Crusty Curmudgeon to Courage

Curmudgeon is not a word that everybody is familiar with, but curmudgeon is a bad-tempered person, especially an old one. In old school policing, they were taught to deal with things, move forward, and move through it, but not let it affect you.


If you have been in the law enforcement world for any length of time, you know the officers that are the crusty old guys.

They are the ones that have a negative outlook on just about everything and anything.  They are the definition of cynicism.

There is heavy energy, many times, about them.

They may get the job done but most people aren’t super excited to be around them.

Most of the time, that cynicism follows them home and they have similar interactions with people that love them, and they love; not understanding the impact.

Maybe you are one of these people.

Maybe you are married to one.

My husband is a self-proclaimed recovering crusty old guy.

Recently at a conference in New Mexico where he presented alone for the first time, he shared his story about leaving his emotional armor on too long.

After the presentation, one of the sheriff deputies in the room caught him and asked him how he changed.

Today, he’s volunteered to share a little about his journey and advice with you.

Curmudgeon Mindset in Law Enforcement

Curmudgeon is not a word that everybody is familiar with, but curmudgeon is a bad-tempered person, especially an old one. In old school policing, they were taught to deal with things, move forward, and move through it, but not let it affect you. It was a toughen up, take care of business, and don’t worry about the toll that it’s taking on the officer. It was only in the last four or five years that people really started to be more open to mental health and the impact of the career.

How the mindset occurs

Mental health in policing was not really discussed, when we, as a couple, started in policing. He was concerned about mental survival on the job. When Bobby started in his career, he walked on a scene, got the information, found out what happened, and was taught to block it out and move on. The scene was not about a person who was dead or hurt. The person became an object. He was able to detach himself from the situation and say to himself, “I got a job to do and that’s how I’m going to do it.” That ability to detach was helpful but he became very “machine-like.”  That mindset carried him through a lot of scenes. It was his way of mentally surviving. He blocked it out, shut it out, and shoved it down and moved forward. This turned into not being able to look for joy in anything because he was used to seeing so much evil or bad in the world that the assumption was everything’s that way or something good is going to turn to crap. If you don’t allow yourself to feel good or feel “up” to avoid disappointment, this is known as foreboding joy. This led to the crusty old guy or the “curmudgeon.”

Armoring up

There is an emotional armoring that happens for officers and most first responders to be able to move through the job they must do on a daily basis.  When the officer or first responder is unable or unwilling to take the emotional armor off it becomes weighty and heavy. It impacts the individual’s outlook, mindset, and can cast a dark shadow over their entire life. The weight is not only emotional but for many, including Bobby, it was physical; resulting in high blood pressure and constant stress. He admits, “I saw the world as a dark place. People didn’t want to be around me and looking back now, I get it.”

What changed his perspective?

Bobby’s mindset shifted two different ways.  The first was experiencing the younger generation of officers coming in with different priorities. They prioritized their family more, or what they wanted more. These young officers were affected more by what they witnessed on scenes. For officers with an old school mindset, the expectation of the newer officers was that they should toughen up and move through it; however, they couldn’t. This made Bobby find a way to help them understand what they were feeling using his experiences.

The second shift happened when he started understanding the spill-over into our relationship.  Bobby recalls being told about how his mindset, perspective, and moods were impacting our relationship and our happiness. It took some time, but he started recognizing that he was not as happy as he once was, and our relationship had changed from our first years together.

Changes at work

As Bobby advanced in his career and Code4Couples was started, other officers were approaching him about the problems they were having; a bad scene they saw or problems at home with their spouse. His mindset shifted from one of judgement and callousness to being a mentor, working to remember what it was like to be in the officer’s place. Wanting officers to be able to decompress, be able to stay the course and succeed in the field, e recognized that having an open-door policy about mental health positively impacted the officers and the department. As time went on, officers trusted that Bobby would support them 100% if they needed help with understanding something or wanted to talk something out.

They had different struggles and haven’t seen as much as the crusty old guys. Bobby became a mentor to help them move through it but also understanding the younger generation of officers have been exposed to mental health. It got to be where he was demanding, but fair with looking after them. He was a father figure to the younger guys. Instead of thinking they weren’t strong enough, it was providing them with an outlet for a mindset shift of understanding the younger guys have different needs. It was understanding that they need to do things differently, and that the priorities are different. If there is a path or a little nudge in a direction, it’s easier to help them turn around and still be a good productive officer and help extend their careers. They need to be happy, healthy humans!

Taking off your emotional armor

The weight of the armor impacts officers and first responders.  Bobby had to learn to change his mind set and learn when it was ok to leave it on and when it was necessary to take it off. There has to be a point where the emotional armor comes off and can be serviced and cleaned. When that happens, an officer can understand things better, have better listening skills and build trust with people. It allows them to have more open dialogue with their peers. It can create a happier mindset.

After growing distant because of the negative mindset, we needed to refocus. Through many talks, we were able to express gratitude and appreciation for things that otherwise went unnoticed. It was helpful that there was a common understanding of the cultural impact the career had on our marriage.  Bobby learned how to take on and off the emotional armor when appropriate. Bobby started to see the humanity in things and not always look for the bad. There became a want to find something good in every situation or at least how to not view the entire situation as negative or understanding of why it occurred.

Living in the moment

Finding joy is a hard mindset to grasp. When an officer is used to seeing bad and evil every day, they start to assume that everything is bad or evil or will eventually turn that way. Moving around that mindset is important. Bobby suggests living in the moment and not thinking something bad could happen. Be in the moment as you go through the day.  Have awareness and enjoy beautiful sunny days, sunrises, and sunsets. Stay in the present instead of consistently thinking of the “what if.”

Culture of appreciation

Bobby moved his mindset to having appreciation. Instead of focusing on what had gone wrong on a scene, he focused on that everyone was safe. He saw situations as learning opportunities instead of a time of criticism and complaint. When he changed this at work, recognized that it increased trust with officers and that appreciation flowed back to him. He suggests finding appreciation in moments in your life and focus on what you are grateful for. Even if what you are grateful for is a simple cheese sandwich.

No longer a curmudgeon

Bobby said moving out of his curmudgeon state was a mindset shift. As opposed to just focusing on the pile of poop it’s also saying, “Okay, well we have a pile of poop. What do we do? And where do we go from here? How do we grow from the poop? What do we learn from it? What can we be grateful for in our own lives?”  It’s not trying to put glitter on your piles of poop, but rather a different way of looking at a resilient mindset of seeing things differently or seeing how we grow.

“I cannot change it, but I can feel good about how I moved through the situation.  Having gratitude and appreciation for the people around me and the positive things I get to experience makes me a happier healthier person.”  Lt. Bobby Doyle (Ret.)

If you would like more information about anything that we’re talking about, please feel free to reach out to us on Instagram. My Instagram account @code4couples and Bobby’s is @bobbydoyle503. If you have not picked up my book, Hold the Line, The Essential Guide to Protecting your Law Enforcement Relationship, it can be found on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Until next time, guys, please stay safe and Code 4.


Crusty Curmudgeon to Courage

Curmudgeon is not a word that everybody is familiar with, but curmudgeon is a bad-tempered person, especially an old one. In old school policing, they were taught to deal with things, move forward, and move through it, but not let it affect you.