Self-Control and Self-Direction

By Joryn Jenkins

Self-control is an unstated major tenet in collaborative practice, self-control of both its practitioners and of its participants, our clients. We define self-control as the ability to control oneself, in particular, to control one’s emotions and desires, or, more accurately, the expression of them in one’s behavior, especially in stressful situations.

As collaborative practitioners, we train regularly to learn how to help our clients remain calm in the midst of the storm of emotion usually stirred up by divorce and its attendant changes. But have you considered a disciplined application of self-control in the face of the news we see every night now on television? Those same lessons will serve us well in daily interaction with others less fortunate, i.e. not trained in collaborative practice.

Today, the world is in a direly stressful situation. Debates over how we got here and who is to blame are rampant and polarizing, but fundamentally irrelevant to solving the most important problem: maintaining a productive and civil society. Rising above it all requires self-control. Exercising self-control isn’t difficult but requires constant practice. It starts by recognizing that:

You Cannot Control Others, But You Can Influence Them

This seems to have become a new science. These days, influencers foment division, instead of collaboration, amongst us, worldwide. Some influencers have political incentives, some have financial incentives, and some are merely “virtue-signaling,” many in reflexive direct opposition to one another.

The same is often found in the divorce arena. Especially in litigation, warring spouses and lawyers attempt to control their opponents by playing discovery games, pitting experts against one another, and psychologically destroying each other until a settlement is reached, due mostly to exhaustion and the fear of having no money left to fight over. Throw in some domestic control issues that were present all along, and the results can be devastating. . . to the family.

But in the collaborative setting, the team of professionals works hard together so that the spouses avoid these battles of controls, instead, working towards a resolution that is fair for everyone. A mental health professional is a vital part of the collaborative team, and she is trained to mitigate these negative behaviors of control and influence.

You Can Only Control How You React

Just as with our clients, it really is up to you! The strongest and most influential emotion out there is fear. Fear is limiting. Fear is caused by the anticipation of a negative outcome. Left unchecked, fear gives rise to another basic emotion: anger. And that’s where we see events spin out of control, both in our clients’ lives and in the news.

Overcoming fear requires both courage and the ability to reason. Thus, accurate and timely information about the circumstances giving rise to one’s anticipations is mission-critical. This presents an opportunity for the fearmongering influencers. Do you “take the bait” that the influencers offer? Left or right doesn’t matter; influencers win by dividing people along many tribal axes. Many of us can’t even have a conversation because the topics are so very toxic. Don’t we see this every day in our clients’ divorces? How do we enable our clients to overcome their fears? Shouldn’t we be able to do that ourselves?

Overcoming fear requires courage. Are you brave enough to question your own beliefs, your positions on issues? Have you taken the time to do so? Are you certain that your facts aren’t merely someone else’s opinions? Do you try to understand the other’s viewpoint? Is he or she listening to your views or are you only talking at each other? Do you remember that it’s okay to disagree?

Again, the MHP is a crucial part of the team. She focuses clients on their goals and interests, really uncovering what is behind their positions. Interest-based negotiation allows participants to see that there are more solutions to their disputes than if they just stuck to their narrow positions. By recognizing that there are several alternative solutions, collaborative professionals help to damp down the normal fear that comes with the dissolution of a marriage.

So, too, in our own daily lives. Ultimately, it’s our own choice whether to be happy or angry, in every moment.

Opposition Reflex is Instinctive

When confronted with anything that challenges your core beliefs or worldview, it is only natural to want to react, to defend your “position.” Consider that overreacting prematurely is an opportunity to learn from failure in the pursuit of self-control, yours or another’s. Deployed effectively, it’s impossible to resist opposition reflex. But if you can . . . first disconnect, then settle and breathe. Before speaking or taking action, ask yourself why you feel the way you do? Does anyone else have a different point of view? Why? On what is it based?

Your collaborative team will help you and your spouse to control yourselves during the divorce process. Professionals are trained to understand when a participant is becoming too emotional to be effective, and team members will call breaks and caucuses when necessary. This allows the collaboration to move forward in a positive and productive manner, rather than in an overreactive position that only brings negativity, stalls resolution, and makes participants hostile and defensive.

Even Happy Life Partners Disagree on Some Matters

Life would be extremely boring if everyone liked and disliked the same things. Imagine a soup made with only one ingredient. Treating everyone as if they were your most cherished family member best frames most communication; people want to be loved and respected. Listening and asking questions before sharing your opinions reduces fear and opposition reflex, two of the many benefits of a self-controlled life.

Joryn, attorney and Open Palm Founder, began her own firm here in Tampa after a 14-year career in law, 2 of which she served as a professor of law at Stetson University. She is a recipient of the prestigious A. Sherman Christensen Award, an honor bestowed upon those who have provided exceptional leadership to The American Inns of Court Movement. For more information on Joryn’s professional experience, take a look at her resume.

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