Emotional Survival for Law Enforcement
This book review was originally posted on the RockwellTactical.com (RTG) Facebook page. The guys at RTG were kind enough to let us re-post it here. Take a moment to visit their tips page or attend one of their training sessions.
Having been in the profession of arms my entire adult life, I have been exposed to multiple books, seminars, speeches, and other various training regarding dealing with stress and being able to remain a fully functional member of society and family despite the stressful career that I have chosen. After reading Kevin Gilmartin’s book, “Emotional Survival for the Law Enforcement Officer”, I find that his findings and advice are right in line with other training I have received and if followed, will help young officers effectively deal with the stresses encountered with the career they have chosen in law enforcement and allow them to be content with their personal and professional lives.
There are several topics within Gilmartin’s work that I would like to discuss and expound upon.
I found it very interesting that Gilmartin used the term “victim” when referring to the disillusioned officer and “survivors” to refer the officers that are able to find the balance and be content with their professional and personal lives. In reference to the “victims” I would like to discuss a few things; sense of entitlement, complaining, and what I think should happen to these individuals.
In regards to the sense of entitlement, I have found throughout my life that those with a sense of entitlement develop that sense out of egotism and for lack of a better phrase, being spoiled. These individuals usually do not even know what hard work is and simply blame others for their problems. I have found these individuals to be the most difficult to work with. They are always the ones that clearly place themselves ahead of the team, and always complain and argue when they are forced to place the needs of the team first.
I found Gilmartin’s statement that not all complaining is bad to be one important topic that he could have expounded on within the book. Most people would say that all complaining is bad and detrimental. I used to believe this as well; however, one of the unique lessons that I learned during my time in the military is that not only is complaining a way to let of some steam in a safe manner, more importantly, it is often a gauge that can be used by leaders to assess what is the current state of mind of team members. Here is what I am getting at, often; it is not the complaining that a leader needs to be worried about, it is the lack of complaining. As things get really bad, and people just do not care anymore, they stop complaining, and just become numb. In the right situations, this could be the most important thing for a leader to take notice of, because this is when people become complacent and the door is left open for the worst outcomes to occur. I believe it is all in the manner of which feelings are expressed and for what reason. We all know the guy that complains about everything and only cares about himself; this is the “victim”.
But the complaining of those that truly care and aim to better the organization is a healthy part of being a “survivor”, as long as it is done in constructive manner that aims at improving the overall situation.
One aspect of the “victim” that Gilmartin did not discuss is the impact this person has on the organization or team. Often times these individuals can become a cancer that spreads negativity cause issues throughout an entire organization. This is especially true if the “victim” is able to acquire a leadership role. These are the individuals that become nothing more than management, and are completely unable to actually lead. These individuals use their power to unjustly disturb people’s careers because of personal reason. Gilmartin’s example of the officer being moved to lesser desired positions because of a personality conflict is a great example. The superior officer that is unable to place personal feelings aside and lead is a great example of a “victim” that has been put in a leadership role. Victims create more victims. In a perfect organization these individuals would be weeded out and never achieve leadership roles. However, this is largely unavoidable and another aspect that the “survivor” officer will continue to have to overcome.
One aspect of the “survivor” officer that I believe could be the most important aspect mentioned by Gilmartin is the ability of the survivor officer to accept that there are things that he cannot control. For type “A” personalities and leaders who choose to become officers, this lack of control can be the most frustrating obstacle to overcome. Additionally, I believe that this aspect extends far beyond career placement and extends to other aspects that could very quickly destroy an officer’s life. The death of a team mate, a horrific accident, a friend turning to drugs, are all examples of things that officers often cannot control, but that will change their lives in an instant. When I was in the service, we often used the phrase “it is what it is.” Some people would say that this was a sign of not caring or lack of emotion; however, I would argue that this phrase exemplifies exactly Gilmartin’s point that survivors find a way to accept things that are beyond their control. When we said “it is what it is” we were saying that we did everything we could and the outcome was beyond our control, and that it is not worth dwelling over. You cannot sit and ask yourself why someone died, chooses to take drugs, or why accidents occur, you will drive yourself crazy trying to find answers that are not there. At some point you have to accept that in war, law enforcement, or in life, people put their lives at risk and some will die. Accidents will happen that result in death, and people will commit senseless acts, all that we can do is out best. Do your best, effect what you can, and learn to accept that which you cannot control, if you cannot, you will not be able to function and will become a detriment to the team when things are at the worst.
Two topics that Gilmartin did not spend a lot of time discussing was officers believing that nothing will happen to them, and the ability for people to recognize when things are going wrong, and take action to change things. I believe these two things go hand in hand and are the most important things that a Survivor needs to address.
When discussing suicide, Gilmartin states that officers will state that “it will never happen to them” or that they often blame the individual that committed suicide. I believe this extends far beyond the topic of suicide. It has been my experience that everyone who joins a profession of arms has that little voice in the back of their head that says “won’t happen to me”. This is in reference to everything, getting shot, divorced, in an accident, no one ever thinks it will actually happen to them. This is especially true of the younger officers, who are eager to prove themselves. There is a transition however; as the individual gets older and more experienced, when they realize that these things can happen to them. At this stage in life, the individual no longer does things for the excitement or challenge, but because they feel they have to, it is their duty. I have lived this transition, and recognized the change in state of mind. I have advised the young soldier eager for a fight to be careful of what he wishes for, as I know what happens when things go bad. The important part of all this is the ability to recognize that it can happen to you. Once a person has developed this ability, to step back and realize that this can happen, and will, is the key to being able to take action.
The next step is taking action. Key to being able to do this is not feeling sorry for yourself. I do not say this to sound tough, or be macho, or imply that I never feel sorry for myself, I do, it is natural and everyone falls prey to it at times in his or her life. The issue is that those who are unable to stop feeling sorry for themselves are unable to think clearly or take proper action to correct the issue.
What separates the men from the boys, or “Survivors” from the “Victims” is the ability to not feel sorry for themselves, stay focused on the problem at hand, and develop courses of action that will result in positive results. This is what I believe is the true keys to being a survivor, recognize that there is a problem (or you are susceptible) then being able to take the necessary action, regardless of how difficult the situation may be. This is something I have seen many times throughout my military career. You could always tell the soldiers that were stuck in a rut feeling sorry for themselves, and those that stayed focused on the task at hand. Those feeling sorry for themselves usually quit or ended up failing, those that remained focused, completed the task and later tell old war stories about how much it sucked while at the bar, knowing that they were able to overcome the adversity of the situation.
The final aspect of Gilmartin’s book I would like to discuss is the importance of family and setting priorities. Gilmartin makes a great point that an officer needs to balance family life and work, and that striving to be “the best husband, father, etc.” is something that will keep the officer in a healthy and balanced relationship. However, I believe that a philosophy that we used to use when I was in the military helps put things in perspective. Keeping in mind that soldiers tend to have morbid sense of humors; the philosophy we lived by is that in the end, when you get all messed up, lose a leg, get paralyzed, or whatever the life changing injury may be, the only ones that will be there to take care of you for the rest of your life is your family. It is not saying that you cannot depend on your fellow officers, of course you can, there is no doubt in my mind that if something happened to me or my family the men I served with would come to my aide with no hesitation, and that my fellow officers would do the same. However, my teammates have to continue the fight, keep patrolling, and take care of their own lives, they cannot take care of me 24/7. Only family will be there, this is not to say families only purpose is to take care of us, it just puts things in perspective. You cannot be a member of the team or a cop forever, it has to end. However, your family should be forever, and you need to approach your life keeping these priorities in mind to be successful. Additionally, it has also been my experience that the best soldiers had strong family relationships and understood the importance of “family comes first.” I am sure that over time I will notice the same as a police officer.
Gilmartin’s book is a great resource for officers and their families. It is a well researched and provides multiple examples that officers may be able to relate to. Gilmartin’s use of the terms “victim officers” and “survivor officers” is a great way to distinguish between those that flourish and those that do not. This book will help new officers prepare for their careers, and could also be very helpful to veteran officers who are having difficulties, provided they are able to recognize these issues and are willing to take Gilmartin’s advice.
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The first time I heard about this book was years ago while I was still a trainee. A salty supervisor came into muster and waved the book in the air and offered to lend it to anyone who wished to read it. I took him up on it and boy am I glad I did. Since reading the book, I have avoided many pitfalls that law enforcement and military personnel so easily fall into and I have been able to share some of the knowledge gained with fellow law enforcement officers. I want to thank Capt. for taking the time to review this book and I hope you take the time to read it if you haven’t already.
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1 thought on “Emotional Survival for Law Enforcement – Book Review”
This was a great read and review of the book Emotional Survival for LE. Thank you Will for sharing, stay safe.