Because the title is so general, I want to give you a clue what this blog is about before I start getting into the background of my stories. My intention is to write about my experiences with anger, about how it is used to supplant fear. Most times people may not even realize what they are doing.
Those of you who know me know how hard headed and stubborn I can be. Funniest part about it, I don’t necessarily think those are negative characteristics. J I do recognize there is a ‘downside’ to being hard-headed: Some ‘life lessons’ take a bit more work to sink in. For instance, fear. We’ve all felt fear; from the slight tingle of anticipatory fear of walking into a room filled with unknown people, to the full blown panic of watching a verbal altercation transition into a violent encounter.
Most everyone understand fear trips the flight or fight response: 1. Something ‘happens’. As you identify the event a chemical reaction is taking place in your brain. 2. Blood is pulled from extremities and floods vital organs. In essence, your body is preparing you to stand your ground or run like hell. Of course, there is a third option which is a cop’s worst nightmare. You could freeze in place.
Law Enforcement Officers (LEO’s) will tell you fear is healthy. It keeps you on your toes and reminds you to think before you act. A lack of fear, well, that could be a failure to read events properly or the individual has absolutely no sense of self preservation. So in truth the only issue with fear is if it overwhelms and becomes crippling.
This past July, I was fortunate enough to teach a class for Romance Writers of America’s National Conference. The class, How Cops Cope: (Cop GMC), had me doing a lot of research, both internal and external, for the various Goals, Motivations and Conflict behind LEOs’ coping skills and mechanisms. One of the coping mechanisms I talked about was the use of anger.
A therapist once told me anger is what a person uses when they don’t want to feel. It hides fear, doubt, and uncertainty. Intellectually, I understood what was being said but it really didn’t mesh with my life style nor did it apply to me. Of course not, I was a LEO and in full control of all of my emotions – (Pam, you can stop laughing any time now). Anyway, I believed when I was afraid I simply pushed that emotion aside and dealt with the job at hand. The thing is, up until the class in July, I never thought about what I used to supplant my fear. In truth, I wasn’t aware I felt fear.
Okay, okay I’ve stalled enough. No cop likes to talk about fear. Fear is healthy, but too much of it can be crippling. How do you decide to shut down and operate with only the healthy amount of fear? Most LEOs avoid the topic or the thought of fear like it’s last week’s overflowing poopy diaper. Fear is something everyone else experiences, not me. I would shake my head and sigh at the sadly delusional, out of touch with their feelings, uninformed and backward male who would spout such nonsense. Of course, me being much more enlightened, I believed I simply compartmentalized my fear. You know, boxed it up and pushed it aside so it wouldn’t distract me.
Well officially, I can tell you I, too, was one of those sadly delusional, out of touch, uninformed and backward (here’s where we do differ) Females. If you bear with me, I have to give you a little bit of back story - Once I entered the Sexual Predator Unit, I quickly became paranoid about who had any type of one on one contact with my child. When I was home, on injured status from work and unable to drive, I received a call from my son’s school. I was told it was an early out day and there was no school bus service for afternoon kindergarteners. I was asked when I would be picking my son up from school. At the time, my sister, who lived with me, was out of town because, although recovering from surgery, I was well enough to walk to the bus stop to meet my son.
I could not however, walk the seven miles to get to his school.
I vividly remember my reaction – immediately I lost my temper. Well, as I was remembering that long ago incident I had instant clarity of a few things. First my stomach was in knots, for me a sure sign of stress, and I felt as though I had a band tightening around the top part of my chest and throat. I was afraid and not just a little. I was damn near quaking in my boots. I realized, right at that moment as I reflected, I was as terrified for the safety of my son as I was all those years ago when I had received the call.
Here’s the kicker: When the event was actually happening I hadn’t realized I had any fear. The only thing I remember was being angry.
Not too long ago I had a conversation with an older LEO (Gabriel). He is long retired and is a true chauvinist. I understand he was raised in a different era and I usually make allowances for his statements. My line in the sand with him is when he makes unsupported assumptions about my various experiences on the job. One such statement was ‘well, if you’d ever been shot at you’d know the first emotion you felt as you tried to get out of harm’s way was fear.’
Well, his statement totally pissed me off. I have in fact been shot at and the anger of that memory (being shot at) fueled my anger at the current situation. Up to that time, I had never lost my temper with this Gabriel. I found it easier to walk away or simply tell him it was time for me to agree to disagree and move on to another topic. This time however, I totally lost my temper and chewed him out. I touched on a lot of things he’d said that ticked me off: His arrogance, chauvinism, and condescension to name a few. What really had me fuming was his statement that I obviously didn’t know what I was talking about, because fear over-ruled all other emotions.
You know those movies where the young, hardheaded rookie has to learn some hard won lessons from the older Butthead Veteran LEO? Well, I hate to admit it, but Gabriel was mostly right. When I was shot at my stomach did first knot up (once the confusion cleared) but I immediately blanketed my fear with anger (my coping mechanism). By getting angry, I had no room for fear. With my fear gone, or at least hidden, I was able to do my job.
It wasn’t until I finished the class that I realized I had identified yet another of the many coping mechanisms I’ve used throughout my life and career in law enforcement. When I was on the phone with my son’s school my fear for his safety, coupled with my feelings of helplessness, made me even more verbally aggressive and threatening than usual (figure Mama Polar Bear on Steroids). All of these revelations had me looking back to those times when I became angry when I thought I should have been afraid instead. Yeppers, every single time I slid effortlessly from fear to anger and I got the job done.
I’m not sure when, where or how I developed this particular coping mechanism but I would bet it started somewhere in my childhood.
Do you have a scene where your LEO is being uncharacteristically aggressive? How can you use that to explain his past? His motivations? His fears?