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The psychology of combat

Any armed professional may face extreme situations during their career where lives are at risk (especially their own), and where they may be compelled to use lethal force. This is also the reason why he is authorized to carry a weapon and why the institution that employs him has trained him in this logic. Paradoxically, and as surprising as it may seem, the aspect of the relationship to death is very rarely addressed during the training phases, and the approach to the use of weapons is often confined to learning a set of technical gestures in sanitized conditions, totally uncorrelated from the often tragic reality of an armed confrontation.

The operator thus completely loses sight of the ultimate goal of this instruction:

Being able to open fire on a human being if the situation requires it!

Although force-against-force training does artificially recreate combat "experience" and prepares the operator quite effectively to "pull the trigger" on his fellow man, no training (no matter how realistic) can ever recreate the psychological state in which any sane individual finds himself in such extreme situations.

However, the chances of surviving an armed engagement are based not exclusively on the technical abilities of the shooter but also on his psychological state at the time of combat. It is therefore essential to combine the purely technical approach with an adapted psychological preparation during which the professional will be able on the one hand to understand the psychophysiological mechanisms he will have to face in a combat situation, and on the other hand to allow him to approach certain aspects of his profession with more lucidity and without veiling his face.

When giving death is unfortunately the only option

"Thou shalt not kill" is one of the precepts on which our civilization is founded and on which the principles of life in society are based. Nevertheless, current events regularly demonstrate that some individuals have no respect for human life. Against such "predators" and other sociopaths, there is sometimes no alternative but to use lethal force to protect lives.

Seen from a theoretical point of view, this assumption seems quite simple, but concretely, the armed professional who has to make such a serious decision must not only react quickly to an extreme situation (he rarely has the initiative), take into account the legal framework, and ignore the criminal and administrative repercussions to which he will be exposed by using his weapon. But first of all, let us remember that he will have to "fight" against a principle deeply rooted in his subconscious:

It is not socially acceptable to kill or even injure one of one's fellow human beings.

Indeed, any human being in body and mind who has assimilated the principles of life in society feels a certain repugnance to violence in general, and to give death in particular. However, choosing as a profession one of the various professions involving the carrying of a firearm (policeman, gendarmes, military, SUGE agent, close protection officer, cash carrier, ASR ...) involves heavy responsibilities.

Any armed professional who is not psychologically prepared to use his weapon on a human being and to face the dramatic reality of the extreme situations inherent in his profession represents a danger to himself as well as to those he is supposed to protect. It has even been found that some individuals in such a situation experience an inhibition that is tantamount to preferring to die rather than take a life (even if this act, as unbearable as it is, is legitimate). Although such a reaction is obviously very singular, it can in no way be envisaged for an armed professional on whom the lives of others depend.

It is therefore necessary to ask the right questions with total intellectual honesty.

"Am I willing to put my life on the line? Am I ready to give death? »

Above all, do not hide your face

Many assume that nothing will happen. This utopian vision of the problem is not compatible with this type of risky profession. Remember that as an armed professional you may have to deal with such situations (it does not happen only to others!). Even if the chances of having to use one's weapon are relatively low, they are not non-existent, and the consequences are often too serious to be overlooked. The dramatic news items that too often dot the news are unfortunately there to remind us of this.

The armed professional must therefore be mentally prepared to face the most extreme situations. Not to be surprised at the fateful moment:

"Expect anything so as not to be surprised by anything."

In the same logic, some neglect the wearing of their bulletproof vest (often for reasons of comfort) and assume that nothing has ever happened until now "why would it be any different today?". Conversely, others have become aware that the stakes are too high to be taken lightly, and say to themselves at each service "today, I can be shot!".

They dutifully put on their bulletproof vests, even when it is forty degrees and there is no air conditioning in their patrol vehicle. Would you wear a bulletproof vest if you had absolute certainty that you would be shot? If the answer is yes, always start from this premise and make it an immutable principle. Remember that life is priceless!

The process of "denial" (denial of reality):

One of the many psychological mechanisms of defense available to human beings is to deny perceived reality. When this mechanism is implemented in the subject, he unconsciously transforms (or minimizes) the meaning of the signals he perceives, to reassure himself. Experience shows that some armed professionals, placed in extreme situations, react inappropriately, or too late: "No, my opponent will not use his weapon".

This reality is too unbearable to accept and our subject is not psychologically prepared to deal with this type of situation.


Often associated with the process of negation, hesitation is often the primary cause of an untimely reaction. The deadline is thus constantly postponed, and although the danger is real and imminent, and the use of lethal force is completely justified, the operator doubts the legitimacy of his action and delays his action. Taking such a serious decision requires being able to assume the consequences. Without appropriate psychological preparation, the subject will integrate into his decision-making process a multitude of "parasitic" data such as social pressure, emotional and cultural baggage, fear of administrative or criminal sanctions, etc. And surprisingly, this phenomenon of hesitation can also be observed during certain force-against-force exercises where the trainee knows that his actions do not have consequences.

The purpose of modern instruction combined with appropriate psychological preparation will be to allow the armed professional to analyze the situation as lucidly as possible, and not to disrupt his decision-making process with parameters that should not be taken into account when human lives are at stake.

When control of the situation is only an illusion

During the training phases, it has sometimes happened to hear some trainees say that they will probably never have to use their weapon; that a determined attitude will be more than enough to subdue an armed adversary. Others imagine that the mere fact of seeing a uniform and/or hearing injunctions is enough of a deterrent that the use of weapons is not necessary. This is indeed sometimes the case, nevertheless, it is illusory to believe that this principle is an absolute truth.

This naïve vision of the problem is mainly the result of projecting their own education and their own values (fear of the "policeman", the notion of right and wrong, respect for authority...) on the behavior of an adversary whose logic is not necessarily governed by such principles.

On the other hand, an aversion, (more or less unconscious), to the use of violence, contributes to this distorted vision of reality. It is indeed reassuring to think that we can control the situation without having to resort to violence. It is nevertheless essential to be psychologically prepared to deal with specific situations where such control escapes us.

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