Today, I interview Dr. Bridget Cooper who experienced an unstable environment of pain, addiction, violence, and overall dysfunction. She learned to be very cautious, and the trauma and lack of support limited her ability to speak up the way she wanted to and truly be herself.
Growing up and feeling a greater sense of authority and legitimacy, Bridget started to speak her mind with more boldness. She was able to forgive the adults in her life who allowed her mistreatment and neglect to occur.
She rose from the ashes of pain and hurt and chose to devote her life to learning and championing others. A lover of learning, she even got her Doctorate of Education!
Today, Dr. Bridget uses instincts that appeared during her difficult childhood (hyperawareness, hypervigilance, etc.) to be an intensely focused listener with her clients, able to discern things at a much deeper level to guide them past roadblocks and into positive, forward change.
Dr. Bridget Cooper calls herself a “cage rattler change strategist”, thought shifter. She’s a best-selling author of six books on communication, conflict, change, and empowerment. Her latest, Pain Rebel, offers us a roadmap out of pain and into empowerment and abundance.
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Transcript of Interview
Find Your Voice, Change Your Life Podcast
Podcast Host: Dr. Doreen Downing
Free Guide to Fearless Speaking: Doreen7steps.com
Episode #32 Dr. Bridget Cooper
“Overcomer, Learner, Friend”
(00:35) Dr. Doreen Downing:
Hi, I’m Dr. Doreen Downing and I’m here with the Find Your Voice Change Your Life podcast. And what I like to do is interview people who are willing to show up and share some of the roots of what happened to them that either they never had a voice or that they lost their voice. And in any case, it seems like the people who do come forward have a journey. And they want to share that because that’s inspiring for people who are still searching for what it feels like to have a voice to speak up to speak out in this world wherever you happen to be. So today, let me first introduce you to Dr. Cooper, Bridget Cooper, and she calls herself a cage rattler change strategist, thought shifter. And she’s a best-selling author of six books on communication, conflict, change, and empowerment. And her latest, it’s called Pain Rebel offers us a roadmap out of pain and into empowerment and abundance. And we can talk later in the show about that. But I’ve been starting to read it and I highly recommended. I see. I see Bridget as somebody who really tells the truth in her writing. And so today I’m looking forward to listening to her because I’m sure she speaks her truth. But anyway, let me finish her bio, her ambitious mission is to change the world, one hopeful life at a time. And she was born into the welfare system and raised by wolves. She’s made her own success, one broken fingernail at a time. She knows heartache and hopelessness, and she also knows the power of the mind and spirit to carry you forward. And I have to say right now, Bridget, that I’m almost in tears, because it’s so moving to have such a start in life, and yet have such a journey where we get to be on a show talking about your success. But first, let’s go back to the beginning. Thank you for being here, Bridget.
(02:58) Dr. Bridget Cooper:
thank you for having me. It’s such a delight. We had such a great off camera off video, you know, recording time conversation that I’m so excited to actually be all official now.
(03:11) Dr. Doreen Downing:
Could so where I start is about you having not had a voice early on in life. And I assume that it had to do with the kind of environment that you were first brought into. So, I think it’s best if we share with the listeners some of the roots, because I know that they– you know people grow up in certain kinds of conditions and then never get out. But you got out. So that’s the hope.
(03:42) Dr. Bridget Cooper:
That is the hope, yeah that is the hope, and I think– so I did a TEDx talk a few years ago. And one of the lines I think kind of gives you a– punctuates the experience, I think, best. And I said the first time that my mother saw my father beat me. I was eight weeks old. So, it started at the very beginning. And when we talk about voice, you know, the things that activated my father’s rage were laughter at him and crying. Right? So, at a very primal age, I learned how to navigate that to try to protect myself didn’t even know what I was doing, I’m sure, but you know, we have these survival instincts, I think, and they kick in and I’m sure that mine did at some level, which is why I’m you know, standing here today. And I think, you know, being raised in an environment like that where there was so much addiction and pain and dysfunction and violence, the– and I think I was born with a unique ability to see and speak truth that that’s when it started to come out is where I lost it again. Because in an environment like that you don’t shine a light into the darkness because the darkness wants to be more powerful. Right?
(05:12) Dr. Doreen Downing:
Yes. Oh my, that line about born with a certain kind of “speak the truth” and I would say that we are all born with them then, like in your situation and my situation other situations that either gets shadowed or there’s a lid placed on it, but it’s still inside.
(05:36) Dr. Bridget Cooper:
Right, right, and I think there’s this I you know, I I didn’t call Pain Rebel Pain Rebel by accident. I am I have a rebellious rambunctious spirit. And I think, you know, I got that, probably honestly, through my parents in many ways. And unfortunately, some of their– the ways that they expressed that were ways that ended up causing themselves and other people more harm. So, I think there’s a way for us to use voice in a way that doesn’t cause one another harm, doesn’t cause ourselves harm and actually can speak for people, which is why I was just so jazzed when you and I were talking about the concept behind your podcast because it is about that, right? Because we can all have a voice. But how do we use that voice? How do we express that voice? With what regard do we, you know, put it out there. That’s what really makes the difference.
(06:31) Dr. Doreen Downing:
What profound message you just gave, it’s not just about us having a voice and feeling like we’re free to speak but being aware of where this voice comes from, what the purpose of it is, and is it is it for the good in this world. And so, thank you for sharing that. So, growing up a little bit in that environment, and having to hide yourself, because it was like you said the dark wants to be more powerful. Any memories that you can share me I don’t mean, unzip and bleed all over but…
(07:11) Dr. Bridget Cooper:
[laughter] As you know, I mean, other than Pain Rubble, where I refer to many of those vignettes, just to give I think, credibility to the position I take when it when it comes to pain. But I also wrote my whole story in Little Landslide. So, there’s not a lot that’s, that’s hidden from view. Right? I’ve had very few secrets in here. But I think, you know, when I, I can remember a couple of instances that were remarkable one of them when I was 15 years old, and my stepfather had been– both of my parents, my– both of my birth parents, as well as then my, you know, my stepfather and my mother together, were had intoxication problems, right had, you know, addiction issues, and my stepfather had a wicked temper when he was drunk. He could either be really playful, or he can be very abusive and cruel and menacing, and, and violent. And we had an interaction, and my mom, you know, came running down and kind of amplified the emotional tempo of the moment. And when my stepfather struck me, it was in response to me saying, yes, if I told the court the truth, you would be in trouble. And I remember thinking, I, after the fact, after, as my, you know, face stung, and, you know, I, I left the premises, I thought, well, that was stupid. Because you knew exactly, you know, what was coming next, if you were to say that, and it wasn’t until a few years later, that when he came at me again, in a very similar way, but I had then since that time grown, I was an adult, I was a college graduate, you know, I was I kind of had a little bit more of my mooring set, I actually confronted them even more, and I said, “go ahead and do it, please,” you know, because by then my voice had credibility in our justice system in a way that my voice proved to not have any when I was a teenager, because it was easier to see a dysfunctional troublemaking young woman than to see the complicated system in which she was she was growing up. So those were kind of– I think they were, they were paired events that I found very interesting in terms of my own development and figuring out where my voice belonged and how to use it and how to take responsibility for it and for its, you know, kind of consequence.
(10:02) Dr. Doreen Downing:
You use the word that I think would be important for people to pick up on and that’s your own mooring means like grounding some way. Those later teenage years and early college years feels like you’re saying there was something about that process of, or that lifetime that had you realize what mooring meant. Can you say a little bit more about that?
(10:28) Dr. Bridget Cooper:
Yeah, you know, I, when I was what happened consequently to my stepfather hitting me in that first vignette, I ended up getting, I wouldn’t come home, I was staying at a friend’s house and I refuse to come home, I didn’t feel the environment was safe and had not been safe for quite some time. And then ended up getting arrested for running away and was put into foster care. And you know, the whole nine yards. So, I learned this lesson about what happens when you try to say like, this isn’t fair, this isn’t right, I can’t stand for this. You can’t refuse to stand for something if you can’t stand. And I was 15 years old, and I couldn’t stand. So, unless someone stood for me, there was no standing happening. And I think what happened in that subsequent experience for me was going to college, you know, getting deep into you know, a psychological treatment, trying to find where my footing could take hold, is when then I could stand for myself, because now I can stand. And I think that’s this, this awkward journey that we’re on, especially when we’ve been mistreated as children, is thinking that we can use a voice that we really can’t back up, right, we should be able to. But we look to other people to stand for us when someone is standing against us. And all too often people turn and become those silent bystanders and don’t say the things they need to say to protect us. And case in point, my best friend’s mother at the time that that incident in my driveway spoke of, she came to see me while I was in jail, waiting, awaiting, you know, hearing with the judge. And my mother had put forth a protective order, you know, restraining order, so she couldn’t come. So, she was blocking my mother was blocking all inroads to me having or finding some other voice. And it’s, it’s amazing how that can happen in a familial sense, in a social sense, in a societal sense, like it, it can kind of bleed in a lot of ways.
(12:46) Dr. Doreen Downing:
Yeah, so that was going to be my question, that here’s a mother who is right there and could be a stand for you. But you just said and illustrated how much she wasn’t.
(12:57) Dr. Bridget Cooper:
Yeah, you know, I think part of that system of abuse, and also kind of her– how she had been primed for that moment all along, was when it first happened, she came to my defense, and she spoke of us moving out and getting, you know, free and safe and starting over. And then the– it’s like, you know, like water in Iraq, right? It forms the cracks and the grooves, the water of my stepfather’s voice came through in the cracks. And all of a sudden, all those old messages that she had always been very loyal to, about, you know, who deserves what and you know, how family relationships ought to look and, you know, male dominance and things like that all took hold, and then within 24 hours, it was, “Nope, you’re the problem.” And that brainwashing was, was, you know, felt instantaneous on my end, but that’s how it happens. Right? That’s how voices get silenced is because systems become so much more powerful than the individual speakers.
(14:05) Dr. Doreen Downing:
Yes, you keep coming up with one lines that pop. Really, I’m really excited that people get to listen to you today. And get inspired by even just those moments when you say something like, you know, what society does to us… and this woman, this neighbor or this friend, or this mother of another person… I think what you’re also saying is that, gee, if other people are in an environment and noticing wrongdoing, it’s we need to be able to empower them to come forward. And I know that something else you said about the justice system, you know, that go ahead, and it fell by then your teenage or college years, you knew that a justice system really could most likely back you up in a way it couldn’t at 16.
(15:00) Dr. Bridget Cooper:
Correct. Yeah, I would have more validity in their eyes than being just this petulant child, as I might have been seen at the time. And I think there’s this the sense of, we don’t want to get into other people’s business. And I recognize that I appreciate it. My aunt actually, my mother, sister, who knew my mom’s, you know, ups and downs, failings, and, you know, talents. She read my book, Little Landslides and you know, saw it all exposed and she knew many of the stories too many of the things but you know, obviously seeing it and reading it first person that way was jarring. And she came to me and she said, “I’m sorry, I should have said something I should have stepped in.” And, you know, part of me that caretaking codependent raised, you know, person wanted to be like, “no, no, no, it’s okay.” Pat, pat, pat, “that’s all right.” And you know what, I thought to myself, No, it wasn’t okay. Like, I’m not angry with her. I understand the conditions she was in, I understand the constraints she had, I understand all of the conditioning and priming for that very moment. But she did let me down. She failed me as an adult who could see that there was clearly a dangerous situation for me from birth through, did nothing to step in front and try to protect me. And that’s wrong. And we need to take responsibility in our own hearts, for our neighbors, for our friends, for our family members, when we see something like that, to be able to be a truth seer, even if we can’t correct it. Because even if my aunt had just come to me and said, I know the hell you’re going through, I wish there was something more I can do. I’m powerless. How can– talk to me anytime, that would have made all of the difference. I don’t think I would have had my suicide attempts, I don’t think I would have gotten into many of the negative relationships I was in. And not that it was only her right. But just that moment, we know the value of being seen, and having our truth seen and recognized and connected to and valued and affirmed. And when we don’t, we feel crazy, we feel alone, we feel desperate, we feel powerless, and just someone using their voice to give us that validation can mean the difference between honestly literally life and death.
(17:30) Dr. Doreen Downing:
Yes, it does sound like that was relevant to you in terms of what you said about suicidal attempts and the phrase truth seer. And they haven’t heard that phrase before, either. You just keep coming up with more. That just goes yeah, a truth seer, you don’t have to feel like you’re going to go and fix it. But seeing it is so valuable in your what you just shared shows how valuable, somebody’s seeing the truth and saying, “I see. I see.”
(18:02) Dr. Bridget Cooper:
Right, I see this, you know, and again, I think people can embrace a lot more that someone might be powerless to change something. But if they don’t even recognize it and look right past it, it is an insanity breeding ground. Because you’re already if you’re in a dysfunctional family unit, you already feel crazy, because bad behavior is happening in the name of love. And that just seems conflictual. But it’s no one’s speaking to it. No one’s saying that that’s wrong. So, you’re trying to figure this out. And at a very deep core spiritual level, you know, there is a disconnect. And if no one says it to you, then you start thinking like, maybe it’s me, maybe I’m the crazy one, maybe I just don’t understand how all this works. And that then leads to its own cascade of problems.
(18:58) Dr. Doreen Downing:
Well you pointed to deep spiritual and so that must end them earlier in our talk you talked about being the kind of person who is a truth seeker yourself. And you’ve talked about being a rebel so something happened– I know it’s a process finding your voice, or at least the voice that was always inside but never got to see the light of day. What how what was that transition? Bridget, how did you actually go, gee, I, I do have a voice and this is important, and I need to get out and share my story with others or how did that happen?
(19:39) Dr. Bridget Cooper:
Yeah, you know, I think it’s always it’s usually a slow process, right? There’s a there’s– but there are pivotal moments. And I think one of the pivotal moments was in college coming to understand that I could use my voice in an angry way, which is how I used it with my dad and breaking all contact with him. Or I could use it in a loving empathetic way as I did with my mom letting her know that as long as she was in residence with my stepfather, and they were both actively using, that was not my home, but said it in such a graceful, loving way that it wasn’t about the anger, it’s just about the clarity. Like I can’t, that is not an environment for me to be in. And in those steps, I started to see how different voices that I have– all strong, but different strong voices that I have could come across in very different ways. And so I had always been very open in many ways about at least certain aspects of my story, some were more painful and troublesome than others. But I was always sharing along the way because I, I wanted people to know they weren’t alone in their pain. And so often people think that they are, which causes more pain and really ineffective coping strategies. But if they know they’re not alone, then they can talk about kind of what they’re struggling with, how they’re, they’re adjusting to it. And we can problem solve together. So, I think it was really just a recognition of the spectrum of voice that I was able to use and where it worked, in what way, best. But it wasn’t until my parents were all deceased, that I wrote the book that I wrote, because again, in that same appreciation for the spectrum of ways in which I can use my voice, I did not wish to use my voice to injure them. Because even though I knew that they had injured me, and these were things that were true, and confirmed and everyone you know, saw them that the effect of having them be public in that way, could cause their at least earthly selves, some serious discomfort. And that was not ever my intention, there was always to educate and to inform and to empower others.
(22:07) Dr. Doreen Downing:
Well, that’s certainly what you are a stand for nowadays, educate and empower others, and your story is so vivid, and that the recovery in discovery, I would say more discovery of how you use your voice is really important. And so you got a PhD, it looks like?
(22:30) Dr. Bridget Cooper:
I did! Well, an EdD, close enough.
(22:33) Dr. Doreen Downing:
(22:35) Dr. Bridget Cooper:
It is, it had a dissertation, it had research it had– it was the same, it was just through a school of EDS. So we had an EdD.
(22:42) Dr. Doreen Downing:
Same with me, although mine was a PhD. So, so tell me what you studied and how that influenced what you do now.
(22:50) Dr. Bridget Cooper:
Yeah, so my, I think it’s really the dovetail of all three of my degrees. So, my undergrad was in human resources as a concentration. And I loved working, I felt like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, right. So, I did that degree. And that bed was too hard, right? There was just there was more monitoring and tracking. And I thought it was going to be helping people in an organization like I was thinking, oh, these specialists, but I didn’t have the name for that. So, I went in, and it was very unsatisfying. So, I thought, you know, I was born to be a counselor, look at this background, look at these, you know, these these skill sets, I’m going to go in and I’m going to be a marriage and family therapist. So, I went and I got my master’s in marriage and family therapy. And I was like, this bed is too soft. Because I was I was doing my internship at an addiction treatment facility. Less than a year after my dad had died from his own addictions. And I was like, okay, these ghosts, these are way too haunting right now. This is a little too much. And I realized that I wanted to help people, but maybe not that deeply, like maybe not in the guts as I was. So I pulled out of that and like, Okay, what next, and I went and took a job at George Washington University. And my boss said, in order to work for me, you have to pursue your doctorate. And I thought, Okay, sure. So I went into educational leadership, and realized that I was learning how to, you know, manage things and lead people and organizations. I already had kind of how to do that from an HR OD side. And then I had this beautiful systems theory counseling piece together, and they all pulled together to tell me I should be doing trainings and coaching and strategic planning and all of those pieces that help people figure out how to work better with others, and how to work better together. And I also have some private clients that are a little more as I try to tell them there’s a real fine line between therapy and Coaching and we write it all the time. So, it’s been just very, very rewarding to kind of figure out what fit what didn’t and pull it all together to make something really pretty great.
(25:12) Dr. Doreen Downing:
I get it, I get the way that those three aspects of what you took in terms of education. But I also know that listening is a skill that you would bring into any of those, whether it’s at an organizational level, a person, one on one level, at any level, it feels like that’s what you bring is deep listening. And that is kind of like what, you know, your aunt said she saw and she was listening, but she didn’t, she didn’t provide an environment to help speak into it. So, you, that’s what it feels like you do, you provide environment so that people, perhaps Bridget, maybe that’s where they find their voice, right?
(25:58) Dr. Bridget Cooper:
They can be heard, you know, I listen at a deeper level, it’s one of the reasons why many of my clients think that we’re going to talk on Zoom, or we’re going to sit in a room together when we’re coaching. And I say absolutely not, because I shut down all of my other systems, and I’m simply listening so I can hear other things at a different level and be able to take risks in the things that I ask and that I observe so that I can actually push them even faster, you know, forward. And I couldn’t do that if I were not listening at that, that other level, that other place. So yeah, I think that, I think, you know, it’s one of the many gifts that comes from living in a very dysfunctional, chaotic environment is, if you’re doing it the way that most of us do it, you’re trying to navigate and trying to survive. So, you’re listening, and paying attention and trying to infer or predict the next movement of everyone in the house. And so, you get super aware of everything that’s going on around you. And so that listening is, yeah, it’s a survival skill.
(27:09) Dr. Doreen Downing:
What you’ve just said, something that I talk about in my own journey is that at five years old, my father was alcoholic and was leaving, I wouldn’t see him for years. And I knew it, although everybody was drinking beer, having a party and it was fun. You know, it was just a gay old night, like all the other nights, but I remember knowing something. And so, this intuitive look deeper listening, I so totally understand what you said about that, because it applies to me and, and why I feel like I have the gift of listening deeply and why this podcast is so important to me, to provide a listening for you and for the guests to speak into in such a way that your voice then reaches all these listeners who are finding us. I really appreciate how honest and how eloquent you are about your journey, because it really gives a very descriptive, I think colorful, picture images for people as they listen to you. Is there– Let’s, before, we’re running out of time, but I want to know if people wanted to contact you and talk to you about your what you do. But also your books, I think they’re important for people to read that would be a good first step. Just tell us or, tell people how they can find you.
(28:41) Dr. Bridget Cooper:
Yeah, so I think the easiest way is to go to my website, which is DRBRIDGETCOOPER.COM. There are links to my books, you can go to Amazon and pick up my books. You can reach out to me and then we can have a conversation I give free 15-minute consultations if there’s something that you’re looking to have navigated and you think I might be able to be a good steward, please let me know. And yeah, and I’m on all the other social media things usually as Dr. Bridget Cooper, so look me up, connect with me, and let’s be friends, let’s share this journey together.
(29:15) Dr. Doreen Downing:
Well, let’s be friends is something that you brought to our very first conversation. And I believe that, and I feel like we are friends and I really value you, I feel I value our friendship. And I suggest anybody listening that if you can see Bridget, you might be just listening, but you don’t get to see her. She’s got a wonderful smile, and that smile engages you instantly. So, thank you again, Bridget for being with us today.
(29:44) Dr. Bridget Cooper:
Doreen It was a pleasure. Thank you so much.
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Get started now on your journey to your authentic voice by downloading my Free 7 Step Guide to Fearless Speaking: doreen7steps.com.
Get started now on your journey to your authentic voice by downloading my Free 7 Step Guide to Fearless Speaking: doreen7steps.com.