The Psychology of Mediation: Issues of Self and Identity and the IDR Cycle

33 Pages Posted: 26 Jan 2008 Last revised: 27 Jul 2017

See all articles by Elizabeth Bader

Elizabeth Bader

Bader Conflict Resolution Services, San Francisco


Issues of self-identity and self-esteem play an important role in mediation. They may be described in different ways. Sometimes people speak of a party's need to save face, or of a person's ego clouding their thinking, or, in psychological terms, of narcissistic issues, (a term which no longer necessarily connotes pathology).

Put simply, most people take the conflict personally and the outcome of the mediation as a reflection of who they are. As a result, settlement in mediation may have practical and legal but also psychological and even spiritual implications.

On a psychological level, the process of resolution often takes the form of the "IDR Cycle," a cycle of inflation, deflation and realistic resolution. Impasse is often a part of this cycle.

To explain the IDR cycle in brief, at the outset, parties (and sometimes counsel) experience a type of inflation as they enter the mediation. This shows itself outwardly in overconfidence about the results they plan to achieve but also about their power to force settlement on their own terms.

As the mediation continues, and contact with the other parties and the mediator intensifies, there is inevitably a kind of deflation. This may manifest as disappointment, but also as indignation, outrage or anger. The affront to the sense of self may be intense.

Finally, the party learns to hold the varying views of the situation in mind, and to weigh choices. Realistic resolution comes when the options are realistically faced, and realistic options are chosen.

In some cases, the process involves a renegotiation of identity. Faced with the painful, practical dilemmas inherent in the conflict, the parties begin to realize their situation is exacerbated by the linkage in their minds between the outcome of the mediation and their identities. Under the pressure of the conflict, and hopefully with appropriate assistance from the mediator, they finally manage to cut the link between the two. The release that follows allows for clearer thinking and reflective functioning, and brings a deeper resolution.

When the parties go through an impasse in the course of the mediation, the mediator, too, may be required to give up her own hopes for settlement and her own illusions about her power to achieve settlement. With a mediator's frank acknowledgement of the fact that settlement may not be achieved after all, the parties are forced to take responsibility for their own choices. Often it is at just this point that resolution is achieved. The importance of the mediator's respect or deep recognition of the parties is also emphasized. Respect has the advantage of validating the party as a human being while simultaneously addressing the psychological issue inevitably being stimulated by the mediation - the validity, stability and value of the party's sense of identity. Deep recognition is seen as contrasting with and complementing 'mindfulness' practice and with recognition as discussed in other spiritual traditions and by intersubjective theorists.

The concept of psychological power imbalance is introduced. This occurs when people with different types of ego structure negotiate together. Special problems relating to narcissistic defenses and narcissistic personality structures are also discussed.

The interdisciplinary approach in this article includes psychology and much more. Cognitive and social science research, neuroscience, and views of self and identity in certain spiritual traditions are also reviewed.

Keywords: mediation, negotiation, identity, narcissism, psychology, respect, spirituality, psychoanalysis, neuroscience, self-esteem

Suggested Citation

Bader, Elizabeth E., The Psychology of Mediation: Issues of Self and Identity and the IDR Cycle. Pepperdine Dispute Resolution Law Journal, Vol. 10, No. 2, 2009-2010, Available at SSRN:

Elizabeth E. Bader (Contact Author)

Bader Conflict Resolution Services, San Francisco ( email )

United States

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