Law Enforcement Personnel and Family Life
There is nothing more rewarding than taking pride in yourself, your career, and your family. Law enforcement professionals want to help others and make a difference in the lives of those in need. However, as the years go by the concept of “helping people” looses its glamour. Seeing people at their worst and a part of society that most do not see, can cause a negative effect. Law enforcement personnel and those in emergency services deal with trauma and crisis on a regular basis. Responding to crime scenes, car accidents, assaults, child abuse cases, disputes, domestics, being subjected to physical confrontations, internal investigations, and other types of difficult to handle situations are a part of what police officers do on a daily basis. Police work is a physically and emotionally draining job. Repeated exposure to negative images and interactions affect the overall physical, psychological, emotional, and spiritual well being of police officers spilling over in to their personal lives drastically impacting their families.
Law enforcement personnel are required to problem solve for others daily. Many of the situations that police officers face require them to maintain control, remain professional, and show little emotion which is difficult to do in stressful or traumatic situations. It requires the ability to silence true feelings and emotions adding additional challenges to an already highly stressful occupation. Work related stress associated with police work leads to numerous issues including post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, alcoholism, substance abuse, suicide, domestic violence, divorce, and other addictions and problems. Unresolved trauma affects work, personal relationships, the way we parent, and our quality of life. Police officers are at risk of work-family spillover when officers are not able to differentiate between their work self and home self. All of these issues filter down to the officer’s family life.
As people have changed and evolved through time, so has the definition of family. One way we define family is to say that family are the people we go to for support. With this new concept of family in mind, the reality is that all people need support. In essence, we can not go through life alone without the support of loved ones. Our family support network is made up of many people including relatives, parents, siblings, partners/spouses, children, friends, and co-workers. Knowing when and where we find support is essential in our journey through the different stages of life. Gaining knowledge through experience, preparing for future challenges, and identifying and utilizing support systems keeps families healthy, thriving, and functioning as a unit.
Police families and the need for support
Our culture tends to turn away from those who are suffering or experiencing crisis. The common message is that people are expected to “get over it”. This is exhibited within the police culture as well. Police officers rely on each other for safety and strength. Expressing sadness, fear, or indecisiveness leads other officers and members of society to question a police officer’s level of competence. Police officers can get caught up in suppressing their feelings causing them to compartmentalize or put away their true emotions. This puts them at risk of either releasing their emotions inappropriately at a later time, or dismissing them. This can lead to several other issues including emotional instability, anger, social withdrawal, detachment, and isolation.
Think of a time when you were feeling stressed, emotionally drained, or physically spent. What techniques or behaviors did you use to reduce your stress? Often times we turn to techniques that we have used in the past which have given us relief. However, there is a difference between temporary relief and healing. It is easy to engage in a cycle of behaviors that may seem harmless but if used in excess have the potential to be damaging. It is important to be mindful of what we have used previously, and the degree of effectiveness it has had. Patterns of negative behaviors form when unresolved issues are not dealt with leaving us vulnerable to future emotional instability.
The different ways in which we reduce stress are unending. Still, we need to focus on long term stress reduction and maintenance. The key is having the ability to decipher which practices are healthy and which ones are harmful. Some common techniques that people use are drinking, television watching, video game playing, computer usage, or viewing pornography. Occupying our mind and time with certain distractions keeps us from dealing with the issues that are causing harm. Other coping mechanisms such as substance abuse, unhealthy or over eating, over spending, and gambling are also damaging. Temporary solutions do not allow us to heal. They provide a quick fix keeping us afloat enough to manage our daily tasks.
Reaching out, identifying resources, and using our support systems build resilience against life’s challenges that we face on a daily basis. Support comes from family members, co-workers, mental health and medical professionals, support groups, educators, clergy, neighbors, book resources, periodicals, internet web sites, as well as many other places. Identifying when we need support combined with the confidence to seek out applicable resources improves our chances of overcoming future family related stressors and promotes healthy and functioning families.
Why is family life important?
Our physical, emotional, and mental well being affects our family members, especially our partners/spouses and children. Our experiences, thoughts, words, actions, perceptions, feelings, and emotions create our individual belief system affecting how we interact and communicate with others. Communication is crucial in maintaining healthy personal relationships and family functioning. How we manage stress is also a factor in maintaining a healthy family life and thriving career. Making note of what stress management techniques work for us and utilizing them regularly is an ideal way of guarding against future challenges. Building resilience against crisis and stress strengthens our ability to serve the communities we work for, and better yet, our own families.
Some ways to reduce stress are eating healthy, exercising, journaling, talking with a friend, spending time with loved ones, working on a favorite hobby, spending time outdoors, using breathing techniques or visualization, listening to soothing music, being intimate with your partner, taking a bath as well as many other ways. One of the best ways to reduce stress is spending quality family time. The wonderful thing about stress management techniques is that they can be incorporated with family bonding.
Building family ties through rituals, traditions, and social involvement strengthens family relationships and attachments. Some great ways to achieve these things are family trips, outings, bike rides, hikes, playing games, celebrating special occasions, family meals, attending community events, and having regular family meetings. Open communication, being a good listener, practicing patience, accepting criticism, avoiding defensiveness, admitting mistakes, showing forgiveness, and providing encouragement and support to our family members are some ideal ways that we promote quality family life. Family life is important because we need the mutual support of our family to be fulfilled.
Moving forward and embracing change
As we take our journey through life, we create our legacy. Our legacy being, the beliefs, qualities, traits, or attributes we pass on to those we are closest to. Ask yourself, if today was the last day of my life, what would I leave behind? How would my family, friends, and the people that knew me remember me? You can also ask yourself, am I the best family member, partner, spouse, parent, police officer, co-worker or friend I can be? Do others look to me for guidance? Am I a good leader or role model? By asking ourselves these challenging questions and reflecting on our answers, we can take the necessary steps towards identifying the changes we want to make.
The reality is we are not truly capable of taking care of others, until we have cared for ourselves. It is never too late to make the conscious decision to improve who you are. Sometimes, the smallest changes can be the most difficult, yet the most rewarding. Knowing that change does not happen overnight is also important to keep in mind. Overcoming behaviors or habits that we have practiced for years, or perhaps over the course of our life, will take a deal of time. However, happiness comes from living a life that makes us feel comfortable with the person that we are.
Law enforcement officers need to maintain their health for the people they love and to be able to serve the communities they work for. There is nothing more humbling than admitting to yourself that you need help. We are all works in progress, a job that is never ending. There is never a point in anyone’s life where one can say, I am the best person I can be. Point being, we all need help at different times in our life. Once we can understand this concept, we can accept our weaknesses, learn from them, move forward, and open ourselves up to positive changes. Embracing change allows us to be more willing to seek out the resources that can help improve our self awareness. It is never too late to make changes that positively impact our lives, as well as the lives of those who are closest to us.
Created by LeAnne Renteria, CFLE (Certified Family Life Educator)
March 31st, 2009
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