Sharing My Personal Survivor Story Became The Most Powerful Breakthrough Tool In My Work & Life

By Brielle Cotterman

[Trigger Warning: domestic violence, intimate partner violence]

Thanks to Simon Sinek, we are all familiar with the concept of our “why.” We know it matters and that it must be shared, but keep in mind that “Cognitive psychologist Jerome Bruner suggests we are 22 times more likely to remember a fact when it has been wrapped in a story.

Owning and leveraging your story takes the concept of your “why” a step further, gives you the ability to create massive impact and also gives you a way of creating true connections with people in your audience and around the world. I like to say that it allows them to see your heart. There has never been a time when who you are and what you stand for matters more than now, especially in the business world! 

I have been in the PR space for more than a decade, and dominated the media training and publicity pitching and placement space for entrepreneurs with a cause for the last five years, but this was not always the case. I have always had an incredible eye for trends and an unparalleled understanding of communication, but I played small for years before finally claiming my story and the power that comes with it. 

My story is one that filled me with shame. I had a life that looked fabulous on the outside and checked all the boxes of what I thought a happy, successful life was supposed to look like.  However, my reality was far from shiny and perfect. One day everything looked like it was supposed to look and the next day I was a survivor of attempted murder and domestic violence. The events of that day took many years and a tremendous amount of therapy and healing practices to finally make my peace with. I truly believe that the healing process from abuse never ends, it only changes. 

I almost let the fact that I am a survivor overshadow every other accomplishment or attribute in my life. I am a mother, a gifted entrepreneur, a World’s Champion Equestrian, a sister, a well educated woman and many other incredible things that all of the sudden seemed to be out on the back burner, as my trauma began to define me. I played small in my business out of fear; fear of being labeled, fear of being judged or victim shamed and fear of people not wanting to work with me if they knew the real truth, that I nearly lost my life to the hands of a man I was married to. 

Abuse creates shame for those who experience it, and it wasn’t until a client of mine encouraged me to tell my story that I finally found the courage to overcome the shame that was holding me captive. She simply reminded me of what I said to her as we prepared for her book launch, “if you don’t share your story, you can never truly make the impact you are destined to make.” The idea of being able to help others like me, who have a burning desire to change the world with their story and make it a better place, step onto the world’s stage and receive the opportunities and credibility they deserve was the motivation I needed to finally share my story of surviving intimate partner abuse and domestic violence. 

The next day, I sent out six media pitches about me and my story and within 24 hours, I heard “yes” from every media outlet that I had pitched! Sharing my story was scary, but it gave me freedom from the fears of judgment and the shackles of shame. It created a shift in my business, and now I only serve those seeking to make a positive impact in the world, not just those dreaming of being famous. 

Story is the cornerstone of Brielle Cotterman Media and our full service PR firm teaches profitable storytelling as the foundation of all contemporary brand building, marketing and publicity. From media training to nailing your television segment, effective storytelling is the key to impacting your audience and your bottom line. 

First you must accept your story; the good, the bad and the ugly! Not every story is filled with drama and trauma, but some are, and every story requires radical acceptance, even those about achieving major impact and accomplishment.

Once you have accepted your story, you must make your peace with it. I suggest writing your story, and a good exercise is writing it in third person to give yourself the ability to be objective. I also recommend leaving all judgment at the door and truly embracing all of who you are and what you have experienced. You do not have to share every detail to make an impact, in fact, in our Celebrity Incubator TM ️ We teach that every story only has three parts: beginning (rise in tension,) climax or major transformation, and end (fall in tension.)

A good parameter to remember is that when you are finally ready to leverage your story, you should be able to share it without getting overly emotional. 

Your story is what tells the world your “why” and gives them a glimpse into the type of human being you truly are . Honoring your story and giving yourself the gift of sharing it will bring you a sense of freedom and vulnerability that, if done properly, will also give your audience the ability to connect with you on a heart level, a reason to fall in love with you and permission to accept their own story. 

Once you take ownership of your story, now it’s time to leverage it. First create a clear objective, what do you hope to accomplish? Maybe you’re seeking to create a positive impact in the world, relate to your audience on a deeper level, inspire people to buy a product or service from you or you may desire all of these. There is no tool more powerful than your story when it comes to making these types of visions a reality. 

Building an audience of soulmate level clients comes from telling stories that speak straight to their hearts. So incorporate your story into your messaging, your company values and your strategy. Use your story to write incredible media pitches that are almost impossible for media decision makers to turn down, and start to reap the benefits of authentically sharing.

Dream big and shoot for the stars, your story will get you further than you can imagine; TEDx, top tier media opportunities, highly sought after awards or even the opportunity to serve as a part of the board of directors of a charitable cause aligned with you and your story, I’ve done each of these by owning and leveraging my story of surviving attempted murder and domestic violence, but perhaps the biggest difference I’ve made is in the lives of the hundreds, sometimes thousands of people who email about dealing with or overcoming intimate partner abuse. 

So, no matter what you’ve experienced, know that sharing your story will not only help you, but will also help others.

Brielle Cotterman is a TEDx Speaker, Publicity Expert, and Celebrity-Maker. She has spent the better part of the last decade helping clients to craft and scale Dream careers to 7 figures and beyond by leveraging their personal stories and passions in order to create speaking tours, author award-winning books, procure media placements, and inspire the millions of people that need to hear their story. Her clients are regularly featured in Entrepreneur, Forbes, Fast Company, Martha Stewart Living, InStyle Magazine, NBC, CBS, and many more. Brielle is also a survivor of attempted murder and domestic violence and an advocate for a world where intimate partner abuse is not tolerated and survivors are met with empathy. She is a graduate of Indiana University in Bloomington, a former National Spokesperson for multiple charitable organizations, and 2019 Epic Award Nominee from the National Association of Women Business Owners. 

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