Police Psychology | Anger!
Nancy K Bohl-Penrod PhD, Director of the Counseling Team International
and The Southern California Critical Incident Stress Management Team
I am angry right now. I am seething and boiling. I am sure many of you feel the same way. First there is Dallas and now Louisiana. Cops getting killed. I am on fire. This has got to stop. I know what the research tells us about anger, “Ninety percent of anger is unjustified”. Well, guess what? Not today. These feelings are justified. You do not have to live in Dallas, or Baton Rough to be livid. What worries me, is the negative impact this intense feeling of rage we may be experiencing can have on all of us.
To all officers, please understand anger is a normal emotion caused by grief, frustration or tragic situations where you feel you, your department or profession has been wronged. Of course, in both of these horrific situations, we have all been wronged and our family members. There are times that anger and frustration can be useful, as long as it is expressed effectively. This is going to be difficult, but you have to control your rage, and remain professional. When anger is expressed correctly, it can protect you from threats to your safety, well-being, happiness, self-esteem and from losing your career.
It is very tough for all of us right now that admire and respect what you do for a living. It is unimaginable that these two horrific events have taken place in our country. I cannot state enough how badly I feel and how important it is that we express how we feel in positive ways. You cannot bury inside how you are feeling. Pushing down your anger, can cause any number of physical and emotional problems. When we look at “use of force” incidents we have found that many of the officers involved were showing signs that they were angry at the world. We believe getting help is so important, before it turns into work related problems, family problems or discipline.
Being aware of your reactions can help prevent problems in the future. If you begin to complain of having headaches, ulcers, bowel problems and skin flare-ups, you may be holding back expressing how you are impacted by these recent horrific events. You may also begin to have high blood pressure, heart problems which lead to cardiovascular disease. Depression can set in. You feel emotionally exhausted and lack the energy to do fun things. You find yourself complaining a lot about your department its policies, and your choice of careers. You have always loved being a cop and now you question whether it is what you still want to do. You experience an increase in irritability, impatience, concentration and may begin to show signs of having memory problems. Your hypervigilance is off the scale. You are exhibiting some paranoia. These intense reactions can actually produce anxiety attacks and angry outbursts. If you look in the mirror or your loved ones are telling you that you look fatigued and tired this is because anger can affect your sleep cycle. I know I am not sleeping soundly right now. Remember the anger has to go somewhere, so when you restrain from expressing it in positive ways, it impacts you physically.
On the other hand, we do not want you blowing up or hurting anyone on or off the job. Whether it is a physical or a verbal attack, it does not matter, both can end careers, relationships and reputations. Blowing up is inappropriate and destructive, period! The killings of our officers and of course the recent terrorist attacks in our nation are tragic and hard to understand when you are not evil. The shock and powerful grief and anger we feel is becoming chronic. This constant state hidden or apparent can lead into a serious problem. It is imperative departments and agencies everywhere take the necessary steps to protect the wellness of their employees and their family members.
Constructive ways of handling anger and frustration should be taught right now, not only at the academy level but to all personnel. A class for families should be offered, after all they are sending their loved ones out into battle more now than ever. They are scared. Checking on them and offering support from your departments resources is important. Talk to your children who are old enough to understand what is going on. Talk to your parents, who regret your career choice, because you are putting yourself on the front lines of danger. Since many officers do not recognize they are angry, and how it can impact them down the road we have a few recommendations for agencies.
- They must be taught to recognize through training, that they are angry. Great first step. Their anger is real and actually deserves to be recognized. Denying they are angry only helps them minimize how it is impacting them.
- They will need to give themselves some time to figure out who they are angry with and why. This is not always as obvious as it is right now i.e., the killing of innocent police officers. But, learning how to listen to themselves, and to listen to what is bothering them is another step towards good mental health. Out of this self-reflection, they may find out they are not only angry at what is going on right now, but have other reasons too. It is possible they took something personal that was never meant to be taken that way. It may also be a wake-up call that they are fatigued and lack relaxation, which causes more tension and irritability.
- They will want to deal with their anger realistically. This comes down to making the right choices on how to act. They can stop the build up by talking about it with family and friends not involved or reaching out to a peer supporter, chaplain or mental health professional. This is a perfect time to start or increase a department’s peer support program. They can reach out to someone who will listen to them and allow them to talk about the anger, by asserting themselves into a conversation about it. If they are experiencing personal situations, that have increased their anger, they can get out of the situation that is causing so much frustration. They can apply stress management skills, including, meditation, prayer, and mindfulness and of course exercise. Getting a good night sleep or changing their sleep habits to more positive ones can make a difference. They will want to limit their intake of alcohol, which can only increase the anger or mask it until a later date.
- Keep in mind if anger management skills are taught early in one’s career, it could mean the difference between having a bunch of citizens’ complaints or having a few. It could mean the difference between living in a peaceful home or one that is chaotic. Wouldn’t we all be better off right now if we understood how destructive angry words and actions are to those around us, to those we have contact with socially and professionally and to those you are to protect.
To sum it up, anger is toxic to our bodies. Mismanaged anger leads to personal and professional problems. It is crucial we all learn to accept that we are angry and deal with it in constructive ways. Reach out to a chaplain, peer supporter or to your mental health professionals that work with your agencies. Be safe!
“To be angry is to revenge the fault of others upon ourselves”—-Alexander Pope, 1717
Site Editor: Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D. ABPP
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