The Negative Voice In Your Head Lies! Time to Fire Your Inner Narrator

FULL TRANSCRIPT – Season 2, Episode 52

Welcome to another episode of the exEXPERTS’ Divorce etc… podcast, where we give you all kinds of information and tips on everything divorce. Why? We’ve lived it, so we get it. We’re Jessica and T.H. And keep in mind you can get exEXPERTS in your inbox by signing up for our newsletter. Get the latest news and find out all about our events before anyone else, plus, access to special discounts and prices. Head to to subscribe.

Jessica: Welcome to today’s episode of Divorce etc… podcast. We are so excited today to have one of my good friends Valerie Gordon, who I worked with for a million years at CBS News. This woman is a force to be reckoned with. She’s won 10 Emmy Awards, three Edward R. Murrow Awards, and countless other awards. She really knows the impact of a story. What she’s done is she’s taken all of her expertise and created a program to help people be able to write their own chapters, their own next chapters in their lives, which are so relevant, obviously, for everybody who’s starting a next chapter after going through a divorce. Val is not divorced, but the program is so relevant and her book that’s out now, ‘Fire Your Inner Narrator!’ we felt like we had to do a podcast with her so you can hear all of her wisdom and tips and take action now. Val, thank you so much for being with us today.

T.H.: Welcome!

Val: Thank you. I love that story, the one you just told. Let’s go with that. That sounds really good. That’s right.

T.H.: Well, you lived it, so that’s pretty fab all on its own.

Jessica: Right, exactly. I first want to start off with letting people understand what it is that you’re doing and that you’re bringing to different corporations, businesses, individuals, the program that you’re working, because you’ve taken your broadcast and journalism experience and created this program to help people focus on a positive mindset and move forward in life. So break it down for us.

Val: Right, so everything is a story. When you think about it, the skills we use in putting stories on the air, what makes people care, how do you create a story that has impact and influence, basically, what I do now is I translate those storytelling strategies that we use in media, but for our own lives. What that looks like is I work with corporations and I train individuals on how to better tell their story. We’re talking the external story, how you interview, how you negotiate for yourself, your personal brand. But more important than that, and I know what we’re going to talk about today, is the inner story. It’s the way we speak of ourselves to ourselves, and how you can’t create a great external store story if you’re struggling with an inner story that is faulty or overly questioning, or overly critical.

T.H.: What made you even think to tap into this? I mean, you’re coming from a very different world. You’re in a healthy relationship. Were there just so many people you’re meeting like, oh my god, she needs help, he needs help?

Jessica: Everyone’s a fucking train wreck.

T.H.: I’m going to help them. Are there so many train wrecks out there?

Val: No, I was thinking about my own train wreck and the way we speak to ourselves, and how that holds us back. So really, everybody has a story. Especially in times of conflict, stress, or challenge, which divorce would be one of those major ones, we all start to tell ourselves a story about what that means, what that means to us. So I’m sure you’ve heard from your audience, when someone is facing a divorce, whether they’ve chosen to do this or whether it’s been thrust upon them, now they’re entering a whole new chapter, and they’re going into it with their own inner story of what it means to them. And so tapping into that inner story and understanding the thoughts we have is going to be important before you try to start reframing it to create that next chapter. Let’s take the idea of divorce, the concept of divorce, what do you think is the number one story people tell themselves when they are facing a divorce?

Jessica: I think it’s easily that, ‘I failed’. ‘I failed with my marriage’.

T.H.: And it’s my fault.

Jessica: And it’s the shame and the stigma and all the negativity. I think the first place people go is negativity and embarrassment. They have to tell people. How am I going to get through it? It’s all my fault. That’s what I think.

T.H.: Yeah, like, what’s wrong with me?

Val: Right, absolutely. 

T.H.: What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I be better so that it could have worked out better?

Val: Right, and think about the power of that story. And so if you think of it as, oh, I failed, or even forecasting no one’s ever going to want me again, I’m going to be alone forever, I call that the runaway narrator. So if we tap into the inner story that we have, that’s that inner narrator you have in your head that voices over your day and certainly in times of stress can jump ahead and start running with the emotion of the story without really looking at the circumstances, I became fascinated by how do we take the actual elements of storytelling that I know from putting stories on the air for years and translate that into our own personal success and satisfaction, particularly when you face times of conflict. Interestingly enough, you’ve never read a story watched a movie, seen a TV show that didn’t rely on a key storytelling element, and that storytelling element is conflict. I mean, conflict is an essential story driver. Yet in their own lives, who likes conflict? – Nobody. We immediately get stuck in the conflict itself. Oh no, I’m getting divorced. Oh no, I’ve lost a job, here’s what’s going to happen next. Do you ever notice when we’re in that state of conflict, we don’t look to the potential to improve the story? It’s almost as if we have a negative bias in the face of that challenge that keeps us stuck. What I do is I help clients with that inner story, how do we reclaim our own narrative so that we can author a better next chapter? I would start by challenging the very notion of if the first thing you think in the situation is I’m a failure, that’s your inner story. Why would you want to take action from a position like that? If you have an inner story like that, you need to reframe and rewrite that before you can move on to the external actions. One of the first things I would suggest is, okay, so where’s the evidence for this? Who says it so? Who says that you are a failure?

Jessica: Society, all of the people that are still in happy marriages, all of the people who in your family are disappointed in you for maybe not putting in the effort, or your kids feeling like you didn’t try hard enough. I think this is stuff that everybody going through divorce struggles with.

Val: Absolutely.

T.H.: Are they really saying it to us? Or we’re just assuming that’s what they think? No one said it to me, but I brought it on more myself than someone else.

Jessica: I think I’ve heard enough people say it outwardly in the open, maybe not directed at me, but I think we grew up hearing those types of things about other people. I think it’s I hate to say, sort of safe to assume that then when we’re in that situation, that’s what those people are thinking about us.

T.H.: So guilty by association?

Jessica: Yes.

Val: Well, that’s very much the internal narrative that you have become accustomed to based on receiving those reactions elsewhere, or hearing those stories. So now based on that, we’ve created an inner story that is if you get divorced, you are a failure, right? Then we’re very in tune with any time we see anyone happily married, people say that I’m a failure, or my ex certainly thinks that I’m a failure, we start re-inhabiting the story and replaying it over and over in our minds. One of the tips that I suggest is to just neutralize the statement and seek out the evidence because there’s a difference between circumstance and story. Meaning, a circumstance is something that happens, and the story we have then, the internalized story becomes a thought process that we recycle over and over again. That might be as simple as instead of saying, I am a failure, you can say my marriage has failed, that the marriage is over, the marriage is ending, but that doesn’t mean that I am a failure. In other words, so many of us have that hyperactive internal critic that we are quick to internalize those external circumstances. A marriage ending is a circumstance. A thought process of I am a failure because my marriage ended is an inner thought pattern that we can disrupt by thinking about the story. So that’s one of the first tips that I have is just to neutralize the statement. Where’s the actual evidence? What is the circumstance we are looking at? Before that inner narrator again, that sort of internal voice we have starts running with the story with all of the fears and emotions that would normally come along with a type of challenging situation like that, which would be my next tip too. Rather than just seeking the evidence, name the emotion. Before we can proceed with any action, which would be important to turning the page, creating the next chapter, sit with the emotions for a little bit so that it’s okay to feel disappointed, or regret, or anger, or shame, and to actually name out those emotions. By separating the emotions from the actions we plan to take, we can move forward in a way that is unrelated to the weight of those emotions.

Jessica: So you’re talking about trying to help people almost compartmentalize your emotional state from the factual part. But, I mean, you referenced the inner narrator as the inner voice. For people who really still don’t get it, what exactly do you mean? What does it mean “the inner narrator”?

Val: Sure. So when you think about it, and a lot of people call this your inner critic, this is the voice that narrates over your day. It’s an inner monologue that we have. It’s constantly judging. It’s constantly looking at you. It’s constantly criticizing you. You are very much in your own head. When I wrote my book, ‘Fire your narrator! – A storyteller’s guide to getting out of your head and into your life, it very much talks about the impact of those inner stories. Because what it does, that inner narrator creates your narrative point of view, the way you look at the world. So, Jessica, you mentioned this before, this thought pattern of divorce is a failure. Therefore, if I get divorced, I’m a failure. Happy people stay in happy marriages. I must be the problem. Whatever that inner story is, that’s your narrative point of view. One of the reasons I call it your narrator, as opposed to a critic, is because actually in the book I map out 10 different types of narrators, and a critic is just one of them. But also, because of the incredible influence a narrator has, the narrator of a story is the tone or the voice of the story. So if you’ve got all this mumbo jumbo in your head of just negativity around a challenging situation that you have now personalized: I am the cause of this. I am bad. Not the situation is bad, I am bad. And moving forward, I will not have anything good because I’m bad. Now we’re not only taking a past circumstance that’s really unfortunate, but we’re allowing that past circumstance to guide our present actions, and then the present actions will create our future. Starting with the inner story of at least just compartmentalizing or acknowledging the thought process and the emotion behind us will allow for clarity when you think about what do I actually want to happen next. So another tip that I have is, and I don’t know if you two have done this, but I have named my inner narrator. I’ve named her Squash [I love it] because I picture her in my head as this awful Vikingesque woman who is very harsh and very judgmental and says things to me that I would never say to another person. I would imagine that a lot of your listeners can probably relate to this in any area of their life where if you make a mistake, that I have this voice in my head that’s very critical. Because I have a critical inner narrator that’s ruminating, another of the narrative types, meaning that I have a hard time of letting go of past mistakes, just learning from them and moving on, and also a striving narrator, which means that I feel like no matter how hard I work and what I accomplish, it is never enough. And by identifying those sort of narrative characteristics, when they pop up in my head, when I find myself saying something to myself that is unhelpful, that I would never say to someone else, that is making me actually feel bad, I’m able at least to sort of turn the volume down a little and reframe it. I would imagine that in times of stress, high stress, and high conflict, like a divorce, that narrator in people’s heads is just going crazy with all sorts of stories.  So I say we just stop to slow it down and really process what are we thinking and what is the value of the story?

T.H.: We were speaking right before we got on with you, just even the process of recognizing–for me, it was recognizing why that voice was similar. Like, who else has been talking to me like that other than my ex-husband, coming from a completely different looking individual, but someone who raised me. But it wasn’t easy to identify. It was totally an aha moment. I was like, holy shit. I know where I’ve heard this before. But that is a growth process. When you are in the muck of it all, and you have all the lawyers and everybody telling you, then you got all the noise in town telling you, and then your kids or mom or whatever, it’s hard to even give a chance to hear that. I think even your very first step is so critical because just so everybody knows, all of this, the minute you can own your story, even just own it, like recognize it, is a huge moment of growth. That is not sucking it down. That’s not not-hearing it. That’s not keeping your armor up so nothing hurts you. That’s like your biggest strength moment. I know those aren’t the exact right words, but I think you’re getting my message because now that’s a big step forward. And then you might take a few steps back and muddle around a little bit, but just even being able to name it, whether you name it Squash or you have other choice words and identifiers for it, is huge. I just want everybody to really let that sink in because that definitely happened to me, and I didn’t like the answer. I didn’t like the relationship. But you have to face it otherwise you’re going to be stuck in it.

Jessica: You do, but I wonder–I feel like, Val, correct me if I’m wrong, that a lot of this, we go through these challenges in life and there are so many people out there who are like, it’s going to get better. You have to get past it and everything. Then there’s this whole other side of things that’s like, you have to sit back and you have to be in the pain, and you have to be in all of the negative feelings to be able to find your way out of it all. I feel with what you’re talking about to be able to actually have that aha moment at any given time in your day and hear that voice, like, am I journaling? Am I writing down negative thoughts throughout the day that I’m having? And then going back later and being like, okay, these are the examples of that voice? How am I even starting to recognize that if you’re just so used to it, that you don’t acknowledge it?

Val: Right, well, you start by acknowledging it. I think we’re all so accustomed to our own voice in our head that we don’t even question it. It’s so much a part of us that we don’t even question what it’s telling us, especially even when it says horrible things that you would never say to another person–

T.H.: You can read it. You’re like, it must be real.

Val: Yeah, we would never say that to someone else. So I actually think Jessica, the very first step is to just stop. Stop, literally say stop and acknowledge that what you are thinking is nothing more than a story you are telling yourself, just like a story like, if I were a better wife or a better husband, I wouldn’t be getting divorced. We can break it down and really look at evidence, or what marriage means to me, what kind of story are we telling around that? But I have two key really easy questions that I think you can ask in the moment, really in any moment, including those really deep, dark muddle down moments when yes, some people need to sit in it and think it through, and other people like to move on as quickly as possible. But I have two key questions, regardless, and they’re easy questions. The first is this one: So what?

Jessica: I love it.

Val: Yeah, so you’re getting divorced. Okay, so what? Now, we can take that and talk about that for hours because what we’re really getting at is what does that mean to you? And why does it bother you? Or why is it upsetting to you? So what? And then once we explore that question, we can ask the next one, which is, now what? So you’re getting divorced, so what? Now what? What do you want to happen next? Because I think if you’re going to hold on to emotions of shame, or regret, or anger, or this inner voice that’s telling us that it’s our fault, we’re not enough, we’re not lovable, we’ll never fall in love again, how are you going to create a next chapter that has any joy or satisfaction in it with that kind of an inner story? And believe me, it’s not as simple as asking two questions. It’s not like we ask the questions and we move right on. But it does allow you to give thought to this is your story. If you want to be the active author of it, you have to first start with realizing that everything you are telling yourself is nothing more than a story. And yes, we can figure out where did that voice start, who did it first come from, and why are we holding on to it, but just separating it from who we know we are, and a better inner voice like that inner gut voice that you really want to listen to, like, things aren’t right in this marriage, and I need to do something about it, but then the brain voice jumps in, that narrator jumps in with, but if you leave then this or that will happen. If you can quiet down that narrator, your inner Squash, whatever you might call that voice, you might be able to tap into a better and more intuitive voice. Then to answer the question, now what, and what do you want to happen next, let’s start writing that story instead of focusing on all the stories we’re telling ourselves that are keeping us feeling like we’re stuck. It is not an easy process. It is certainly not something that happens over the course of a single workshop which I lead. It’s a process of self-exploration and ownership, ownership of both that voice in your head, which is by far the most influential character in your story and ownership over your future story, this next chapter of what’s going to happen next. You actually do get to decide that.

Jessica: It’s so funny because I feel after my second divorce, I remember getting ready to start going back out on dating apps and things like that, and I would say I was projecting, but I think what I was doing is exactly what you’re talking about. I had this inner narrator telling this story about the fact that being divorced once is bad enough, being divorced twice, I was totally damaged goods. Ever since I started dating, I’ve always made it a point like pretty fast in the first few exchanges with whoever it is that I’m messaging with to say, full disclosure, just want you to know I’ve actually been married twice. They’re both really amicable and we talk and hang out all the time, but I just like to put it out there for complete transparency. It is a story that I had created because, surprisingly enough, there has not been one man that I’d come in contact with where that was an issue where they then didn’t want to meet me because of that, or whatever the case may be. Things that petered out petered out naturally and wasn’t because of that. The best ones were when guys would respond, like I had one guy who responded and he was like, only twice? What are you waiting for? Get to work. Another guy was like, well, that just means your marriage material. Another one was like, and we’re leaving a date, don’t get married on the way home. I love it when someone can– 

T.H.: Oh my god, that’s so funny. You didn’t tell me that.

Jessica: And it’s so me. I do still feel compelled to let people know because I sort of think to myself, it’s not a judgment that I would hold against someone else, but I feel don’t drop that on me on your fourth date. Let me just have all of the facts to go in with. But I think it goes directly to what you’re saying. That was a story that I created that people were not going to want to date me because they were going to be like, what the hell is wrong with her? How fucking high maintenance is she that she had to get divorced twice? 


Val: Right. And what’s the benefit of holding on to that story? I mean, that’s where we can really examine it. I think you bring up a good point. I mean, there are circumstances like it’s a fact you’ve been divorced twice. That is something that you would like to disclose on early dates just as a point of reference for the person to see really how they respond to it. But isn’t it interesting how when you fact-check your own story that you were telling yourself about what it meant, it didn’t hold up? The evidence you were receiving, it didn’t hold up to your own story. You were telling yourself a worse story in your own head and holding on to it and leading from that place, as opposed to questioning your own self-beliefs. I think it’s really interesting that the evidence there showed you otherwise and made you question why you were telling yourself that story.

Jessica: 100%. And so why do you feel like stories in and of themselves are so powerful? How and why are we doing this to ourselves?

Val: So first of all, there’s amazing science behind it, which we don’t even have time to get into. But there’s neuroscience around the power of a story and why certain stories stick with us. The main thing you need to know is that we all have a bit of a negative bias. It’s a survival instinct. It’s from way back when is this thing going to eat me or not? And so we have a tendency to remember bad things over good and perceived threats even when they don’t exist. And so this inner narrator, this voice in your head that’s talking to you actually believes it’s protecting you, believes it’s keeping you safe. Don’t put yourself out there, you might make a mistake. Don’t forget about the time this happened. I think in many ways it’s evolutionary. But the idea of understanding that we are responsible for our own stories, and I call that active authorship, instead of waiting for something to happen, go ahead and decide what you want this next chapter to include. Let’s start plotting out those plot points. But it’s got to start with the stories we tell ourselves.

T.H.: There are there are so many people especially I feel, perhaps I’m speaking in general terms, women going through divorce that will sit with that pain and continue to allow that inner narrator to prevent them from having a life. I mean, literally, there are so many groups on Facebook that are bashing sessions and they’re toxic because all they’re doing is telling the same story over and over again and giving more and more strength to that inner narrator instead of just getting out of the group. I mean, that’s the easiest first step. But misery does love company sometimes. You want to feel heard. But after a certain–how do you know at what point–how do you get out of that cycle? I mean, what is it?

Val: I don’t mean to suggest that this isn’t a challenging time and that it’s wrong to have those kinds of–

T.H.: No, it is. No–

Val: It absolutely is. All I’m saying is of all the hurdles you have in front of you and all the roadblocks and all the challenges that you will face through this process, why add one with the story you are telling yourself about that you’re unlovable or that it’s your fault, or that you’ll never meet anyone again? I mean, you have enough to deal with right now just to get through this conflict in the story. The interesting thing about if we were to look at a narrative arc of a story, conflict is what sets the story in motion. And so for all those women just bashing and reliving the pain without moving on, they’re just stuck in the conflict. You can’t even actually get to the story arc and the eventual resolution and that happily ever after unless you’re willing to work through that conflict. Again, the conflict sets the story in motion. But of all the challenges you’re going to face in this type of challenge, why add one more by creating an inner story that doesn’t serve you? And so that’s really what we focus on because that is the one thing we can control. There are a lot of external factors we can’t, but your inner story about yourself and what happens next, that ‘so what?’ and that ‘now what?’ is something that you can rewrite.


T.H.: It’s literally a lifeline. It’s a lifeline. Val is holding out a lifeline for all of you and simplifying it so that even no matter what our brains are processing, you can process those few words to ask yourself the important questions and get yourself out of there. And by the way, I think you should totally be crashing all of these Facebook groups. You should just go in and be the ultimate disrupter and be like, everybody stop the insanity! Because that’s what it is. It leads to other things in my head, but identifying noise and all that stuff just gives the positive inner narrator more strength so that the noise doesn’t reignite your negative stuff. I think it’s so interesting. I love the idea of being able to tell your own story.


Jessica: I mean, for us, it’s so relevant for everybody going through a divorce, because you do have to be able to get to that place where you can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and that you can envision how much better your life can be. But the truth is, the skills that you’re teaching, I feel would relate directly to all of us who walk around with imposter syndrome. I ran live TV shows for 10 years and every day was like, one day they’re going to find out that I don’t fucking know what I’m doing.


Val: And that’s the story. That’s the story you’re telling yourself. There’s no evidence behind that.


Jessica: I was talking to my friend in LA who was a huge human resources VP at an enormous company, and they’re just throwing money at her. She’s like I just feel that they’re going to figure out one day that I’m totally an imposter. I’m like, well, they’re not because you’re almost 50, and this has been your career, and you do know what you’re doing. But it’s like negotiating a raise, having that tough conversation with your boss, and having even conversations about how your relationship with your ex can continue to grow. Maybe it’s not in the best place right now and so maybe people are stuck in that story. But maybe part of the story can be how you can improve that relationship and get to a place that feels better for yourself, for your kids, or whatever it is. I feel like it’s just relevant on so many different levels–


T.H.: And anybody you come into connection with and as well as going to sleep at night.


Val: Everything. You get up in the morning, and you spill your cup of coffee, what’s the first thing you say to yourself? I’m such a mess. I can’t do anything right. The day is ruined. I mean, that’s a story. That’s nothing more than a story we tell ourselves. So stopping that process, so what? So I spilled my coffee. Now what? Okay, you know what? I’m going to clean it up. I’m going to move on with my day, as opposed to berating yourself over and over again. So we do all get stuck in these stories, because most of the time, we don’t even realize they’re so automatic. We don’t even realize we are in charge of it. I appreciate the opportunity to talk about it with you guys. I mean, there’s so much there. I certainly don’t mean to shortchange the challenge of divorce, but let’s focus on the one thing we can control. What does that story mean to us? And how can we examine that and maybe reframe, or rewrite that own story in our own minds so that we can face the external world at least feeling good internally about where we’d like the story to go? 

Jessica: I love it. I love it.

T.H.: Thank you so much.

Jessica: Yeah, thank you for taking the time. And everybody listening definitely go onto our website because you’ll find Val’s page as the expert on our page that has the links to all of her social, the links to her website where you can find out more about the program and get her book. Her book is on the exRATED page also because we recommend it. Get yourself going in the direction that you want to be moving in because that’s what this journey is all about. That’s what we’re here for. Thank you, Val!

T.H.: Thank you.

Val: Yeah, it’s your story. What happens next? Thank you for having me.

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