Holding the Line
By Michelle Vincent
When you look back at the time before you became a police officer, what did your relationships look like, with your personal friends, family members and any intimate partners? Who were you drawn to and what did those relationships and interactions entail?
By Michelle Vincent
Many of us in the world of policing find that not only do our relationships change in terms of dynamics, the people we are drawn to and spend time with also seem to change over time. Why is that?
It may appear obvious to most of us. A typical day in the life of a police officer is very different than the typical day of, let’s say, a business-person. In reality, there really is no such thing as a ‘typical’ day for a police officer.
What we see or may be exposed to can range from car accidents to assaults, impaired driving, deaths, abuse – the list goes on and on. We can have a somewhat peaceful and quiet day, where we get the chance to do some traffic enforcement, to a day where we go call to call, without the chance to even process what we have just experienced. Our days can start out peacefully and can change in a second, into a moment of life saving and/or time sensitive action.
For me, this was the draw to policing. As a front line officer, I had no idea what the day was going to bring.
When we add these varying dynamics and blend them with the chemistry of relationships, the end result can be very interesting. Many times, I would return home from a long shift and just hug my partner and children. I would be thankful that my personal life was not what I had just had to deal with during my shift. In this aspect, my relationships were positively affected by an appreciation of what I had.
The challenge comes when we begin to isolate ourselves from everyday society as we notice those stark differences and lose those connections we have been used to in the past.
In the world of policing, coming home and sharing a gruesome experience with friends and family doesn’t really go over very well. We might be afraid of judgement and a lack of understanding of how we managed the situation. Even just wanting to unload about a particularly difficult call we attended may be met with a complete lack of empathy or understanding. When this happens, we tend to isolate ourselves from people outside the job and get drawn to those who have had similar experiences. We develop friendships through-which understanding and connection are more common. We develop a lack of appreciation for the seemingly simple daily struggles our non-policing friends and family members have and we may minimize their struggles. So your presentation went awry today…and you lost a client. I had to let a family know their husband or wife was killed by an impaired driver. Then I had to take one of them to identify the body.
We are exposed to extremes on a regular basis. When a partner or friend comes home with their problems, we may not validate their experiences and, as a result, relationships can break down. People find us cold and disengaged, yet their stress is just as real to them as ours is to us. It’s all relative.
Having healthy relationships includes connecting with people at work and people outside of work. It is about being able to see and appreciate that others outside of our profession experience issues that are just as real to them. It is finding that balance that allows us to relate with those around us which is also a good indicator of how we are doing from a mental health perspective.
If you find yourself being irritable and/or unable to connect/reconnect with civilian friends and family, perhaps it is time to speak with a mental health professional?
Intimate relationships, be it a friendship, familial relationship or partner, can be just as important to your health and well being as exercise and eating healthfully! Studies have shown that those who have close relationships have the same survival rate as those who are non-smokers.
Basically, relationships are good for the heart! So let’s nurture these relationships and notice the balance that we get from those we allow into our world of intimate connections.
Michelle Vincent is a 15-year York Regional Police officer with a Masters Degree in Arts in Counselling Psychology and a background in equine assisted therapy and workplace reintegration and teaching. Her counselling practice is supervised by a psychologist with a specialty in addictions and trauma. Contact: email@example.com.