"Becoming unmasked was liberating"
Someone said this to me today when describing leaving the police. I thought it was the perfect way to describe the feeling of finally being able to be yourself and show the real you to the world! Knowing who you are, what you stand for, and how you want to lead your life is key to your identity. I talked previously about how it can be difficult to have your own identity in the police. You are wearing a uniform – even if you are in plain clothes – they are your uniform! (I think most police officers can recognise plain clothes police officers from a mile away). You are told how to act, what to do and that can change the way you think. You are exposed to a very negative side of life and that impacts who you are.
When you leave the police finding out about the real you is a huge help when determining your next steps and managing your transition away from the policing family. But the conversation I had today made me wonder if it wouldn’t be more useful to do this inner work whilst you are in the police. Or even, when you are a potential recruit?
By knowing your own identity, you can keep your life outside of the police. You can pursue other interests and have a more balanced life. Of course, you still need to do your job, follow orders and be a police officer – but do it whilst still being you. Have your own thoughts. Think critically. Consider how your values and beliefs are showing up in your life. Recognise when the job is impacting you and changing you – and address that in a way that works for you. For me that would be talking to someone. Going to talking therapy and processing events would have helped me immensely.
I had no idea who I was before I joined the police. I was 21 when I went to my assessment centre and interview. And I was a young 21 – I had been to university, had financial support from my parents and, in hindsight, had no real-life experience. My identity was completely swallowed up by the job. And when things were good that didn’t matter. I was having fun, learning about a world I knew nothing about whilst growing up and I was catching bad guys! What’s not to love! But not knowing who I really was, what mattered to me most in the world, or what I believed in took its toll when the going got tough.
Serious incidents happened. Things got more difficult. Even the way we were policing changed – lower numbers meant single crewing on night shifts, and it didn’t feel as safe or as fun as it once was. It had an impact. I didn’t recognise changes in myself. I didn’t see how negatively I was being affected by the things I was dealing with day in, day out. I didn’t have balance in my life – my life was hyper focused on the police service meaning I didn’t get that breathing space to be myself. My mental health went downhill fast, and I suffered for years with symptoms of anxiety, depression and PTSD, including a couple of breakdowns. When I was recovering and doing all the hard work I needed to do to get my mental health in a more positive place, it did feel like I was unmasking myself. If anyone has flown since facemasks were introduced, you know how much of a relief it is when you can take it off – that’s what uncovering who I am feels like for me – a breath of fresh air! There is no need to wait until things get bad to unmask yourself.
My advice for new recruits, serving police officers or leavers:
Know yourself. Know your values. Know what you stand for. Be aware that these can change throughout your life – just think about how your world view changes when you start a family.
Check in with yourself regularly. How are you feeling? What’s changed? How is your identity showing up in your life?
Take care of yourself. You cannot take care of others properly unless you are first taking care of yourself. You are the most important person in your life – there is only one of you! Do what works for you – talking therapies, exercise, journaling, mindfulness are just a few examples of things you can do.
There may come a time when who you are and what is important in your life no longer fits with your job in the police. There is no shame in that. Things change. People change. Situations change. Unmasking the real you will help you decide what is right for you and what to do next. By already doing that work before you leave you are already ahead of the game – I had no idea who I was when I left!
To work with me on identity, career change or working out your next steps, book a discovery call with me here to find out more.