Police Psychology: Anger!! Part 1
by Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D. ABPP
Police Psychology is always dealing with how to keep officers less emotionally reactive, in particular, not reacting out of anger. We all experience moments of frustration—moments where we just feel like lashing out at everyone and everything around us because things aren’t working out for us in the ways we wanted. Frustration is the emotion we feel when we are being opposed, blocked from reaching a goal we want, or barred from doing something we want to do. Frustration is very common, and it is nothing to be ashamed of. Frustration can also range from mild to severe, depending on the circumstance. For instance, if you wanted to make it through a green light before it turned red, but by the time you got there it was too late, you’d probably experience minor frustration. On the other hand, if Notre Dame football has another defensive lineman injured on a jet sweep from a stupid cut block and the referee refuses to call it because he hates the Irish when they have a supposedly inferior opponent… wait I am losing it again. I need to find a wall to punch.
Cycling Your Frustration
A typical response to frustration is anger—anger at your boss for making you redo your work, anger at your teacher for giving you a bad grade on a paper you spent hours doing, anger at the guy in the car next to you for cutting you off. When the anger comes from re-living the same incident over and over, I call this “Cycling”—spinning the frustration into anger, saying the same thing over and over until anger builds from your frustration, and then frustration from your anger. Cycling is a never-ending mess which can have some dangerous consequences, especially if it leads you to say something you know you will regret later. It is not uncommon for this cycling to turn into something psychologists call the frustration-aggression-displacement syndrome (everything is a syndrome in psychology). Frustration-aggression-displacement is when you are frustrated at something or someone, but you know you can’t do anything about it. For instance, it is not going to be helpful to yell back at your boss or teacher when they do something that frustrates you, because they have a higher authority than you do, and getting angry with them won’t help assuage your frustration. So, what do you do? You go home and yell at your wife, or your children, or you kick your dog, or yell at a waiter, or go into a road rage by driving like an idiot—you lash out at people who can’t or won’t fight back. In doing so, you are alleviating your frustration through aggression directed at people who are not responsible for your frustration. This is not only unhealthy for you and the people around you, it is also dangerous, and can lead to a downward spiral of increasingly harmful behavior. And research shows it can lead to heart attacks, cancer, rashes, organ dysfunction, etc. Yes, the open expression of anger and frustration has been shown in statistical research to be worse than holding it in. Sort of the opposite of what shrinks have told us in the past. (more…)