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. So welcome everyone to this episode of The Gaslight Effect podcast. I am thrilled, really thrilled to have with me today, Alice Forrester, who is a longtime friend and colleague. And, uh, welcome Alice and welcome everyone listening to our conversation today. So Alice, we'll just start at the beginning then. Uh, why did you say yes to coming on this podcast about gaslighting? Besides that we're friends and colleagues for many years,
Dr. Robin Stern: Tell us who you are.
Alice Forrester: Okay, so, uh, let's see. I am, uh, the c e o of a conglomerate of agencies now called, uh, cliff Beer's, community Health Partners. And we have two mental health agencies and an organization that, uh, helps transitional youth, uh, youth transition housing and group homes. So, um, we, uh, have a community center and a camp, and we do mental health services and we're all over, uh, the place around in schools and, um, various, uh, other public health, um, moving towards a more of a public health model in mental health. So, um, we've grown a lot. We're about, uh, 400 staff and, uh, I'm responsible for overseeing all three organizations. We have executive directors there, but I'm, um, uh, moved into that job, uh, recently actually as we formed this new company. My background, though is I'm the oldest of five. Grew up in the seventies when, um, guest lighting, I think first started. No, I know it's always been, but like, I remember when Murdoch took over the New York Post that was like
Dr. Robin Stern: You unpack that a little bit for people who didn't grow up in the seventies?
Alice Forrester: Oh, okay, sure. So, um, Rupert, the New York Post used to be a somewhat of a respectable newspaper. Um, and my dad read it every night. He always brought that, um, uh, home with him. And, uh, when Murdoch bought it, um, I don't know what year it was, but it was somewhere in my teenage years. Uh, he, um, it became a, a, a bit of a, um, like a National Enquirer kind of more, um, you know, really big headlines, blowing things out of proportion, um, uh, really trying to convince people that New York was, you know, a frightening, frightening place and, you know, everyone should, you know, avoid it. And, you know, there would be often rats on the cover and yeah, I mean, you know, just like, um, traditionalist. Yeah. Yeah. And, and that's, that was the beginning of, um, I think my awareness of how media could, uh, really be manipulated. And then in college I studied media and, um, did performance. And then I was, um, a performing artist in the East Village for many years and helped start a women's theater there that's still going on almost 40 years later and became a drama therapist when I sort of needed to get a regular job and then went back and got my PhD in clinical psychology. So it's been a journey, um, a great one, um, despite all of the various interactions I've had in my life with gaslighting
Dr. Robin Stern: Well, that's a great segue back to where I interrupted you from because I had forgotten to ask you to introduce yourself before we, we jumped into the material. Um, so take us back to why you said yes to gaslighting and, and where you'd like to start to talk about or to unpack and take deeper some of your own experiences or some things that you've had the opportunity to bear witness to, uh, in your work.
Alice Forrester: Sure. Uh, you know, I'm gonna talk, uh, mostly on a personal level, right? Um, and, um, you know, I guess the, um, you know, it all goes back to my childhood. No, I, um, I grew up in a very critical time of culture change, right? I was born in 58, but I really became a teenager in the seventies. And, um, everything was changing and my dad was much, he was about, um, he was like in his early, maybe early forties then he was an older dad and I was his first child. And so he really couldn't navigate this new culture, you know, and wasn't, um, uh, you know, uh, trusting of it. It was just so different from what he grew up in. And so he was often, I was often, often told I was wrong, you know, um, what I was saying wasn't incorrect. Um, you know, I didn't know what I was talking about and, you know, a lot of the sort of intuitive concepts or emotional responses I had to things or what felt more human or whatever was often sort of rejected as, you know, outta hand, you know, kind of craziness. And, uh, you know, I think he got mixed up a little bit between what was going on in the world and what was going on in his house. And so I caught a lot of that. Um, and so,
Dr. Robin Stern: Uh, if, if I can interrupt. Sure. Um, what was your reaction when he would say that to you? You were wrong, or you don't know what you're talking about?
Alice Forrester: Well, you know, it's funny cuz um, I often thought, well, I, I always would fight back, right? I would say that's not true. Um, you know, we can agree to disagree
Alice Forrester: And I'm often kind of like confused, like, why am not that they're telling that to me, but like, it's almost like there's an internal voice that I, I hear and I start questioning myself even without, um, them reinforcing it. Although sometimes they do, you know? So it's an interesting kind of, um, damage that's done, if you will, um, to your, even though you can, um, live your life, you know, not listening to what people are telling you on the other side. Um, I think there's still times where you're left with this feeling of like, maybe they're right.
Alice Forrester: And, um, you know, not really understanding that it might be connected to an early, um, early, uh, damage, uh, where you were invalidated or, um, told you were wrong or your perceptions were wrong. I was lucky. I mean, it wasn't, um, to a degree of, you know, acuteness, uh, where I've worked with a lot of clients who, you know, um, actually really, I, I did my dissertation listening to girls talk about their experiences of sexual abuse, like actually them ta talking about telling about it. Like how I was very interested in this whole dynamic of, you know, there, there was, when I was writing my dissertation, a lot of literature on the intrapsychic process of telling, and I was really interested in the interpersonal nature of dis uh, disclosure and like, why didn't the girls tell and what was going on? And, uh, out of, you know, 12 girls that I did a very in depth, you know, hour, couple hour interviews, only one of them actually told, um, that she had been, um, sexually abused and her family didn't believe her and, you know, uh, actually tried to kill her, um, literally, um, you know, and was told she was wrong.
Alice Forrester: And the interesting thing is that the other girls who didn't tell all thought that was gonna happen, and when they finally did tell, um, often people didn't believe them,
Dr. Robin Stern: Shocking and, and terrible, terrible. Bringing it into this room with us, though, how do you feel when you tell and retell the stories of your childhood, of being invalidated and, um, and then having to go back there once in a while when you see your family or more than once in a while and, and feeling that feeling when outside of that environment? Uh, I'm wondering how you, or maybe this is my question to you, outside of that environment, do you have those feelings? Because I see you and experience you as, um, really confident and knowing and wise and, uh, on your game all the time.
Alice Forrester: Um, but I think that's the, um, uh, the rub, right? You ca you know, you don't really, I, I personally, um, you know, we had, I had a, um, a death in my family. My nephew died of Covid, um, last January, and it was terrible and it was just awful. Um, he hadn't gotten vaccinated and, um, you know, it was just a terrible event. And, you know, we were, we're a close family. We were all in the I c U waiting room, um, you know, trying to support my sister. Um, and in that, um, in that space of tr of trauma and grief and overwhelming feeling, I became almost back to that time of the person who was always wrong. I don't know what it was about that intensity of the moment, um, but I was, you know, feeling like I couldn't say the right thing. I couldn't do the right thing. And I think, I think because it was such a flood of overwhelming feelings that I, um, just reverted back to this, you know, oldest kid who really wasn't good enough
Dr. Robin Stern: And continue with the story, if you will. And then, so you had that feeling and
Alice Forrester: Then, right. And, you know, um, of course I did stupid things and said stupid things. It's funny, you know, when you're a therapist, you're like, I'm never gonna say that. And, you know, then you're like, it's gonna be okay. And you're, you know, saying it to a woman who just lost her son, and she's like, it's never gonna be okay. You know, and then you feel like even more, you know, oh my God, she's correct. And, um, so I, uh, you know, I, what happened was it almost like a balloon, like I became, I felt like I became deflated more and more deflated and, and more not empowered or, um, not not able to be of service. And that was surprising to me, you know? Um,
Dr. Robin Stern: Do you remember whether you were actually talking to yourself at the time, like doing that kind of trash talk or negative self-talk where I, I don't know what I'm talking about. I don't know what to do. Yeah.
Alice Forrester: Yeah. It was, I, I think, um, there was some of that. Um, and I was also hypersensitive to what anybody was saying to me, you know, like I could twist it into a place of like, that they were criticizing, you know, my very existence. Um, you know, and I, you know, uh, in looking back at that point, you know, my partner and I were in a lot of trouble. Um, you know, I had, um, found out that, uh, she had been with another woman and, um, for months and I didn't know. And when I finally asked directly, she had said, well, you know, we had to have that conversation about a radio show, and it sounded like you were okay with that. And, you know,
Dr. Robin Stern: And I wonder that if that left you more susceptible and vulnerable to, to fe to those old messages Yeah. Kind of like what happened to the ground I was standing on.
Alice Forrester: Exactly. Exactly. And so, um, and it's been an interesting couple years. Of course, a lot of us have experienced it with covid, right? The ground that we knew, let's say, you know, getting up in the morning and going to work or, you know, whatever, everything was sort of, you know, out, out. Um, and, you know, so I think it was an, you know, there were a confluence of, of multiple events, certainly personally for me, but also, um, around, you know, who am I when I
Dr. Robin Stern: I mean, that, that's a very interesting, um, thing that you're sharing and thank you for sharing that, um, so openly, I think if, is your dad still with us? Is he alive? No.
Alice Forrester: No.
Dr. Robin Stern: So if your dad, well, from on high perhaps whatever you believe that, that he is watching you and he's watching you be enormously successful, uh, not only as a professional woman academic, but as a healer, as taking care of other people's pain and healing other people from their difficult childhood experiences and, and being in the community and in the families in that way. Um, so watch me. That was kind of an invitation too, right?
Alice Forrester: Yeah. I I don't think he would be too in, I don't know what he would be. I don't know. I mean, you know, I think he, you know, one of the things you said in your book that I thought really resonated was how insecure the person whose gaslighting is and how, um, they just have to be right. You know, because if they're not right, then that's, you know, just a, you know, gonna do a terrible ego damage or something. And,
Dr. Robin Stern: And I I'm thinking about, um, both your dad in that circumstance where the, the skills that people in that generation had to write themselves when they felt outta balance just didn't exist, right? There were no skills. We weren't doing ruler in those days.
Alice Forrester: No emotional intelligence here.
Dr. Robin Stern: We weren't doing that. Um, there
Alice Forrester: A lot of beer involved
Dr. Robin Stern: Actually. A lot of beer, right? And backslapping and, and yelling and, and I think, um, so that is certainly not an excuse, but certainly in part a reason for some people's bad behavior or having to put you down because that was the way that people in power and control could be that in the moment. And with your partner, I'm thinking, what I kept thinking as you were talking was when you love somebody and you think that that person loves you, it's just not supposed to work like that, that they're supposed to do those things to you. So that's one of the reasons that makes it so hard to recognize that, wait a minute, I'm not the crazy one. That's crazy. No, I never agreed to that. Are you kidding? I would never agree to that. But somehow when somebody you love who's supposed to love you is telling you, you agreed to that it's really easy to, over time, even if that time is a short time, begin to think maybe she's right.
Alice Forrester: Mm-hmm.
Dr. Robin Stern: Maybe I don't remember. Maybe I don't know what
Alice Forrester: And it was a relief, it was a big relief for me personally to kind of have that space. Um, it's gonna take some time, uh, for me, I think to have even a perspective mm-hmm.
Dr. Robin Stern: And the thousand cuts leaves you feeling just like that. I'm so sorry that you had to go through that. And also, um, often not wanting to step out the tango completely until you can convince your partner that you're not that person. Like, it's hard to let go. Yeah.
Dr. Robin Stern: Your partner is thinking that you are not good enough. And even if you are thinking you're not good enough, you're gonna try to convince them. No, it's, it's not that way. Right? I never agreed to that. That's not who I am. Rather than just saying, like you said, in, uh, a more helpful way, we're gonna have to agree to disagree. Yeah. If we all say that to opt out of those back and forth, none of us would be gaslighted. Right? But we can't say that because we're looking not only to be our same strong selves, um, which were already not because of the thousand cuts or the, the almost thousand cuts and we're getting there, but because we don't wanna be wrong either.
Alice Forrester: Right? And, um, and the shame of that, I think that's, um, uh, that's an interesting, uh, feeling that maybe we don't talk enough about is how shameful it is to have been caught out in something that, you know, maybe to other people would be so obvious and you're like, wow.
Dr. Robin Stern: And maybe you'd know better because you're a
Alice Forrester: Yeah.
Dr. Robin Stern: Successful woman and even a clinician, right?
Alice Forrester: Yeah. And it's sort of, um, brings me a little bit to what I wanted to talk to you about a little bit with my kids, you know, so we're, um, we adopted a couple of children through the state, um, and they were all different ages when they came. One was seven and another was, um, seven months, and another was 18 months. And it's really interesting because my two oldest, um, certainly have experienced a lot of trauma in their life and honestly can't tolerate being wrong. Um, even if you were to say, you know, that's, you know, I think that's a lie, or you're not telling me the truth or whatever is like, they, they double down like, you know, no, I'm not only is, am I correct, you are wrong and you know, all of a sudden all the things you are, you know, and, um, and it's, uh, it, it's very wearing. Um, bec not so much that you begin to believe it, but that you have to be constantly, um, uh, in the tango, right? Because you wanna be in an attached relationship with your children. You want to be it in relationships so that you can actually maybe move through all of these kind of, um, uh, misperceptions,
Dr. Robin Stern: Know, difficult moments. Yes.
Alice Forrester: Difficult moments, right? And, um, and, and yet, you know, it's, it's almost sometimes a frustrating battle that I don't know if you can win, nor how do you heal them so that they don't have to be, um, in that, you know, in that place of I'm, I'm right and you're wrong. And it's really, really interesting. Um, one of the thoughts I have on it, um, in seeing my oldest grow into her mid twenties is I am seeing more of her saying, you're right,
Dr. Robin Stern: It, it is interesting that you're saying that because when I was writing the book in 2007 and I talked to Rachel Simmons who had written odd Girl out and, um, uh, still know her today, in fact, she, uh, was on another episode that I hope you'll listen to. And, um, she talked about how teen girls especially use gaslighting a lot. Um, yeah, you didn't see me seat at the lunchroom or whatever. You're just too sensitive, you know, and then, um, uh, never answering the questions so that the person on the receiving end the gas, it ends up second guessing themselves. Well, is that really like, am I too sensitive? Should I not have made a big deal about it? And, and so that, if that is something that happens for teen girls, I wonder if it is that kind of struggling with your identity or struggling with your sense of self in, um, what, what's going on with separation from your family? Like they, you know, no, my friends are important. My family's not important. You are not important. You are not right. You are gross and horrible as a parent and as a being. And we are wonderful and terrific and I mean, I'm exaggerating, but No,
Alice Forrester: No, you're not that far off actually. Um,
Dr. Robin Stern: And then, and somehow you grow out of it. I remember my daughter saying to me very wisely at some point, you know, mom, this is just a stage in a few years, I'll be better
Dr. Robin Stern: Was, she was right. You know, in a few years she was better and less antagonistic and and less fighting for her right. To be herself.
Alice Forrester: Right. So that, it's almost like gaslighting should be one of the developmental stages of, uh, adolescence perhaps. Yeah. I, I, um, I think that I, you, you know, um, you worked with my daughter on, on the Facebook project that you talk about in the book, and so, um, you know, social media certainly, um, is like, I always joke, you know, don't ever read below the line, you know, like all of the comment sections in anything. You know, you don't just, you know, cuz you can never trust what's being said and it's hard to, you know, ignore that. But, um, I do think we, um, I think that that is hard to navigate and stay in relationship with your child when they're in that intense place of you are wrong and I'm right. And, um, especially when there's trauma because the, you know, there's been so many hurts in their life and abandonment and losses and things like that, that you're kind of like the the core issue is no one, I'm not good enough to be loved and nobody's gonna stay with me. Right? And, and you keep saying, yes I am. Even if your room's a mess, even if you've, you know, crash the car again, even if you don't go to school, you know, I'm gonna still be there for you. Um, but it is a, um, it's hard to stay in there. Um, and I think some parents just wanna punish it out or eliminate it, erase it, you know? And, uh, those of us who are actually trying to ride it out or, um, be to keep in relationship,
Dr. Robin Stern: To keep relationship and to make sure that your child always knows they're lovable
Alice Forrester: Socially. People don't like that so much. They don't, you know, they want you to like kind of punish or, or, um, you know, stop that behavior. And, um, you know, I especially, you know, from my perspective, um, when you have such a core injury,
Dr. Robin Stern: Then ev when you have such a core injury, then every, no, it's another injury,
Alice Forrester: Right?
Dr. Robin Stern: It's really hard.
Alice Forrester: And you wanna raise kids who actually don't go on and repeat this over and over with other people. And so it's a, it it's a complex stressful
Dr. Robin Stern: Well, I, I know it's been a, a tough couple of years for you as, as well as other wonderful things that have happened or alongside of other wonderful things that have happened. And it's been a tough year for so many of us. You know, it's the, um, the pandemic has created space for, for some good things to happen for people and spending time with people you don't normally get to do or pausing in your life and asking yourself big questions that you don't normally get to ask or not having to commute so far, but it's also been a tough time
Alice Forrester: Yeah.
Dr. Robin Stern: For being isolated and distant from people you might wanna see. And, and asking yourself those big questions that don't have pretty answers. And, um, and just wondering what do I wanna do for the rest of my life?
Alice Forrester: Not to get into a much of a political conversation, but, um, you know, that has also been our experience. Uh, you know, I started this talking about the story with the New York Post. You know, now we just have abundance of news sources and things that are telling us one thing where you're like, I I don't think that's true,
Dr. Robin Stern: Exactly. And I, I just actually took a note to make sure not to lose that thread that, um, that we're, we've been living in a time where it is fertile ground for gaslighting because one day we are hearing one thing and people are saying, there's something wrong with us if we don't believe it, and the next day we are hearing something else, which may be the opposite. Or the people on the opposite side, no, there's something wrong with you. No, there's something wrong with you and you just don't know it because you can't remember things or you don't know it cause you're just, you're never right about these things because you
Alice Forrester: Watched the wrong news channel or
Dr. Robin Stern: Right? And, uh, and so it is a time where things are changing really quickly or have been changing really quickly sometimes daily, where we've been asked by politicians to not believe things we actually saw happening
Alice Forrester: It's an interesting question. Um, you know, I know your, uh, background is in, uh, psychotherapy and psycho analysis and you know, but it's almost from a social psychology point of view, like, why are we here? And I imagine I'm not a great historian, but, um, I know we've been here before, right? That her, um, ed Edgar Hoover time where, you know, the, um, uh, everybody was a communist and, uh, you know, uh, uh, we've been here before and why does this culturally, do we have to keep going back to this sort of space?
Dr. Robin Stern: I wonder what the pathway to the answer is to that question. Like, is it looking at, uh, like group relations kind of psychology? Um, or is it the individual in the group who rises to power and, and then does something, um, to the group? So I think I, I think it's a question that we'll keep ask, asking ourselves. Um, and, uh, I'm, I want to, uh, first of all, thank you so, so much for being with me today and for sharing personally and deeply and for bringing up such important issues. Like what do you do when you're a parent? Being gaslighted by your children as opposed to parents complaining, uh, children complaining, my parents are gaslighting me all the time. Um, and what do you do when you're life when you're confronted with old patterns of gaslighting that reemerge under times of stress? And, um, and so I thank you for that deep sharing and I have a question as you, uh, before you leave, what are you excited about for next year? What's the next thing in your life coming up that you're excited about?
Alice Forrester: Let's see, I, uh, I'm excited to get back in touch with the artists that I, um, you know, I, I, I lived my life in my twenties as an artist and had so much freedom of expression and was so, cuz this performance art in the eighties was so cool, you know, in New York and everything. And so I'm, I'm really hoping that I can, um, get back in touch with some of those creative, um, areas, um, uh, uh, for myself and, um, you know, uh, you know, even, even begin to think about performing again, uh, a little bit. I I just saw some friends in a show last couple weeks ago and, uh, you know, as a company I toured with for years, and they're just so amazing and, and it's so freeing. Perform. The thing about performance and theater is it's not actually ever gaslighting. It's, it's, it's in the world of play. And imagine, imagine, I mean, you know, I could, theater's been used, you know, for social cultural change and stuff like that. So I, you know, but, uh, for me, I'm really looking forward to kind of getting into that, um, space of, um, productivity and creativity in a, in a freer way.
Dr. Robin Stern: I love that. And please invite me when you're performing because I'll
Alice Forrester: Definitely
Dr. Robin Stern: And, um, and may that space for you continue to be gaslight free. So I thank you Alice, for showing up today and being with me. And thank you to all of our listeners. I know it was definitely meaningful today and, um, heart-centered. And please join me on the next episode of the Gaslight Effect podcast. 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 at robinstern.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 and Gabby Caoagas, Suzen Pettit and Marcus Estevez.