Emotional regulation is a central concept that very much underlies one’s ability to alter more deeply entrenched conditioning. This is because very often some type of internalized “fear“ unconsciously prompts strategies that have developed over time either to increase the likelihood of positive outcomes or avoid negative outcomes. Usually, this fear took root earlier in life when one did not have the coping skills or adult perspective to remain grounded and clearheaded in the face of perceived adverse situations. As mentioned previously, these situations can often relate as far back to infancy and early childhood interactions.
What becomes necessary is to help attorneys cultivate and strengthen skills to remain grounded, calm, and clearheaded in the face of external situations that have prompted fear and habitual reactions to various sets of past circumstances. Through mindfulness, we can cultivate the ability to proceed through the world from a stance of “non-judgemental awareness“ that significantly tempers reactivity. When we no longer take things so personally and become more consciously aware of our internalized judgments and expectations, one becomes increasingly able to tolerate discomfort in a way that no longer inexorably leads to undesirable habitual reactivity.
We will begin our work involving mindfulness by addressing certain misconceptions about mindfulness practice and meditation. Many people have internalized the notion of the ultimate goal of mindfulness practice as being free from thinking. In highly cerebral, analytical professions such as law practice, this notion on its face can appear highly desirable. In practice, however, meditation practice does not lead to the “cessation “of thought. Rather, by spending time in quiet, non-judgemental reflection, we come to appreciate, over time, the ephemeral and impermanent nature of our thoughts. In coming to better appreciate the true nature of our thoughts as phenomena that simply arise and pass away, we begin to loosen the attachment that we previously had to much of our habitual thinking.
It is in the loosening of this attachment that we become increasingly able to consider a wider range of possibilities in many different life situations. In addition, consistent, dedicated practice can help one approach the possibility that the constellation of thoughts that had given rise to a crystallized sense of “self” are impermanent and insubstantial. In realizing this we become able to realize freedom from previously entrenched notions about who we are that may have led to pervasive reactionary behavior over time geared towards protecting this conceptualized “self.”
Litigation attorneys operating within an adversarial context may especially face formidable challenges around emotional regulation. The world of litigation, with its inherent combative nature, often requires attorneys to adopt aggressive stances to best serve their clients. This professional demeanor, while valuable in the courtroom, raises questions about its potential repercussions in personal spaces. How do these aggressive tendencies, honed and perfected in a professional setting, translate into the realm of personal relationships?
Over time, the consistent and rewarded use of aggressive tactics in the courtroom can lead to these behaviors becoming second nature for many attorneys. The courtroom’s positive reinforcement might inadvertently reinforce aggressive behaviors outside of it.
In addition, the high-pressure environment of litigation often results in increased stress levels. Stress can exacerbate aggressive tendencies and reduce an individual’s ability to manage emotional responses effectively.
For attorneys deeply immersed in their profession, distinguishing between professional and personal domains becomes tricky. This blurring of boundaries can result in the unintended application of aggressive professional behaviors in personal settings.
The Potential Impact on Personal Relationships
Aggression, when manifested in personal relationships, can create significant communication barriers. Conversations become combative, reducing the scope for understanding and empathy.
A litigation attorney’s professional approach to conflict – to win it – may not serve them well in personal disputes. Instead of resolving conflicts, this approach can escalate them.
Intimacy and Trust
Consistent aggression or even the perceived threat of it can erode the foundations of trust and intimacy in a relationship. Partners may feel they need to be on guard, preventing genuine emotional connection.
Beyond romantic or family relationships, heightened aggressive tendencies can strain friendships, neighborly relations, and social network interactions. The attributes that make an attorney formidable in court might make them appear domineering or unapproachable in social contexts.