Most of us don’t think about having incontinence until we are older and even then we hope that won’t be something we suffer from.
I heard the word “incontinence” used in a new and quite accurate context today. I was reading one of the news advice columns today, this one by Carolyn Hax with the Washington Post, and she used the term “emotional incontinence” for someone who couldn’t control their emotions. What a perfect term. Apparently, Carolyn didn’t invent it, but I sure want to give her a world of praise for introducing the term to me. Apparently, it has been around for a long time, first appearing in the late 19th century in “Lancet,” one of the world’s best-known medical journals. The term is defined by Lexico, as “…the excessive or inappropriate display of emotion, or inability to control the emotions, especially as a symptom of psychiatric or neurological disorders.”
How many divorces and other legal matters have I been involved in for over 35 years in which this, “emotional incontinence,” was clearly at play?
In Court, people are in what is called a “zero-sum” game; that is to say that the rules of the game are that someone wins and someone loses and the tools of the game are to bring up damaging evidence against the other side that will embarrass and hurt them. And because the litigation system does not have built into it a way for clients to manage their emotions, their emotions often spew out or even explode at the most inopportune times and places. Is it any wonder many people and their children and families never recover from litigation (a case decided in court)?
I often feel sorry for clients who are fine people, even well-respected in their communities, churches, professions and by their friends and family, who suffer from this malady in the midst of divorce. It’s been said that criminal clients are some of the worst people trying to put on their best fact while family law clients are good people who come to the negotiation table or the court with their worst selves.
Family law clients are not generally suffering from what the dictionary mentioned above called “neurological or psychiatric disorders,” but one can wonder when their emotions are so out of control during their divorce.
We would not punish people who come to the negotiating table or to Court in Depend (undergarments for incontinence) if they truly have incontinence with their bodily functions and yet, people do pay the price of having emotional incontinence when they come to the negotiating table or to Court. They may be so emotionally out of control that they spread gossip about their spouse to members of the public, including in an open courtroom. That results in them both often losing friends, their reputations and possibly employment. They may be so emotionally out of control that they bring their children, young or grown, into the conversation, which can emotionally scar those children for life.
They may be so emotionally out of control that they make bad financial decisions from which they or their spouse cannot recover, maybe ever.
Some people get so intrenched in this condition that they get stuck and suffer from it not just acutely (short-term during the divorce) but chronically – it becomes part of their identity and handicaps them for the rest of their lives – a permanent victimhood mentality, so to speak. Friends and family quit inviting them to functions because they do not feel comfortable that they will be able to act appropriately, and they do in fact, by their own actions, self-perpetuate their feeling of isolation because, frankly, people do not want to be around them.
So what can we do, as friends, family, their ministers, their counselors, their financial advisors and their lawyers do for people who have emotional incontinence, to help them face life’s challenges, like divorce or other family law matters with them suffering from this malady?
If you know anyone who is may be going through a divorce, please recommend the Collaborative Divorce Process. In the Collaborative Divorce Process, clients are surrounded by professionals who are specially trained to deal with emotional incontinence. It is not easy to represent and help people who have difficulty controlling their emotions, but it can be done, and if it is managed outside of Court, their chances of maximizing the assets in their estate and financially and emotionally recovering from the divorce will be so much greater.
In the Collaborative Divorce Process, from the very start, we work with the clients to help them look forward rather than backward, using “interest-based” rather than “position-based” negotiation, to uncover what their personal goals are for themselves and their family’s future. Sometimes this even applies when a couple doesn’t have children together – they may have good relationships with their spouse’s children or their spouse’s extended family and want to protect those relationships. With the help of the trained professionals in the Collaborative Divorce process, we are able to preserve and protect those relationships. And in the Collaborative Divorce process, we are usually able to help the clients maximize their assets and develop a financial future for them that will give them both financial stability and security.
“Emotional incontinence” usually comes from fear.
With the help of the trained professionals in the Collaborative Divorce Process, information is gathered so that both clients feel empowered and safe in their knowledge and decisions, and their emotions are managed and worked through privately with professional support rather than allowing them to burst out in uncontrolled ways in awkward and public places, like Court, family gatherings or their children’s celebrations. Not only is such uncontrolled emotion damaging at the time, but sadly, other people will not forget those outbursts.
It is an awful thing for someone to be known and remembered in their community for actions that are not really who they are but just one moment in time of uncontrolled emotion – people deserve better. One of the best ways you can support your friends or family who go through divorce is to help them learn that there is a process for them to manage their divorce so that they do not have to suffer from “emotional incontinence.”