July 20, 2020
Below is a lesson from Police Chief Magazine on strengthening resilience, as well as our key learnings.
The Blue Courage team is dedicated to continual learning and growth. We have adopted a concept from Simon Sinek’s Start With Why team called “Learn, Share, Grow”. We are constantly finding great articles, videos, and readings that have so much learning. As we learn new and great things, this new knowledge should be shared for everyone to then grow from.
Essentials for Officer Well-Being
Bryce Kaye, Founder, Cary Counseling Center; Mitch Javidi, Founder, National Command and Staff College; Anthony H. Normore, President, National Command and Staff College; and Brian Ellis, Lieutenant Sacramento Police Department, California
From chaos and misfortune to second guesses and the ultimate sacrifice—police work is in a constant state of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (VUCA). VUCA is a term coined by the War College in the early 1990s.1 VUCA encompasses a host of personal and organizational stressors, which fall on police executives to understand and prepare for to minimize the resulting disruption and destabilization.2 To mitigate the effects of VUCA on police agencies, police leaders have a responsibility to build a resilient police force. One of the best ways to reduce VUCA’s effect on organizations is to adequately understand how to build personal resilience for better operational outcomes while simultaneously improving officer well-being in general. VUCA’s influence on the police cuts deeper than the acronym might state.
There are a host of detrimental costs associated with a non-resilient police force. Cynicism, relationship issues, substance abuse, and even death are the costs for officers who are ill-equipped to deal with the stressors of the job. Research in the expanding field of neuroplasticity and positive psychology has developed new insights that can benefit public safety in keeping officers healthy and vibrant in mind and body to ensure that they are prepared to take on an ever-complicated and chaotic workplace. The field of positive psychology has shown that happiness in the mind influences resilience in the body. Happiness guards against disease and deterioration of organ systems. It therefore stands to reason that to the same factors that promote happiness may also inoculate officers against stress.
The emerging science of neuroplasticity reveals that the brain is constantly changing. There are conditions under which deeply embedded emotional memories can be changed and updated; for instance, fear can be stripped out using a memory mismatch strategy as in Coherence Therapy or the reconsolidation of traumatic memories (RTM) protocol.3 Other emotional systems can be strengthened. Although genetic temperaments are deeply rooted in personality, character is more easily influenced. Character involves social learning as well as behavioral reinforcement, which indicates that it can change. Millions of people in self-help communities strengthen their own character to override addictive impulses.4 Similarly, character in officers can be strengthened as a bulwark against debilitating stress.
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- Cynicism, relationship issues, substance abuse, and even death are the costs for officers who are ill-equipped to deal with the stressors of the job.
- The field of positive psychology has shown that happiness in the mind influences resilience in the body. Happiness guards against disease and deterioration of organ systems.
- The brain is constantly changing. There are conditions under which deeply embedded emotional memories can be changed and updated.
- Other emotional systems can be strengthened. Although genetic temperaments are deeply rooted in personality, character is more easily influenced. Character involves social learning as well as behavioral reinforcement, which indicates that it can change.
- “Antifragility” is a term coined by statistician and author Dr. Nassim Taleb in his seminal book Antifragile. A highly centralized, rigid, and therefore fragile system can fracture when visited by a “black swan” (totally unexpected) challenge.
- There is also a more insidious form of emotional degradation. Character isn’t “fractured” by trauma but rather worn away by the slow compounding of daily stress.
- Police agencies need a resilience training strategy that can handle this threat.
- Four dimensions of antifragility:
- diversified emotional resources
- The term “resources” refers to emotionally supportive memory.
- Research on happiness reveals that people who are strongly motivated by virtuous values will show greater anti-viral and anti-inflammatory genetic expression.
- An essential step in resilience training is to help officers evaluate the scope of meaning in their lives.
- Authentic happiness derives from engagement with others as well as the pursuit of self-transcendent meaning.
- The Eudaimonic (happiness living with good virtues) Well-Being Scale is a survey that measures a person’s degree of virtuous motivation.
- We know that the sum of all these measures (e.g., engagement, productivity, sense of meaning) is not only predictive of health, but it is also predictive of resilience.
- capacity to generate and accumulate resources
- Generation and accumulation of resources can take place over either short or long periods of time. A short restoration of emotional and biological resources occurs when a person takes a break at work.
- Research has shown that meditative practices do more than reset stress hormones—they can physiologically adjust the neural networks that regulate stress.
- A longer period of time may be required to accumulate new emotional resources.
- Officers who are willing to talk with each other with profound honesty can grow their own self-acceptance and self-compassion. Officer peer support groups usually promote this kind of growth.
- capacity to repair damage
- Research has established that nuanced labeling of emotion reduces anxiety.
- It’s important that officers reframe the concept of strength to incorporate acceptance of fear and shame. Strength equals flexibility, and an officer’s fear of natural emotions can make him or her weak and brittle.
- Research on memory reconsolidation indicates that fear and stress can be stripped from a recalled memory using a phenomenon known as novelty-mismatch.
- Officers can be trained to help other officers through peer support networks. They can step through a procedure that brings a contradictory memory into close association with a painful one. This mismatch can quickly reduce fear.
- ability to strengthen oneself
- A benefit of mindfulness is that it can override impulse and retrain the mind.
- “Backward strengthening” whereby effortful behavior paired with mindfulness can strengthen core values in character.
- diversified emotional resources