Anxiety and the PhD.

So, here I am, I have won a scholarship to study for a PhD. in my chosen area of emotions and mental health in the police.  My thesis title is:

Emotional In-authenticity: the psychological impact of emotional labour on police officers.

Yep, that’s right, I am widening my study from my MSc. dissertation.  As it happens, I did really well and got a distinction for my dissertation and for my MSc.

Okay, you’re right, this blog isn’t about how well I did in my studies…

..but I do need to give you some context so you can understand how high functioning anxiety plays out; and how it can be deceptive to the casual observer.

I think I can call this ‘high functioning anxiety’.. it’s pretty sneaky.  You shouldn’t really know how I am feeling.  You see, the little anxiety monster that runs around my head shouting, drowning out my own voice, tells me that if I show any sign of anxiety… I’m a failure.   In fact, anything less than perfecto! is failure.

So I am really practiced at putting on this convincing act of everything being just okay.. (you can guess why I study emotional labour – class act!).

But anxiety it is also a lot more clever than that (anxiety is, by self purport, smarter than it’s host) because it tells me that anything I did do right, was a fluke – and I will struggle to ever meet the same standard again, because really, I am just not that good.

So despite all my hard work and my results, every new dawn brings a new sense of self-doubt.

I try my best to rationalise my way round my anxiety, I mean, I am meant to have some intelligence; but you see, this is where I am disadvantaged by my creative soft spot – my happy day dream head turns into frenzied fantasy as I imagine every possible worst case scenario that could result of my last action/sentence/blog/tweet/breath…

A quick scenario for you… I have just submitted my first assignment for my PhD. taught element.  I have worked so hard at this, and I actually kinda like it.  I love the topic; I am so passionate about how police officers are allowed to deal with their emotions, and how this impedes their psychological wellbeing.  I care so much about this, it is a pleasure to read and to write about.  I also love the act of writing – the creation and completion of a piece of work.  I like how sentences sound, and how they communicate with other people in the world, it makes me feel connected and tangible.  I feel I have created something I like.

So I press the submit button.  And feel sick.  It is almost instantaneous.  My stomach is in knots.. my heart beat is raised through the roof, and I can feel my skin turn cold and clammy.. I feel the faint, pricking of adrenaline in my arms, and everything has just gained an impressive visual definition.





Kinda like the last time someone pulled a knife on me..

I reach about in my head searching for the thing that has set this off, wanting to emotionally touch the bad element of my assignment that will mean that I WILL FAIL.  I want to look at it and reassure myself that I have made it up, or it isn’t that bad, and I have over emphasised a negative point.

But I can’t, because I can’t find it, as it doesn’t exist.

But hey, let’s not stop there (because this is high functioning anxiety, and if I am going to be good at anything, it’s anxiety!).   This is not just a failure.  No, this is so bad that I will be considered unfit for carrying on with my PhD.  I will be summonsed to my supervisor’s office (my legs are actually beginning to ache with the flood of adrenaline, as I visualise my route to their office and standing in front of them; impeccably lit by the ceiling to floor window) and they will state their disappointment.  They will be devastated.  And I will be devastated for them.  This is after all MY FAULT, I have let them down. *whimper* I am sad.  Then, I am ceremoniously marched off campus and into my dull future.  No PhD. No Scholarship. No employment.  All I have to do is tell my husband…

Okay… so this is classic catastrophizing.  But I am so well versed in visualising my agonising demise that I have managed this scenario (in HD) in around thirty seconds..

So, I try it on again; just for size.. and, as I like to make sure that it is the perfect scenario for my sad little ending, I polish it a bit.  Add a couple of scenes (running into fellow PhD cohort, having to explain to my students why I can’t teach them – a thunderstorm for atmosphere – rain running down that very long window…) and repeat.

I know this is a really stupid thing to do, but I can’t explain to you that when you are in the grip of this fear, that it is very hard to shake.  Give me all the breathing and CBT in the world – fear feels like fear, no matter the cause.  And humans are programmed to react.

Okay I really am gonna breath now *sigh*..

As it was, I passed: 67 – and do you know what I thought?  Where did the 3 marks go that meant I missed a distinction!

Whatever.  This is exhausting; I wish I would give myself a break.

However, this is anxiety, and any moments I get for potential down time result in fear filled, gut wrenching agony that I am no longer relevant, and have no value in this world.  So, I work.  I work to seek reassurance that I am worth the space that I take up on this earth.

And so it goes on.. don’t get me wrong.  Life is a lot better now.  If you look at the above scenario, then apply that to my last death investigation, or shooting – you can see just how bad my little fantasy head can get.  It wasn’t just my PhD I could fail, I could fail at preventing a loss of life; and it wouldn’t have been campus I would have been marched off, but marched into my own trial and had my human failures highlighted to all who come to watch the spectacle (yes, I have convicted myself in my head many times for not being good enough – queue near break down, see blog post 1&2).

I now consider myself one of the luckiest people alive.  I can’t begin to tell you what a privilege it is to be able to study my chosen subject to such depth, and hopefully have a part in some change for good.


But to all those peeps out there with their own anxiety monster creating anarchy in their head; and to those that are seeking to understand those that do; trust me, it doesn’t matter what your triggers are or the context of your circumstances that lead you to curl up in a ball on the floor.. fear is fear, and when it triggers your sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system it is very difficult to talk yourself down.  These are our warning signs – our security system; and we are programmed to react.  And it takes a lot to carry on like we are doing just fine – but I know we do, because anything else would be… well, you know what the monster says… but knowing this is my monster and this is how it works me, well it does help.  And it does help knowing I’m not the only one hosting in my head.. maybe I should start a support group: ‘monsternet’… any tips on social anxiety at networking events..?

So if you do suffer with high functioning anxiety, know you are not alone, and please give yourself permission to take some time out.  Even for a second, just take a moment to exist, rather than to pursue the next goal.  You will get there.

As for me… well, there’s the next assignment and a few presentations to think of.  But I did give myself time to write this blog, which for me is progress..


#4 The Integrity of EI.

The Reflective Detective and Restoring the Integrity of Emotional Intelligence with Tom Rhys Evans.

As I began upon my journey I sought out those people and organisations that could help with my thirst for knowledge and education.  This led me to the Association of Business Psychologists (Manchester Branch), where I am now the student representative on the committee.

The Association of Business Psychologists (ABP) Manchester Branch holds regular events at the Manchester Metropolitan University Business School – and they are always very informative and entertaining.  They are also attended by a great group of people who are very informed and generate stimulating discussion – but are also very welcoming to lay persons like myself.

On one particular Wednesday in November I attended an excellent and intellectually challenging event.  Tom Rhys Evans, Lecturer in Occupational Psychology and PhD Student at Coventry University, delivered a stimulating presentation on the research he is conducting into Emotional Intelligence entitled: Emotional Intelligence: Restoring integrity through theoretical clarification.

You may guess from the title that Tom seeks to challenge the present ‘fashion’ of emotional intelligence in business and how it has been adapted into pretty much every aspect of life (including the female orgasm!) as the golden bullet solution.  A solution which is argued has always existed but we just haven’t been emotionally aware enough to recognise it: ‘old wine in a new bottle’.  Tom argued that business had picked up the two words ‘emotional’ and ‘intelligence’ and run away with them, without truly understanding – or being able to articulate – what emotional intelligence is.

Tom sought to educate the audience on the history of Emotional Intelligence and cited Mayer and Salovey (1990) as describing emotional intelligence as an ‘ability to monitor one’s own and other’s feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions’.  Tom explained to us how the definition expanded through the work of Goleman (1996) and into a concept open to a multitude of interpretations (Caruso, 2003) until it became to resemble an inkblot..

Ink Blot

..not sure what it is, and what it isn’t.

Tom seeks to regain clarity of emotional intelligence and articulates emotional intelligence as an umbrella term with three different approaches:

  • Ability: Intelligence and knowledge
  • Competency: Practical skills and actual behaviours
  • Trait: Personality and typical behaviours.

The ability model has a four branch structure which defines emotional intelligence as the ability to perceive, use, understand and manage emotions.

It is suggested that emotional intelligence is a second stratum factor of intelligence – akin to constructs like verbal reasoning (MacCann, Joseph, Newman and Roberts, 2014).

The trait model is related to personality, and drawing upon the Big 5 personality traits, the trait model is very close to neuroticism but also draws on extraversion and agreeableness.  Importantly they are affective behavioural preferences not related to cognitive ability or the speed and accuracy of emotional processes (Felner et al. 2007).  The trait model acknowledges the subjective nature of emotion and can be assimilated into well-known personality theories.

The competency model identifies competencies as behaviours that reflect upon an individual’s intent upon a situation, they are behaviour manifestations of emotional intelligence (Ryan, Emmerling, and Spencer, 2009).  Competencies are susceptible to training and can easily be observed – so are popular commercially, but not particularly practicable as Tom argues; ‘there is no point teaching people to give tissues if they can’t recognise when people are sad’.

So it is at this point of our education that Tom reassures us that now that we know what it is that we are dealing with – we can now think about measuring and hopefully influencing emotional intelligence.

Tom counselled us to proceed with caution when being presented with a measurement for emotional intelligence and to consider which area it was that we would like to consider.  Tom recommended forms of measurement for each element of emotional intelligence.

The first was MSCEIT, which measures the ability element of emotional intelligence and identifies emotions through facial expressions and uses this knowledge to affect behaviour through understanding, managing and using emotions.  Here Tom talked us through the appropriate mood to meet our in-laws with, giving us the choices of ‘tension’, ‘surprise’ and ‘joy’… For some of us the answer wasn’t as clear as you would have thought…

Tom argued that, although this is the most commonly used measurement of emotional intelligence, it is flawed as it ignores other elements of emotional intelligence.

This led Tom to discuss measuring the trait element of emotional intelligence through the use of TEIQue (Trait Emotional Intelligence Questionnaire, Petrides and Furnham, 2001).  This test uses situational questions that cover a broad spectrum from emotionality, wellbeing, sociability and self-control and comes in a short form (30 questions) which is free to use for research purposes.

To measure the competency element of emotional intelligence Tom looked at EQ-I (Emotional Quotient Inventory, Bar-On, 2011) which examines Self-perception, Self-expression, Interpersonal, Decision Making and Stress Management.  Unfortunately this test requires whoever administers it to be trained and is quite expensive!

Tom then explored the need for the integration of the different models and relevant measurement, quoting Seal and Andrews – Brown (2010) who articulate the need to validate arguments in support of emotional intelligence theory.

This is the element of emotional intelligence that Tom is addressing through his research.

Tom talked us through the situation of being stuck on a train for two hours next to two people who are arguing..

Tom purported that we would more than likely experience some emotional distress (irritation?)… that we would have the option of a range of behaviours (competencies) in response to our distress, which would be limited by our range of abilities (i.e. to negotiate?).. so Tom argues that we are likely to go for your most dispositional response.. tutting before moving seats (if you’re British).

Which brings Tom onto:

‘An Integrated Model of Affective Individual Difference’.  Tom’s research.

Simply put Tom’s argument is that abilities and competencies are like apples into apple sauce:

                                       Abilities and Competencies.

Apple Sauce

The theory:

  • Trait emotional intelligence captures our preferred or typical response.

  • Though trait gives an indication as to what behaviour we are likely to engage with, it is not determined by our ability: it is a preference, not the actual behaviour.

i.e. we could choose to ignore a distressing situation – but this may not be appropriate in the circumstances and we might not be successful in our attempt.

From this understanding Tom has developed his model of integration:

EI 1

but goes on to remind us that emotional intelligence is part of other models and can’t be seen in isolation:

EI Picture 2

which Tom explored earlier in the presentation.


So, how does this work in application?

Tom took a group of undergraduate students and took them through a lesson of recognising emotions through facial expression, moving from basics emotions to mixed emotions (recognising that emotions such as ‘bitter sweet’ can be difficult to identify).  Tom then asked the students to apply this to real life situations and emotions.  Next, Tom then took the students through a self-awareness exercise – identifying their own strengths and weaknesses and comparing them to what their nearest and dearest thought were their weakness and strengths, and to reflect on this.

So, Tom trained his students in emotional intelligence ability, equipping them with a greater emotional understanding of themselves and others which should influence which preferred response they select in future situations, which can therefore be observed by examining their emotional intelligence competencies (behaviours).  For Tom’s research he has elected to follow the undergraduate students through to employment to see if their learning has led them to be more successful in obtaining the employment of their choice.

I think Tom makes an excellent argument as to how we should approach emotional intelligence.  It seems to make sense to me (the lay person) that we shouldn’t be trying to examine emotional intelligence in isolated elements: there is so much that goes into our behaviour.

Some of the audience wondered if this process could be used in 360 assessments – which Tom thought would be very useful – self-awareness is very important in affecting emotional intelligence competency.

Others in the audience wondered how you could exclude environmental factors, and Tom talked about the importance of understanding and articulating the context of situations – i.e. being at work has an impact on emotional intelligence competencies.

After Tom’s talk many of us stayed behind to discuss what we had learnt, and talked about the importance of bringing emotional intelligence and awareness into schools, but also agreeing with Tom for the need to make sure that using and measuring emotional intelligence needs to be done in a controlled and ethical way –  there is a danger in applying these techniques if we aren’t sure what we are doing, and what we are doing could be creating harm.

It seems that Tom’s research will lead us further down the line to structured, holistic and rational understanding of emotional intelligence that can be applied appropriately in our places of work to positive effect.

Has Tom been successful in what he set out to achieve?  Well for me Tom has certainly given me theoretical clarity (and education) on emotional intelligence, and this is clearly the way to bring back integrity to the field – and hopefully more effective use in our organisations.  Thank you Tom – I will certainly take up your call to arms..

Call to arms

and fight for greater integrity in the assessment and application of models of emotional intelligence.







The Reflective Detective #3 A new beginning.

So what next…

I worked on the project for a while whilst I licked my wounds and thought about my future.  It was clear to me that I would have to leave the police.  A lot of people advocated using my status to get into a more ‘back office’ role, where I would be more protected from operational policing, but I knew this wasn’t me.  I need to be proud of what I do, I can’t hide for an easy life.  Whatever I was going to do, I was going to do it to the best of my ability and I wanted to hold my head high.

The things that I knew about myself were that I really enjoyed leading people and I cared passionately for the staff that worked in the police.  I had commissioned some work whilst I was a DI with an outside company to conduct some occupational psychological assessments on the sub division after the sudden loss of one of our Detective Sergeants.  I was really interested in how team dynamics played out in supporting roles and creating a sense of ‘family’.  This is one of the many ways that staff get through the daily business of being in the police, it is a powerful element of the organisation but one that is so undervalued and overlooked.

At the same time I became aware of a new initiative in the organisation: ‘well-being’.  This was news to me, there was an element of the organisation that was also identifying the need to look closely into how we support our staff to get through their daily lives as officers.  I made contact with the wellbeing team and learnt what they were doing and what they were trying to achieve.  I told them my story and they listened with understanding – one was an organisational psychologist and the other a sports and wellbeing psychologist.

They both supported me and gave me complete insight into the work that they were doing and I began my own research, I looked at the pressure that officers were under with the reduction of staff, the increase in work load (intensification) and scrutiny and the greater exposure to trauma.  I read all I could on wellbeing, the importance of leadership and support, autonomy in role and understanding of role.  I learnt about mindfulness (and began to practice) and the different coping mechanisms that were available.  At the same time I was exploring my own story with time in counselling and understanding how I had got to this point and location in my life.

I realised that the work that the wellbeing team were doing was invaluable if my colleagues were going to make it through the difficult times that they were experiencing, I also recognised that the service was due to experience another round of cuts – and that the wellbeing team and the work they were doing was vulnerable.  Having a good understanding of the strategic running of the organisation I knew that this team needed, in some way, to prove the impact that they were having and how this was important to articulate to the organisation: they needed to articulate the return on investment.  So I offered to work on an evaluation piece for wellbeing in the organisation. I exploited my learning from my MSc. study at Warwick and self-taught myself research methods, I wrote the methodology and rationale, spending hours after work researching current published writing; I immersed myself in the world of wellbeing and what it meant to not just the police but to any organisation and society as a whole.  I quickly became passionate about looking at how we experienced our working lives, how our long hours cultures, our meeting to meeting lunches, our criticism of mistakes – our fear of ‘failure’ our lack of support and understanding, our intolerance of difference – our inflexibility and our inability to talk to each other was crippling our health, our mental health, our productivity, our creativity, our happiness, our ability to be present with our families both physically and mentally…our lives.

It was here that I realised what it was that I was going to do next.

If I couldn’t work as a police officer helping people, then I could work helping the people that do.

And so this is where you find me.  I am now on a career break from the service, studying a MSc. in Human Resource Management at Manchester Metropolitan University.  I am also conducting research into the wellbeing initiatives at Greater Manchester Police, collecting and collating longitudinal data into the work that is being done to support those on the front line.  My intention is to take this into my dissertation, and hopefully a research PhD – to immerse my self in understanding what it is we need to do to support our emergency service workers..

This blog will detail my journey, my learning, experiences and discoveries.

Next week..Emotional Intelligence: restoring integrity through theoretical clarification a talk by the Association for Business Psychologists.



The Reflective Detective #1

Hello there, I’m Sarah-Jane (or SJ..) and I am The Reflective Detective.

Thanks for coming along, I appreciate you taking the time.

I am a police officer on a career break after fourteen years of police service.  I am now studying a MSc. in Human Resource Management at Manchester Metropolitan University.  (bit of a time hop – I am now (06/01/18) in my second year of my PhD. examining emotions and MH in policing).

I want to start off telling you why I decided to write this blog and why I care so much about our wellbeing, in and out of work.

I have had a pretty interesting and varied career until this point – at 19 I ran away from home (well, not strictly true, I went to the Army careers office in Liverpool first..) to join the British Army as a musician – a French Horn player.  I did pretty well here and enjoyed life, I excelled at being a squaddie, picking up awards for Best Shot, Best PT and Best New Recruit, and then went on to be awarded ‘best female musician’.  I saw a bit of the world; Cyprus, Turkey, America.. and learnt to ride a motor bike.  Surprisingly still alive to tell the tale..

From there I went back to full time education and studied for my undergrad – in Shipping Operations!  Well, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do then and I was really interested in sailing and the law so…

… it was this interest in the law that really got me – and the idea of being active and contributing to the world.  Having seen both my parents do it, I joined the police.  At this time I was ‘down south’ in Southampton, so I joined Hampshire Constabulary.  A great decision.  I loved being a police officer, I quickly got my first promotion and awards for leadership, and after working as a Uniform Inspector, with four years service, I decided to become a Detective – and made the transition.  Again, another fantastic move.  I really enjoyed my time working on division and with the Major Crime Department.  At the time Hampshire Constabulary was known for being one of the best forces for homicide investigation, and I was in the thick of it!

Having tried a variety of a roles in Hampshire my head turned to bigger and greater challenge, and my love of the north: I saw an advert for the North West Counter Terrorism Unit..  fantastic!  This was where my next adventure lay.. I always wanted to be James (Sarah-Jane) Bond .  So I applied for Greater Manchester Police, the lead force for North West Counter Terrorism.  I was very quickly accepted and within six months of deciding to apply I started at my new home in Manchester.  I began working in child protection in central Manchester then moved to Longsight, heading up the rape unit as Detective Sergeant.  This was a full on job, covering south of the city, including Moss Side and Gorton.  Long hours and intense investigation ensued – but this is what I loved, the cut and thrust of detective work.  It was then that I spotted the advert – Special Branch were looking for a Detective Sergeant to work within the North West Counter Terrorism Unit.  I bagged the job and spent the next three years having the most amazing time.. until someone pointed out that maybe it was time I got down to the job of progressing my career…

So I left the fun behind me and applied for a role as a staff officer to an Assistant Chief Constable, quite an experience and an eye opener as to how a large metropolitan force like Greater Manchester operates – how we manage the risk and protect our communities.  Whilst here I applied for a place on the national police accelerated promotion scheme – the High Potential Development Scheme.   A national initiative that selects 50 officers from around the country who they identify as particularly talented and destined to make Superintendent and beyond in the next five years.  After months of rigorous selection processes I gained a place on the scheme, and the next stage of my career began.

I had no idea that it was to be the last.

(to be continued…)