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 email@example.com or wherever you listen to podcasts. Thank you for being here with me. Welcome everyone to this episode of The Gaslight Effect podcast. I am thrilled to have with me friends over the years, people who have hosted me on their podcast, Julie Howard and Abby Rodman, sisters cracking up. Thank you so much for showing up. And let me start right away asking you why you said yes to coming and talking to me about gaslighting. When you listened to me for so long about gaslighting a couple of years ago,
Abby Rodman & Julie Howard: We were thrilled, first of all, to be asked to come on your show. And we are such huge, I don't wanna say fans, that doesn't seem to fit, but we are such huge admirers of you and of so much respect for the work you do in this arena. Thank
Dr. Robin Stern: You.
Abby Rodman & Julie Howard: And we adore you. That's another thing. Um,
Dr. Robin Stern: Everything is mutual
Abby Rodman & Julie Howard:
Dr. Robin Stern: Um, I loved your book so much, and it helped me personally, even though I read it before you came on as a guest. You know, this is how our, that was our first introduction through your book. But, you know, I had a personal experience with it. And also, um, yeah, we still have a lot of things to talk about and lots to share. I'm a coach, as you know, and Abby's a psychotherapist, and we have clients that experience this, and we just think it's a really rich and interesting topic. Thank you for coming on. Um, I can't wait to, to get into it. So, of the things that come to mind when you think about gaslighting of your coaching experiences and experiences, a as a therapist and experiences in your own life, where would you like to start? What's most top of mind for you?
Abby Rodman & Julie Howard: Well, we certainly have plenty of personal stories to share, being that we're sisters real life ones. Um, that's a
Dr. Robin Stern: Great place to start.
Abby Rodman & Julie Howard: And we did talk before we came on the show about, you know, gaslighting in families, right? I mean, here we are representing our small family. Um, and we had a pretty significant long-term gaslighting situation in our family. One that went on actually for decades, and thought that that might be interesting to share as it's not kind of a one off, well, this person said this, what did they mean? Kind of thing. This was really a, um, systemic and systematic gaslighting that occurred in our own family. I guess I'll invite Julie to, to speak on that.
Dr. Robin Stern: Yeah. Abby's talking about our father, um, and was very much what his personality was about, and kind of flipping the dialogue, always, always flipping the situation around where, um, he's innocent and everything that's going on around him is, is, is kind of everybody else's fault. Mm-hmm.
Abby Rodman & Julie Howard: Well, the long-term gaslighting situation that I was referring to was that my father had in fact had another family when we were growing up, and there was a kind of party line that he was dating this woman. And of course, you know, there are so many details, Robin, we don't have enough time between now and New Years to get
Dr. Robin Stern: And the story that we heard our whole lives was that although they were in a relationship, the boys were the product of her intact marriage. So I'm already confused. Well, first of all, so thank you for your willingness to share this. Um, uh, it must have been something to live with this, um, for decades. So he, you were living with your father and with your mother and father. Mm-hmm.
Abby Rodman & Julie Howard: The timeline? I would say, you know, it was just lined up perfectly from when we realized that they had been in a relationship, um, and the amount of time that he spent with this woman and her children. And, you know, I have stepchildren and lovely as they are. I really would not devote, you know, um, the amount of time. I mean, they're grown men now, but the amount of time, you know, that my father would devote to this woman and her children. And so over the years, along with the timeline and the kind of time spent,
Dr. Robin Stern: And then, and then that relationship came apart, and he was still spending time with the children, even after the romantic relationship with their mother ended, he was still invested in their lives and in that relationship, which I mean, we must have asked him a thousand times. Like
Abby Rodman & Julie Howard: At one point, um, he had told me that they were having their individual struggles. This was maybe, I don't know, I would say 10 years ago, I, he had told me that they were having some personal struggles. And I said, well, do you think that could be a result of that? Perhaps you're their father. And on some level they know that. And this has become a struggle, psychological, emotional struggle for them. Mm-hmm.
Dr. Robin Stern: Definitely.
Abby Rodman & Julie Howard: You know, it's interesting because, you know, the question being, did he also gaslight them? Yes. Did he gaslight those boys? Um, I'm gonna have to go with yes on that. Julie, what do you think?
Dr. Robin Stern: I think, yes. I don't know. Um, I ha I sense we met them once at a party, I think it was my father's birthday party, and he orchestrated a meeting. He was always trying to get us to meet them and invite them into our family. And we kept saying to them, to him, we have no, this is your ex-girlfriend's children. Why in the million years? Why, why would we embrace these people? Even though you knew the truth, you felt, you knew the truth. We felt we knew the truth, but we were being told constantly. We were crazy for thinking that Did you ever buy it? Did you ever think maybe we are crazy y Yeah, I questioned it. I questioned it for sure, because, so this is sort of jumping to another topic, but I'll bring it up now and maybe we can talk about it later.
Dr. Robin Stern: I think my father had created that dynamic in our family a long time ago. Like what he said was truth. I think I've doubted myself and my instincts, which is what victims of gaslighting do, right? I doubted myself and my instincts for years. So, you know, when he was so vehemently telling me the truth, what I air quotes for our listeners, the truth, um, I was like, okay, well, maybe it's true. Like, who says it's not true? You know, like, what do I know? I wasn't there. And beyond him telling you that it was what he was saying was true, it sounds like he had that, um, reaction that narcissists often get when they're, when they're challenged. Right. That outrage, when you would dare to challenge that little injury that is very big for people like that. I, yeah.
Abby Rodman & Julie Howard: An absolutely outsized, you know, reaction to even the suggestion, um, that, Hey, maybe these young men are struggling because there's a truth here that they don't know. And Yeah. Um, you know, it's, and you know, our father's still with us, and he's got many, many wonderful qualities, and we love him dearly. But the reality is, is that this is, I think, a perfect example of something that, um, that falls into this kind of other gaslighting category, which is this kind of long term denial and, um, of, of reality and asking other people to, you know, buy into it with you.
Dr. Robin Stern: And how, what was the, what was it like around you during that time? What did your mother say?
Abby Rodman & Julie Howard: Do you remember that, Julie? I thought you were gonna tell the story of what happened when we walked into the party. So we walked into the party and we're all adults at this point, and Julie was walking in front of me, and they must have been in the room. They, they must have al they were already there. I guess maybe they were talking to my father and Julie stopped in her tracks, which created me needing to stop in my tracks. And she turned around and she looked right into my face and she said, they are our brothers. She knew just by, you know,
Dr. Robin Stern: We all knew. I, I just, I'm, I have the chills listening to this story,
Abby Rodman & Julie Howard: What was that, Julie? I
Dr. Robin Stern: Almost felt it on a cellular level. Yeah. And yes, I would say yes to everything you asked. It was a feeling of knowing they definitely resemble my father. Um, there was a familial sort of, I can't describe it. It was a feeling, a feeling a really deep mm-hmm.
Abby Rodman & Julie Howard: We've never discussed it with them. I've had some contact with one of them who lives locally to me. They're absolutely lovely. Absolutely lovely. And I think that, you know, maybe in other circumstances we would have more of a relationship or a relationship with them. It's just that the history has been so painful for all of us, um, that it almost feels impossible. Yeah. Um, Julie and I talk about it, ceaselessly,
Dr. Robin Stern:
Dr. Robin Stern: And other times he continues to deny that he ever knew. So we're not really sure, you know, he's, he's, he's, you know, he's growing older now, so I'm not sure if he remembers what he said at any given point about, about, or what reality he's choosing to live in at the moment. Ah, so well said. Wow. Unbelievable.
Dr. Robin Stern:
Abby Rodman & Julie Howard: Well, one of the kind of ironic, I always use that word ironically, and unironically incorrectly, um,
Dr. Robin Stern: Well, stunning. He, he just really inhabited that other reality and made it real so that then he could have all these extensions off of it. Like this joy in finding out, oh my God, this is amazing. When, wait a minute, that's just another lie. Mm-hmm.
Abby Rodman & Julie Howard:
Dr. Robin Stern: And then when you layer on our resistance, um, which we both naturally had to this news, you know, we weren't like, you know, hooray, let's, you know, let's plan Thanksgiving,
Abby Rodman & Julie Howard: We do a lot of
Dr. Robin Stern: I wonder you've been cracking up all these years,
Abby Rodman & Julie Howard: It's all revealed now.
Dr. Robin Stern: I mean, it just, right. Yeah. You know, sadly, I think had my father been more honest even way back at the beginning. Yeah. Um, had he been more curious, let's say for the sake of argument he didn't know, had he said to us, I don't know if they're my kids mm-hmm.
Abby Rodman & Julie Howard: I did not realize this was gonna turn into a therapy session.
Dr. Robin Stern: I'm feeling fantastic though.
Abby Rodman & Julie Howard:
Dr. Robin Stern: I'm feeling cleaned.
Abby Rodman & Julie Howard: There's no question that our father loves us, and that I think we feel loved by our father, you know, in, in all of his, you know, human shortcomings. Um, I would say, you know, uh, Robin, that is such a good question and so hard to answer. You know, obviously, if you can have, if you have, as Julie said, a sibling, that you can say, you know, this doesn't feel right, or, or anyone, a friend, um, anyone who's going to be able to validate for you, not whether these things are true or not true, but it's okay that you're having these doubts. It's okay that you, um, you know, you don't always have to believe your parents. Your parents are people. They have issues. They lie, they tell the truth. Um, and, uh, I don't know. Julie, what would you say
Dr. Robin Stern: That everything that you just said, I think if you're young, um, and you have siblings, that's your best resource, because they, as you said earlier, Robin, are living your reality. They're, they're really the only people mm-hmm.
Dr. Robin Stern: Like, like, nothing's gonna blow up if you tell us the truth. Mm-hmm.
Dr. Robin Stern: I had a lot of resentment, probably more than Abby did. Mm-hmm.
Dr. Robin Stern: Secondly, they're not all evil doers, right? Mm-hmm.
Dr. Robin Stern: So the whole picture was not dad, the gaslight was dad, and Yeah. He was a gas lighter. Mm-hmm.
Abby Rodman & Julie Howard: Well, this is the blessing and curse of these d n a, you know, tests that have, you know, exposed so many families to these realities. I'm sure, Robin, you see it in your work. I see it all the time. I mean, I see it all the time. Um, and people got away with this stuff for centuries,
Dr. Robin Stern: Yeah. I've had people come into my office and say, I just contacted my half sister who didn't know she had a half sister. Mm. I have a friend whose daughter just went to live with her half sister after finding out that their, in fact was a half sister. Oh, that's a, that's a nice story. Yeah. It was a happy ending.
Abby Rodman & Julie Howard: I don't know if ours does. I don't know if ours has a happy ending, but it also has, you know, what comes with this is an awareness of, and, you know, and, and, and raising my hand here, an absolutely imperfect, in many ways, human, but trying to be, not that, you know, trying to be, um, more, um, open and upfront with my own children, my adult children, um, when I look back on their childhoods and, and will say to them, you know, I, I, I apologize. I, I I was like this or did that, or behaved that way. Um, and because I want them to see something different, feel something different than what Julie and I felt that, you know, yes, I yelled too much. I have three sons, um, very close in age, Irish triplets. And, you know, I yelled a lot, let's face it.
Abby Rodman & Julie Howard: And, you know, I will always say to them, I know I yelled too much. And that was not a great way to handle, you know, a lot of stuff that was going on. Um, because I don't want them to, you know, question their reality. Like, yeah, we had a stressed, angry mom and who was maybe not fully equipped for the job
Dr. Robin Stern: And a gift to them. You know, Robin, you asked before about what advice we would give a kid going through this, and I don't know if we had great answers, but I would love to ask you, you know, being an expert on this subject, what, what could we have done or should we have done or could even do now to help? It is a great question and very layered and complicated in an answer, right? Um, because it is, it, it wasn't that you wanted to get rid of your father because he was a gas lighter and you just didn't wanna have anything to do with him. Some ways that would've been easier, but you had a dad who loved you, who you felt loved by, that's pretty extraordinary to be able to say, given everything else, right? Mm-hmm.
Dr. Robin Stern: Um, and I, I think that you did the most, uh, wonderful thing by having each other. I mean, not that you chose that you had each other, but by being with each other in this, in your joint reality. Because the, what I know about victims and targets of gaslighting is that the most helpful thing they can do is to find somebody to validate their reality. You know, to have somebody else come into a situation and say, wait a minute. Like, I don't even recognize you anymore. You know, not in your situation, cuz you grew up with it, but like a friend coming to a friend who's being gaslighted and been isolating themselves or doing crazy things or, um, making up excuses all the time for their spouse or their partner, that that's not you. Like what is happening? Like, no, this is not your craziness.
Dr. Robin Stern: This is your spouse, your husband, your partner, no. Mm-hmm.
Dr. Robin Stern: No. The tools that, that I talk about for, um, people going through gaslighting relationships, like writing down the script and seeing where it pivots, um, which I think is very useful. Not sure how that worked in your situation. I mean, it worked when you would say something and he would get enraged, right? No, no, no. Wait. It's no, it's not about how aggressive we're being. This is about your truth or not. Right. But i, i just, the developing of, um, and the conviction in your own reality is your strongest mm-hmm.
Dr. Robin Stern: But he needed sex. He was a man, men need sex. And, um, and so she, uh, wasn't willing to do this for him, so he had to cheat. So she said, well, Dr. Stern, do you think that, um, you know, it's my fault? And I said to her, so, you know, we've, you've been in therapy now for a while, what do you think I'm gonna say? And she said, well, I think you don't think it's my fault. And I said, well, can you tell me why? And she said, I can't tell you why, but I also don't think it's my fault. But I don't know how to explain it, but I don't think it's my fault. And so somehow, because the person who who is altering your reality is insisting with many ti when, many times with trappings and, and a good argument when you yourself perhaps can articulate it as well, because you've lost something.
Dr. Robin Stern: As your ego has been damaged, as your, your sense of reality has been damaged. You can't say why, but you know it to be true. Mm-hmm.
Abby Rodman & Julie Howard: I would say completely, um, uh, out of, um, the realm of appropriateness, because I don't know your client, Robin, and but that's never stopped me from commenting. Um, she needs to run
Dr. Robin Stern: Yes. I'm sure we could share many stories
Abby Rodman & Julie Howard:
Dr. Robin Stern:
Abby Rodman & Julie Howard: I'm curious, Robin, cuz this happened to me once, um, in my long career. I did have a client gaslight me, um, who came in and created an entire, um, you know, lie about his reality of his situation. Have you ever been gaslighted to your knowledge by a client?
Dr. Robin Stern: Not by a client, but by my ex-husband. And, um, I tell the story in my book, uh, that he was this really good guy Gaslight and he gaslighted me about, um, since you read my book, you know, that uh, he would always be late. And he was trying to convince me that the reason that I was upset was because I had a problem with time because my parents were uptight and they had a problem with time. And that's the way they taught me about time. And initially, I mean, it's always funny when I tell the story because I can't believe it. I was writing about gaslighting at the time and so I recognized it. It didn't matter though. It still happened to me. Cause over time he would say, no, this is not the way it is. What's the big deal if I'm a half hour late?
Dr. Robin Stern: Like, it's you who have the problem, your parents are so uptight. And so eventually when he would say it over and over and over and over, I would think maybe he's right. Hmm. Maybe there's another woman who's more flexible. I thought I was flexible. Maybe I'm not so flexible. Yeah. That's such a, that story is very resonant to me. And I think there is some relationship between passive aggressive behavior and gaslighting. When I hear that story that triggers sort of a, a bell in that, that, um, he wasn't saying Get off me, leave me alone. Right. That would've been the aggressive response to you, you know, complaining that he was late. Right. He was saying, oh no, you know, this is normal.
Abby Rodman & Julie Howard: Yeah, she was the one. Yeah.
Dr. Robin Stern: But he was saying, this is normal. This being late is normal. You're uptight. Right. My behavior is normal. Your behavior is abnormal. Abnormal. Right. And there's something passive in that response. Being late is passive aggressive. Anyway, so I think that's what made me link the two things together. So I'm just mindful of the time. I know I have a hard stop cuz I'm traveling from home today Oh, nice. From my friends with the dogs. And, um, uh, I would just like to, to ask you what your takeaway is from living the gaslighting for all these years.
Abby Rodman & Julie Howard: Well, I wish I could say that's the only way in which I've been gaslight. Um, but yes, there have been other situations and other relationships as well where I've experienced it. And maybe to ans that's, you know, the answer to your question, Julie, maybe, maybe there is more vulnerability there, as Robin said. Um, I think just trying to be mindful not to be that, not to do that and not to, uh, and to see what a mess that these things can become and wanting to live a cleaner, more transparent life, um, so that we don't have all of these, you know, skeletons lurking and, you know, that have such potential to hurt the people we love. Um, I would say, I would say that,
Dr. Robin Stern: You know, I just, I wanna respond to Julie before I ask you that. Um, the fact that you so deeply want to trust someone is something wonderful about you, but it also is a thing that makes you vulnerable to gaslighting. Right? So knowing that, taking it forward and taking it into your life, just hopefully your self-talk can be a little kinder, you know? Um, I am somebody who wants to trust I'm trustworthy. I want to trust. Makes me a little vulnerable.
Abby Rodman & Julie Howard: I love that. Mm-hmm.
Dr. Robin Stern: What about for you, Julie? I think my takeaway would be that it's never too late to rebuild that muscle or that ability to listen to your own instincts and your own internal voice. That you're gonna make some mistakes along the way and it takes practice to stop and think, okay, what's really going on? How do I feel? What are my instincts telling me? You know, listening to that funny feeling that you have when you think something's not quite right, it takes time to rebuild it, but it's never too late. I, I agree with you and my takeaway is that let your feelings and that inner knowing be your guide. Let your feelings and your inner knowing be that friend of yours. And if you think there's something wrong or there's something that, you know, you're probably right. So I thank you Julie, so much for being on the show, and I thank you, Abby, so much for being on the show.
Dr. Robin Stern: Sisters cracking up. If you enjoyed this episode, listeners, please let us know on the website and I hope you will come back and I hope that we can continue this. And I'd love to be on your pod whenever you have time for another episode about gaslighting. I thank you for your vulnerability and your willingness to share your personal story, and I know that everyone listening found it meaningful. Certainly I did. Thank you so much. Thank you, Robin. Thank you so much. Thanks for joining me for today's episode. I hope you found it helpful and meaningful. 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. And please leave a rating and a review. I also invite you to follow me on Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Twitter. This podcast is produced by Mel Yellen, Ryan Changcoco, Mike Lenz, and me. The podcast is supported by Gabby Coagas and Solar Kangi, all of my work and my upcoming book is supported by Suzan Pettit, Marcus Estevez and Omaginarium, also by Sally McCarton and Jackie Daniels. I'm so grateful to have many people supporting me and especially grateful for all of you. My listeners.