How LEOs can overcome negativity in 8 steps

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is one therapeutic treatment modality developed to teach people how to identify and overcome negative thought processes


Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is one therapeutic treatment modality developed to teach people how to identify and overcome negative thought processes common to psychological disorders such as depression and anxiety. They recognize that people do not experience emotional disturbances and maladaptive behaviors because of circumstances, but rather as a function of perceiving, thinking about, and experiencing them through a distorted lens. 

Therefore, CBT and related modalities have developed skillsets people can use to identify and correct negative thinking and its emotional experience. Borrowing from these ideas, we offer our own steps to overcoming negativity:

1. Recognize when you are experiencing negative emotions. They will be you first indicator something is amiss.

2. Identify the underlying thoughts and beliefs attached to the emotion, and their source.

3. Critically assess the thoughts and beliefs you’ve identified. Are they rational and appropriate to the circumstances? If so, the emotions you feel are quite likely rational and appropriate, too, even if uncomfortable. Anger, frustration, sadness, and other such emotions are not inherently “bad” and should be experienced. Or are the thoughts and beliefs “all-or-nothing,” overgeneralized, catastrophizing, or disproportionate to what is prompting them?

4. Determine how frequently you are experiencing negativity and the underlying thoughts (how are they affecting you emotionally, physically, professionally, and relationally? Do any patterns emerge?).

5. Focus on mindfulness — be in the moment to understand how you are feeling and thinking at all times.

6. Practice developing counter-thoughts to those you can identify as “all-or-nothing,” overgeneralized, catastrophizing, disproportionate or otherwise inappropriate.

7. Own and integrate your “dark side.” It’s there, we all have it, and feeling shame or trying to deny it only leads to other problems. Taking ownership of the darkness within and where it could lead is essential for controlling it so it cannot take us there. In its place, look to the positive in life, at work, and the world to balance the negativity cops see as a matter of course. 

8. Turn to people, activities, and interests outside the police world to provide balance and remind you not all is dark, there are still many (most) who at least respect what you do, and may even admire you for it, and that life is more than work.

About the author

Althea Olson, LCSW, and Mike Wasilewski, MSW, have been married since 1994. Mike works full time as a police officer for a large suburban Chicago agency while Althea is a social worker in private practice at Fox Bend Counseling in Oswego (Illinois). They write on a wide range of topics to include officer wellness, relationships, mental health, morale, and ethics. Their writing led to them developing More Than A Cop, and they have traveled the country as police trainers teaching “survival skills off the street.”

Contact Althea Olson and Mike Wasilewski

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