This is the final installment of a special two-part series spotlighting one of the many compelling chapters in a new book by law enforcement stress management expert, Cary Friedman, titled The Superhero Handbook for Cops: A Guide for Navigating the Career with Honor, Principle, and Compassion While Avoiding Its Pitfalls and Hazards.
In this particular chapter titled “Emotional Resilience,” Cary shares practical, concrete steps cops can take to protect and strengthen their emotional and mental health amidst the stress and negativity of police work. Not an easy task, but with Cary’s help, very achievable.
We were impressed by Cary’s down-to-Earth approach in this book and strongly recommend it. In fact, Calibre Press’s Jim Glennon wrote the Foreword.
With that, here are the last of 12 tips Cary shared in his “Emotional Resilience” chapter. He writes…
- Cultivate a few, close, trusted friends! (Part 2)––of the non-law enforcement variety.
In addition to your few close colleagues, develop a social support network not connected to your job, and develop and strengthen meaningful relationships outside law enforcement.
Remember I told you that dedication to the mission protects against PTSD and the negative consequences of trauma? That’s true (seriously, have I ever lied to you?), as long as you don’t define “the mission” too narrowly or crazily. Define “the mission” in technical terms––the method of searching and seizing, the strategy of contacting and covering, the mechanics of breaching and clearing––and you’re making yourself a prime candidate for the Arkham Asylum for the Criminally Insane. Instead, go big. Really big. Define “the mission” for what it truly is: championing Truth, Justice and the American Way! This is not empty hyperbole. It’s why you do what you do. Did you ever hear the expression, “think globally and act locally”? You live it every day. You cope with super annoying stuff all shift long, shift after shift, as do your fellow 850,000 colleagues, and in the course you create and maintain the criminal justice system that is the envy of all the world and an integral part of the fabric of our country. That’s your mission, and it can’t be separated from what makes America great or what we stand for. Downtrodden across the world dream of a better future because of stories they’ve heard of the American justice system, and how it works. They’re talking about you. Like it or not, you stand at that pivotal intersection where Rule of Law Lane crosses Humanitarian Way. So learn to like it––in fact, embrace it! Pursue friendships with normal non-cop people who look up to you even as they sometimes criticize aspects of what police work stands for, or how it sometimes plays out.
These civilian friends will ground and anchor you to a world where things aren’t always so serious, they’ll remind you of why you do what you do. Regular interaction with them serves as a critical link between the abstract ideals that brought you to police work and the real-life people who benefit from and share your belief in the noble vision of living in this free and glorious country. Such relationships will reify your dedication to the mission. And, that dedication to the mission will in turn help protect you against PTSD and the negative consequences of trauma.
- Stay away from “downers” in your department (and life)!
Avoid them “like the plague”––because, in a very real sense, they can, in fact, infect you just as surely as if their skin were leprose.
And, sticking with the viral metaphor, emotions really are contagious. You can “catch” them from the people around you––surely your own experience already vindicates that. If you find yourself in a crowd who are upbeat, after a while you’ll tend to become upbeat yourself. But it works in the other direction, too. Let’s say you’re in a reasonably good mood and hook with some friends who are talking about depressive, negative topics. It won’t be too long before you’re depressed, too. As social creatures, we mimic the actions of the people around us, and our external behavior, even if not completely sincere, induces the genuine experience of that mood within us. If you keep up this mimicry (it happens mostly unconsciously) for a sustained period, the emotions will tend to become increasingly genuine, more deeply felt and more permanent. In other words, the people with whom you choose to associate wield enormous power over your mood, both in the short and long terms.
This phenomenon––that fact that “the outside awakens the inside”––is such a powerful tool in your emotional arsenal that it deserves its own rule. Here it is: Hang around with the upbeat people in your agency. Avoid the complainers, downers and whiners like, well, like the plague.
- Act happy.
In the previous rule we noted that the easy mutability of our emotions and how they can be shaped by our environment often works unconsciously to affect our mood. Why not consciously use that principle in any number of life situations to our advantage? You can, for example, inspire genuine internal enthusiasm by acting enthusiastically. This is a real phenomenon to avail yourself of, so as you apply it you mustn’t doubt its effectiveness or resent yourself for acting like a phony, because you’ll inhibit the operation of an otherwise powerful technique to fight negativity. In other words, we can learn to control our emotions by our physical actions if we really try.
Thus, for example, if you smile for a while (My gosh, don’t force it like that! You look like you need a couple of bags of Sunsweet. Gently, now!), you’ll begin to feel happier.
Moreover, there are specific exercises and practices in which you can routinely engage in order to further or in some cases even “jump start” your move to better emotional strength and endurance. For example, ask a family member or close friend to study your posture when you’re happy or content. Then practice it, over and over––be very intentional and mindful. Your psyche will follow your body. You can literally control your emotions in this way. And, as a flip, ask that same person to tell you when they see that you have some other or “lesser” posture, because change is difficult and, even if we start strong, in the early stages we aren’t always aware of how we are regressing into the emotional declivity we’re trying to escape.
- Talk yourself up!
Harness the power of self-talk, or positive affirmations and statements about ourselves that we make to ourselves. For example, remind yourself about things that you bring to the job that are unique to you––possibly a particularly sympathetic ear, a compassionate heart, a way of putting people at ease, the ability to make suggestions gently in helping troubled souls, a patient temperament, or maybe even a very analytical mind that is good to have around when particularly tough problems need solving. But consider your gifts, and then remind yourself of them.
Moreover, don’t be internally bashful, don’t say these things to yourself so quietly that you can’t really hear them, or as if you only half mean them. Say them to yourself out loud––albeit when no one else can hear you.
- Recognize that our experience informs us that there is a power or presence or purpose that transcends us as individuals.
Consider the meaning of your life and your relationships in those contexts and connect with your higher purpose. Allow your opportunity to fulfill that purpose to be honored, and be grateful for it. We’ll talk more about our spiritual side in the next chapter, but for now I simply want you to understand the positive benefits to one’s emotions that flow from transcendent belief.
- Finally, teach yourself not to get bogged down by the past.
Mistakes are the stuff of life––did you ever stop to think about where good judgment comes from? It comes from the exercise of bad judgment that doesn’t kill you. Losers get ensnared from romantic notions of perfection and the fallacy that only dummies make wrong turns. But life hands us no GPS; do we think for one second that if yesterday Batman had turned down a Gotham dead-end chasing the Joker it would compromise the Batmobile’s pursuit of the Riddler today? So learn from your mistakes, but don’t let your emotional health become a martyr to them. When you put a foot wrong acknowledge it, correct the misstep as much as you can, learn from the incident so that you never repeat it, and then move on.
Editor’s note: We recommend that every cop read The Superhero Handbook for Cops, which is available for $19.95 on Amazon.com. We’re impressed with Cary Friedman’s relatable, on target and highly engaging approach to navigating the nuances, challenges and potentially dangerous pitfalls of police work. This book can help—even save—cops. We suggest you get a copy.
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