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 to this episode of the Gaslight Effect Podcast. I'm Robin Stern, and I am delighted to be here today with Dr. Grant Brenner, who is a physician and a psychiatrist psychoanalyst, uh, from my own tradition of psychoanalysis. I was happy to meet you yesterday and discovered that we have much in common, not only our work, current work, but also what drives our work for each of us to Kon alum is at least in part of, uh, a part of what drives our work, the, the Jewish tradition of, um, heal thyself to heal others. My daughter told me the whole saying, I always thought it was just healing the world is our responsibility. So we could even start there if you'd like, um, why Tikkun alum drives you, and then, uh, why you chose to be on the Gaslight Effect. But first, please tell our audience who you are and about your terrific new book since you've written several, um, and it is making your crazy work for you.
Dr. Grant Brenner: Yeah, so I co-authored that book along with, uh, uh, the other ones in, in this eerie relationship series. Uh, the first one is kind of the manifesto, your relationship, how we use dysfunctional relationships to hide from intimacy. The second one is called Relationship Sanity, creating Maintaining Healthy Relationships. Um, but this last book, uh, I think is most my, sort of my idea. So, you know, my co-authors and I came out of an interpersonal psychoanalytic tradition among other things. What that, what that means is, is really looking at relationships more than what's happening intra psychically. You know, what psychoanalyst talk about in one's own mind. Um, but the premise of the third book, um, is that we can get into a dysfunctional relationship with ourselves, much the same way that we get into dysfunctional relationships with other people. And it ties very much in with gaslighting, which speaks to the question sort of, why, why did I, why was I happy to be invited to come onto your podcast?
Dr. Grant Brenner: And in, in our culture, a lot of times, I, I think we look at ourselves as, as needing to be kind of very much kind of singular, you know, monolithic. Um, but really we have to see the different facets of ourselves, get to know all the different parts of ourselves, the good, the bad, and, and then maybe the not so appealing sometimes in order to reach our full potential, whether or not there's a trauma history. Um, but for a lot of people, trauma has a fragmenting effect. And so that's what making your crazy work for you is about, is about building a really good self relationship, recognizing the dysfunctional patterns, even the ways we might gaslight ourselves. We're much more focused on how other people gaslight us. But I think if we're attentive to our own self deceptions, it's much harder for us to be deceived by others.
Dr. Grant Brenner: And then in the tradition, you know, that I came out of, you know, in addition to writing these self-help books and being a therapist, I, I'm also involved in, um, providing psychiatry and psychotherapy to people as a medical director for sole mental health, uh, ss o l, um, and not-for-profit work in the disaster mental health response. And, um, you know, public education via, you know, psychology Today, blogging, for example, um, on the Experimentations Blog is the title of my blog. Um, and I was raised in an environment where, you know, we were fortunate in a lot of ways, though. I, I experienced a lot of adversity growing up, um, including illness and death early on in the family. Um, Bo was also raised in a cultural environment where we recognized, um, and had a strong kind of, um, moral compass to take care of the community.
Dr. Grant Brenner: This was true in our family business in Newark, New Jersey. Um, my father, uh, who's passed away a while ago, you know, would often talk about how important it was to take good care of the people you know, who, who work with and for you. And, and that was really important. And in my religious school education in Hebrew school, although honestly, I'm not super religious and I, I actually, you know, declined to be Bar Mitzvah for various reasons, I was still inculcated with a very strong sense that we need to pay attention to things that are, that are harmful to everyone, um, and do something about it. Um, and some of that came out of, you know, the Jewish experience in the Holocaust and in pogroms. My family came here pre Holocaust. Um, you know, but no, no one moves to the United States from any cultural tradition.
Dr. Grant Brenner: 'cause things were great where they were from any, from any ethnic group. Um, unless they were forced to come here, that's a different story. Um, and, you know, and so I think from an early age, I, I just had a feeling that I wanted to help people. And I was the kid, you know, who was kind of therapist with the friends. And I remember I even read a book on acupressure and, and I would treat kids on the playground with sprains, you know, um, eastern philosophy. And, you know, it just, it was just something that always felt like a passion for me. Um, though I don't think I was really clear about it until kind of midlife. Um, to some extent I just, I followed that path.
Dr. Robin Stern: And did, you know, I mean, it's fascinating to to hear your story, especially with all the wonderful work that you do outside of your clinical office to, to make a difference in the world and to help people on their own journeys. Um, and when was the moment that you decided that you wanted to work with people as a psychiatrist or train as a psychoanalyst? Or was there a particular moment or you, you were saying you were following that path, but I'd love to know. Well,
Dr. Grant Brenner: There, there was, you know, there was a moment, and there's also context to it. I'll, I'll lead with the moment. 'cause it's, you know, more, in some ways it's more compelling. Um, and this is really like suburban, embarrassingly suburban, um, you know, but I, I read Voraciously as a kid, and what, what happened was, you know, I mentioned interest in Eastern philosophy. I read all this Alan Watts and other stuff, but I picked up at the, at the mall, at the Livingston Mall specifically. Um, a two books, A primer on Freudian Psychology and a Primer on Jungian psychology. Um, and I still have those books here, though. They're, they're not the originals. I got 'em online later, and I read 'em, and it, it, it resonated with me. And I think as a pre-teen, um, people, if they asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up, I, I, I would've said psychoanalyst. Um, prior to that I would've said scientist. And that's also true. Um, so it was really reading those books on Freud and young, um, clicked for me
Dr. Robin Stern: As a teen. You read these books
Dr. Grant Brenner: As a preteen, sadly.
Dr. Robin Stern: Did it help
Dr. Grant Brenner: Um, I think it, it, well, it helped me in some way, way, um, I don't know if it helped me to be more popular
Dr. Robin Stern: Wonderful. That you had good experiences with that at an early age. And, um, just thinking about my own moment of deciding to go to therapy, uh, into therapy, and then deciding to go to become a therapist, I'll just share briefly with you. I really was interested in relationships and fascinated with the fact that, uh, what was going on on the outside was not necessarily what was happening for people behind the doors of their, the closed doors of their homes. And so I thought, well, I, I wanna be a divorce lawyer so that I can work with people on their marriage and divorce. And so I started college and I majored in psychology, uh, toward that. And, and discovered pretty quickly as I began to, uh, really explore what it mean meant to go to law school and be a lawyer. That, um, I didn't wanna do that at all, but I was majoring in psychology and was doing an internship, uh, with people, um, who were talking about their relationships and their friendships at St. Vincent's Hospital. And I
Dr. Grant Brenner: Yeah, absolutely. There, you know, there's parallels there for me as well. 'cause, so in high school, I, I joined the Future Physicians of America, you know, I had an interest in medicine. Um, but, but in college, I, I seriously considered becoming a physicist and studied that for a while. But I was drawn back to psychology. I, I thought about becoming a psychologist. Um, but ul ultimately, I, I think for sort of cultural reasons was urged, you know, to try medical school. Not that there was anything wrong with psychology, but it was, where I went to school, it was presented largely as research rather than clinical. And I think I wanted ultimately to be a therapist in medical school. I was strongly dissuaded from going into psychiatry. If I wanted to be a therapist, I was told, you made a mistake, kid. Um, you can't be a therapist as a psychiatrist. And I, I did, I did general surgery for two years. Um, and it was a, it was great. Um, but sort of similar to what you're saying with the law, though, I don't know if you feel this way. I mean, I loved surgery, but I really was drawn back to the human experience and working with people and relationships and this, the mind and sociological aspects as well.
Dr. Robin Stern: Yeah. And must have been really fun for you to be, um, handling the Freudian on jgi and at the same time, inside of your own mind.
Dr. Grant Brenner: Yeah, I ne I never, you know, I never felt very partisan about it. A as you know, you know, psychoanalytic institutes are, um, notoriously kind of guild oriented or partisan. Um, I did have a sense that the classical Freudian Institute wouldn't be a good fit for me because of my difficulties with authority. And I, I think that was true. And I, I, I think I was glad to have found a relation interpersonal relational institute where I, where I trained. Um, but, you know, I'm more pragmatic and that's kind of my clinical philosophy is kind of what works. And in that sense, probably person-centered, like, like gerian, you know, humanistic is, is part of my d n a
Dr. Robin Stern: That speaks to me because I think that the more, um, practical, concrete, helpful you can be, uh, the more you make a difference actually in what's happening in somebody's life. And, um, to me, the way to get there is by being present with the person in the room, which is exactly what you're saying, that's humanistic Rogerian, just responding and, and going with them where they lead. So tell me why you said yes to gaslighting.
Dr. Grant Brenner: Um, let me think back. So, you know, well, I, I felt flattered. Um, for one thing, I I think your, you, you or your team reached out to me, um, and, you know, impressed by your credentials. And so, um, I I, I have a relatively, you know, I, I felt like it would be useful and, and, and worthwhile. You know, sometimes people want me to do stuff, and it, it turns out to be not, not such a great thing. Um, but in your case, it, it just, it felt, I don't know, intuitively resonant. Um, and I just, I had a good vibe about it. So that, that was why I said yes. And I'm, I'm generally pretty flexible. Um, I'm, I'm usually open to doing things, like I said, and unless I see something that really, uh, kind of dissuades me, um, an example of something that would dissuade me that, that happened recently is someone asked me to write a piece or answer articles, but when I went to look at what it was, it was, it was really just an industry website, and they, they wanted to get content to sell their product, and they had sort of positioned it as, um, an interview, but it was really just like their, their content production machine.
Dr. Grant Brenner: In your case, it really felt like you're trying to do the right thing. And it felt very aligned. And like I said, I really admired what I had seen you had done. I,
Dr. Robin Stern: I appreciate your kind words. Thank you. I was really excited when I read about your term ambient gaslighting, because gaslighting is obviously my clinical work for many years, or the focus of it. And, uh, and I've talked recently about the ghost of gaslighting following us from relationship to a relationship, but talk less about the, this idea that it's all around us. And yet, when I wrote the book in 2007, and then again in 2016, and then more recently, the workbook, of course, I had to pay attention to the culture and or look at the culture and be aware as I'm treating people as as you are as well, what are the cultural influences? What's going on outside of people? And there is this kind, kind of fertile ground for gaslighting to emerge, both self gaslighting as, as you said, and also gaslighting in relationships because of the, um, varying realities, your choice. You, you turn on the radio station, you have one reality, you turn on the other radio station, you have another reality. You are living, we've been living in a world that is unpredictable and out of control and, uh, and destabilizing. And so that is fertile ground. Tell me how you began to think about, or, or why you decided to write and be interviewed about ambient gaslighting. 'cause I think it's a useful way to think about what's happening all the time all around us.
Dr. Grant Brenner: So a a lot of, a lot of my ideas start off as associations, almost like often jokes or puns, the, the, the, the term making your crazy work for you started off as kind of a, a pun, but also a question I would ask people. Like, how do you make your crazy work for you? And so, you know, people may have, I don't know if people have heard of this title, but one, one of Freud's most popular books was called, or is called, the Psychopathology of Everyday Life. And so I was thinking just about, you know, especially around the Trump presidency and all, all the, the fake news stuff, um, and the impact of dissociation and trauma, um, on the collective psychology, yada, yada, yada.
Dr. Robin Stern: A little bit more about that for people who might be listening and don't really know what dissociation is,
Dr. Grant Brenner: The yada, yada, yada, didn't, didn't quite spell it out,
Dr. Grant Brenner: And so I think on a collective level, there's a lot of dissociation because what we deal with every day is so overwhelming, um, that we have to cope with it. And one way to cope is, is to sort of tune things out or, or, or focus in on, on certain aspects of reality. Um, and so I've, I've thought about this as collective dissociation. You know, for example, if you walk down the street and you see, you know, people who are suffering, uh, people who don't have homes or who are clearly mentally or physically ill, um, you know, what do you do? Right? And a lot of times you kind of just keep walking or, or maybe you tell yourself, maybe I tell myself, okay, I I do, I do charitable work. I wish I could help this person. When I traveled in India, it's like a hundred times more glaring. And, you know, in, in countries where there's even more glaring poverty than the United States, right? People just have to cope with it. So, so I think of this as kind of a collective dissociation that we kind of all share. And, um, it gets channeled into maybe social media or you look at types of, uh, entertainment that's very popular. Um, often very violent, disturbing things are very popular as well as kind of entertaining. So, you know, that's what I mean by dissociation.
Dr. Robin Stern: And when you think about dissociation with gaslighting, I think that people in gaslighting relationships, especially in the later stages of gaslighting, have to do that in order to survive.
Dr. Grant Brenner: Yeah, I think that's a hundred percent right. Um, you know, one of the analogies that I, that I, that, that a lot of people talk about that I'll bring up is like, you know, there's certain lizards that when they're threatened, they drop their tails, so their tails literally split off from their bodies. And the predator, you know, will be happy with the tail
Dr. Robin Stern: Yeah. It's interesting, I, when you were sharing that, uh, very powerful image about the lizard was thinking, um, one of the things that I talk with, with clients, with patients, with people about is when do you know that the piece you've given up is too big? Or that you're about to give up a piece that, um, if you give it up, you won't be able to run away and survive without that piece. And so, I'm, I turn that question to you. When you are have, assuming you've worked with people who are in these relationships, um, how do they know and how do you, how do you work with them at that moment? And are you the one who's saying, Hey, you're giving up too much a piece of yourself, or, um, take a pause, or, what's your, what's your way in?
Dr. Grant Brenner: Yeah, you know, it's, it's, it's really kind of sad and also interesting psychologically, because I'm, I'm sure you know that if even when you tell people, Hey, this is like an abusive relationship, they still won't be able to take it in. And so that dissociation is really powerful, or they'll start making excuses for the other person or rationalizing it. And with many, many different people I've gone through like, here are the signs of abuse, here are the signs of gaslighting. Um, or people will say, oh, my friends, right? They say that this person isn't treating me right, I should leave. Or even my friends, you know, don't want to be friends with me anymore 'cause they can't take it. Um, so my experience is that a lot of times, as you know, in our role, and if you, if you have any advice, I'm open to it as to how to help people, um, before it sort of reaches the tipping point.
Dr. Grant Brenner: Um, a lot of times it's continuing to draw their attention to these things, sometimes trying to confront them. But one thing that happens in therapy is we know, is that the same patterns can repeat in therapy. And so sometimes the therapist can start to feel like we're in a position where we're talking, but no one hears us. And sometimes that can reach a crescendo in the therapy where, where maybe the therapist, you know, says something much more direct or, or says, listen, I can't work with you anymore if you're gonna keep doing this, which sometimes therapists might do with patients with substance use disorders, they might say, I can't work with you anymore. You know, I I'm gonna refer you to, you know, rehabilitation. Um, which is a powerful move for a therapist to do. It's like, I have to withdraw from treatment because I think I'm enabling you.
Dr. Grant Brenner: But more often than not, unless there's more serious harm taking place, um, what I see happen is that people reach kind of a rock bottom in their life, and then all of a sudden in their own heads though, it builds up over time. The dissociation like reconnects, and all of a sudden it's almost like they wake up like, um, like rip fan winkle, like waking up and they go like, this is not right for me. But a lot of times, a lot of damage has been done in the interim, and then it becomes a question of, of sort of engaging the person in recovery. And I think post-traumatic growth.
Dr. Robin Stern: Yeah, it's so interesting, um, to be having this conversation because, uh, it's been my experience as well that there is a moment that either, uh, is initiated by someone else. So for example, um, a patient of mine was in a very destructive, uh, destabilizing relationship and was her boyfriend asked her to do these things that she kind of knew were, were crazy, but, um, it was in fact helping them not fight all the time. And so she would rationalize it in that way. And yet when she shared it with a friend of hers, her friend said, are you crazy? Like, this is, this is ridiculous how you're, you're just like, you have to sit in a restaurant facing the wall so people won't come over and say hello to you. And suddenly
Dr. Grant Brenner: The control Yeah. In isolation.
Dr. Robin Stern: Yeah. And so suddenly when her friend said it, it, at that time there had been enough maybe accumulated moments for her, or she was feeling just at the verge herself to be the tipping point herself. Her friend said this to her and she immediately thought, oh my God, what am I doing? This isn't,
Dr. Grant Brenner: You have that aha moment.
Dr. Robin Stern: And yet even after that, to your point about it doesn't happen overnight or that even when you make the intervention, it may not, the dissociation continues. This woman stayed in this very destructive relationship for another year and a half knowing that there was something wrong, but still being pulled into that gaslighting dynamic despite that. Um, and so we were able to work in a very tangible way because she would say, well, I know this, but I'm doing this, and so like, I don't get it. And so we would be able to look at that, but at least there was that window into that fog, if you'll
Dr. Grant Brenner: Yeah, definitely. There's a lot of different ways that this unfolds. Um, I think, you know, as a therapist, it's really important for me to understand sort of the level of, the level of, uh, harm that's taking place to gauge sort of how much press to use with a patient. Sometimes the tipping point comes from something in the relationship, like the, like the other, like the partner crosses a line, makes a certain kind of threat, and then it becomes really evident. Um, sometimes it's external, like you said, like a friend, though, a lot of times friends will say stuff and the the person, you know, especially if, if the gaslight, uh, strategies effective at isolating will undermine, you know, the person's faith in their friendship, um, or force them to make a choice. And you know, it's, well, if you, if you love me
Dr. Robin Stern: Yes, exactly. Or the gas, it stays away from her friend because she becomes too ashamed to share that she's still in the relationship, or it's too complicated to explain away his behavior and she can no longer tell the truth and, and be authentic with her friend.
Dr. Grant Brenner: Yeah, you can't rationalize it anymore. But I think the sense of shame and moral self condemnation tends to lead to isolation. And gaslight, you know, can leverage that self-criticism. That's often, you know, a vulnerability of people who are prone to get gas lighted. Um, and so the concept of moral injury comes up to me. And I think to some extent when people see that they continue to remain in relationships that aren't good for them, they start to feel like they don't deserve anything better anyway. And so staying with the abuser, the gaslight is kind of a deserved punishment and often ties in with underlying sense of guilt and shame from maybe their developmental experience.
Dr. Robin Stern: Yeah. So what have you found in your practice, um, is effective in moving people along to, uh, to healing? Since I know that people who are listening are waiting for that? Well, okay, so now I have, I have the awareness. What do I do? Like how do I, how do I heal? And it's just, um, so wonderful for me to have a colleague with me talking about this so everyone can hear.
Dr. Grant Brenner: Yeah. Well, yeah, the effect of, of the, of, of working with trauma, gaslighting abuse on, on, on the therapist is, is an important topic. Um, so I don't know if I'm quite answering the question, but, uh, is re related, I think leading up to how do you help people heal and recover is you, you mentioned this sort of, it accumulates over time idea. Um, I think it's important for people to be aware of what they're actually feeling. And so a lot of times the reason it looks like there's a tipping point is because people are, you know, suppressing or dissociating not just their feelings, but also their knowledge of what's actually going on. And so, you know, they're doing themselves a disservice and drawing attention to, you know, that hidden layer of experience is often very helpful for people to both get them out of those relationships or right, as therapists, we have to respect patients' autonomy and agency.
Dr. Grant Brenner: Um, so a lot of times, you know, we can, we can strongly encourage someone, but at the end of the day, it's gonna be their decision by and large, something similar happens after they've gotten away from the relationship. Um, one thing is, it's really important to help the person not fall into self re recrimination and self blame, but at the same time, be able to look at the information that's available from having been in that relationship to, to grow and understand themselves. So this is kind of like, don't blame the victim, but how can I hold myself accountable? Um, and then there's a whole slew of other things that have to do with, well, now I need to work on my sense of self and kind of learn how to trust again or in the first place.
Dr. Robin Stern: I think that's the, in the first place is really important as well, because some of us get into relationships, gaslighting relationships, because that sense of trust, self-trust is not really there because of earlier experiences,
Dr. Grant Brenner: And there's a desire for intimacy. Um, but there's also fear of intimacy. And so it ends up in this kind of bad compromise. Someone who seems close but isn't
Dr. Robin Stern: Exactly, um, or is close in certain ways, but it's not the full a complete way, I guess I would say.
Dr. Grant Brenner: Well, a lot of times there's an instant bond. Uh, a lot of times it's a traumatic bond, um, you know, but a manipulative person will prey on that sense of closeness is kind of like, um, I always use it like, oh, we love the same movie, we love the same books. You know, people, you know, you fall in love like the first night you meet and you ignore the red flags. So when you're, when you're recovering it, it's really important to, to have like a growth mindset, um, which, which takes a while. 'cause you know, the, the initial kind of like embarrassment, shame and injury, uh, you know, needs some time.
Dr. Robin Stern: You know, it's interesting. I often say to people, um, you may have to give something up because when they are become, when my patients, clients, friends become aware that they're in this gaslighting relationship and that they're only looking at one piece of the picture and that they're ignoring this whole other thing, and in fact there are these other things there and they've been there from the beginning, um, those other things can be really compelling. Like, you're my soulmate. Yeah. No one's ever looked at me that way before. Or the gaslight continues to say, no one would love you the way I love you. No one is going to hold you in this way, and you are buying into it because we all have a need to be loved and to be close. Um, and so you're ignoring all the other stuff. And yet, um, giving yourself permission not only to feel your feelings, but to give something up in the service of, uh, integrity in the service of following your own moral compass can be, can be very powerful intervention as well. And especially for people who are in a family for, um, women who have children.
Dr. Grant Brenner: Yeah.
Dr. Robin Stern: What are your children watching? What are you teaching? And often if you can't rally yourself for yourself, that kind of, um, not just do you want them to have a good relationship, but are you in moral distress every single day?
Dr. Grant Brenner: Yeah. And if children are involved, it's, it's a much more, uh, difficult decision, or it seems to be, and this can happen in, in, in men can be gaslighted too, and it can happen in, in, in gay couples of course. But, so a couple of things. I think, um, one of them is that like no one will love you like I do it preys on the person's fear that they're unlovable or maybe basic belief that they're unlovable, which, which often can come from their relationship with their parents and sometimes peers. And so it's kind of like, well, if you leave me, you'll never find anyone. And I've definitely, when people are recovering, they have to deal with that idea that maybe they'll never find anyone. And that type of bargain you make with yourself to stay with someone because you're afraid you won't get anything better, um, you see the opposite with people who, um, like serial date, like there's always some the next best, the fear of missing out who's gonna be better,
Dr. Robin Stern: The next bus is always gonna come along, right?
Dr. Grant Brenner: Yeah. There's, you know, especially in, in this modern kind of dating environment and, and, and it does come up with men and women because of sort of the numbers game in major urban centers and dating apps. That's, that's a different podcast episode. Um, but this sort of fear of being unlovability and like the fear of jumping into the unknown and is often a deterrent to, to taking the risk of leaving. And then the other part of what what you said is really, you know, crucially important as well, is kind of giving up fantasies, um, of being whole through finding someone who is like a perfect match. Um, what I'll, what I'll often advise people to do is I, and I feel like you might do this as well, is, is to take a break from dating for a while. And it's a similar, like a sobriety model. Like, let's work on, let's work on us, uh, and if people do date, I think that can be an opportunity to learn and date differently. And so I really encourage people not to do the same thing, but to view it as, uh, a kind of an experiment, um, and practice, you know, less black and white ways of relating
Dr. Robin Stern: Practice checking in with your feelings. Like, does the, I've said to people often, you know, does, does this feel good? Okay, do it again. Does it not feel good? You don't have to do it again,
Dr. Grant Brenner:
Dr. Robin Stern: Yes. Right now I was talking about a feeling good, like feeling, um, a sense of ease and, and comfort,
Dr. Grant Brenner: Like a healthy feeling.
Dr. Robin Stern: Thank you. A healthy feeling good. Yeah. So I, I wonder if we could talk a little bit about self gaslighting and how big a part, uh, 'cause we touched on that yesterday and, and, um, you said, uh, I believe you said something like sometimes self gaslighting or you've noticed that self gaslighting comes even before you step into the, uh, gaslight tango with someone else. And I wonder if you can talk what you about what you've seen and what you think.
Dr. Grant Brenner: Yeah. Uh, I, you know, I think depression is a, is sort of a good example of how that can happen. Um, and I'm using, I'm using the term depression in, in kind of a, a loose way, not so much a clinical way, but this idea that when we feel really awful about ourselves, when people are depressed, we think we're no good, our self-esteem is low. Um, or you have that really strong self-critical voice, which, which can also relate to developmental trauma. You know, we believe our own negative story about ourself too much. And so, you know, that sets people up to be taken advantage of, like, you're not worth it. No one's ever gonna love me anyway, this is my last chance. Um, and sometimes it's the parent's voice in the head, you know, like, um, you're never going to amount to anything anyway. And so I think it's really important to, you know, this is where self-compassion is really a good antidote for self gaslighting, but also just mindfulness practice in general.
Dr. Grant Brenner: You know, and, and as you're saying, being aware of different sorts of feelings, you, you get that room to reflect, which right. Psychologists call reflective function, or sometimes mentalization is a term that's used. And so all these different, different pieces, different voices can be placed in a more, um, measured framework. And then I think that helps to, uh, uh, combat the self ga gaslighting. And I'd be curious how you would sort of define and describe self gaslighting, 'cause I'm not sure if I'm being that articulate, but we, we all deceive ourselves, right? We all wanna make ourselves look good, et cetera.
Dr. Robin Stern: Well, I was interested in what you said, um, a couple of things. One is we talk a lot in the psychoeducational work that we do, um, attend into emotional intelligence, or that I do, uh, about talking back to your, to your negative self-talk. So we all have negative self-talk, and it's actually astonishing how mean we are to ourselves. And, um, we, we were doing a retreat at, for Yale undergraduates, and we asked them to write down our, their favorite negative self-talk, you know, what do they regularly say to themselves? And they did it on little note cards, and then we distributed the note cards, they were all anonymous, and then we, we stood in a circle and people read these out loud. And this was in a, in like a, a course retreat, um, format. And it was so deeply disturbing and upsetting for everyone to hear, I'm too fat, I'm too short, I'll never amount to anything.
Dr. Robin Stern: And these are beliefs about themselves. And so the, the idea that, um, you can just combat that with turning negative self-talk to positive self-talk is a little simplistic. And yet we start there. So how do you then, what would you do? How could you talk to yourself differently? Could you talk to yourself with compassion? So let's say you didn't do so well on that project. How do you say, well, I'm, I'm such a jerk, or like, I'm, I, I'm never gonna get it right or totally a moron and everyone else is smarter. How do you turn that into a compassionate statement and include yourself and the people you regularly give compassion to? Right? And, um, that can be soothing to people. And, and I, and I think that, that over time, if you're regularly, if you're deliberate, if you're intentional about giving yourself compassion, about turning, turning those negative phrases into positive phrases, you can make a dent in it. But it does require the deeper work of, um, going back and uncovering where it comes from to, to really, uh, I would say squash the tendency to be gaslighting yourself. Yeah.
Dr. Grant Brenner: To get it at, sort of get it at the roots. I, I think some people need to do the deeper work and, and for other people they, they can change things on the level of mental habit, and that sort of helps enough. But, but I think regardless, there, there is a way where it takes a lot of intentional practice because this stuff just gets wired into the brain, right? Um, and I think self-compassion can be helpful because it changes the way, you know, the brain is wired over time. Um, and so I do think it can help to kind of just interrupt those thoughts. Like in cognitive behavioral therapy, it's like, imagine a stop sign. On the other hand, sometimes there's, there's information in those thoughts, which is helpful. Like, maybe I do need to change the way I study, but
Dr. Grant Brenner: That's like a boss who just trashes you. It's not really good coaching. So some of it is like, okay, there's, there's something there that's valuable and I'm gonna learn work on coaching myself. Um, I think the other, the other thing I think about is a lot of times those internal critical voices, or inner self, internal self saboteurs is a psychoanalytic concept. Those parts of ourselves are in pain. And, you know, Kristen Neff's work and Christopher Germer talks about taking a self-compassion break. And so I think there's an opportunity, right? When, when we're, when we're inflicting punishment and pain on ourselves, right? To recognize that and say, I'm suffering and everyone suffers, and what do I sort of, what do I really need right now?
Dr. Robin Stern: So it's not just the, um, change of the phraseology or the words, but rather that that hug and that being with yourself in a compassionate way and the soothing, um, yeah.
Dr. Grant Brenner: And, and what, what other alternatives do I have at this moment? You know, I can kind of put it on hold. Maybe I'll listen to music, like I'll, I'll go do something else. You know, I'll come back to it later. Um, there's a whole way where you can shift your mindset. Um, you know, but I, I think there's a lot of nuance to it, obviously. You know, if there were sort of a quick and easy answer, then we wouldn't be talking.
Dr. Robin Stern: We wouldn't even be in business. If people could do it
Dr. Grant Brenner: That would be great.
Dr. Robin Stern: I know
Dr. Grant Brenner: Sure. Thanks. Thanks Robin. So this most recent one, making your crazy work for you from trauma and isolation to self-acceptance and love. I, I think the, the subtitle is fairly straightforward. Um, I think most of our readers are, or people who recognize that they've experienced some kind of usually developmental trauma. And in a sense it's very psychoanalytic. 'cause it primarily focuses on when the child needs to be parentified into a caregiver for their own parents. And their parents may, may have problems either from different illnesses. Um, they may be, you know, incompetent in some ways, or, or ill, and in some cases they may be malicious or cruel or, you know, or a little of both. Um, but the, the general idea is that we, you know, can come to recognize that the, the things that like have made us crazy are also areas of a lot of potential for ourselves if we can like, sort of gather up, collect ourselves, you know, and, and develop some kind of better internal teamwork, let's say.
Dr. Grant Brenner: And so it starts with psychoeducation and compassion, um, as a general stance to support a, a, a kindness oriented growth mindset where we can hold ourselves accountable without being harsh and, you know, take the learning and sort of discard the, the damage or the harm. Um, and we have a few tools that help people understand this. Like, uh, ac acronyms like grafts, which are common developmental patterns, um, that, that kids get into with their parents. And we carry into adulthood relationships and situations grafts standing for being good, right? Absent, funny, tense, smart, you know, being, being a good, a good kid or a human antidepressant, as my co-author, mark Borg calls it, you know, cheering up the depressed mother or father or learning to get a drink for a dad when he comes home or just hiding out. 'cause you know that there's gonna be rage or even provoking, you know, an attack because at least as a kid you can control it if you can trigger it.
Dr. Grant Brenner: Um, and then we, we move through, uh, a kind of nonviolent communication called 40 20 40, which is like a couple's therapy exercise of listening nonjudgmentally and speaking from the heart with an effort to compassionately understand, develop mutuality. It's easy to imagine kind of two people doing that in a couple, but you imagine cultivating this dialogue with yourself of mutual respect. Um, and then we have kind of, it's almost like a therapeutic, um, recipe, which we call the dream sequence, which stands for discovery, repair, empowerment, alternatives, and mutuality. Uh, and so you can imagine, you know, people read our book at their own pace, um, because if, if you kind of work through the whole thing, you may realize that you, you might want more help, you know, like therapy. Um, but it also will frame out, um, kind of a general process by which people can collect themselves and, and have much greater satisfaction and, um, you know, kind of internal teamwork and, and really just get to a better place with yourself. It's like you really are, you know, your own companion and you, it's really helpful if you can kind of be your own best friend throughout the course of the lifespan.
Dr. Robin Stern: I love that. And I think, um, I can't wait to read your book and I think it'll be very helpful and I definitely will recommend it to patients. And, um, I thank you so much for being with me during this hour. You've been, uh, super wise and clear and, um, it, it's just such a pleasure to be actually talking to
Dr. Grant Brenner: I look forward to that. And, and likewise, it is a pleasure speaking and thanks for bringing out the clarity. 'cause some, sometimes my mind ranges, you know, very widely,
Dr. Robin Stern: Well that's just a creative mind, but you were, you were very clear and, um, and it was great. I think people will take away a lot from this hour. So where can people find you?
Dr. Grant Brenner: Yeah, you know, you can Google my name Grant Brenner is not that many, grant Brenner. Um, but at Grant h Brenner MD is my handle on social media, Instagram, Twitter, um, blog on Psychology Today is Xper Mentations with a capital M for Mentations. Hahaha. Um, and my website is grant h brenner md.com. Um, and I'll throw in a mention that, um, uh, co-founded a film series, uh, or a film festival. Our inaugural event is in September of this year. It's the Urban Dreams Mental Health Film Festival. If people look that up, I think you'll find it. And, uh, I also love photography, and so if you go on Instagram, you can check out some of my photography work there as well.
Dr. Robin Stern: Very exciting, and I definitely will follow up with you, especially about the film festival. I'm very interested and, and some of the other volunteer work and community minded work you do. Sounds really important. And, and thank you for it.
Dr. Grant Brenner: Thanks very much Robin and likewise for, for your good works.
Dr. Robin Stern: Thanks everyone for joining us on joining me with Dr. Grant Brenner today. And I know that it was a rich and meaningful and important hour for all of us. 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 Lens, and me. The podcast is supported by Gabby Caoagas and Solar Karangi, all of my work and my upcoming book, and supported by Suzen Pettit Marcus Estevez and Omaginarium, also by Sally McCarton and Jacqui Daniels. I'm so grateful to have many people supporting me and especially grateful for all of you, my listeners.