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Departments : The Winning Edge

Exercising Emotional Control

Prevailing in a violent confrontation is not just about physical defense; you also have to keep your head.

March 01, 2006  |  by Wes Doss

As an American law enforcement professional, you are a special individual who has followed a higher calling, voluntarily defending the lives and property of others. You have set yourselves apart as the true warriors of our modern society.

In a perfect world, if everything went as planned, you would show up for work prepared, always performing to your true potential. Far too often, however, this is not the case.

Between the day you are hired and the one inevitable day when you face a confrontation that tests your fighting skills, a lot can happen to limit your perception, your confidence, and your ability to control your emotions and maintain concentration.

Personal Stress

After all, even though you have taken on the responsibilities of a police officer and you are highly trained, you are just human. And in being human, you are prone to all of the life issues that affect everyone else on the job. You get married, you get divorced, you face financial shortfalls, you go bankrupt, you get injured, you get sick, you burn out on the job, and all of these things can weigh on you emotionally, breed anxiety, and affect your performance in a physical confrontation.

Everybody experiences the stress of their own lives. What sets us as police officers apart from most people is that we also experience the dynamics and baggage from the lives of others. The conditions of our job stick us in the middle of other people's problems, frequently altering and framing our attitudes and perceptions.

Law enforcement is a stressful occupation. We know this. We knew it going in. But it still takes a toll on us. The stress we experience on the job and in our personal lives can lead to long-term health problems.

Worse, it can distract us on the job and lead to our defeat in a physical confrontation with a suspect. Anxiety, both the anxiety that we carry from day to day and the anxiety we feel in a fight, must be conquered if we are going to win.

Out of Control

One of the most stressful things that we can experience on the job is a feeling that we are losing a fight with a suspect.

Why is the bad guy winning such a fight? Perhaps it's because our training isn't working as planned and the techniques we are using have failed to achieve the desired results. Nothing will raise your anxiety level faster than using your best move on someone in a fight and having him or her counter it.

Consider the following scenario. You arrive on the scene and, despite attempts to prepare emotionally for the intense challenges presented by the call for service, you find yourself unprepared and under attack by the bad guy.

Doubt sets in and it begins to dominate your thoughts and emotions. Attempts to control your negative thoughts aren't working. When you try to mentally organize, you get distracted and can't focus long enough.

The early stages of panic set in. You tighten up physically and emotionally, paying more attention to the physical symptoms of growing anxiety, magnifying your feelings of apprehension and doubt.

Anxiety is a fierce, destructive cycle. And it's hard to pull out of the spiral once it's begun. Worse, the longer this cycle is allowed to last, the greater the likelihood that you will make a mistake that could be tragic.

The thoughts you experience during combat are heavily influenced by your concept of and attitude toward both your opponent force and yourself. This collection of attitudes, opinions, and feelings helps determine the emotions we feel during the conflict.

The emotions we allow ourselves to feel in any situation and how we respond to them will depend on four prime factors: our individual personality, our level of control over our emotions, how we react to our emotions, and our level of emotional flexibility.

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