well, I think we've come out of it Okay. As well. And I, and, um, thank you for sharing that with the audience. And I, I look forward to a next time when we can perhaps talk about, um, to use your, your model. Well, how can you understand people who are gaslighted without also looking at people who are not vulnerable to gaslighting?
Dr. George Bonano: Hmm. That's a really interesting point. Yeah. Yeah.
Dr. Robin Stern: And so I'd love to, to toss that around with you on a next call.
Dr. George Bonano: That's a deal.
Dr. Robin Stern: Thank you
Dr. George Bonano: Sure. Robin. Good to see you.
Dr. Robin Stern: Thank you for joining me for today's episode. I hope you found today's podcast helpful and meaningful. If you want to listen to other episodes of the Gaslight Effect podcast, you can find them robinsstern.com or wherever you listen to podcasts. You can also follow me on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter with the handle at Dr. Robin Stern. The Gaslight Effect podcast is brought to you by the Gaslight Effect Production Company. This podcast is produced by Ryan Changcoco, Mike Lens, and me. The podcast is supported by Mel Yellen, Gabby Caoagas and Suzen Pettit and Marcus Estevez from Omaginarium Marketing LLC