Episode 263 | September 21, 2021

Healing From an Abusive Relationship with Deborah Vinall

A Personal Note From Orion

Many survivors of abusive relationships have something in common to say- they didn’t realize their partner’s actions were considered abusive behavior in the beginning. What started as one unfortunate incident was forgiven, and unknowingly it kept repeating until it became a pattern. This is how narcissists typically operate. One day they love bomb you, and then they shatter your world. 

In this episode, my guest Dr. Deborah Vinall deep dives into this psychological behavior and helps you understand its roots and uncover its solutions so you can step away entirely from it. 

Dr. 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 experiences and painful relationship dynamics. She is also the author of Gaslighting: A Step-by-Step Recovery Guide to Heal from Emotional Abuse and Build Healthy Relationships.

After this conversation, you’ll have a list of common red flags as well as ways to take care of yourself better because, according to Deborah, “you’re allowed to be messy, imperfect, and broken. Yet, you’re still worthy no matter what.” And so, without further ado, on with the show.

In this Episode

  • [00:58] – Orion introduces Dr. Deborah Vinall, 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 experiences and painful relationship dynamics. 
  • [06:14] – Dr. Deborah speaks about her experiences and how she deals with other people’s trauma and impacts her.
  • [11:58] – Orion opens up about her experiences from her previous relationship with an abusive man.
  • [18:03] – Dr. Deborah enumerates some of the personality characteristics of these people who are abusive in a relationship.
  • [24:19] – What are the steps to break free from the cycle of abuse?
  • [30:33] – Dr. Deborah points out the importance of giving yourself permission to heal first and to not skip over the grief in the process of healing.
  • [36:00] – How does your inner voice affect your self-compassion?
  • [41:58] – Dr. Deborah humbly tells us how she is just facilitating the process of someone’s healing, and the person is in charge of all the work for it to be successful.
  • [48:24] – Dr. Deborah shares why she prefers to have therapy sessions one on one in person instead of a virtual meeting.
  • [51:53] – Connect with Dr. Deborah Vinall on her website at tamarcounseling.com, or check out her book, Gaslighting: A Step-by-Step Recovery Guide to Heal from Emotional Abuse and Build Healthy Relationships to learn more from her.

Jump to Links and Resources

About Today’s Show

Hey, Dr. Deborah. Welcome to the Stellar Life podcast. Thank you so much for being here. 

My pleasure. Thanks for having me on. 

Before we begin, can you share a little bit about your passion and how did you become the expert that you are today? What made you go after that?

I suppose I turned to psychology in my early 20s when I was doing a lot of volunteer work with youth organizations. Some of the young women that I worked with were just really struggling in ways that I quickly knew were way over my head to help assist a volunteer peer mentor kind of person. So I started diving and taking some college courses here and there on adolescent psychology, crisis communication, and things like that.

When I realized how powerful it could be to help people, I got excited.

I just really loved it. It wasn’t what I thought psychology was, which I thought was you basically manipulating people, trying to figure them out, and tell them who they were. That obviously never appealed to me. When I realized how powerful it could be to really help people, I got excited about diving into that and got all my degrees.

Right now, I work in my private practice, and I specialize in treating people who have a history of trauma. I would say too that that relates to my own life. I had different traumas that I went through as an adolescent which is probably why I was doing the volunteering in the first place. Now, I specialize in trauma treatment and I’m certified in both EMDR and Brainspotting, which are just really powerful modalities for creating change and helping people become free of the things that they’re held back by.

That’s amazing. Dealing with people that have experienced trauma all day long, how does that affect you? Do you ever take your work home? How do you shield yourself from their pain?

That’s a good question. I think it was probably more challenging when I was more green. You just develop a way to do so. But what I’ve really found is that because this work is so powerful and effective, I know that the suffering is out there whether or not I’m part of it. 

If I can see somebody who’s hurting, I would help them move the needle on their healing journey, and I can see changes happen with what I do, that is just so powerful and exciting to be a part of. Rather than just trying to turn my eyes away from the many kinds of suffering in the world, I know that I’m part of making a little bit of a difference for some people.

I’m sure you are. I’m sure you’re going to make a difference for somebody who’s listening right now because this is so common. I think one in three women in the states has, is, or will be sexually or physically abused. It’s very common. 

Gaslighting by Deborah Vinall

People don’t talk about it. It has nothing to do with how rich or poor you are and how well-educated you are or not. There are some ladies that live in (literally) cages that are made out of gold, diamonds, and Gucci, and they’re suffering and lonely. They’re being abused basically.

Can you tell me a little bit about your book? What made you write it?

Sure. My book is called Gaslighting: A Step-by-Step Recovery Guide to Heal from Emotional Abuse and Build Healthy Relationships. It was just released on May 4th of this year, 2021.


Thank you. It’s been really exciting to see that come to fruition. Gaslighting is a topic that has been defined for quite a long time, but it has not been well-known. It’s not been part of the common vernacular until just the last several years due to perhaps certain political personalities. 

Other awareness has come into discussion, but there are a lot of questions as far as, well, what is that? What does that mean? Is that part of my life? It seems that the time is right to really bring that conversation to the next level.

What is it?

Gaslighting is a targeted form of manipulation, control, and deception that’s crafted to cause another person to doubt their own sense of reality. That keeps the gaslighter in control and causes you to question your own perceptions like what you see, hear, and your own memories. It leaves you in a constant state of self-doubt, maybe even wondering if you’re crazy. That empowers the gaslighter—the person doing it—to control you and to control situations in ways that benefit themselves. In short, basically, it’s a form of lying for manipulation and control.

What kind of phrases do people use to gaslight?

Some really common ones are ‘you’re overreacting,’ ‘you’re hysterical,’ ‘you’re too emotional,’ ‘you’re crazy.’ Or maybe just being told, ‘oh, you’re just being forgetful.’ A lot of dismissing of emotions and reactions.

How can we differentiate? I think we all do that to a certain extent. We all say, ‘oh, you’re crazy.’ We all say those phrases. It sounds like we all said them at some point. What’s the difference between us saying it to somebody who does it on purpose constantly?

You're allowed to be messy, imperfect, and broken as long as you're not cruel to others. You're still worthy no matter what. Click To Tweet

I think that’s the keyword when you say constantly. There’s a big difference between joking with your friends like, ‘oh, you’re crazy,’ and somebody who is trying intentionally to undermine your  ability to trust yourself because that’s such a core element of our mental well-being is being in tune with our own intuition. When you start to drive a wedge into somebody’s core being, you really start to damage them. That’s that intentionality and the consistency of it.

How do I know if I gaslight someone? Because sometimes I say mean things to my husband and sometimes he says mean things to me. Since we’ve been together for a long time, I can say it can be consistent. We fight, we love. We fight, we love. We love, we love, we love, and then we fight. How do we make sure we don’t bring this yuckiness into our relationship?

That’s such a good question. I think the very fact that you asked it so quickly, not as an add-on at the end of our conversation, shows that this isn’t who you are. It’s something that you want to avoid. You’re not somebody—I can tell already—who is looking to control other people in order to advance simply your own agenda all the time. You wouldn’t be doing this podcast for this reason.

When you’ve got somebody who is often very narcissistic, they want their way no matter what. They want the attention and the spotlight on themselves, and every situation has to be manipulated to benefit their own goals, their own ends. That’s what we really look at.

There’s a difference between a little white lie that we might throw out to protect somebody’s feelings or because it’s easier than dealing with the consequences, but that’s not that overarching pattern of, I’m just going to create whatever completely crazy lie I want you to believe. I’ll keep reinforcing and reinforcing until you think, well, nobody could like that ostentatiously. I must be the crazy one.

A core element of our mental well-being is being in tune with our intuition.

I experienced gaslighting and abuse firsthand. I was involved with a guy. When we started dating, he put me on a pedestal. He used to write beautifully. He was very handsome, very sexy, and very articulate. He would make me feel so beautiful and special.

The abuse, when it starts, it’s not like all of a sudden, they come at you and start putting you down. It’s not. It’s like when you put a frog in hot water, it will jump. But if you put it in water and you slowly turn on the heat, it can cook to death without it even noticing. That was the way with me because it didn’t start like that. It started so loving, beautiful, intense, and sexy.

People often “love bomb” you at the beginning. They overwhelm you and they’re so charming. They’re so good at crafting everything to seem like wow, this person’s amazing.

After a few months with that guy, first of all, he insulted every part of my body. I was fat and ugly. This was this and this was that. I don’t want to get into the painful insults, but really everything that he could imagine, he told me that I am.

So that you don’t feel like anybody else would want you, so you’re more likely to stay with him, and he’s in control.

Oh my God. I was a shadow of myself. He isolated me from my family and from my friends, telling me stories that I believed because he was my whole world in those times and I was madly in love with him. He surely doesn’t mean that. Surely, he loves me and he’s probably right because he loves me. I was very naive.

It ended up when we had a fight one day, and I ended up in a hospital because he was physical with me. I ran barefoot down the stairs, grabbed my phone, and called the police. That’s how we broke up. But even after we broke up, he kept taunting me with crazy text messages 10 times a day. 

“It’s compelling and exciting to be a part of someone’s healing journey.” – Dr. Deborah Vinall

Keeps you off balance.

Oh my God, yes. Can you get a little bit into the patterns? I’m sure one of the listeners has experienced or is experiencing something like that right now. How can they know the science?

What happened with me was like magic, like an angel came to me because I started noticing that this is wrong. He did so many more things that were really awful like yelling at a homeless person in the subway. We were standing. We wanted to cross the street. There was a guy with a dog, the dog was sitting, and he kicked the dog because it wasn’t moving fast enough. It was appalling.

I was at a place after this ended where I was so terrified. I would go down the street, I wouldn’t look at people, and I was afraid that he was after me. I didn’t even want to see my friends because I was afraid that he was going after me. The brainwash and the brain control were so severe that I was a shadow of myself.

I’ll share more about my healing journey later, but what I understood is that there are similar patterns to abusers and red flags that we should notice.

Absolutely. As you tell us your story—and thank you so much for sharing that—you hit on so many of those very specific things that you see over and over in these types of people. Just to hit on a few of the things you might see in a gaslighter—whether or not you’re in a relationship—I’ll talk a little bit about what they’re like in a relationship.

You might see somebody who spends a lot of time exaggerating, lying, and misrepresenting the truth even when it’s not about you. They’re always the top of their class, and they’re always the biggest victim—one of the other—but it’s very dramatic. They’re always going to make harmful comparisons. They’re going to undermine your accomplishments and they’re going to upsell their own.

The most crucial thing you can do for yourself is to be honest about what you feel. The longer you deny things and pretend trauma is not happening, the longer you don't have a foundation from which to make any decisions. Click To Tweet

If you got an award for your podcast and you were with this person, they would probably be like, ‘oh, well, it’s just a dumb little radio show or something like that. But did you hear about how I was promoted at work?’

I wanted to be an actress in those times and I started getting little roles in movies. After that relationship, I just stopped. I couldn’t do it again, which was a gift. Now, I do coaching and I like what I do. I miss acting a little bit, but I don’t miss going to auditions.

Oh my goodness, I did that too in my early 20s for a little while. This is just about me. I need to move on.

Exactly what you said. It minimized any achievement. I just got a starting role in a little, tiny independent movie and it was nothing.

They don’t want you to feel confident because if you do, you might not depend on them. Because underneath it all, there’s very well-hidden insecurity, and they don’t want you to realize that you could do better and walk away.

You’ll also notice that in how they talk about others. You mentioned the way he was talking to the homeless person, but it’s not just about you. This is going to be throughout their personality. They’re always putting people down. They might be attaching dehumanizing nicknames to people, very negative about others, or even shaping the story about other people too.

Then, how they talk about you in front of others is another way that they’ll also gaslight you, another way that they’ll also try to control you. They may embarrass you with their insults.

Gaslighting is a targeted form of manipulation, control, and deception crafted to cause another person to doubt their sense of reality.

I’ve been there.

And also misogynistic and racial slurs. I often find that. It’s another way of dehumanizing people.

I’m Jewish. He called me names, the person I love the most. I was like, what? Where is this coming from?

Right. Implicit in the idea that being Jewish is somehow beneath him, somehow not a good thing. Horrible.

It was. Let’s go over the science. We’ll go into intimate relationships, and then we’ll go broader into business relationships or just relationships with anyone new.

Sure. Just a couple more personality characteristics. You’ll notice that they like to use intimidation with other people to get what they want, becoming bigger, and dominating. 

They never take responsibility when something goes wrong, like, you know what? I screwed that. I’m sorry, I’ll do that better. You will never hear that with them. They’ll split people apart and triangulate them. They tend to be very entitled. They should always get what they want, and they’ll never do anything out of generosity. Everything they give, there’s a cost to it.


Exactly. It’s all curated to create what they want for themselves. Very cold.

Narcissists, are they born like this? Do they become like this? Is this some kind of a genetic disorder? How do people become so cold?

The pain of trauma lies deep within, and it's no use to keep pretending that everything is okay. The only way out is to heal the deep wound. Click To Tweet

It’s hard for a healthy person to understand, isn’t it? It’s not genetic. Sadly, it tends to be a result of really pathological early childhood experiences with a complete lack of warmth, love, and nurturance. I mentioned, there’s the insecurity underneath it all, but it’s so well-covered that most people would not see it. They probably aren’t even aware of it or they would never admit it if they are.

It’s really quite tragic, but there’s a point where, like you said, you can’t stay in that relationship because you feel sorry for somebody. You have to protect yourself.

How can one recognize the red flags if they’re like me? I was head-over-heels in love. When you’re in love, it’s so difficult to see the bad things. Even if you see the bad things, you’re like, oh, no, it’s a fluke. He woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning. There’s something. I remember I made so many excuses for him in my mind convincing myself that this is normal.

Your own value system that are positive values of being a forgiving and compassionate person is amplified but toward the wrong person. You mentioned some of them when you described your experience, which is a really helpful reference point—the love bombing. He was just overwhelming you with affection at first and then the process of devaluation and then eventually, sometimes discarding the person at the end. That pattern will be there in your relationship and perhaps with others.

Then, there comes the next part of trying to hoover you back and trying to psyche you back in like he did with those constant text messages, but again, not with a true authentic apology of like, I really messed this up. It’s with that off-balancing effect, like you mentioned, of I love you so much. Maybe there are promises like it’ll be better. Maybe even a proposal like, actually, we’ll get married this time. We’ll get a bigger house. I’ll take you shopping, whatever all those things are. 

But interspersed with this, nobody else would love you anyway. “Don’t forget how ugly you are. All these things that keep you feeling like you know what, this is probably the best I’ll ever do, so maybe I should. He’s going to change.” There’s that hoovering off-balancing effect. They may frequently use ghosting—which I suppose we all do sometimes when we don’t have the courage to break up a relationship—or stonewalling, other manipulative tactics of refusing to communicate with somebody.

They surround themselves with people who enable them.

This is the one that you can notice if you really get to know somebody in their total context. They surround themselves with people who enable them. People who will also see them as the golden boy, the poster child, and the wonderful person, and do their dirty work for them. They’ll back up their lies even if they know they’re not true. They’ll back them up when they’re putting you down. They’re the ones that really keep these behaviors to allow them to keep going.

I want to know, why was I attracted to somebody so manipulative and abusive?

I’m going to go out on a limb since I don’t know you at all. Let me just say for a lot of people, the patterns that the people that were attracted to you in adulthood may replicate some patterns, perhaps to a more severe degree, but we’ve experienced growing up or in previous relationships. What is familiar feels more comfortable to us. There’s no cognitive dissonance. 

If we grew up feeling perhaps unloved, maybe there was some abuse, some emotional neglect, or something like that, that feels normal. And a truly wholesome, healthy relationship might feel so foreign initially that we don’t even recognize it for what it is.

Early childhood experiences can make us more vulnerable to falling into these kinds of relationships in thinking that perhaps this is the real deal, especially when you get that wonderful, warm feeling about love bombing. It feels like a true need, a real human need. 

If we don’t have a sense of, oh, I’ve seen this before. I see how toxic this gets, I see where this is problematic, then we might stay because the true need for connection and attachment is so strong that we overlook some of those red flags. I don’t know if that resonates with you, but I’m sure it does with some of your listeners.

You have to empower and allow yourself to release pain on a visceral level.

I think another why was my soul needed to go through that so I can be the person that I am today and help people the way I help today with this level of empathy and understanding that I did not have prior to that relationship. I was kind of selfish prior to that relationship. Now, I’m a little less selfish.

It sounds like you took a really horrible time of your life, a really traumatic period, and made some gold from it.

I think I did, yes. I want everyone that is experiencing something like that or even just a little bit to turn it around. How can one start to build up the courage? Because some people are more courageous than others, their psychological makeup is different, or they have kids. It’s super hard to get away when you have kids. What are the first steps to breaking free from this cycle of abuse?

The first thing is to recognize and accept that it’s happening because the longer that we deny things and we pretend it’s not happening, we don’t have a foundation from which to make any decisions. So before even being necessarily ready to make a choice, it’s important to be honest with yourself. Call it what it is and stop making excuses for that other person.

Stop Walking on Eggshells by Paul T. Mason and Randi Kreger

I think that actually happened. I started to recognize that something was wrong. I was at Barnes & Noble on the Upper East Side in Manhattan. I was sitting there, and I was reading about personality disorders. I was trying to figure out what was going on with me. I got the book, Stop Walking on Eggshells.

Yes, that’s a good one.

It’s amazing.

It talks about living with somebody or being in an intimate relationship with somebody with a personality disorder.

I started reading that and I was like, whoa, this is happening to me. There was an integration of the acceptance because somebody else was almost speaking for me. I was like, yes, that’s me. That’s what’s going on. As I was sitting there, this guy came over. He just looked at me, looked at the book, looked at me again, and said, if he ever becomes violent toward you, call the police. 

The next day, the next morning, he was violent toward me. I remember what he said. He just said, grab your phone, run down the stairs, and call the police. That’s exactly what I did.

How beautiful that this complete stranger stopped to give you that little word of encouragement and take the risk that maybe you’d be offended or something.

I think it was an angel. I’m serious. This was a really amazing synchronicity.

You needed to hear that just then.

Yes, just then.

I’m so glad you took it in.

The first thing is recognizing. If somebody is listening right now, it’s probably because they have something to do with this topic. This is an interest because of some reason.

The first step, like you say, is to recognize and accept what’s going on. I think toxic relationships have an addictive feel to them. It’s almost like an addiction. Like an addiction, the first step is to recognize that you are in it.

There’s a lot of highs and lows. The good times might feel great, but the bad times were just not worth it.

Yeah. There definitely is a lot of passion. There’s a lot of highs and lows. The good times might feel great, but the bad times were just not worth it.

The good times were so beautiful.

The second part is understanding that there’s a cycle to it so that you’re not sucked back in those good times—the honeymoon cycles. Recognizing that this is a cycle, which means after the roses, the makeup sex, and everything, it’s going to come back because it always does. 

With that acceptance, it’s also self-educating a little bit like you were doing there in the bookstore so that you’re prepared and you’re strengthened against the temptation to, like you said, to go back to that old pattern.

Then, the next thing that follows from that naturally is allowing yourself time to grieve, allowing yourself to mourn what you may have lost through that. The hopes and dreams of maybe this being a happily ever after kind of relationship or perhaps the years or the time that you’ve given to this person. Maybe the friendships or other aspirations that you’ve given up because of the way that these people isolate you. 

Allowing yourself just to feel the loss of it so that you can release that and not carry it with you forever. Then, moving into a time of learning to love yourself because you’ve not been properly loved for a while.

Allow yourself to feel the loss to release and not carry the pain with you forever.

I did not let myself grieve. I was so disconnected from everyone. My family was abroad. I got disconnected from my friend that I was so close to because he was talking about them, pulling us apart, lots of scare tactics, and all. I was completely alone and completely isolated.

I spent a night in the hospital and when I was there, there was a volunteer from SAVI. SAVI belongs to Mount Sinai. It is The Mount Sinai Sexual Assault and Violence Intervention Program. She came to me, gave me those flyers, and told me you can call us. You can consult with us. There was a volunteer there that was reaching out to help me.

In order to understand what was going on, I took their three-day training, but it was so premature because I was not healed at all at that moment.

Too much too soon.

Too much too soon. It helped me. It really helped me psychologically and to understand, but I was not in any shape or form to volunteer. 

I remember going a few times to the hospitals. It was hard every time. There’s one call at 3 AM in the middle of a snowstorm. I’m going to the hospital, and this lady who’s been through the most horrific thing you can imagine just lay there. I wasn’t trying to talk to her. She just looks at me, completely shocked and with a blank stare. It broke me. I could not do that, so I stopped doing it. I just couldn’t do it anymore.

When we're traumatized, we dissociate from it as a way to survive, and we lose touch with ourselves. Click To Tweet

It was just too triggering.

It was too hard. I don’t suggest anyone doing this prematurely. I’m forever grateful for that volunteer. This year, I got the blessing to donate to Mount Sinai. It was like coming full circle. I have a strong place now. I can help even more.

I think the best we can give comes from our own pain and our understanding but not using the service to heal ourselves. Letting it come from a place of the wisdom that’s come from the crystallized, healed pain, but giving yourself permission to heal first so we don’t have this flight to health. We don’t have to skip over the grief, the healing, and the self-care, and pretend to be okay because then the wounds are still there. The triggers still happen.

For me, the healing journey was I just wanted to heal on so many levels. First, I took martial arts.

Oh, that’s very empowering.

I took MMA and Aikido because I said nobody is going to lay his hand on me ever again. Then, I took dance classes. I did yoga. I remember the mat in the yoga class was wet not because of my sweat. I was just crying. I was doing yoga and crying. I was in the back.

I’ve been there too.

It was a big class. Nobody saw me. I was just in tears. Tears are so helpful. Then, I was watching funny movies, funny YouTube videos, cat videos, trying to (every day) do something.

Lift your spirit.

Lift your spirit. You’re describing such important steps in the healing process. We store trauma in our bodies. Everything we’ve been through, every trauma we hold on to it physically. Doing physical things allows us to release it. Yoga helps to retrain the nervous system to a calmer space so that we’re not as anxious and pent up. 

Doing something physical like you said with MMA, that creates a strength and a sense of empowerment. Jogging, dancing, and anything where you’re moving your body, you’re getting in touch with your body. Because often, when we’re traumatized, we dissociate from it as a way to survive and we lose touch with ourselves. That’s what I was saying at the beginning, how a gaslighter starts to wedge in and split you from yourself. You’re creating reintegration with yourself. You’re getting to know yourself again, empower yourself, allow yourself to release so much pain on a really important, deep visceral level.

I love that you were doing all those things. And then, like you said, allowing yourself to laugh and to find ways to uplift yourself as well is so important.

It wasn’t one and done. It took me about three years to fully recover. I took lots of workshops. I did Landmark Education where I called my ex, I asked for forgiveness, and asked him to forgive me. My ego was, are you kidding me? This abuser, I’m going to ask him for forgiveness? No.

I wasn’t able to do it until I understood that this was me taking responsibility for being in this relationship. It was my choice to be in this relationship. It was my choice to ignore the red flags. It was my choice. I chose that person for a reason. My soul chose this person for a reason. It was my responsibility. 

As soon as it’s my responsibility and I take ownership, I’m not a victim anymore and he doesn’t have any more power over me.

The more compassionate we can be, the more we recognize that the same humanity is in everybody. Click To Tweet

It sounds like that was a really empowering process for you.

It was. Oh my God, it was one of the hardest things that I’ve done in my life. All the self-help workshops and things that I did gave me strength as well. I think it’s so important to go on a journey of caring for yourself, understanding yourself, and forgiving yourself.

Can you tell me a little bit about self-love? How do we find more self-love? What is self-love to you?

I think it starts with accepting yourself just as you are. That you don’t have to be whatever standard you set up in your mind. That you’re allowed to be messy, imperfect, and broken, and that you’re still worthy. Finding that.

Sometimes, when it’s hard to do, it can be helpful to look back on time early in life. It sounds almost cliché, but your inner child. Can you picture yourself as a three-year-old perhaps just making a painting and it’s all messy and sloppy?

We were so focused on being perfect. I can really get caught from that myself. Imagine finger-painting at three years old and you show that to your adult person, but maybe that adult person is actually you. What does your adult person say? Ew, gross, you’re so messy. Go wash your hands.

Sometimes, when self-love is hard to do, it can be helpful to look back on time earlier in life.

Maybe you got that, but what did you need? What would you say if you saw your three-year-old niece or somebody that you love doing that? You should be like, wow, this is beautiful. Look at the colors. Tell me about your process. Can you give that to your younger self and then allow yourself to grow with that?

If your three-year-old self was worthy, look at your six-year-old—when did you stop being worthy? Maybe you never did. 

That is very powerful.

From that, maybe there’s room for self-compassion when we make mistakes, when we’re not perfect, when we say something awkward or mean. Like you said, sometimes you’re mean to your husband, sometimes he’s mean to you. We’re all like that. Those times we’re stressed and anxious, we’re in pain, and then we just snap at the person at the gas station or something. We’ve all got those times, but as much as we want to grow beyond that, can we also give ourselves compassion and say, I’ll do better next time, but I’m not a horrible person.

Changing the way we talk to ourselves can be a part of that as well. With our inner voice is one of that critical parent of, you’re such a that. You never do anything right. Or is it something of compassion? I didn’t do that perfectly, but I’ll do better.

Yes, we need more compassion especially during a stressful time like COVID time where there are so many external stresses as is. We need to be more compassionate to ourselves because why not? Why live our lives being unkind to ourselves? That leads to what? How does that affect our relationships with everyone around us?

It brings nothing good into the world. In fact, the more that we can be compassionate and loving toward ourselves, the more we’re able to see it in other people. I used to think it was the other way around, but truly, the more that we can be compassionate with ourselves, the more we recognize that the same humanity is in everybody.

There is just an enormous increase in anxiety and depression around the world.

Nice. Tell me, this year, did you have to have more work because people are more messy? How does this whole situation affect the psyche of people and their relationships?

When everything shut down on March 13th, 2020, like most people, everybody canceled their therapy appointments. I had a month of going, oh, no, we have no income. What happens next? Then, as we all realize this is a new temporary normal, that started coming back. At this point, I think myself and every therapist I know are quite flooded with phone calls. That’s a challenge because there’s so much need. 

It’s an existential trauma to go through such a long period to varying degrees, but having a life-threatening existential threat to our way of being out there. That itself is traumatizing, but it can also bring so many more things up whether that’s spending too much time with a family that wasn’t entirely healthy, that was just you guys, other life stressors, or whatever.

There is just an enormous increase in anxiety and depression around the world. Definitely, a lot of people are reaching out for help, which is wonderful to see, the people reaching out. That the stigma around therapy is going down as well. But it’s definitely a problem to be addressed with so many people hitting waiting lists when they call for help.

Oh, wow. Thank you for this amazing service in the world. I’m sure you have so many success stories about people that came a certain way, left as new people, or stepped into a new version of themselves. Can you share one of your favorite stories of recovery?

Oh man, that’s tricky because I have to be mindful of confidentiality, but it is definitely a theme that is so wonderful to see. People come in, and they’re stuck because of a trauma. Sometimes, it’s simple and sometimes it’s complex. 

I’ve had people come in, and there’s something that was acute and terrible, but it was a single-incident event, a one-time rape, or a traumatic birth with a loss of a baby in the process. Something that was terrible, but not ongoing like childhood abuse that happens over a period of years.

With these therapies that have been developed that are so powerful and that I mentioned like EMDR and brainspotting. I’ll see somebody come in, we’ll do the assessment, the background information. We’ll do one, maybe two sessions with EMDR and brainspotting, and the negative thoughts change. The flashbacks, the intrusive memories drop away, and there’s a sense of freedom and peace.

The loss of the baby, sure, there’s still going to be that ache. It’s never going to be roses that the rape occurred, but there’s freedom from it. It’s integrated into somebody’s life story and they’re able to move forward.

I remember one person who came in with an acute trauma of that sort. It had led to all kinds of eating disorders, behavior, and struggles. Within weeks later, she was feeling the freedom to be able to let that go, to eat in a healthy way, to nurture herself, and take care of herself.

The healing really happens where we often have feelings about something that contradicts our thoughts. With an example of rape, we might feel like it’s all my fault. I’m horrible. I’m dirty. I’m shameful. It’s my fault, it’s my fault, it’s my fault. I know in my mind, of course, it wasn’t my fault. I didn’t want it. This person came, they attacked me, et cetera. Those two parts just don’t connect. 

When we do these therapies like EMDR and brainspotting where we use bilateral stimulation combined with focused mindfulness that instead of always pushing those traumatic memories away, allows us to focus on them. Then, the bilateral stimulation connects the left and the right hemispheres of the mind, the logical, the emotional, and the creative so that those parts are able to speak to each other.

I feel like I am watching a miracle happen by just facilitating this process.

I feel like I am watching a miracle happen. I’m just facilitating this process, but the person I’m sitting there with in their pain is undergoing the healing. They’re doing the work. It’s an amazing thing to see. It’s an amazing thing to witness, to facilitate, and to see that happen where somebody is able to find freedom.

It sounds beautiful. I love how humble you are. It’s not me, I just facilitate it.

It really is what I experienced as I’m in the room with people. It’s an honor to be there in somebody’s most vulnerable and sacred spaces too. That they are willing to open that up and share that as they move toward healing.

I also want to just say. I was giving these very simple examples too—simple but horrible—but healing is also possible for people who have undergone years of abuse. I don’t want to minimize that. I’m just saying that it does. 

The longer a problem has been happening, the more work it takes to heal and the more aspects there are to heal. I don’t want to discourage anybody who’s like, oh, well, my story is so much more complicated than that. Just be willing to invest in yourself, be patient with yourself, and just one day at a time, keep working toward that healing.

Can you share a bit about what is Brainspotting? That sounds really cool. What is EMDR? How does this work together? How does this affect people?

Let’s start with EMDR because Brainspotting is a more recent development, and it actually grew out of EMDR. EMDR stands for eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. It’s developed in the late ’80s by Francine Shapiro.

The story was she was walking under some shade trees, so the light was flashing, you know how it does when it’s coming and going. She noticed that the problems she was mulling over seem to just kind of alleviate. From that, she started experimenting with eye movements and found that when she guided the patient’s eyes from left to right while they brought up the problem, it brought down the intensity of the emotions related to it.

The way it’s been developed is that we identify the negative beliefs that we have associated with the experience and also maybe the positive belief we’d like to have to replace it. Maybe instead of it’s all my fault, we might have I did the best I could, and I survived, something more empowering.

It’s also true that we don’t have magical thinking, but a much healthier way to think about the traumatic experience. We also bring up the feelings even in the real-time. We’re not trying to push it away and skip over healing. We’re allowing ourselves to feel what we feel.

Then, the images of the experience—perhaps there’s a car accident. You’re allowing yourself to picture what happened and also noticing where you hold that stress in your body because it’s always held in the body somewhere.

While noticing all these elements—the thoughts, the feelings, the somatic, the physical, the memories—we use a bilateral stimulation. That can be the eye movement of tracking eyes back and forth. It can be auditory—we have sounds that can go from ear to ear in a headset—or tactile with either tapping opposite sides of the body. We also have different kinds of tech that can make it easier, but none of the tech is required. Little buzzy things you hold in your hand that gets a little buzz from side to side. It’s like electric utilities, a tiny, gentle buzz.

We do those little short sets where you allow yourself to bring up the memories, all the thoughts, and feelings, then pause, reflect on what came up, and go back and forth.

What I see happen throughout this process is that the intensity might rise as you allow yourself to go back to this really difficult time. But as you stop pushing it away and allow yourself to notice, that’s when the mindful aspect comes into it. The intensity starts to abate. The thoughts and feelings start to inform each other until somehow, naturally, organically, just as the body heals itself when we get a cut, the brain starts to heal itself. More adaptive thoughts take the place of the negative thoughts, and the feelings respond in kind by settling down as well. The physical tension also seems to go away. That’s EMDR.

There’s something powerful about working in person with somebody one-on-one. It’s an energetic connection.

Brainspotting is similar. In the beginning of this century, there was an EMDR therapist called David Grand. What he discovered while he was doing EMDR therapy with a client is that this one patient’s eyes seem to jiggle at a certain spot as he was processing her trauma. He thought, I’m just going to experiment with that, so he stayed at that spot for a while.

As he stayed in that one spot, this whole depth of information related to the topic just poured out, and it resolved much more quickly than it had been in previous sessions. What we speculate is that where our eyes are pointed—and there are a million little specific dots in our field of vision: up, down, side to side, near and far—tie in neurologically to where different memories are stored.

He started experimenting with that and developed Bainspotting. It keeps the bilateral stimulation through auditory. From that, he developed not just the tones that EMDR uses that goes from ear to ear but bilateral music.

They put on the headset, and then the music fades from one ear to another. It tends to be really relaxing, soothing music but providing that bilateral stimulation while also bringing up the memory, noticing the feelings, noticing where you feel it in your body. It focuses a little bit more on the body and a little less on the thought aspect of things, the negative beliefs. 

It tends to stay a little bit longer in that mindful process of noticing what comes up. But with this deep attunement in both of these therapies between the therapist and the client of just being there with them, sharing that pain, being there even as a safe space, or to share what’s come up or not in-between times of going deeply into this mindful, meditative, reflective space.

Again, the same kind of process tends to happen where people might become quite emotional, but we hold space for that. It’s okay to cry to let it all out. Maybe it’s been bottled up for a long time, and the sense of resolution tends to emerge as that goes on.

That sounds amazing. Do you do your sessions via Zoom or just one-on-one?

Due to the pandemic, I’ve learned to adapt as well, so I do both now. I was fortunate to be considered a healthcare worker so I was able to be vaccinated back in January. That allowed me to safely open up my office again in February.

Probably, the majority are on Zoom due to their preference, convenience, or concerns, and then I have some that I’m seeing in my office now. It’s nice to be able to do both. There’s something really powerful about being in person with somebody one-on-one. It’s an energetic connection.

It’s great that people from all over the world can connect with you and get help from you.

I would say I’m only licensed in California, so we have to only see people who are in the same place where we hold our license.

I guess if you’re not in California, get the book.

I get asked, why did I write the book? One of my greatest motivations was just thinking about how I love to help people break free from the things that hold them, but I can only see so many people in a week. There’s only so much emotional capacity and so much time. 

I thought, this will allow me to help so many more people than I ever could one-on-one. I know a lot of people can’t access therapy due to whatever reasons. Maybe financial, that’s often the biggest barrier. Different reasons. But this is something that you can get for a low price. You can even hide it if you’re in a situation where you don’t want somebody to see what you’re reading. I hope that that will help people who can’t make their way to therapy.

There are so many other amazing topics in the book like setting boundaries, how to take healthy action, how to get into healthy relationships, and all that. If you’re listening, if you feel called to, please get the book and get help because it is a strength to ask for help and to be vulnerable with the right people. 

I remember I got help, and now I can help others. If you need help, please reach out. You can even email me. I can point you in the right direction. You can call Dr. Deborah or just find any help even if it’s looking for something on YouTube. If you need help, please seek help.

Even the worst situations can change. There’s always hope.

Yes. Even the worst situations can change. There’s always hope.

That’s good. On this beautiful happy note, what are your three top tips to living a stellar life?

Know yourself so that you can live authentically. That would be one. Find the things and people that bring you joy and let that be part of your balanced life. Not just always striving but finding the things that bring you joy. And surround yourself with healthy relationships with people where they truly care about you and you truly care about them. There’s mutuality.

I never really thought about your question. Maybe one day, I’ll come up with a better top three, but those just popped into my mind right now.

I think that these were the best top three ones for what anyone that is listening is needing to hear right now.

Thank you.

Where can people find you, connect with you, and get your book?

You can connect with me at my website, which is tamarcounseling.com—spelled the American way. I think there’s a link there to my book, but you can also look it up on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Target, and Walmart. I’m not sure where else, but it seems like it’s available in most places where books are sold. It’s called Gaslighting: A Step-by-Step Recovery Guide to Heal from Emotional Abuse and Build Healthy Relationships by Deborah Vinall.

Beautiful. Thank you, Dr. Deborah. Thank you so much. I appreciate you so much. Thank you for sharing everything that you shared with us today.

Thank you so much. It was lovely to connect with you. Thank you for sharing about your journey. I’m so glad to hear that you’re in such a better place than you once were.

Yes. I think it’s important that I will share my journey because it can help. It’s a part of my healing as well. I feel like I’m healed, but it feels good to share. It feels empowering. Everyone that has been through something like that and found a way out should share their stories with the world and help lift other people.


Thank you, listeners. Remember to know yourself so you can live authentically, find what brings you joy, surround yourself with healthy relationships, and live a stellar life. This is Orion, until next time.

Your Checklist of Actions to Take

{✓} Watch out for phrases that can be considered gaslighting. They often appear whenever a person is being dismissive. According to Dr. Deborah, some ubiquitous ones are ‘you’re overreacting,’ ‘you’re hysterical,’ ‘you’re too emotional,’ or ‘you’re crazy.’ 
{✓} Don’t be in denial about your situation. Instead, evaluate your thoughts and feelings and be honest with yourself. Being aware of your abusive relationship is the beginning of your healing or escape.
{✓} Watch out for patterns in an unhealthy relationship, so you don’t get sucked back in again in the future. Raise your standards. Don’t allow yourself to fall into the same traps again. 
{✓} Allow yourself to mourn what you may have lost through the tumultuous relationship. Don’t skip over any grief over the relationship. Though excruciatingly painful, this is all part of your healing.
{✓} Use physical movements to release trauma. Find an outlet to let go of these negative emotions. It can be through dance, yoga, running, CrossFit, martial arts, and so on. Find what feeds your soul best. 
{✓} Don’t be too hard on yourself. Be patient, loving, and kind. If need be, treat yourself how you would treat a best friend. Change your inner dialogue and speak more thoughtful words to yourself.
{✓} Keep working towards healing. Self-development is never-ending, not because you will be in constant dissatisfaction, but because you realize that you are forever a work in progress, which is entirely okay.
{✓} Don’t hesitate to reach out and ask for help. There are tons of resources available, and the right people or community will help you get back on your feet. Search for local organizations in your area.
{✓} Constantly find what brings you joy and let that be part of your balanced life. You can only achieve living an authentic life when you are delighted with yourself. So keep looking for what inspires you, and don’t let anything hold you back.
{✓} Grab a copy of Dr. Deborah Vinall’s book, Gaslighting: A Step-by-Step Recovery Guide to Heal from Emotional Abuse and Build Healthy Relationships.

Links and Resources

About 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 experiences and painful relationship dynamics. Deborah is the author of Gaslighting: A Step-by-Step Recovery Guide to Heal from Emotional Abuse and Build Healthy Relationships.

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