Taming the Dragons

So, are you an angry cop? No problem, just take possession of your anger before it possesses you.


Anyone can become angry - that is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way; this is not easy. - Aristotle

We all get angry. To be human is to feel, and to feel means we sometimes get to be mad. And if you work in law enforcement, especially as a cop, or if you care for someone who is in law enforcement, there seems to be no shortage of things to get mad about. And as we have discussed in Parts I and II of this series on The Angry Cop, the feelings of anger we experience are a normal and necessary part of life, "a signal, and one worth listening to." (Harriett Lerner, PhD, The Dance of Anger, 1985).

The problem with anger is it too often is mishandled, either being suppressed or "stuffed" into some hidden part of our psyche, or allowed to burst forth without constraint. Stuffing anger is like swallowing a slow poison; it festers and burns, eating us alive from the inside, until it risks destroying its host. Allowing its unfettered and indiscriminate expression, although it may feel good in the moment, burns outward and scorches not only the target but also unintended and innocent victims. It is a tactic with short-term satisfaction but long-term consequences to one's relationships and reputation.

Unfortunately, many current myth-makers tell us if we are angry there must be something wrong with us. We should always be happy. Feeling angry is wrong. Well, we do not subscribe to the idea everyone should always view the world with placid, Zen-like, beatific calm - and be honest, people who do always seem a little creepy - but rather appropriate anger should be understood, managed, and used in the way it was intended.

The world needs anger. The world often continues to allow evil because it isn't angry enough. - Fr Bede Jarrett O.P., The House of Gold (c 1950)

So how do you understand, manage, and use something for good that when misunderstood, mismanaged, or misused can be so destructive? How do you turn something that has caused so much debilitation and depression in so many people into a force that can empower and energize? How can you learn to be "angry enough" to combat evil without scorching the good? Try the following six-step formula:

Acknowledge the anger

Learn to recognize your anger for what it is, and to admit or accept that you are angry. This may sound simplistic, but many people misidentify anger as something else entirely (depression, sadness, frustration, confusion, etc) without understanding or accepting they are really pissed! It is often said depression is "anger turned inward" or "anger without enthusiasm." Does this describe how you feel?

When you recognize your anger say it out loud to yourself and others you trust. Voicing your feelings is powerful medicine, and can be important as you seek accountability and perspective.

Identify what you are angry about

This seems far too obvious, but if you are not aware of what is really making you angry or why it makes you angry, you risk wasting your time and energies in a series of minor, never-ending skirmishes that camouflage the real problem.

Take this example; Jeff, your good friend and colleague, arrested a shoplifter who first tried to run from him, and then turned to fight. In Jeff's struggle to subdue and cuff the shoplifter, the much younger suspect sustained a separated shoulder. Now, Jeff is in the middle of an intense and high-stakes IAU investigation and the suspect and his parents are alleging excessive force and threatening to sue because the shoulder injury threatens the suspect's college wrestling scholarship. You, Jeff's loyal friend, have identified that nauseous, sour feeling in your stomach as anger. But at what are you angry? Is it because the department is potentially raking your friend over the coals on the word of a violent, whiny criminal and his biased parents? Is it the irrationality of someone who would fight the police and then complain when they get injured? Is it because you have seen other friends and colleagues go through the same thing and you see nothing but trouble ahead for Jeff? Or, is it because you fear your turn sitting in an IAU interview wondering if your career, reputation, and money are about to go spiraling into oblivion.

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