THE SHIELD BEGINS AS ROOKIES
When they hit the streets, Homeland Heroes see things that would make the average person faint. Dismembered bodies, gunshot wounds, child abuse and incest, burned bodies, accident victims disfigured beyond recognition, and the myriad of sights, sounds, and experiences that are emotionally disturbing may well be all in a day’s work.
To survive the traumatic emotional onslaught, an defense mechanism engages to protect our heroes from emotional collapse. They are human – they feel pain, sadness, and fear. Over time, this emotional defense, which I call a “Cast Iron Shield,” protects and stabilizes emotions. Yet the very shield that allows functioning on the job – dramatically impacts interpersonal and family relationships.
This experience exacerbates cynicism, hyper vigilance, callous emotions, and if left unchecked, WILL have emotional repercussions. Those who seek out counsel to unpack their emotional struggle will find solace and discover tools to handle those emotionally challenging days – and they do come – in a healthy way. Those who stuff the emotion, often self-medicate and deny the obvious symptoms pay for the inaction. Like a pressure cooker, those who continually internalize emotions and deny healthy release often overreact, lash out, or perhaps experience rage. Too often the result is suicide – every 17 hours an officer commits suicide.
Unleashed, those emotions victimize family, friends, or coworkers. This is a key factor in the high rate of divorce and suicide. Moreover, after lashing out, it is common to feel remorse, guilt, or depression. Like a bull in a china shop, innocent family and friends are broken, wounded, and in extreme cases, fatally injured.
THE ISSUE OF EVIL
Unhealthy problem resolution shows up in the media, like the officer in Las Vegas who killed his family and then committed suicide, or more recently, Christopher Dorner, a fired LAPD officer who became a cop killer. No matter the grievance, regardless of feeling wronged, violence such as these cases is inexcusable, despite the lamenting from the left. Murder such as this is never acceptable – never. Never.
We all have choices in life. No doubt, we have all been wronged along the way. The narcissistic, self-absorbed actions of Dorner were evil – but that is no excuse. Decisions are rooted in values. A value system that excuses such action, especially by one sworn to uphold the law, violates not only the law of the land, but the moral fiber, the fabric of the values that made this nation great. Founded on Judeo-Christian principles, a constitution, and laws, our nation has for centuries had a value system that would deem the actions of Dorner repugnant, evil.
I believe that evil exists with no psychological explanation. Demonic oppression or possession for example, is not a mental health issue, rather, spiritual. For some it is by choice, surrendering to evil outside inviting it inside for power or personal gain. There are those who act on the evil that drives them. However, for some, evil besets them.
FOLLOW YOUR GOD GIVEN MORAL COMPASS – BEWARE OF FALSE READINGS
Our moral compass of right and wrong is, as scripture says, written on our hearts. As we journey through life, there are two forces, one pointing true north, another that leads off course. True north is the Lord, drawing us ever closer to Him. The other is the enemy, leading away from God and His principals. As life progresses, some give in to the false north, choosing that path, while others are led back to true north by God and His people, rescued and restored. Some prefer evil because they cannot stand the light of God.
Take for example Adam and Eve. They chose to act on the lie rather than what they knew. Listening to Satan, the deceiver:
“Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” 2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’” 4 “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. 5 “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.” Genesis 3
How did that work out for them – expelled from the garden, life always a struggle? Evil persuades people to act against their moral compass, what they know to be right. They choose to act on that evil impulse and chose the one thing God said they were forbidden to do. They listened to evil.
THE MATTER OF MENTAL HEALTH
Conversely, too often the label of evil can be used as a mask for mental health issues, behaviors we do not understand. Take, for example, shootings by people who had known mental health issues. If caught early enough, the person can be helped and the danger averted. Without proper professional diagnosis, a clear determination is not possible. Few persons with alleged mental health issues choose mass killings – those you see in the news. You saw them in Aurora, Arizona, Virginia Tech, and other places. Yet, something made THOSE persons chose violence. Mental health is not to be feared, but treated. Evil, well that is a different issue.
The point is, evil can appear as a mental health issue, but at the core, is purely evil. Real mental health issues are illness, not evil. Ample evidence demonstrates ones childhood, war time experiences, or even working the streets can and does create PTSD, which is why Serve & Protect aligned with Jacqueline Gibb, President of the Mental Health Education Foundation and her network of therapists.
Gibbs comments, “If an individual has cancer or has been in a car accident, they receive administrative leave with care and concern, well wishes and prayers. When an individual is proactive in their own mental health care and needs to take administrative leave to help heal their brain, they are deemed broken or unfit and with their administrative leave they are labeled unstable. “ Her comments strike at the core of first responders, and illustrate why so many reject Employee Assistance Programs for fear that their issue will get to the ear of the Chief. This is the primary reason Serve & Protect is confidential and independent from any agency.
ACCOUNTABILITY IS NO LONGER PC
Yet today, politicians repudiate our constitution, abhor our founding principles, and strip schools of value based teaching, prayer in school, replaced by a do your own thing mentality. Poor behavior is excused because of a rough childhood, individual responsibility is replaced by blaming society, parents, or yes – blaming inanimate objects like guns. If Dorner had a grievance, there are systems in place, organizations that champion such causes. Dorner chose to kill innocent people. He was no victim. He was a criminal. He chose evil.
That said, such actions, violence against officers, add to the stress law enforcement and emergency services heroes face daily. Wives across the country were afraid for their husbands during the Dorner crisis. No doubt every officer on the hunt for Dorner or standing guard over one of those on his manifesto had healthy fear, not knowing if or when the next bullet would come – perhaps at them. when a hero dies, whether law enforcement, fire/rescue, or corrections, we all feel it. And we all consider our own mortality.
Moreover, the pressure stems from issues within departments, policies and procedures that fall hard on the ones on the street. Added to this, judges who make decisions based on their bias rather than the law leaves officers vulnerable. Add to this the economy, financial struggles, and uncertainty when the news reports yet another department closing – the pressure rises.
The Cast Iron Shield does not just come off at home. It is affixed to stay. So what is the resolution? Commiserating within the blue or red wall only stirs the pot. However, our heroes rarely trust those outside the wall.
Certainly Serve & Protect has a safety net in place. Our confidential crisis line manned by first responders, our Chaplain’s Alliance, and our Clinical Alliance of mental health practitioners provide a blanket of opportunity for help in appropriate levels. But the real solution lies before our help.
MASTERING THE CAST IRON SHIELD
Establishing healthy relationships with a core of trustworthy friends, getting involved in a men’s group, stepping our of one’s comfort zone beyond the wall are all steps to relieve pressure. Groups like Fellowship of Christian Peace Officers offers opportunity to find safe haven. WARNING!! Too frequently first responders look for solace in the arms of a lover. Emotional release, no responsibility, but absolutely wrong. Like suicide, think of what you leave behind and choose not to act selfishly having an affair. Both suicide and infidelity are not solutions – rather, acts of narcissism and self-indulgence. The same applies to self-medication, theft from the department, or other violations of their oath to serve and protect. They are choices.
For me, help came from my partner. I knew when he challenged me on things it was for my good. On patrol or in the detective bureau, we talked through issues. Finding a person who understands the job, one who you trust to tell your innermost feelings is like a release valve. Another tool is prayer. Telling God your hurts, fears, emotions is not a placebo. It is an opportunity to talk with the only one who truly has your best interest in mind (Proverbs 3:5-6, Romans 8:28). I am not talking about religion, rather, a relationship. Consider joining a Fellowship of Peace Officers chapter in your area. There you will find support and encouragement from those who know the job.
Lastly, I recommend praying and reading the Bible. It is God’s Word, things He wants you and me to know. Study it, and read books that use as their premise the value of knowing God’s Word. In our Guns’n’Hoses Bible Fellowship grou, we are studying “Is God Really In Control” by Jerry Bridges, and next up, “God’s Not Dead” by Rice Broocks. Pray for wisdom, which God promises to give to those who ask.
The cast iron shield is there for your protection, a tool to allow you to do your job effectively. Do not let it master you. Isolated, broken. Rather, master the shield to do your job well. Like your weapon, know it, understand it, the potential dangers, and serve well.
The choice is simple. Ignore the pressures building up, the issues causing the pressure, and face the inevitable consequence – self-destruction and harm to others. Or, identify your pressure release, an appropriate relationship that is safe, confidential, and reliable. Talk about the issues that are at the core of the pressure. Always remember, help is just 10 digits away 615-373-8000. We can help if you need treatment for out of control issues, and we have chaplains and therapists on call to walk with you.
We care enough to help. Please care enough to call.
Ignoring what you are feeling is not being strong. It takes real strength to ask for help, a listening ear and caring heart.
I’d like to thank Jacqueline Gibb for her contribution and input for this post. As a mental health professional she provided help understanding that world.
About the author – Robert Michaels is a veteran of law enforcement, serving both as an MP with the 229th Military Police Battalion for 6 years, and with the Norfolk Police Department for 5 years, both on patrol and as a detective. He earned a B.A. in Biblical Education from Columbia International University and a M.A. from Wheaton College in Communications, and is an ordained minister. Rob is the CEO/National Chaplain of Serve & Protect http://www.serveprotect.org , dedicated to the emotional and spiritual well being of Law Enforcement, FireRescue, Dispatch, and Corrections through a 24/7 Coast2Coast Crisis Line, Chaplain Services, Life Skills Coaching, and the Guns’n’Hoses Bible Fellowship. He edits the Serve & Protect newsfeed at http://www.facebook.com/serveprotect Rob serves as the State Chaplain for Tennessee Fraternal Order of Police, and Chaplain and Sergeant at Arms for FOP Lodge 41 in Williamson County TN, where he is an active member. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 615-224-2424. He is available to speak for interviews, at events, churches, mens groups, criminal justice classes, chapels, and groups. Our crisis line is 615-373-8000 24/7 Coast2Coast.