How Resiliency can determine your adverse life experience

I think that while resilience may be a disposition it is also a muscle that builds with use. Those I observe to cope with challenges of all sizes have had experiences of adversity in their past.

As a family lawyer I observe responses to adversity all the time. I recall reading a book about raising good men in which the author asked if a parent would want the first time choice and consequence to be a linked experience for their child as the first time the child put their foot on an accelerator. That thought stayed with me.

In a training session about assisting clients to make decisions we were encouraged to start with small choices: where did they want to sit, would they like the blind open or closed, tea or coffee. These were not trivial choices but part of building to match fitness to making bigger choices during negotiations.

It seems to me that an ability to deal with loss is developed by having successfully dealt with it before.

It is not easy then for the lawyer to build match fitness for loss in their interaction with a client but can we tune into how experienced with loss our clients are?

We know to think about the cycle of grief and we often talk to clients about where they might be in the cycle but can we tune into how much loss will be beyond the clients experience.

The end of the relationships we work within involve so many elements of loss: Of the dream, of the person, of intimacy, of status, of safety, housing, of the capacity to educate your children as you wish, of the opportunity to see your children every day.The range is breathtaking and humbling. Family lawyers observe such courage every day.

But can we do more to recognise when the client will go beyond a manageable threshold? We work with counsellors and psychologists. We refer our clients responsibly.

Clients are great teachers. I recall being at a mediation with a client. I was instructing brilliant counsel. We had a very mindful mediator. My client was a very competent human. The clients counsellor had been positive in describing our clients state of recovery from the shock of infidelity and separation.

Suddenly during the mediation the client began to say over and over almost as a moan…..too much loss. I had never forgotten that client. Counsel and mediator and I worried about the basic threshold of capacity. The matter did not resolve that day.

We were dealing with property and care of a child. Property did settle but care was much more difficult. I wonder if the lawyers, mindful of costs, should have realised the issues had such different loadings for the parties that they should have been mediated separately. The other party who had moved on of course didn’t need the process broken down in that way.

I have kept an eye on the idea of too much loss ever since. I once heard a motivational speaker talk about the tendency to catastrophize. To say in the face of adversity….it is a plane crash….when on a scale of one to ten it is not a ten it is really just a one.

Lawyers live with daily risk assessment. We may well go to catastrophe readily but then we check through process back to a capacity to make decisions. We don’t get stuck.

How can we help clients not get stuck? I try to encourage a future focus, to encourage a belief that the past is just that, behind you. I try to focus on resolution.

Unfortunately the task of taking instructions about contributions is about the past. It can take clients right back to the occasion of loss. Mind set matters though and again we have a chance to assist our clients to try not to be defined by their former partners view of them nor their own recollection.

We all have the conversation about recollection being coloured by perception with our clients.

I hope as my skills in defusing conflict grow my capacity to prepare clients for resolution by making decisions and displaying resilience grows too.


Kay Feeney