Throughout our careers in law enforcement we are going to see some things we love and we are going to see some things we hate. In my short career so far, I have seen some things I wish I wouldn’t have ever had to see in my life. I am able to chalk it up as part of the job.
What we must be mindful of, is our unique ability to compartmentalize the things we find stressful or mentally taxing in our jobs.
Allow me to explain, for you may be doing this without even realizing it.
Men are far worse at this than women and we, as men, must make a conscious effort to combat it. When we see something stressful in our job (car wreck with fatalities, neglected children, rape, felonious assaults, murder, etc.) we have the unique ability to metaphorically pack it up and store it away, for no one to see. For the time frame immediately after a stressful event, compartmentalized emotions are okay. However, we should not, cannot and must not allow that emotion or memory related to a stressful event remain compartmentalized and to ourselves. After a short period of time, we must make a conscious effort to allow ourselves an outlet for these emotions. After a while, too many emotions that have been packed up and stored away will cause a breakdown, a career burnout, aggression and can further lead to regret from decisions we made during a state of high emotional outlet.
We have always been told to separate work from home. I strongly agree with this notion. In no way am I endorsing, or encouraging you, as an officer, to use your family as a verbal outlet of your emotions. This can potentially cause undue stress in the home. I am also not endorsing that we keep our families in the dark about our jobs. It is a very fragile balancing act we must endure. Additionally, one mode of outlet that one officer uses may not be effective for another officer.
Outlet may not always be verbal.
Find something you enjoy. Find something that allows you to relax and think. Quiet contemplation is an effective way, for some, of relieving stress. Some find reading, hiking, physical fitness, social activities and numerous other hobbies effective at allowing the mind to empty its emotions effectively. In my case, writing allows me to express what is in my head to a wide audience, without placing my stress on any particular person directly. Those closest to me have the option of reading what I write, but I, in no way, am forcing them to bear the brunt of my experiences.
I have referenced in many articles that we, as police officers, are creatures of control. We are extremely skilled at controlling situations, especially stressful situations. Where our skills tend to lack is in taking care of ourselves, controlling our stress and taking advantage of opportunities to clear our minds. We must make every effort possible to take care of our own mental health, before it becomes an issue and effects our home life and the job.
We are not always aware that we have an overload of compartmentalized thoughts and emotions. Take time and try to bring those experiences to the forefront of your thoughts and allow them to exit your mind. While it may take time, find an effective outlet and begin, one experience at a time, coming to terms with your own stressors. Take yourself out of your comfort zone. If you have found yourself in a situation where you feel as though you may be on the verge of losing control of your emotions, do not hesitate to speak with a professional. If you see someone, a brother or sister in blue, who is clearly having a difficult time with something, encourage them to speak with you. We are here for each other. It is very hard to speak of our emotions, especially with the type-A personalities we all have. We live in a world of lowered stigmas concerning mental health. It is acceptable to be stressed and emotionally taxed. Become cognitive, be aware of your own thoughts, allow yourself some “me time”. In the end, it’s only going to allow you to become and remain an effective LEO.
Keep fighting the good fight, Wolf Hunter.