Keeping Your Cool On The Stand In An Emotionally Charged Case
By Anne Foy for
The Evans Firm
April 27, 2016
A lot of the cases we deal with can be pretty hard-hitting. Friends and
family of those involved - to say nothing of our clients themselves -
may find themselves wading through some pretty traumatic emotional territory.
While it’s important to let your natural and honest human emotions
through, bad memories and emotional angst can not only
cloud your judgement, but cause you to behave in erratic and out-of-character ways. While it’s
great to show emotions (you are, after all, a human being!), it’s
not so great to let those emotions control you.
Here are a few tips to help you keep a good emotional balance on the stand
in a traumatic case:
Don’t Be Riled
If you’re on the stand in a case, the job of the law firms is to
use your testimony to further their cases. However, it’s not only
your testimony you’re using, but the impression you make upon the
jury. Sad to say, some law firms may try to invoke strong emotions in
you in order to ensure that the jury thinks you unreliable, or generally
get a negative impression of you and your testimony. They’ll use
trigger points, push all your buttons, make suggestions which anger you. Did you
benefit from someone’s death? Did you encourage someone down the wrong path? Were you a bad mother/father/sibling/friend?
They’ll suggest things which make you want to defend yourself -
and some people defend themselves through attack. You’ll get angry,
which may in turn make you behave in irrational and unlikeable ways. We’re
evolutionarily primed to think of people displaying anger as dangerous,
which in turn makes us trust them less in certain situations. If the opposition
makes you angry, chances are that this is the precise reaction they wanted.
Stay calm. Don’t lose your temper. It might help to keep a sense
of perspective here. Remember - they’re like as not deliberately
trying to rile you up. You don’t have to defend yourself. Just tell
the truth. They’re not attacking you personally, they’re deliberately
trying to get a rise out of you. And the best way to fight back at these
hurtful implications is not to rise to them.
Hokey though it may seem, controlling your breathing really can help you
to control your emotions. If we feel attacked or traumatized, our bodies
will automatically put us into
‘fight or flight’ mode, during which our fast-acting, instinct-based emotions have primacy
over our more considered rationality. By breathing in a deep, controlled
manner, you can revert from ‘fight or flight’ to a more normal,
resting state of being in which you will be much less impulsive. You’ll
be able to express and feel your emotions - but they won’t be controlling
you. It works very simply: when you’re in ‘fight or flight’,
your body prepares itself for doing exactly that. Your heart beats faster,
your muscles tense, you breathe sharply in order to oxygenate the blood.
By mimicking the physical symptoms of being calm - i.e. slow, steady breathing,
relaxed muscles etc - you can convince your brain that everything is ok
and it can stop the ‘fight or flight’ response. It sounds odd, but
it really does work. While concentrating on breathing deep and slow might not seem ideal when
you’ve already got a lot on your mind, it’s worth trying if
you know you’re likely to get het up and emotional.
Express Your Emotions Beforehand
Sometimes, things can take a while to come to trial. And sometimes, things
can leave a raw, emotional wound for a very long time. However, if you
can start to process your emotions before the trial begins, you may find
that you’re in a better place to give evidence when it does come
around. Of course, this may well not be possible. Processing things like
grief and trauma is a long process, which differs immensely from person
to person. It’s also a deeply personal process, which nobody can
Things like mindfulness and therapy may help if you want to get your head straight in time for
your court date, but otherwise, just do what you can. If you can’t
do this, however, don’t worry. Just breathe deep and keep a sense
of perspective when you’re on the stand. And don’t worry -
it will be ok!