Policing Shame

POLICE BOXPolicing is one of the toughest service roles there is.

Considering the work they undertake midst human emotions you might expect them to have extensive training in understanding and handling a broad depth and range of feelings. Sadly this isn’t typical in the structure of current training offered by UK police forces.

It’s rewarding work when we are asked to conduct this type of learning but unless it’s made consistent throughout a police officer’s career many of the current limitations within police culture continue; including

  • Inadequate empathy
  • Empathy fatigue
  • Inconsistent compassion
  • Shaky employee and community engagement
  • Cynical-burnout

Take shame as an interesting example.

You’re unlikely to find many police officers among the near 140,000 UK serving population that’s received training on a powerful emotion such as shame.

And yet facing a customer beset with shame is likely to be a common weekly experience for officers.  It’s the type of emotion that’s the hidden fuel underneath others such as anger, rage and depression.

How Humans Build Shame 

Kaufman 1989 – Nathanson 1994 – Schore 2001 pointed out the way people treat children affect how their brains mature and so we learn to self-evaluate by internalising a history of how others have responded to us.

Many of our most powerful self-beliefs are formed by the type of relationship we have to those around us; beliefs that directly affect our adult behaviour.

A positive belief of, “I am a lovable competent person”, is really shorthand for, “I have strong memories of many emotional experiences that have elicited positives in others who have treated me in a loving way, and as competent – therefore I am lovable”.

Is this the type of emotional upbringing that supports positive adult behaviours?

Suppose parents are often angry to a child?

This child develops beliefs that others do not see her positively, which is shorthand for, “in my memory I have emotional experiences of me having elicited anger in others and being treated as bad – therefore I am bad.”

Suppose parents always show contempt or withdraw their love and turn away from the child. It is not anger that is internalised but loss or contempt. This child develops beliefs that others see her as someone to turn away from and believes she is unlovable, inadequate and unworthy.

Is it from these experiences and beliefs that unhelpful adult behaviours develop? 

How this Relates to Policing

Some of the repeated issues Police face in their communities such as…

  • Missing persons
  • Drug use, drug abuse and related crime
  • Domestic violence
  • Some aspects of gang culture
  • Anti-Social behaviour

… Have links to adults with these types of emotional upbringing.

Of course, it isn’t the role of police officers to heal these emotional wounds but it is their responsibility to understand why some of their ‘regulars’ respond in the ways they do and to act compassionately as a result.

I’ve often witnessed the difference between a police officer who administers advice and the law compassionately and those who don’t.

Fort those that find this difficult, they often display many signals and behaviours of contempt and superiority, which ultimately don’t serve them or their ‘customer’.

This only serves to compound the shame felt by the other person, which is likely to create more negative behaviours to deal with.

For instance, saying to a female customer who has been beaten-up by their partner, “Why did you let him back in then”? Is grossly unhelpful, inappropriate and fails to connect to the potential underlying emotions noted earlier.

A Myth about Compassion

Compassion however isn’t an in-built ‘skill’ that just comes naturally as many Police seem to believe. It requires many learned components within motivation, non-judgment, language and emotional wisdom – Subjects that aren’t effectively taught in Police training school or ‘on the job’.

It takes true inner strength to develop compassion, especially in a Police culture that can see it as a sign of weakness.

If you are interested in how to move beyond the hidden underlying issues that drain your service contact me at: glenn@futurevisiontraining.co.uk




Sign up to our blog

We'll deliver our latest blog posts straight to your inbox every other Monday, and you'll also get our 15 Essential Ingredients for Success PDF download.

cover of 15 Essential Ingredients for Success cover

* = required field


Popular Posts

Follow us on LinkedIn