The Gaslight Effect: How to Spot Gaslighters and Heal from Emotional Manipulation with Expert Dr. Robin Stern

Imperfect Love | Dr. Robin Stern | Gaslighting


Gaslighting. It’s an increasingly common term that dates back to a 1938 British Play, Gas Light, and subsequent movies focused on the power of manipulation in relationships. In the original play, a manipulative husband makes his wife feel as if she’s going insane by telling her that perceptions are inaccurate when she notices that the house lights are mysteriously dim. In today’s world, the term is used to describe manipulative actions that are geared toward making a person doubt their perceptions and sense of reality. Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse that impacts mental health in lasting ways, yet it can be difficult to spot this toxic behavior and heal from its pernicious effects. Join Dr. Carla and Dr. Robin Stern, licensed psychoanalyst, author, and co-founder of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence. As the author of The Gaslight Effect: How to Spot and Survive the Hidden Manipulation Others Use to Control Your Life and The Gaslight Effect Recovery Guide, Dr. Stern brings her wisdom and wealth of experience to help illuminate the dark realm of gaslighting and how to find emotional healing. With strength, increased emotional intelligence, and support, you can learn to spot gaslighters and recover from the toxic impact of gaslighting.



This episode contains sensitive information; listener discretion is advised. If you or someone you know is suffering from abuse, please reach out for support immediately. In the United States, you can reach help 24/7 by calling 911, the Suicide or Crisis Hotline at 988, or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233. No form of abuse is acceptable; you deserve to feel safe, loved, and supported. 


Books by Dr. Carla Manly:

Date Smart: Transform Your Relationships and Love Fearlessly

Joy From Fear: Create the Life of Your Dreams by Making Fear Your Friend

Aging Joyfully: A Woman’s Guide to Optimal Health, Relationships, and Fulfillment for Her 50s and Beyond

The Joy of Imperfect Love: The Art of Creating Healthy, Securely Attached Relationships


Connect with Dr. Carla Manly:









Books by Dr. Robin Stern:

The Gaslight Effect: How to Spot and Survive the Hidden Manipulation Others Use to Control Your Life

The Gaslight Effect Recovery Guide

Emotional Intelligence For School Leaders


Connect with Dr. Robin Stern:








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The Gaslight Effect: How to Spot Gaslighters and Heal from Emotional Manipulation with Expert Dr. Robin Stern

Free Yourself From the Abusive Control of Gaslighting! Discover How to Notice and Heal From Emotional Abuse!

Gaslighting. It’s an increasingly common term that dates back to a 1938 British play Gaslight and subsequent movies focused on the power of manipulation in relationships. In the original play, a manipulative husband makes his wife feel as if she’s going insane by telling her that her perceptions are inaccurate when she notices that the house lights dim. In today’s world, the term is used to describe manipulative actions that are geared toward making a person doubt their perceptions and sense of reality.

Today, we’ll focus on this listener’s real-life question. My current partner, and the partner before him, constantly gaslight me. Looking back, I realize that this feels so familiar because my mother constantly gaslit me throughout my childhood. What can I do to stop attracting gaslighters into my life? With that question, as the focus of today’s episode.


Imperfect Love | Dr. Robin Stern | Gaslighting


I’m joined by a very special guest, Dr. Robin Stern, who will be sharing her expertise as the co-founder of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and author of the Gaslight Effect and Gaslight Effect Recovery Guide. Welcome to the podcast, Dr. Stern. It is so wonderful to have you here with us. I know your wisdom is going to give us and so many people just a wealth of information about what gaslighting is and how it erodes our mental health. Before we launch into that topic, can you tell our listeners just a little bit about what makes you, you?

What a lovely question. First, before I do that, please call me Robin, and may I call you Carla Marie or Carla?

You may call me Carla Marie or Carla, whatever you like.

Lovely. First, I’m so curious about you, but I will try to focus on myself for a moment. What makes me, me is, you think about how do I want to answer that. Many things make me, me. My love of my children, my love for my husband, my want to heal the world, my feeling that the world could be a much better place if people had skills and wisdom that I hope to be able to impart a little bit of, but so many thoughtful, wise people are out there. I like to hula hoop.

I’m being playful, being serious, working hard to make a difference, spending time with family, and cooking. Meditating and having mindful moments throughout my day to balance myself. Being open to new ideas, to meeting new people, being wrong and getting feedback, thinking a lot, and thinking deeply about the things that matter to me. Collecting art, particularly new artists right now, particularly an artist whose work we saw in Mexico were just fabulous, and we’ve been collecting his work for a while. I’ll stop there. Lots of things make me, me.

Just so beautiful. Thank you. We certainly are kindred spirits. I’ll also love the peace about having mindful moments throughout the day to rebalance. Just what a rich and lovely sharing. Thank you so much. It’s just a lovely way to start.

Thank you for the question.

Gaslighting Defined

Well, your answer is so authentic, which sets the stage for gaslighting, which is the opposite of authenticity. We’ve had the listener’s question. The first question is, could you please tell us what gaslighting is?

Gaslighting is a very serious and insidious, sometimes often covert form of psychological manipulation and emotional abuse, where the gaslighter seeks to sow seeds of doubt in the target of the gaslighting, whom I call the gastlightee, so that they begin to second-guess their memories, their perceptions, their ideas, their character, and ultimately their sanity. Quick definition.

Quick and heavy definition. Little sidetracked here. What got you interested in gaslighting?

Thank you for the question. I was fascinated by the 1944 movie Gaslight, where Ingrid Bergman played Paula, the loving, adoring wife who was ultimately gaslighted. Charles Boyer played Gregory, who was the diabolical, malicious, maniacal gaslighter in that movie, trying to drive Paula crazy and trying to make Paula think or lead Paula to think that she was crazy in the effort to drive her crazy.

I couldn’t believe watching the movie that this character who was, of course, I could believe anything, it’s Hollywood, but I couldn’t believe when I translated it to real life that a woman who was so seemingly confident and poised and self-possessed at the beginning of the movie. A few minutes into the movie, was already second-guessing herself. Of course, what they did in a few moments in the movie sometimes takes weeks and months in real life to go from, “That’s a silly comment you’re making, honey,” to, “Maybe he’s right.”

When somebody is telling you something about yourself that initially you think is silly or isn’t true,. You don’t even know why they’re saying it, you think it’s just a passing comment, and you can just go on from there. That shift from being confident to being insecure and unmoored and destabilized was really interesting to me, especially because it reflected what I was saying in my private practice. I’m a licensed psychoanalyst. I’ve been a psychotherapist for many years.

I don’t do psychoanalysis, where people lie on the couch and tell me their dreams all day long, but it was my training, meaning that I believe in an unconscious and things being out of your needing to unpack your psychology quite a bit in order to understand and get out of your way. I’ve been seeing a lot of women. I was involved with a wonderful women’s leadership institute. As a result, many people who were referred to my practice were women, women in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, who were suddenly finding themselves in relationships where they felt like, “I don’t know what’s going on, but maybe it’s me.”

I began to notice that when women would come to my office and they would report that their partners were screaming at them or tragically hitting them, they would have no trouble saying, “That guy, he’s a bad person. I know he is. I just can’t leave yet.” When they came in they said, “I don’t know what’s going on. I just feel suddenly unsure of myself, and I seem like maybe I’m paranoid and forgetful and I don’t recognize myself.” Everything would get blamed on them. Women would turn their fingers to point at themselves.

What a terrific yet horrific image when we see that finger turning to point to “I am the problem. I am crazy. I am losing it.” I love that you brought up early on the concept of emotional abuse because, in our society, we tend to give more attention to physical abuse. If someone has a black and blue mark or a broken bone, that’s real abuse. Yet, as you and I know and as many of our listeners have experienced, the emotional abuse can be substantial and horrific. I’m not saying one is worse than the other, but it can certainly be horrific when you are made to think as though you are a bad person, that you should be ashamed of yourself, that you should doubt your reality, that you are nothing.

Yes, and early on in my research for my book and my writing for my book, which initially came out in 2007, I was interviewing women who were leaders or directors of battered women shelters in New York City and all over the country. Each one of them addressed what you just addressed and said actually that the destabilizing effect of gaslighting and robbing somebody of their reality or insisting that they let go of their reality was worse than the black and blue marks because the ghost of gaslighting, if you will, that follows people after that’s over is very serious.

It’s so hard to trust again. It’s so hard to feel your way into a relationship where somebody says, “Honey, I don’t know about that.” To think he’s telling you the truth rather than he’s manipulating you at that moment if the last relationship has been all about manipulation. When somebody says to you, for example, “Honey, you’re so sensitive. It’s not out of love. Gee, you’re so sensitive. I want to care for your feelings,” it’s an accusation like, “I didn’t do anything wrong. I’m not late. You’re just too sensitive.”



Thank you for bringing that up. I have seen that come up so many times, whether it’s somebody saying you’re too sensitive or don’t ask that question, or when my facts don’t match up to what your mind. I’ve told this story and I’ve told that story and you’re trying to make sense out of it. Often the victim or the gaslightee simply wants to make stories match and then they’re told they’re too curious or what’s their problem, or why can’t they just let it go? All of those forms of gaslighting, you are right, are so destabilizing.

I love that you just mentioned that making sense of the world around you can sometimes look like trying to match the pictures or two sets of pictures together or put the puzzle together from pieces that are supposed to be part of the same puzzle. He says, “I love you, honey, and always thinking about you. I wish I could be home every night, but I have to work on this project.” Then you call your honey at his office every single night when he’s not there when he’s not home yet.

He never answers the phone, and you bring it up and you say, “I kind of reach you at the office. I don’t want to intrude, but I needed to reach you about something.” He says not something empathic or comforting like, “I’m sorry I missed your call.” Or, “You must have been worried.” Or, “I’m going to do a better job of keeping my phone next to me.” He says, “Why are you so paranoid?” You think to yourself, If you’re the gaslightee, if you’ve taken the hand of somebody who’s inviting you into that tango, you say, “I don’t mean to be paranoid, but I’m just trying to reach you.

I’m not really paranoid. When I couldn’t reach you last week, I didn’t ask you about it.” You start defending yourself because you don’t want your husband to think of you or your partner to think of you as paranoid. You lose entirely the fact that he never answered the question. He never addressed the fact that he couldn’t be reached. He only made it all about you to deflect, to get him off the hot seat.

Such a good point, because, as we were saying a bit earlier, it’s natural for the human mind to want to have a complete picture. It creates safety, it creates stability, and you probably also see it as I’ve seen it when somebody is dating, or it’s not necessarily a marriage, it can be during the dating process when the manipulative person tells one story and then another story and that story doesn’t match up and the individual saying, “ I thought you said this.” Then the responses instead of being direct in answering it, the responses, “No, you got that wrong,” or “Why are you so curious?” or “Why can’t you let that go?” I would imagine you’re the pro here. It seems like that’s one of the gaslighters’ main tools, deflecting.

Yes. In fact, some gaslighters learn how to gaslight by happening accidentally or coincidentally into that kind of manipulative strategy because they have to get out of the hot seed. I’ll just take the opportunity to say people aren’t born gaslighters. Gaslighters, it’s not a DSM diagnosis. It is not a mental illness. It is a strategy, a behavior. It is something that is socially learned. Where do we learn it? We learn it along the way of growing up. We learn it either from somebody gaslighting to you, from your witnessing gaslighting and thinking, “That’s a good way to get out of lying or get out of a hot seat.”

Gaslighting is not a DSM diagnosis. It is not a mental illness. It is a strategy, a behavior. It is something that is socially learned. Share on X

Or, as I said, just a minute ago, you happen into it. Like somebody says, “I don’t understand you. You say you love me, but I never hear from you unless I call.” The person doesn’t want to say either, I don’t really feel that way, I don’t like to make phone calls, or I don’t know, I really don’t know, but I’m sorry. Sorry I hurt your feelings or something else. Gaslighter says, “You’re so sensitive, baby. You’re too sensitive.” Or, “I never told you I would call. What are you talking about?” Then you, the gaslightee, are hooked in. If you’re going away thinking, “I am too sensitive. What’s wrong with me?”

I have a couple of questions for you already, and I agree with you on all fronts. Would you imagine that there’s more gaslighting behavior in people who do have something going on on the mental health spectrum, such as a narcissistic personality disorder or antisocial personality disorder? Do you tend to see it more as we see a diagnosis like that?

I wouldn’t say I tend to see it more. I would say that gaslighting is a favorite strategy of people who would be in the narcissistic personality disorder category.

As you said, and I loved how you gave the visual of the individual who finds themselves in the hot seat because they don’t want to be questioned because they don’t want the other person to have their own reality, that strategy is a very easy one for them to learn and then get hard-wired into their brains.

What I didn’t say in my story because we moved away from it is that it works. You’re on the hot seat, and all of a sudden, I’m telling you, “You’re so sensitive, babe.” You’re walking away thinking about that, and I don’t have to answer. I don’t have to be empathic, which by the way, I probably don’t have very much of that anyway. If I’m a chronic gaslighter and I think I can do this again, even if I don’t think I can do this again,. It worked, and I will do this again.

That’s how coping strategies are formed. You see that it works one time. I’ve seen this in people I’ve worked with, especially in couples relationships where the gaslighter learned that I can avoid diving inward. I can avoid any self-reflection. I can avoid any curiosity any self-work by just stone-walling this person with gaslighting. Just turning it always back to, “No. It’s about you. You’re too curious. You’re always asking questions. You’re paranoid. You’re too sensitive.” All of these things stop healthy communication.

Yes. Many times, the first time somebody will come to see me is with that question. Dr. Stern, my boyfriend, says that I’m just too much. I’m too paranoid. I talk about my feelings too much. I’m too demanding. I don’t know. Maybe I am. Maybe other girlfriends wouldn’t be like this, and I don’t want to alienate him. Never mind that our attention is focused then as the gaslightee or attention is focused on what’s wrong with us. We’re trying to figure out your gaslighter rather than thinking, “Do I like this? Do I want this in my life? Is this an okay way for me to feel when I’m dating someone?”

How to Stop Attracting Gaslighters

Such a good point, and that takes that ability to be reflective rather than reactive. That’s what the gaslighter does. They try to prompt the reactive behavior. Let’s circle back to the listener’s question. This individual sounds like at least two romantic relationships have been filled with gaslighting. The individual says, “Now, I’m looking back. I see that I was chronically gaslit as a child.” She’s saying that she feels as if, What can she do to stop attracting gaslighters. What do you think about that? What could we offer to her?

Well, in the first place, I’m sorry that, whoever you are out there listening, you went through two difficult relationships where gaslighters were your core dynamic, and certainly sorry that you grew up feeling that that was the way you were related to by your mom. Yes, when you are used to that, then alarm bells don’t go off when someone else does it to you, right? What I’d offer you is a reframe of your question because gaslighters are not the particular kind of personality.

They come in different personalities. It’s not that you’re necessarily attracting the gaslighter. It’s that when the gaslighting happens, you don’t go, “I want out of here.” Or, “I’ve been in this kind of relationship before,” where you do that pivot thing in the middle of a conversation or suddenly you’re blaming me or you’re not taking responsibility, or wait a minute, yes, I’m sensitive, but you still weren’t available.

Gaslighters are not a particular type of personality. They come in different personalities. Share on X

If you think about it as a dance, and in my book, I call it the Gaslight Tango, your gaslighter is extending a hand and saying, “Come dance this Gaslight Tango with me. You’re too sensitive, babe.” I take his hand, or you take his hand as the gaslightee, again, for a variety of reasons. As I said, alarm bells don’t go off. You are filling out the picture with the hope that this time it will be different. You are filling out the picture with all the other things that you like about him. You’re attracted to him.

You feel like maybe he’s your soulmate. He is easy to talk to. He’s very smart, whatever it is, that brought you into that relationship to begin with. Rather than thinking about why am I attracting people, I would ask myself, “What can I do to stop the gaslighting as soon as it starts and see if there’s enough else going on that this is a relationship I want to pursue?”

Well put, and I think it’s fantastic how you explain that this individual is attracting gaslighters. It’s not that at all. It’s the peace of the alarm bells when something becomes normal to you from childhood forward. It’s like sirens going off in the distance. You’re so used to sirens going off all the time because you live in a busy city, and in this case, you’re used to the alarm bells of the gaslighting, so you become used to it, you become sensitized to it. It doesn’t affect you the way it would with someone on a farm where the alarm bells go off and they go, “Fire!” That really can help our listeners understand. It’s not you.

I’d like to share a story about someone I worked with many years ago to make this point that I think is so important and so obvious sometimes when you hear it in another story. I hope it’s helpful to whoever asked the question and to the listeners in general. I worked with a young woman who came in because of the gaslighting with her boyfriend. She didn’t know it was gaslighting at the time, became intense, and she wanted to know if she was okay or what was going on.

The story was this, they would walk out to dinner in her neighborhood when they would go out. She was friendly, and so when people on the street greeted her, she would respond back either by smiling or she would greet them back. He didn’t like it at all, and he told her she was flirting with the people on the street who were smiling at her, and she didn’t think she was flirting, and then they argued about that, and then that would often be the end of their ease of well-being that night together.

He finally convinced her that maybe she was inadvertently flirting and she didn’t know it. He said, “I have a solution. When we walk on the street, I want you to look at the sidewalk and not look forward.” She thought that was a little weird, but okay, she started doing it and the fighting stopped. She thought that was great. At least she was in control, and she knew exactly what she had to do to stop the fighting.

Then he took the next step, and he told her that when they went out to dinner she would always have to take the seat that faced the wall so that if somebody approached her she wouldn’t be so accessible to somebody waving at her or smiling and saying, “How are you doing?” She wouldn’t be tempted to flirt, which just as a reminder, she didn’t feel like she was flirting to begin with, but was being accused of it.

Something about that, when she was sitting and facing the wall time after time, really began to get to her. She came to my office and she told me the story, and she said, “What would you think?” I asked her what she thought, and we started to unpack that. Then along the way, the next, let’s say the beginning of her therapy. She invited a friend of hers to go out to dinner with them. They all sat down at the table, or they all approached the table, and she said, “I’m going to take the seat facing the wall.” Her friend said, “Well, why it’s such a great view. Let him take the seat facing the wall.”

She said, “I can’t because then I’ll be distracted. I’ll be caught up in engaging with other people, and he told me that’s not good for our relationship.” Her friend, well, what do you think happened? Her friend looked at her and said, “Are you crazy? That is completely insane. Who are you? What’s happened?” Of course, I need to use the bathroom. You need to come with me so they had a conversation in the bathroom. It wasn’t until her friend was alarmed about it that she began to think. “I’m glad I’m in therapy. This is really off.” Sometimes it does take that pause, step away from the gaslighting, or that third person, or both, to say, “This is not okay.”


What a beautiful illustration. A very sad one has a good ending. I am wondering if, in your practice in your work, you’ve noticed that gaslighters tend to like to isolate their victims, so to speak, so that they’re not getting insight from close friends or close family. The very kind of insight that the person in your illustration got from her friend. Have you noticed that as a pattern?

I have noticed that, and more than that, I’ve noticed that gaslightees begin to isolate themselves because there’s a lot of shame in staying in a gaslight relationship. There’s a lot of shame in feeling like, “I’m a strong woman. What am I doing? I run a company or I have a high position, or I’m a teacher. I’m teaching young children. How to make friends and have relationships, and I’m in this relationship where I feel like crap all the time.” It becomes harder and harder to socialize or to talk about your relationship out loud without realizing that this is really off.

The shame of being in a gaslighting relationship can lead gaslightees to isolate themselves. Share on X

A lot of women, and I say that because that’s the pairing I’ve seen most often in my practice, women as the gaslightee and men as the gaslighter. Women begin to cut off their relationships or limit their relationships or have superficial relationships where they used to be deaf. I remember a friend of mine saying to me, “Promise me that you will scream and yell.” The first time I say, “I really don’t want to talk about that if I’m with a guy.”

What a good friend and I want to underscore for all listeners what Robin, Dr. Stern, just said about the fact that when there is gaslighting or any form of emotional or physical abuse, there is definitely the same theme where the abuser tends to isolate the person very intentionally often, sometimes unconsciously, and then the person who’s the victim, in this case, the gaslightee, out of shame, out of embarrassment. They tend to retract more and more. This is not something that happens just to one strata of the population. It is across all demographics, attorneys, doctors, lawyers, teachers, firefighters, whatever it is. There is certainly this type of dynamic because it is one of the dark parts of humanity that’s being brought forward.

I want to add to what I said about the gaslightee isolating themselves because it’s largely about shame and not wanting to socialize your relationship anymore. Sometimes it’s also because you’re exhausted and or you just don’t want to fight again with your gaslighter, who really would rather have you just where he left you so that he can continue his emotional manipulation over time whenever he pleases and without distraction.

Thank you. I noticed we’re using he and she a lot. I know our listener, the one who wrote in “She,” and we’re talking about men. When we look at this through a gendered lens, do you tend to see, I certainly see more of male as the perpetrator and the female as the victim, which is in line with general emotional abuse statistics. What do you see in your work?

I’ve seen the same thing, and it’s not just that’s been my referral base. These women referring to women because of the expertise and the fact that I’m an author. Also, in our culture, even though the glass ceiling is not what it was and we’ve come a long way, there’s still gender dynamics involved in socialization. Women still are culturally coached to be pleasers, to be empathic, and so often we get stuck in being so empathic where in somebody else’s shoes, so much of the time we forget we even have shoes ourselves to stand in.

We forget that we are accommodating to someone else’s reality to the extent that we are beginning to give up essential pieces of ourselves, like in the later stages of gaslighting, where women talk about it being so destroying. They don’t even recognize their same strong self because they’re not anymore. It takes a lot of courage at that point too and a lot of social support and a lot of mindfulness practice, and causing from gaslighting and surrounding yourself with love and people who care about you to break free and to say, “I want to reclaim myself. I want to reclaim my reality. I want to reclaim my joy.”



You raised so many good pieces there. First, the piece about gender with males. I just want to tag on, although it’s implicit in what you’re saying, that our society tends to honor and perpetuate male bullying. That male energy that’s very top-down, that can be very aggressive, very manipulative. In the business world, it’s something that people find wonderful and powerful. They look up with adoration and admiration to people who are doing this as a business strategy.

The RULER Approach

I think for all of us, no matter our gender, to notice if we are doing that instead of really honoring and respecting kindness and goodness and genuineness, look at are we admiring people who are perpetuating strategies that are harmful to all of us in and out of intimate relationships. Thank you for bringing that forward. I also want just to touch for a moment. Now let’s talk about healing. You have this beautiful strategy with the acronym RULER. Could you tell us a little bit about what RULER means?

It’s so wonderful that you’re bringing my two worlds together because, when I wrote Gaslight Effect for the first time, I was not working at Yale and I was working in the area of emotional intelligence, but I didn’t know about RULER yet. It wasn’t until I got to Yale, having met Mark Brackett and the Emotional Intelligence Conference, that I became involved in the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, became involved in co-creating the RULER approach, and then co-founding the center that we have.

When I got involved, it was a laboratory that belonged to Peter Salovey, who is now the president of Yale, about to step down. That has its own history. Yes, you’re right that in healing from gaslighting, you need to have emotional intelligence. You need to be able to name your feelings and honor your feelings. It’s not enough to just let them float by, like you might in some of your meditations, or we might in some of our meditations just don’t attach to anything. In this case, in healing, yes, you need those meditations, and also you need to be able to say, “I am consistently feeling discouraged or critical of myself, and I need to shift it.”

Being aware of what you’re feeling being aware of the emotions and the thoughts attached to those emotions is the first step in saying, maybe there is something wrong. Then going about identifying gaslighting, being able to, in a conversation, whether you write it down or you remember it clearly, sort out the conversation from the twists in the conversation, like we talked about a few minutes ago, asking a direct question and then not getting an answer, but getting a pivot to talk about me or you, whoever the gaslightee is.



Being able to surround yourself with, in my book, I call them your flight attendants, the people who you look to say, “Is everything okay here?” Those are often your trusted friends or your family. Sometimes it’s the way you feel in your body. Are you having stomach aches? Are you having headaches persistently? Are you feeling like just a general sense of melancholy and malaise? Are you unable to sleep? Or are you not eating in a healthful way? Those are all signs that maybe some things are.

That doesn’t mean gaslighting is going on, but when you combine those signs with other red flags of gaslighting, like you second-guessing yourself, et cetera, then you need skills, not just knowledge to break free, the skills of emotional intelligence. They are recognizing your emotions and understanding what’s causing them. Like “I feel crazy right now or I feel really confused right now. I just came out of a conversation with my date and I thought we were going to have a conversation about staying in touch, but instead, we’re having a conversation about my paranoia.

I’m confused by that.” Understanding what’s causing your emotions, labeling your emotions. I’m confused. I feel uncertain. I feel anxious. When you label something, when you name something, then you can begin to tame it, say, at the Yale Center. It’s really about being granular with your feelings. Better to say to yourself, “I am frustrated that I’m upset.” If you’re frustrated, then you know that there’s something blocking you from meeting your goal and you could address that. If you’re upset, what do you do? You can meditate, but you still may be upset.

By labeling or naming something, you can begin to tame it. Share on X

You can bring down your around but unless you’re granular in saying your feelings, you will be addressing that specific psychological theme underlying your feelings. In RULER, the R, Recognizing. The U, Understanding. The L, Labeling is the experiencing part of emotional intelligence. The action part is expressing your emotion at the right time, to the right degree, to the right person in the right way so that you can have your voice heard until you’re in control of your message and the person is hearing something other than the feeling, hearing the communication.

Then one of the hardest and most important skills, regulating your emotions and co-regulating with others. That’s the RULER approach. It’s about Recognizing, Understanding, Labeling, Expressing, and Regulating for yourself and for other people as well. In addition to the skills of emotional intelligence, what RULER and our work in emotional intelligence offers is a shifted mindset or invites in, a shifted mindset that emotions matter, that emotions are information and data. There’s no such thing as a bad emotion. Emotions are contagious. Emotions are social. Everything we do impacts other people around us, even if we’re not aware of it. Importantly, emotional intelligence, the science of emotions, and the skills of emotions can be taught and learned at any age.

Emotions are contagious. Emotions are social. Everything we do impacts other people around us, even if we're not aware of it. Share on X

Robin so brilliantly said, just so perfectly said, and I absolutely agree with you and want to emphasize for our listeners that when we’re looking at emotions, you said there’s no such thing as a bad emotion. I agree. I hear even other mental health professionals call anger a negative emotion. Some emotions are positive. Some are negative. I think I was brought up in that world and sometimes have to remember, No, anger is not a bad emotion. It is not a negative emotion. Listeners, every emotion that you experience is a good messenger. That’s what it is. That’s what Dr. Stern is reminding us that your emotions are signals that something needs attention. That’s it.


Imperfect Love | Dr. Robin Stern | Gaslighting


Yes, and importantly, in a relationship, when you feel like something is wrong, it is wrong. You may not yet know what it is, but the answer is not that there’s something wrong with you for thinking something’s wrong.

I think one of the common things that happens is someone will be saying a conversation with the partner. let’s put gaslighting aside for a minute, just sort of anything, and maybe one or both partners has experienced emotional abuse as a child or physical abuse, and a partner might say, “What you’re saying is making me feel anxious.” If you’re being gaslit, yes, that anxiety is signaling, but if the person who’s gaslighting you is saying, “I’m feeling anxious.”

It may have something to do with their unresolved childhood issues because they’re not wanting to dive in and look at what are my old issues that are causing me anxiety. I think that’s such an important dynamic and something that gaslighters often use they’ll say, “Well, you’re not paying attention, and what you’re doing is making me feel anxious.” It’s important to be aware, and that’s I think why the RULER approach is so valuable because it’s asking all of us to be a to go through those steps to listen to really what is that emotion telling us.

Yes, and what are we picking up in someone else? Importantly, you can never really know what another person’s feeling unless you ask them, and hopefully, they know. If they don’t know, then you’re both on a hunt. You can’t assume that someone is sad because they’re yelling because they’re crying. They may be frustrated, and that’s the only way they’ve learned to express it.

Or somebody is slamming the door, and you may think they’re angry, but really it’s a little kid who’s really sad and frustrated instead. When you’re getting a signal from someone else that something is wrong, pay attention, It is wrong, but don’t assume that you know what it is. Be the curious emotional scientist and ask questions. Maybe your partner won’t know those answers, but then at least you can ask it together.

Helpful Resources

Yes, and start a dialogue, because that’s where healing begins. I could talk to you for another 20 hours or more. Let’s begin to wrap up with one piece about maybe emotional support. For people who can’t access psychotherapy with one provider. I know that support groups and domestic violence support groups are really wonderful alternatives. Your books are for people who are being gaslit, could you tell us a little bit about how somebody can access your books and find healing through them?

First, I would recommend another resource, which is called the How We Feel app. It’s an app that I’m proud to say that I’ve been involved in building with my colleagues Mark Brackett and Zirana Pringle from the Center for Motion Intelligence, along with Ben Silverman and his team, Ben Silverman of Pinterest, and his team of amazing designers and technology experts. Again, called How We Feel. It’s free in perpetuity on the iPhone and on Android. It is an emotional intelligence learning destination.

You can build your vocabulary. You can check in with your emotions. You can find strategies in the tool part of the app. You can find a way to connect to other people who are also using the app and let them know how you’re feeling, so maybe you can reach out for that support or you can support someone else. I think going through a gaslighting relationship just being there itself is so painful whether you recognize it or not, and certainly when you recognize it, marshaling your support and your resources so that you can either limit it or leave it if you can leave and you need to leave is so important. Reading books, taking a workshop if you can get it, there must be free workshops.


Imperfect Love | Dr. Robin Stern | Gaslighting


I haven’t looked for them online, but I’m sure there are. I know there are other people who write about gaslighting, and I can get those resources for you so that you can put them on your website along with this podcast and using the How We Feel app, where you can learn about your emotions. You can learn lessons in emotional intelligence and the RULER approach. You can learn the strategies to address those emotions when you have them.

Such tremendous resources. I will be sure to share them in the show notes. Your app sounds phenomenal and is a tremendous resource for our listeners and people around the world. We’ll get the word out there.

It really is. Here it is. It looks like this. I’m just going to show you. That little heart, wherever it is, I’ll click it, and it’ll come up really quickly.

“How are you feeling this afternoon?” it asked. That’s tremendous.

Yes, and then you check in, and you get to say you’ll have hundreds of words to choose from ultimately, and we’re still building our words there, but to just give you a visual, you’ll get to choose where on the mood meter. You might lie, and so it would describe are you having high energy and unpleasant feelings or low energy and unpleasant feelings. Note that there are no negative feelings.

There are unpleasant feelings, but there are no negative feelings. Right now, I’m in the yellow quadrant, where I have all of these feelings to choose from, from eager to successful to exhilarated to excited to energized and curious, and the same numbers of feelings in each quadrant. I could go on about it. It’s really a fantastic resource to build emotional intelligence, to honor your emotions, and to be granular in expressing your emotions and regulating them.

There are no negative feelings. There are unpleasant feelings, but there are no negative feelings. Share on X

That’s fantastic because, for many of us, we learned, particularly for females, that it’s okay to be okay and happy and sometimes a little sad. Men are raised to believe it’s okay to be angry and okay. Taking it from this foundational approach where we learn, there are lots of other feelings out there, and it’s like going into a buffet where you learn, Oh my goodness, it’s just not porridge it’s all sorts of things that I get to choose from in the feeling in the emotional world, and what a great way to begin to make friends with everything that’s inside of us.

I love that. That’s a beautiful way to put it. Thank you.

Thank you, Dr. Stern. You are such a force in the mental health community. Thank you. Thank you for gracing us with your presence. Thank you for all the attention that you’ve given to the listeners’ questions to help all of us build our awareness about what’s healthy, what’s unhealthy, what gaslighting is, and how to recover from it.

Thank you so much. I will invite you right now to come on my podcast, and we’ll be in touch with you because I would love to have you on my podcast and hear your story and hear about all the incredible work that you’ve done, not just by reading your books, but by seeing you and being with you in person. I’d love that. I hope you’ll say yes.

I will absolutely say yes. Please, for our listeners, the name of your podcast so they can readily find you.

The Gaslight Effect podcast. There we have it. Thanks again. It has been such a joy and a privilege sharing time with you.

Thank you, Dr. Carla Marie. I’m just loving this conversation. Thank you.

Thank you, Dr. Stern, and to our listeners, thank you, and this is Imperfect Love.


Important Links


About Robin Stern, Ph.D.

Imperfect Love | Dr. Robin Stern | GaslightRobin Stern, Ph.D., is a licensed psychoanalyst, educator, author, and commentator. As a renowned expert in gaslight manipulation, emotional intelligence and women in leadership, her work bridges the gap between theory and the public square. She co-founded the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence with Marc Brackett and currently serves as the senior advisor to the director. Through her work with Yale, she co-developed RULER (an acronym for the five key emotion skills of recognizing, understanding, labeling, expressing, and regulating emotions) an evidence-based approach to social and emotional learning that has been adopted by over 5,000 schools across the United States and in 27 other countries, and the app HowWeFeel, designed to teach the language of emotions and enhance well-being. She has created numerous trauma-informed courses which are available to educators.

Dr. Stern is the author of The Gaslight Effect: How to Spot and Survive the Hidden Manipulation Others Use to Control Your Life, the critically acclaimed book published in 2007. A second edition of the book was released in 2018 which included the role of gaslighting in politics. In 2023, the workbook version The Gaslight Effect Recovery Guide, was published to help those navigating gaslighting relationships find their road to recovery. She launched the Gaslight Effect Podcast in 2022. As the host, she and her guests explore the phenomena of gaslighting from relationships, to cults, to culture.

Dr. Stern is also the host of THE GASLIGHT EFFECT podcast, which teaches listeners about the depths the term can take. She interviews experts and hears personal experiences from guests about all aspects of gaslighting– from the unintentional, the role it plays in marriages and divorces, how “good parenting” can be gaslighting, workplace and medical scenarios, and how to effectively support someone going through it. THE GASLIGHT EFFECT podcast is available for free on all podcast platforms including: Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, and Stitcher.