by Captain Andy Carrier, LMSW
There are many factors that come into play in determining a long, successful career in law enforcement. As a matter of fact, there aren’t too many professions that demand more of a person than those who carry a gun and wear a badge. There are those intangibles that we all think of, such as honesty, integrity, character and physical/psychological well-being. These areas are all considered when hiring prospective candidates. However, there is no sure-fire way to predict a rookie officer’s staying power. Granted, some officers will leave law enforcement for various reasons, such as higher paying jobs, better hours or location. Then there are the officers who leave because of job related stress, which, most of the time, spills over into their personal lives, disrupting and corroding the family unit. One of the key factors that will always speak to an officers’ successful career over the long haul, is their ability to practice resilience.
Michael Rutter, MD, believes that resilience is one’s ability to bounce back from a negative experience with “competent functioning”. Resilience is not a rare ability; in reality, it is found in the average individual and it can be learned and developed by virtually anyone. Resilience should be considered a process, rather than a trait to be had. It is a process of individuation through a structured system with gradual discovery of personal and unique abilities. Several studies have shown that fifty percent of the ability to utilize resiliency comes from parents, or those that had a direct impact on a child’s upbringing. From this, it can be concluded that roughly half of one’s ability to practice resiliency is engrained at an early age. The other determining factor is what is learned through teaching and training. So, yes, we can learn to be resilient as well. An example of this could be learned from the American Psychological Association’s (APA) “Ten Ways to Build Resilience”:
- to maintain good relationships with close family members, friends and others;
- to avoid seeing crises or stressful events as unbearable problems;
- to accept circumstances that cannot be changed;
- to develop realistic goals and move towards them;
- to take decisive actions in adverse situations;
- to look for opportunities of self-discovery after a struggle with loss;
- to develop self-confidence;
- to keep a long-term perspective and consider the stressful event in a broader context;
- to maintain a hopeful outlook, expecting good things and visualizing what is wished;
- to take care of one’s mind and body, exercising regularly, paying attention to one’s own needs and feelings.
While attending the IACP Conference in San Diego this year, one of the presenters suggested their “Four Pillars to Resiliency”. They are:
- Psychological Hardiness
- Social Connectivity
- Mind/Body Muscle Memory
- Positive Emotional Energy
These four examples are immersed in the APA’s “Ten Ways to Build Resilience”. The most important of these four “pillars” is social connectivity. The close, meaningful relationships we foster are crucial when navigating through adversity. One of the primary indicators to suicide is isolation. People who are more likely to surround themselves with people they care about, as opposed to isolating, during difficult times, are more likely to persevere.
The practice of resilience is imperative if we are to survive a career in law enforcement. How can we expect to take care of others if we are not taking care of ourselves? Not being resilient now translates into a short lived retirement, if we even make it that far. Do the things you need to do to prepare for the rough spots. You owe it to those who care about you and you owe it to yourself.