When You’re With a Gaslighter
Do you have reason to doubt what you hear from your spouse? Have they ever given you any reason to question your perception of your relationship? That’s called gaslighting, and it’s a form of manipulation and control that can have you questioning your own memories. Deborah Vinall is a Doctor of Psychology, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, and a certified EMDR and Brainspotting practitioner. She is the author of Gaslighting: A Step-by-Step Recovery Guideand she joins us today to guide those facing a potentially gaslighting spouse toward awareness and healing.
About Dr. Deborah Vinall
Deborah Vinall is a Doctor of Psychology, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, and a certified EMDR and Brainspotting practitioner. She specializes in helping individuals heal from traumatic life experiences and painful relationship dynamics. Deborah is author of Gaslighting: A Step-by-Step Recovery Guide and Trauma Recovery Workbook for Teens. She was awarded the Sandra Wilson Memorial Grant from the EMDR Research Foundation for her research on the impacts and treatment response of survivors of mass shootings across the USA.
Links & Notes
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Pete Wright: Welcome to How To Split a Toaster, a divorce podcast about saving your relationships from TruStory FM. Your toaster says the sun is shining. Do you feel like you need to go outside and look up? Seth Nelson: Welcome to the show, everybody. I'm Seth Nelson. As always, I'm here with my good friend, Pete Wright. If you have reason to doubt what you hear from your spouse, have they ever given you a reason to question your perception of the relationship? That's called gaslighting. It's a form of manipulation and control that can have you question your own memories. Deborah Vinall is a doctor of psychology, a licensed marriage and family therapist, and a certified EMDR and brainspotting practitioner. She's the author of Gaslighting: A Step-by-Step Recovery Guide, and she joins us today to guide those facing a gaslighting spouse towards awareness and healing. Deborah, welcome to the Toaster. Pete Wright: Well, it's great to have you here. Dr. Deborah Vinall: Thank you. It's nice to be here. Pete Wright: If I'm not wrong here, I think we found you because Seth heard you on another podcast, right? Is that right, Seth? Dr. Deborah Vinall: Okay. Pete Wright: One day you'll thank me? Seth Nelson: I believe that is accurate. Pete Wright: What inspired you, Seth? Set us up. Seth Nelson: Here's the deal. This happens all the time in divorce. So just to back up, Pete, we've talked about this before, that what do I do as a lawyer? I gather information. And one way I gather information is from what my client is telling me. But what happens if my client is telling me memories that are not accurate? So they've been gaslit so much that sometimes they'll say, well it was because of this or because of that. Now, sometimes they'll get to me because they'll say, I'm tired of being gaslit, and then I'll have the reverse problem where they don't believe anything their spouse says. So it goes from one extreme to the other. And I have to figure out as a litigator, as a lawyer, as a practitioner, as trying to be a problem solver, what is accurate, what is not, what I can prove in court? And it gets very, very muddy very quickly. And so I thought, man, there's a lot to talk about here. And instead of just having a show where I try to gaslight you the entire show, I thought that we would- Pete Wright: Because that's every other show that we do. Seth Nelson: Yeah, I know. I thought why should this night be different than any other night? That we should get an expert on and tell me why I'm wrong and you'll enjoy that. Pete Wright: Well then, let's start, Deborah, with a gaslighting review for us. What is gaslighting and why should you care? Dr. Deborah Vinall: Gaslighting is an insidious form of emotional abuse, psychological control, where the person tries to cause you to doubt your own senses, your own reality and awareness. Pete Wright: How does it wind its way into a relationship? Is it just a personality thing or does it have to do with the combustibility of two personalities together that are struggling? Talk a little bit about that. Dr. Deborah Vinall: It's motivated by a desire to control. It's a way to target the person, to undermine them and their own confidence in order to gain the upper hand. So when you think about a fractured or contentious relationship, you can see where it would have a place, especially when you're getting to this point of litigation, and where, if you can cause the other person to doubt the history between you, then you certainly have a greater degree of control. You asked about personality, what role that plays. And I wouldn't say that gaslighting itself is a personality trait, but it certainly can correspond with different personality types and especially personality pathologies. So in my book, I talked about four different categories of gaslighters from the worst, the most severe, to the most benign. There would be a sadistic gaslighter, which is somebody who really just enjoys the game of it. They're cruel people and they like to watch you squirm and to make you doubt yourself. And the narcissistic gaslighter, which is somebody who just really needs the attention on themselves, they want their story validated, they have no ability to be humble or to look inside or to admit fault. And so they will always double down, double down, to continue to put their narrative forward. And then I think what might be the most common is your defensive gaslighter, who is similarly to that narcissistic person, it's very difficult to admit fault, to be wrong. And so the gaslighting isn't so much that they want to make you feel crazy, but that they'll stop at nothing to defend themselves, to be in the right. And so you probably see those middle too the most often in your divorce cases. And then the last category is almost not really a category, but I mentioned it because it seems to come up a lot, which is more of the accidental gaslighter where you made a mistake, you're saying, no, it wasn't that way. And so the person can have the impact of feeling gaslit, but it really isn't that, coming from that really damaging, intense place. Pete Wright: Not intentional or insidious, or yeah, manipulative. Dr. Deborah Vinall: Yeah, it happens. It might be somebody who has memory problems themselves due to trauma or ADHD or dementia or all kinds of things. Seth Nelson: Or long COVID. Pete Wright: Or long COVID. Dr. Deborah Vinall: Or long COVID. Yeah, the brain fog. And maybe they're not aware of it or they don't want to admit it. There's a little defensiveness in there or it's the thing that happens. But I think it's important to recognize that gaslighting tends to be a pattern of behavior where somebody is trying to undermine you. So it's not just where somebody contradicts you once or twice and you're like, oh, you're gaslighting me. That's not what it is. Pete Wright: Well, I just have a little bit of a side, we'll call it a sidebar, of about those first two because it seems like therein you might find someone who is successfully able to gaslight themselves, right, to convince themselves that there is a reality that is not what happened, but they so believe or are so defensive that they just reprogrammed themselves to believe that that's what happened. Dr. Deborah Vinall: Memory is a funny thing. We actually remember the last time we recalled an event. So if you, rather than remembering the event itself, so if you repeat a lie over and over and over, you can start to convince yourself, like you said, you're gaslighting yourself. And so when we think about there are some prominent gaslighters in the news who repeat the same lies over and over, you do start to wonder do they believe themselves, because it's pretty outrageous when you compare a story to the facts you've seen. But after certain amount of time, it seems they perhaps have convinced themselves and I think that absolutely can happen. Seth Nelson: I actually read some stuff about what you just said, Deborah, about how you don't remember the event, you remember the last time you recall the event. And that's why a couple, when they were telling a story about how they met, they'll change it up, right, because they tell the story once and then it changes a little bit, then they tell the story again, or that maybe you tell the story and your spouse isn't there, and then you got this whole Harry Met Sally thing going on years later. But I always have found that very fascinating because what happens is when I interview people, and I talk to clients, and I talk to potential witnesses asking them a series of questions about what happened, and then a month later you ask them again and maybe they change their story and lawyers get all excited, well that's not what you said here, and look at this on a deposition, when you're trying to attack their credibility in court, when if it doesn't just exactly line up, right, but none of us line up at all all the time because we're always changing the story a little bit. Is that a fair statement? Dr. Deborah Vinall: I think so, yeah. Not, I think as somebody with integrity, it's not going to change significantly. The emotional tenet may change, some details might be omitted, that orange is significant, or you might recall another detail and share at that time and that reinforces that aspect of the memory. One caveat though is traumatic memories do operate a little bit differently, and oftentimes that will crop up in a divorce when there's been domestic violence or something like that. Traumatic memories stay locked in a sensory form. When you recall them, you're re-experiencing, if you think about the flashback experience, you're re-experiencing the sound, sights, feelings of that moment, and so they tend to be quite accurate because they're actually stored in a different brain region in a different way. But typical memories, now, they do shift just a little bit, time by time without the intention of being deceptive. Pete Wright: On that point, how does stress and anxiety impact your ability to recall? If you exist in a stressful, like we're talking about divorce or post trauma, if you exist in a stressful situation, does that impact what you might otherwise experience as solid memory? Could that help you reprogram your reality negatively? Dr. Deborah Vinall: One way that stress can impact memory is that you can't recall what you didn't encode in memory in the first place, right? You can't recall what you didn't pay attention to. So when you're distracted by a lot of stresses, you may miss details in the first place. And so while you can say I was right there, how do I not remember it? There's a really natural reason for that. Seth Nelson: On gaslighting, is it always about an event that has previously happened? You can't gaslight someone about something that's going to happen. It's always about, no, that's not what I said. No, that's not what you said. No, that's not what you did. No, your mom did something else. Is it always looking backwards? Dr. Deborah Vinall: I think that's a fair statement. Sometimes possibly even in the present, you're not seeing what you're seeing. You're not experiencing what you're experiencing and that's pretty high level gaslighting right there? Seth Nelson: Yeah. What's an example of that? Pete Wright: The movie, Gaslight. Have you not seen the movie Gaslight, Seth? It's so brilliant. Seth Nelson: Pete. I just work all the time, man. Dr. Deborah Vinall: You're not watching [inaudible 00:10:19]? Seth Nelson: I don't have time for movies. Pete Wright: It's such a great movie. Do you want to talk about, just because that's a great example. Dr. Deborah Vinall: Yeah, for sure. And that is where the term gaslight came from is this original movie that came out, I think it was in the '40s. And there's actually a UK version, and American versions are slightly different. But the basic gist of it is there's a couple and the wife has an inheritance of, and there's these jewels or money hidden in the house, and the husband is trying to find it and get rid of her. So he's prowling around at night looking in the attic spaces for this stuff, but he says he's not even at home. But in these old houses with gaslights, when you light them in another part of the house, it causes the light to flicker in another part because it's all coming from one shared fuel source. So the wife in the story is noticing the lights flickering and the husband is saying, no, I'm not home. And she's like, he must be in the house because of the... So with her sense that she's seeing evidence of something and he's denying it and saying, no, you're crazy. We're going to have to get you to an asylum and get you help. And so he effectively gets her out of the house and gets her into an asylum so that he can tear the house apart. Pete Wright: Not bad, right, Seth? That was a really, really good summary. Seth Nelson: I got to tell you, and the best part about that is my awesome paralegal, she just brought me some popcorn when you were talking about that story. I was like, awesome man, this is looking up here today. Dr. Deborah Vinall:
Pete Wright: Well, it is a great example and you can see how clear that is why that term would be coined and stick from a movie like that, from an experience like that. She’s watching the lights flicker and dim and is being told at the time the lights aren’t flickering and dimming, you’re crazy. Let’s go. Seth Nelson: Happy Hanukkah, Pete. Merry Christmas. Happy Thanksgiving. Pete Wright: Oh Seth, all of them right in a row. It’s a very serious time of celebration right now. Seth Nelson: And when I think of it, I’m always like, okay, Thanksgiving. If you have Thanksgiving on a parenting plan, you don’t have Christmas, but you get New Year’s Eve. But in all those holidays, it doesn’t matter if you have kids or not, they’re going to be with one of the parents. And if alcohol’s an issue, we got to talk about it. Pete Wright: We do have to talk about it. And that’s why we have partnered up with Soberlink. Soberlink is a fantastic tool and service that can help you navigate the holidays relating to a potential issue with alcohol. Seth, you’re the attorney. What is it we’re looking for with Soberlink? Seth Nelson: Well, here’s the deal. You’re getting a divorce. Your spouse might accuse you of being an alcoholic. They might not say it that nicely. They might not say he suffers from alcoholism, I’m concerned to how he’s going to behave when he has the children. They might say you’re drunk. So it’s harsh, it’s real, and that’s what comes out. So how do you protect yourself against those character attacks? What you do is you get Soberlink, which is a facial recognition device that you can blow into and you can immediately prove that you have not been consuming alcohol when you have your children with you. So why would you do that? You do that because it’s a third party independent verification. So it’s not a he said, she said deal. And you can get the results directly from Soberlink, you can take it to your lawyer, they can show it to the other lawyer. You can take it to court and say, I was not under the influence. The kids are safe. Pete Wright: Data changes everything. Soberlink helps you collect the data to protect your kids, to present your case. Soberlink works hard to keep your children safe offering remote alcohol monitoring. It is the gold standard because of this technology. Don’t miss out on Soberlink’s free guide for this holiday season. It’s tough. They put together a guide to help you get through it and you can request it today at www.soberlink.com/toaster. soberlink.com/toaster. Thank you to Soberlink for sponsoring this show. Seth Nelson: So how do you figure out if you’re being gaslit? Dr. Deborah Vinall: Well, it’s really important to know that you can trust your senses, you can trust your intuition, and hold solid to that so that when it’s being contradicted, you can match it up. So if you suspect gaslighting is going on, it can be really helpful to keep a journal, to record notes, and that way you can compare, you can go back when somebody says, no, last week I had the kids all week, you didn’t have them at all. And that doesn’t match your memory at all. You can go back and keep the record of what did I do that day? Another way that you can help with that is to bring somebody into your inner circle, somebody who maybe observes the relationship, talk to them, get their feedback, so that it’s not just between he and she of what is going on. Pete Wright: Bring in a referee. Dr. Deborah Vinall: Yeah, a referee or even just a neutral point to reflect back on. Seth Nelson: I’m viewing it as almost like a cameraman. I’m going to watch what’s going on here too and see if what I’m seeing is what you’re seeing when we look back. Dr. Deborah Vinall: Right. One point to mention is that somebody who’s really that sadistic or narcissistic gaslighter tends to also be really charming. And so the difficulty with that is they can often pull in outsiders and how to win them over to their side while putting down the person that they’re targeting. So that person may lose credibility in front of friends and family, and those outsiders who do see into the relationship may really be convinced that this other person could never be like that, like he is or she is behind closed doors. And so it can be challenging, and yet that is the challenge is don’t allow that person to close out your outside relationships and isolate you because you do need that and you do need those reference points. Seth Nelson: Pete, I hear that all the time. Oh my God, he’s going to be so good in court, he’s going to be such a great witness. And I tell them, I deal with these guys all the time. And one thing, and Deborah correct us, correct me if I’m wrong, and if I’m wrong, Pete loves that. Pete Wright: Yeah, I have a bell. Seth Nelson: Yeah. But they don’t like answering questions and being put on the spot, and so when I get to depose them and their job is to sit there and required by the court to answer my questions, they have a really hard time. Dr. Deborah Vinall: Because they’ve already made up a narrative and you put them on script. Seth Nelson: Right, and I just listen to their answers and then they’ll, I’ll say something, well, did you do this or what about this or X, Y and Z? And then they’ll say, well, everybody does that. I’ll be like, well, I’m not asking about everybody, sir, I’m asking about you. So my question is, and then I’ll repeat my question, and then they won’t answer it. And then my next question is, did you understand my question? Did you understand that you didn’t answer my question? And then they’ll say, well, what was your question? Madam Court Reporter, please read the question back. And it drives them crazy. They don’t know how to handle it. And then they’ll ask me a question. Dr. Deborah Vinall:
Seth Nelson: And I’ll say, sir, just to repeat what I did at the beginning of this deposition, this is how a deposition works. I ask you questions, you don’t say anything until I finish. When I finish, if it’s a yes or no question, you can answer yes or no and then you have as much opportunity as you want to explain your answer. But I never answer your questions in this deposition. And they get all rattled. So is this the type of question and answer that just does throw them off and can get them off of their script? And how does that play out in the long run in dealing with these types of personalities? Dr. Deborah Vinall: Yeah, and that sounds like a classic narcissistic gaslighter because yeah, like you said, it gets them off the script. They’re losing control, which they’re so used to curating through both gaslighting and charming everybody around them, and it’s not working. And that’s going to be very frustrating. The challenges with some of these people, depending on their pathology, they could become, behind closed doors, say it’s a husband and a wife, challenging them like that could cause an escalation to violence. So one has to read the situation. Pete Wright: That was my next question, started reading into it a few minutes ago, what are the dangers in separating or moving towards separation from a gaslighting partner? And it sounds like there’s a lot of risk toward incitement. Things like that little role play that Seth just did, which is weirdly how he ended up engaged. I don’t know how that worked on his future wife, but- Seth Nelson: Exactly. That seems to be, I don’t answer questions on this date. That seems to be something that might incite to additional action on the part of a sadistic gaslighter and that could carry a lot of risk. Dr. Deborah Vinall: I think what’s so powerful about what this example Seth gave is how calm and in control he is, whereas, the gaslighter tends to be the one who is in that position. He’s the calm and in-control person, or she, using the typical example, and that’s frustrating. And so frustration will lead to that, can lead to an escalation. These are not people who like to lose or they wouldn’t use tactics such as these. Seth Nelson: Where I see that a lot, Pete, is when there has been domestic violence. And so what happens is there’s a domestic violence event and my client comes to me and says, this happens. Now I have to give the advice. I think we should file an injunction. That’s what people will call it, an injunction, a protective order. And if they say yes and we file, and the judge grants it, now when the judge looks at this, they don’t see the other side. So you file your paperwork and that judge is going to make a decision just based on what we filed, and said, I am granting a temporary injunction, a temporary protective order, but I want to see everybody in my courtroom within 14 days and we’re going to get to the bottom of whether this happened or not. Right when that happens and the police show up and give him the documents and he now has to vacate the home, they lose their shit, right? And now because they’ve already lost one, they’re going to try to gaslight and say it’s all wrong. If they’re smart, they’re going to hire a lawyer. The lawyer is going to be like, okay, we’re either going to court right now, but a lot of times the judge will say, I don’t have time to hear this. If it’s going to be contested, we’re going to put this out for six weeks. So now they’re out of their house for six, eight weeks. And in the meantime, we’ve now filed for divorce. So now we have two cases going, not one, and they’re losing control, and they don’t know what to do, and they can’t get out of their own way. But what they didn’t realize by getting it to the point where there was physical violence, that’s easier to prove than gaslighting. Pete Wright: Oh, this is like how they got Al Capone on tax evasion. Seth Nelson: You got it. Pete Wright: That’s what we’re doing. It’s the Al Capone switcheroo. Seth Nelson: You got it. Dr. Deborah Vinall: Put the pressure on. Yeah. And that’s when I think you really will see an escalation in gaslighting too. At that point when they’re feeling they’re losing control, then there’s this whole cycle that can happen where they may switch from being the harsh person to that charming person toward the partner. So they’re coming back to, say, her, and now it’s promises and it’s going to be different and changes are going to be made, et cetera, et cetera. And you didn’t remember correctly. And that’s not really what happened. And there’s this whole cycle to try to woo her and get her to drop that injunction, right? Seth Nelson: And they’ll say, now in our state, if there’s injunction, you’re not allowed to talk to him, can’t send them anything. But in others, there’s different ways to do it. But also when they’re in the courtroom or I’m taking their deposition, they’ll bring up stuff that has been shared with them in an intimate relationship and use it against them. And here’s what I mean by that, Pete. It’s like yeah, she always has memory problems because of the trauma that she had when she was abused as a child by her father. Pete Wright: So they’re now gaslighting the attorney. Seth Nelson: Yeah. They’re trying to gaslight me or the court. They’re blaming something, right, and then my client would be upset, let’s say the wife saying, I share these intimate details about my childhood and now it’s being used against me? Right? And a question also, and so if you’re listening out there, you know what you’re dealing with. And I really appreciate these four different categories of people and their gaslighting. That’s very helpful. But I also ask these type of gaslighting people, what, if any, mistakes have you ever made as a parent? They can’t make mistakes, so they struggle with that answer. Right? What, if any, mistakes have you made in your relationship with your wife? They don’t know how to answer it. Dr. Deborah Vinall: There’s no room for that humility in that approach. Seth Nelson: And is it just not something they’re capable of doing? Dr. Deborah Vinall: I believe these people, these narcissistic gaslighters, these really defensive people, are so insecure underneath all of their charm and bravado that to show a little bit of authenticity, a little bit of vulnerability would crack it open. And so they can’t even look inside enough to find that truth, to find their weakness. It just [inaudible 00:23:59] Seth Nelson: Is that the genesis of it? Is it insecurity? That’s always been my theory is that really what… if someone’s got to control everything, it’s because they’re insecure. Dr. Deborah Vinall: I believe so, but I don’t think they would recognize it because it’s buried down pretty deep when you get to this level of pattern of behavior. Pete Wright: Question for both of you, because I worry that the case we presented here is worse case and that the direction that we’re going is the only way out of a serious gaslighting relationship is to what? Potentially put yourself at risk, right, to prove domestic violence. Seth Nelson: Yeah, physical harm. Pete Wright: And we don’t want to suggest that. And so I’m wondering if there is an alternative method to extricate yourself from a gaslighting relationship that is safe and gives you some sort of security? Does that exist both from in the eyes of the law and in the eyes of safe mental health? Dr. Deborah Vinall: I don’t know that it’s true that every gaslighting person is going to be a physically violent person, but there’s definitely going to be overlap because, again, the motivation behind both is control, right? Control at all costs. So there’s definitely that risk and that vulnerability. If domestic violence hasn’t yet been part of the relationship, but you know that it’s time for it to be over, it certainly seems like it would be wise to initiate a separation, find somebody else to be with for a period before moving forward with that. On the legal front, if you’re not sure that the relationship needs to be over, there’s a lot of room for boundaries. And even after and throughout the, because often you know you have to have the ongoing relationship due to children and whatnot. Boundaries are so essential. And oftentimes, somebody who finds themselves in a relationship with a gaslighter, they’ve been beaten down throughout life and throughout this relationship to a point where it’s very hard to have and maintain boundaries. And so the first thing is to really recognize that you have the right to boundaries. They serve you, they’re not selfish, they are good, and they are self protective and protective of your children if that’s part of the picture. And so what that looks like is knowing what your line is, and stating it, communicating it directly, and having a back up plan to back it up and following through on that. For example, I’m not okay with you yelling at our son. If you continue, Johnny and I are going to go in the car and we are going to leave into your home. So there’s a boundary with an action. If it continues, then you absolutely have to follow through on that action. Otherwise, you just said that that’s not actually a boundary and feel free to run all over it. Pete Wright: I don’t know. You’ve got me thinking on is there a potential to save a relationship with a gaslighter? Is there such a thing as a past tense, gaslighter? Seth Nelson: I hate to say this and jump in. What, in my head, is a group of guys sitting around and saying, hi, my name’s Seth, I’m a gaslighter. I just don’t ever see that happening with these types of guys. Pete Wright: I don’t see it either, but I’m just curious what the idea, because we have those four categories of gaslighter. The sadistic manipulator, probably not. But once you start laying out there are conditions and consequences for actions in a relationship, does that go toward soothing the relationship to the point that you might be able to rescue it? Or is it once you get to the point where you recognize that behavior as gaslighting, it’s just over? Dr. Deborah Vinall: That’s why I would say yeah, look at those categories. If you’ve got, this may have happened once or twice in your relationship, then it’s a big red flag. So look at the whole relationship in its context. If this is an ongoing pattern of behavior, what we typically think about when we’re talking about gaslighting and gaslighters, that’s not healthy. That’s not something that you should probably be staying in. Seth Nelson: Well, [inaudible 00:27:52] really interesting about that is that what I stress to my clients when we’re communicating or writing, which I do often, somebody will send an email to my client, like the spouse will. And I will help my client respond because when you keep it brief, informative, friendly and firm, you can get rid of a lot of this gaslight, and they don’t know what to do, right? But the point about that is you have some agency on how you respond. And one of the things that I stress to my clients is don’t get into the debate, don’t take bait about what happened. The question is where do we go from here? And that makes it harder to gaslight because gaslighting mostly looks back. That didn’t happen, you must be seeing that wrong, even if it’s in the moment, right? I appreciate where we’re coming from on that, but you can’t gaslight in the future. So when you are forcing the conversation to look forward and not back, you take away their weapon. So just an example of that, Pete, is oh, the child was with you and you’re not properly supervising him because he’s coming, every time he is with me, he is with bumps and bruises. And so what you say to that is, he’s with me now, he doesn’t have any bruises. If you want me to set appointment with the pediatrician to have him evaluated, let me know. And you just move it forward. So it’s immediately just changes the topic, right, and then they’ll come back with, well that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m saying this happened on this day and this day. And you can just say, well I’m sorry, I don’t agree with that. However, if you think there’s a problem that we need to get evaluated, then we can do this. And now you’re getting a third person involved, which some of them will bite on because they’re going to try to suck them into their part of reality, but sometimes they don’t. Pete Wright: What do you see with gaslighters and manipulating kids in a divorce situation? Dr. Deborah Vinall: Oh yeah, that’s another big piece of the puzzle. A gaslighter, if this is a successful way for them to control people, they’re not going to stop at their partner. They’re definitely going to, that’s the way that they approach the role of an authoritarian mindset and they must be right. So you’ll see that happening with children for sure. And also, in splitting kids from their parents, this is what happened, this is how your visits with dad or with mom or, oh man, that must have been so terrible because of the way that, and they’ll reinterpret the story. And children are even more impressionable, especially because they want to please their parent and usually both parents, and they’re older and authoritative, so it’s so much easier to believe their narrative than your own. And that sadly makes them more vulnerable to this kind of relationship throughout- Pete Wright: Especially if they’re charming and they have a wallet that provides them with resources than “candy”. Seth Nelson: But I do find sometimes, when you have the gaslighter and they try to do it on the kids, but they’ve seen what’s been going on at home, the kids, older kids think, high school, they’ve already seen what’s happening because they were there at dinner the night before, and then dinner the next night when the gaslighters say no, that’s not what happened. That 16-year old might be keeping their mouth shut but they’re like, shit, that’s not what happened. Dr. Deborah Vinall: Yeah. Teenagers are much more resilient to this because children are so dependent on their parents that they’ll sacrifice more of their own psychology in order to maintain that connection. But the task of adolescence is individuation from those parents. And so it’s much easier to sit back and say, no, you’re crazy. Crazy is not the word you want to use on the top of the gaslighting, but like, you are wrong. You’re starting that situation. Seth Nelson: And then they pick a parent and now they’re stuck with that parent, and saying, I want to be with mom, not with dad, here’s why. And it gets pretty bad pretty quick. You know what I always tell parents is, look, I can’t promise a hundred percent, but for the most time, and I’ve been doing this a long time, I have a lot of clients that kids, they were battling for and custody battles and going to trial, and now the kids have aged out and they’re in college and they’re doing this, and the parent will come back to me and said, they figured it out. Dr. Deborah Vinall: Yeah, kids are much [inaudible 00:32:31] Seth Nelson: Dad’s behavior to me all those years, they’re doing it to them and they see it, and they still have a relationship, but some of them are like, I’m not having a relationship until he wises up. Mom, why didn’t you leave earlier? Well, because you’re little. So it’s tough, but I think the kids figure it out. Dr. Deborah Vinall: Yeah. Kids are much more savvy and observant than you give them credit for. Seth Nelson: To your point, what you said, Deborah, which I think is really important is this makes them vulnerable just dating someone like this and being in a relationship like that. And to your point, Pete, you’re like, and they’ve got a wallet and they can provide and it sounds good, and all this is great. When I talk to my clients about a parenting plan and they want to argue over day here or day there, I said, you’re having the wrong argument. You need to play the long game because you want your kids to come to you in good times and bad when they’re five, when they’re 15, when they’re 25 and 35. If you are arguing over a day or two here and willing to go burn everything down and pay me a lot of money and go to a trial to argue over a day or two, you’re going to lose the long game. And so, focus on the long game. The other side, especially the gaslighter, is always focused on what’s right in front of them. Can I control the situation? Am I in control? How do I control the situation? And maybe that’ll lead to ultimate control for a longer period of time. But in my experience, they’re always focused on controlling what’s in front of them at the moment and they have no insight to think, oh, maybe I should behave differently for the long term relationship. Pete Wright: These are all people who failed the marshmallow test, right? They always ate the marshmallow right away instead of waiting for the bag. Seth Nelson: Exactly. Pete Wright: The best test ever for gaslighting the [inaudible 00:34:15]. This is always fascinating and dark, and yet hopefully we have painted at least a path of opportunity for you if you’re listening to this and you were, you’re in a risky situation. Do you have resources that you like to share with folks who might be struggling in this situation where they can get some help, get some care? Dr. Deborah Vinall: Absolutely. Oh, I definitely recommend pick up a copy of my book, Gaslighting: A Step-by-Step Guide to Break Free from Emotional Abuse and Build Healthy Relationships, and get yourself a therapist if you don’t have one. That can be such an ally, somebody who could help you talk through the situations that have been crazy and making you doubt yourself, and get that outside perspective even when they’re just hearing it from your side, help you to unravel the things that have been able to keep you tied to a person like that who’s so controlling and to work through the stresses of navigating a divorce. So some great places to find a trauma informed therapist would be go to emdria.org, E-M-D-R-I-A.org, brainspotting.com. Those both have therapist finders. Psychology Today also as a therapist finder search database, Theravive. And go through your insurance, if you have insurance, you may have more lot going outside of that due to demand and availability, but [inaudible 00:35:39] Seth Nelson: So explain what EMDR is because I knew what it was once you told me when we were talking before, but I didn’t know the acronym of it because I think it’s fascinating. Dr. Deborah Vinall: Sure. EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. And it’s an evidence-based approach to trauma reprocessing and it is very powerful. It works much faster than typical talk therapy because instead of staying in that talk mode where you’re in the prefrontal cortex, you’re going deep into the mind, deep into the subcortical brain where trauma is stored, where that we have the seat of emotions and memory. And so we’re activating all these different parts of the brain to really process at a deep level and release that traumatic memory. Like I was saying earlier about how trauma memories are stored in present tense helps to reprocess it and file it away as historical memories so it’s not so intrusive [inaudible 00:36:31] Pete Wright: Not to gaslight yourself, Seth, you’re not going to get to reprogram that stuff, you just get to reprocess it. I want you to make sure you understand. Seth Nelson: Okay, I understand because you saw the look in my eye. I was about to make four or five comments and you just cut me off. Pete Wright: I know. Seth Nelson: I love it. Pete Wright: Nope, I watched it. I watched the gears turn at this point. Deborah Vinall, thank you so much for joining us, for talking through gaslighting with us, for giving a fantastic summary of both gaslighters and the movie Gaslight, which is useful for a lot of people who probably don’t, wonder why gaslight is the term we use to describe this form of manipulation. So super, super useful. What’s your website? Where can we point people to? Dr. Deborah Vinall: You can go to www.drdeborahvinall.com. It’s D-R-D-E-B-O-R-A-H Vinall.com Pete Wright: Perfect, and we put links to that and to the book, which is a must-read, particularly if you find yourself in this situation. Seth Nelson: These four categories are really fascinating to me. Pete Wright: Yeah. You could tell because the moment you start reading through those four categories, it was like, of course I now understand the world in a different way. Seth Nelson: That’s right. Pete Wright: It just made some real intuitive sense, so it’s really great. All that and more in the book. Thank you, Dr. Deborah Vinall, so appreciate your time. Thank you, everybody, for downloading and listening to this show. We appreciate your time and your attention. On behalf of Dr. Deborah Vinall and Seth Nelson, America’s favorite divorce attorney, I’m Pete Wright, and we’ll catch you right here next week on How to Split a Toaster, a divorce podcast about saving your relationships. Outro: Seth Nelson is an attorney with NLG Divorce and Family Law with offices in Tampa, Florida. While we may be discussing family law topics, How to Split a Toaster is not intended to, nor is it providing legal advice. Every situation is different. If you have specific questions regarding your situation, please seek your own legal counsel with an attorney licensed to practice law in your jurisdiction. Pete Wright is not an attorney or employee of NLG Divorce and Family Law. Seth Nelson is licensed to practice law in Florida.