One early evening, my husband and I were driving through Phoenix when we both noticed a man running. He was in his early 20s and dressed conservatively. His running wasn't unusual. He was on the sidewalk. He wasn’t carrying anything. He was just running, right? At least that's what I thought. Just a guy out for an evening jog. "I wonder what he stole," my husband said breaking the silence. He stole something? I asked myself trying to find an experience in my mind that justified that conclusion. I couldn't find one. My husband had been a police officer for a little over a year at this point. I told him he was jaded and the guy was just out for a run. His response was something akin to, "WHATEVER!" This situation occurred again a couple of years later. The difference was I had been a dispatcher for a while and the first thing I thought was, "I wonder what he stole."
This type of negative thinking, also known as cynicism, is pervasive in police work. Many officers become cynical over time and they bring this way of thinking home with them. In her book, I Love a Cop, Ellen Kirschman explains how one dimension related to an officer's emotional control that affects friends and family is "cynicism: the belief that most human behavior is motivated by selfishness. A cynic expects nothing good from people and is therefore rarely disappointed. In an indirect way, cynical cops are trying to protect both themselves and the people they love from being hurt or becoming victims." She states:
Cynicism results from prolonged exposure to the worst in people's behavior - cops see a lot of that. No one calls a cop when he or she is having a good day. People lie to cops about everything: who they are, what they have been doing, what their name is, and so on. Even ordinarily law-abiding citizens are known to bend the truth about their driving habits. It takes only a few disappointments for an idealistic young officer to build a self-protective wall of cynicism against being made to look foolish or feel naïve. There is so much cynicism in police work that the cynical officer easily finds like-minded company to reinforce his or her position.
This cynicism can cause an officer to struggle with turning off the skepticism which protects them at work once they enter the safety and protection of their family. Kirchsman explains:
To say the least, it is frustrating to live with an officer who cannot let his or her guard down, who is remote, cynical, or overprotective. If this is happening in your relationship, you may feel alienated and lonely. You man not know what to do; you may withdraw, distance yourself, and pretend you don't care. Like the officer, you may begin using emotional control as a defense against strong feelings of rejection, alienation, isolation, and loneliness.
The good news is you don't have to keep a negative world-view and you can help your officer see some positive too. By doing so, you can improve your physical and emotional health and create a positive environment within your relationship and home. The Daily Mind states the first step to combating cynicism "is to look inside yourself and find out why you are a cynic. Why do you think it came about? When did cynicism become a personal trait of yours? Why do you continue to think in a cynical way?" The article recommends six ways to defeat cynicism and become a positive thinker.