How to Embrace Humanness as a Cop

Scott Medlin talks about his journey in embracing the person behind the badge.

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The impact of being exposed to the negative side of the world day in and day out takes a toll on law enforcement and their spouses. We become more cynical and push past emotions to be able to keep showing up. If you’re a spouse, there is an expectation to put any fears aside and let them walk out the door. We can start to lose our humanness. That is exactly what happened to Scott Medlin. He now shares his story about the impact of his journey as an officer and how he, and you, can get your humanness back.

Cop > Human

After nine years of doing well as an officer and going into the prime of his career as a canine officer, Scott’s wife approached him and said she was having thoughts of living without him.  He wasn’t present at home with his wife and newborn son. He identified as a police officer first and as a husband and father second. “I have become the cop that I swore I’d never be. I’ve become the person I never wanted to become.” This can happen in many ways.

Accepting off-duty jobs

“You don’t need to go work that off-duty job.” “We have enough money.” These are common phrases or signs that can indicate discourse or unhappiness with the time you are spending in your relationship. While off-duty jobs may be easy money, they directly impact the time you are spending with family. “You can’t buy back time with anybody.” 

Being on call

As a law enforcement officer, the career can take away time from family. Whether it is shift work, missed holidays, or being on call, it creates the opportunity for missed interactions and connection. As a canine officer, Scott had the potential to be on call all the time. Not only do dogs take a lot of effort and a lot of training, but there is an added mindset of having to leave your family at a moment’s notice. He, like many officers, experienced having to put the job before family.

“They knew what to expect.”

If members of your department are telling you that your spouse knew what to expect as a law enforcement partner, they are wrong! No spouse knows what to expect from the impact of the career. No one can prepare them for the countless phone calls that you are going to be late coming home or missing family time altogether. There isn’t individual preparation on how to handle a grumpy, hypervigilant officer. It can create a catastrophic domino effect on your relationship if not addressed. The phrase “they knew what to expect” is one that is completely void of feelings and respect for your partner. It doesn’t show empathy or humanness.

Embracing humanness takes humility. It takes small steps to a larger change to save yourself and your relationship.

How to become more human as a cop and save your relationship

Part of being human is constantly working to better ourselves. Working on your well-being can look different to many. It may look like giving up an assignment or taking weekends off. It could be turning down off-duty jobs or planning more vacations. Maybe, even, the tough decision to resign completely to save yourself and ultimately, your relationship.

Defining humanness 

As human beings, our brains are not wired to handle the kind of things that many first responders experience. Their brains are innately wired to look for the negative in an effort to protect them. Thoughts and memories can get attached to those negative emotions and lead to a lot of bad actions, which can lead to spillover in your relationship.

Part of being human is interpreting the meaning of an event, ultimately admitting the impact the stress demands and trauma exposure has on first responders and their relationship. Humans are going to make mistakes. They are going to experience ups and downs; however, we can grow. That is how you define humanness.

Human-based mindset

Often there is a common mindset among first responders that they are tough, strong, and brave. They must have all those characteristics to survive on the job. Many first responders, law enforcement, and even spouses don’t recognize that they are continually getting off course based upon what they’re experiencing and what they’re going through. This can spill over into not wanting to share burdens or struggles because of the “tough mindset” and impact emotional and relational health.

One of the first steps that officers can take to move into a more human-based mindset is, to be honest with themselves. Take a good look in the mirror and eat a slice of humble pie! No one was meant to go through this world alone. Open up and communicate about your struggles. “Leaders anticipate.  Losers react. Don’t be in the reactionary mode.”

As spouses, your mindset can become cynical.  You can go to that dark side and have a lot of contempt, resentment, and trauma. There needs to be a shift in that type of mindset to one of being more human for a better and stronger relationship.

If you’re not continuously working on being a better version of yourself, then you can’t be a better person for others. Keep showing up and do the things you don’t want to do to become the person you need to be. You can’t become that person if you don’t start changing. When you start to grow, you start to pull away from the survival mindset of making it until retirement. Why grind it out and be miserable when you can change your mindset and have a good life?

Stop saying you are fine!

Cops love to say, “I’m fine.” “I’m good.” Nobody’s fine all the time. Stop with those types of phrases and instead ask “What is wrong? What’s bothering you?” Fix and stop with excuses when something is wrong.

Change the culture surrounding mental health

Younger generations have grown up with the idea that mental health IS health. As newer and younger officers join the force, there can be pushback from the older, more seasoned officers about caring for mental health and embracing humanness. The “old boy” culture and mentality have to change. There needs to be an acknowledgment that everyone is affected differently by different situations on the job, without judgment. The momentum needs to continue to move forward in embracing wellness and mental health.

Situational awareness

Be aware of how you’re feeling. Officers are naturally trained to have situational awareness while on shift, but that same concept needs to apply to our well-being.

What’s going on in your body?

What’s your mood like?

How are you reacting?

Maybe you’ve been an asshole for the last couple of days and not sleeping well.

Maybe something’s going on.

Be aware of how you are as a human being.

Ways to care for your wellbeing

Stretch for 10-15 minutes in the morning.

Participate in morning movement to get your hormones pumping so you can walk out the door with a positive perspective!

If you can, stay away from the news for five days.

Do not add more negativity to your mindset.

Take action and have a backup plan in case your first one falls through.

Find an accountability partner and push each other to care for your well-being. Inspire each other because you can’t rely on motivation.

Find what brings you joy.

Remember, “leaders anticipate, losers react.” Stop being the loser and reacting. Start anticipating and be the leader that you are, not only for yourself but for your family so you can live the life you were meant to live. Start being human.

Scott is a US Marine Corps veteran who worked in law enforcement for nearly 15 years, including city patrol, canine, SRO, and finishing up as a campus police officer in a small university. In 2020, he decided to start speaking to officers about how the career impacts personal well-being and how to survive the career better.

To contact Scott visit: Thescottmedlin.com 

On his website, you will also be able to download his free guide, 10 Code Mindset. It raises situational awareness around caring for your well-being.

Scott has also written, “The Mental Health Fight of the Heroes in Blue” “101 Health Tips for Police Officers” “Truths Beyond the Police Academy” and “101 Useful Tips for Rookie Police Officers: Be safe, Stay Healthy, Perform Great.” They are available for purchase on Amazon or other online retailers.

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How to Embrace Humanness as a Cop

Scott Medlin talks about his journey in embracing the person behind the badge.

Share:

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