Catharsis as a release of emotions in the process of debt recovery

Piotr Badowski

Member of the board and co-founder, EULEO

Possibly everyone who has ever participated in the procedure of debt recovery knows that it’s a process marked by a wide range of strong emotions. The debtor may feel fear, uncertainty, anger or even aggression. The debt collector on the other hand may be frustrated, impatient and also annoyed.

This mix of emotions is not always manifested. Some people, especially among debtors, have a tendency to suppress all these emotions and they often do it unconsciously. At some point these feelings must be released – frequently in a violent, disagreeable way. That moment is so intensive that it can even be compared to the phenomenon of catharsis used in psychology. Although it can be an unpleasant experience for the observer, this situation may be surprisingly useful in  the debt recovery process.

Violent discharge of emotions

This kind of emotional process can originate in the debtor’s defence mechanisms. It’s a well-known fact that unreliable counterparties tend to suppress emotions associated with their indebtedness and sometimes even deny their existence. This phenomenon may be observed when the debtor deliberately  does not answer the correspondence and e-mails from debt collection agencies or claims that there is no debt during a face to face conversation. Sometimes it’s a calculated tactic. However in some cases it is an unconscious problem denial which makes it difficult to have a rational conversation and, as a result, a satisfactory solution is impossible to reach. In other words, the debtor acts against himself.

The diagnosis of the debtor

That state of denial cannot and should not last forever. An experienced debt collector will interpret the situation, ‘diagnose’ the debtor and will recognize that even one situation or several smaller events may lead to the activation of these suppressed emotions. A publication of the liability on a debt exchange, a letter from a lawyer or a visit of debt collector may act as such trigger. These actions cause a sudden and violent rush of all the suppressed feelings which allows the debtor to become aware of the situation and its consequences.

Debt collector’s tactic

Suppressed emotions may often be manifested in a form of insults directed at the debt collector. An outburst may occur during a telephone conversation, e-mail correspondence or other forms of contact. At that moment, even though it may seem like the debtor is the one in control, the responsibility of the outcome is in debt collector’s hands. The perfect scenario for the debt collector assumes that he or she is composed, confident, speaks calmly and does not raise his or her voice. The collector will give debtor time and space to release emotions and will act as a kind of container for them. It is a hard and emotionally demanding task, but if successfully completed, the possibility of experiencing catharsis mentioned in the beginning may open for debtor. Thanks to that experience the debtor may release suppressed emotions and may even get back to relative emotional harmony. As a result, the debt collector can have an opportunity to engage debtor in a constructive conversation and negotiation. It’s a win-win situation for both of the interlocutors.

Other causes of aggression

It is important to remember that the above course of events is possible when the debtor’s verbal aggression has arisen as a result of suppressed emotions. If the aggressive behaviour continues and there are no indications of imminent discharge, it is possible that there are some other reasons due to which the debtor reacts in that way. In the process of debt collection the debt collector’s attitude is extremely important – as you can see, it helps to control the situation which seems to be impossible to control. By understanding the mechanisms ruling the debtor’s emotions, actions can be tailored precisely, which removes the element of randomness and ultimately transforms into a rational conversation.


Contributing Advisors

Dawid Olszewski

Partner, Attorney-at-law, EULEO

Joanna Siata

Partner, Attorney-at-law, EULEO