Surviving the RCMP (?)
As the moderator of this blog I receive many emails and telephone calls from members of the RCMP all across the country. Most of those who contact me want to tell me their story; most often a story of how they have been victims of mistreatment in a toxic RCMP workplace. They want to impress upon me that whatever misery they are experiencing is entirely out of their hands. I listen deeply as they describe themselves as trapped, victimized, or powerless to have any effect on their situation or themselves.
Being a psychologist, wanting the best for you, and accepting that our mind is a powerful tool (“it can create a hell of heaven, and a heaven of hell”), I want to offer you another perspective. As you read on, please consider that I care about you and your mental health. I feel compelled to expand your head not shrink it. I am going to provide you with a prescription. From this point on, I will do so with my tongue planted firmly in my cheek. (This is one of the ways I maintain my sanity in a world of suffering).
I have practiced as a psychologist for over 30 years. I think I have somewhat of a handle on what makes us tick. With each passing day, I become more convinced of something that I think, at some level, we’ve always known. Human beings are not really interested in happiness (see Paul Watzlawick for this idea). We could offer a human being an operator’s manual on how to be happy, and as sure as the earth orbits the sun that person will find some way to be miserable.
Take a look at the world’s great literature; spend an evening perusing the most popular shows on television, wasn’t Les Miserables one of last year’s best pictures? Misery, infidelity, frailty, selfishness, criminality, poor judgement, failure, bad decisions, terror, and unhappiness are the makings of great entertainment. We mustn’t fool ourselves any longer, we humans need our misery and unhappiness as much as we need the air we breathe. Many have visited mental health professionals, read self help manuals, and sat with the clergy, in an effort to gain happiness, all to no avail. It is time to provide them with some good information on what they seem more interested in.
It is time to provide some instruction on how to make yourself miserable; on how to let a hopelessly dysfunctional organization take over your entire life. The mechanisms that promote misery, powerlessness, and unhappiness have been kept secret long enough. While many are talented enough to assist the Force in ruining their lives, some may need a hand.
Regard my offering here with care. It could have far reaching personal significance. Think for a moment! If someone were to regain control of her own mind, to be happier, it might have an effect on her family, her health, on her future with or without the RCMP. Imagine the consequences: his mood might improve, he might have more energy, he might develop new and rewarding interests, he might rekindle relationships with family and friends. Do we really want that?
To assist in averting this disaster I make the following modest offering. Many of those who have been abused by the Force seem in such need of regarding themselves as being without any resilience and entirely reactive. I cannot leave this need to well meaning but uneducated attempts. What I offer next is only a basic introduction to “misery-making”. Please don’t think that this brief offering is exhaustive or complete. It is only a few key suggestions that will allow the more talented to neutralize any mental toughness they may have.
First of all, the next time the RCMP abuses you, check out how upset you are, then set out to convince yourself that the Force is entirely responsible for your level of arousal. In other words, look outside yourself for the entire source of your stress. Whatever you do, don’t believe the ancient dictum that “It’s not the things in our lives that upset us, it’s our view of those things”. What would an ancient Greek philosopher like Epictetus know anyway? Pay no attention to the scientific propaganda designed to cast doubt on your environmental theory. For example, the ideas that “different people respond differently to the same stressful situation”, and “the same person can respond differently to the same situation over time” are just misconceptions that have been crafted to mislead you. You must never, whatever you do, accept that your own attitudes, beliefs, judgements, interpretations, opinions and the like have the power to mitigate the stress you experience.
And as a corollary to this continue to believe that the job of policing is highly stressful (I said the job, not management). Don’t read that propaganda put out by the US’s National Institute of Occupational Health and Safety that fails to place it in the top 10 year after year. Those dentists, anesthesiologists, psychologists, psychiatrists, paramedics, neurosurgeons, emergency room physicians and nurses don’t know how easy they have it!
Oh yes, and while you’re at it cling desperately to the idea that policing is highly dangerous work. Pay no attention to Worksafe statistics right across Canada, province after province. I don’t know how they get off keeping policing out of the top 10 most dangerous, in survey after survey, and ranking it behind the likes of foresters, fishers, miners, construction workers, truck drivers, convenience store clerks, gas station attendants, pizza delivery persons, and cab drivers. Never let these perceptions go, they are critical in the establishment of preconceptions conducive to the neutralizing of one’s mental toughness.
Next time the Shao-Lin monks, from China, are in town, take in a performance. After witnessing their unbelievable demonstrations of balance, strength, self control, and pain tolerance convince yourself it was all clever theatrics. Continue to emphasize the surface chatter of your mind while denying its “inner dimension”. Refuse, no matter what, to accept that the mind has a capacity for intuition, imagination, suggestion and spirituality. Take your healthy skepticism even further and when confronted with examples of the placebo effect, peak performance, spontaneous remission, survival under impossible conditions, human resilience and transformational experiences refuse to believe that the “inner dimension” had anything to do with it. Finally, recall that investigative “hunch” you had, that flew in the face of all the existing logical evidence that turned out to be true – and tell yourself it was a lucky guess.
DO NOT (!) whatever you do believe me when I tell you that those who have the edge on success have mastered the art of mental self control under stress. Please assume that I was bed-ridden with the flu when this concept was taught to my class in graduate school; or that out of sheer meanness I am attempting to mislead you. Find some other way of explaining peak performers like Wayne Gretsky, Michael Jordan, Sidney Crosby and Steve Nash. Believe with all your heart that the level of performance they have attained is due to their physical gifts alone, or their relationships with their fathers (didn’t Steve Nash grow up with a single mother?).
Continue to read all those self help manuals, visit all those mental health professionals and to do nothing to incorporate what you learn into your own life. Ignore that old adage about the medicine working only if you take it. Especially balk at the ridiculous notion that controlling and directing the way you look at the world (i.e. your attitude) is a prerequisite for peak performance under pressure. Whatever you do, don’t buy into the benefits of a positive outlook. We all know this is unrealistic. The RCMP is far too dysfunctional for us to be out of touch with what is really going on there. Focus intently on what the Force has done to you in the past and pay no attention to the tremendous opportunities outside the RCMP, and right under your nose. Don’t listen to the stories of 3M’s bad batch of glue that turned into Post-It-Notes or Tylenol’s container tampering scare that led to industry wide improvements in safety. For heaven’s sake don’t listen to those who want to tell you how Rick Hansen saw a challenge in his paralysis rather than letting it destroy his life. That’s just propaganda put out by all those paraplegic groups!
Desperately embrace the belief that your body, your thoughts, and your feelings are you. Pay no attention to the idea that something moves your body around, changes your thoughts, and shifts your emotions, while it remains constant. Don’t give up your healthy muddle-headedness and start believing for instance, that your emotions are something that happen to you over which you have no control. Good heavens, we don’t want to be burdened by that kind of objectivity do we? In the position of observer of your emotions you might be called upon to control them. It’s much less burdensome to believe that we are our emotions than it is to accept at least some of the responsibility for managing them.
This is a good one! If you are still reading this and wish to tell those who left long ago one thing, tell them this one. This particular mechanism is central in refining your ability to make misery. Listen carefully. Your arousal level influences your attentional focus. So the higher your arousal, the narrower your focus becomes and the more detail you miss in the world around you (did I just hear someone say she loved you, a child ask for your attention, a dog bark at the door for a walk?). Even the less talented among you (probably those who left) should be able to see the beauty of this. First of all, ignore any physiological indicators of arousal, and number two do not learn any energy management techniques especially like that stupid relaxation response. This should equip you nicely to ignore family and friends and to withdraw into your own misery.
Finally, you must promise me that you will give no thought to how consistently successful performers do it. Believe it either happens by accident or they’re just born that way. Pay no attention to the careful physical and mental preparation behind peak performance under stress. Cover your ears whenever you hear some nut going on about how thinking influences performance (and emotion) and that the elite advantage is primarily psychological. Disregard the fact that all Canada’s clutch performers from our champion hockey teams, and Olympic figure skaters, to Christine Sinclair and Milos Raonic, employ sport psychologists. And please don’t ever let me hear of you using “New Age” mumbo jumbo like meta-thinking, reframing, imaging, meditation, energizing, cognitive reconstruction, or relaxation.
If you’ve made it this far (tongue is now removed from cheek) without turning me off, I apologize if I’ve offended you. And consider that if I didn’t bring these things to your attention I wouldn’t be much of a psychologist. I don’t want you to assist your employer in abusing you, I want you to be strong, and I want you to understand that no matter how dysfunctional your employer is, no matter what the RCMP has done to you, you always have the freedom to choose how you will appraise your situation and approach it. I encourage you to lean in to the challenges before you. You are tougher than you think. And remember your life is not about waiting for storms to pass; it’s about learning to dance in the rain.
Dr. Mike Webster, R.Psych.