Let’s be honest – losing a job can wipe you out emotionally. That huge wave of sadness, anger, blame, fear, anxiety, and a whole bunch of other unpleasant feelings might be incredibly confusing and difficult to deal with. If you’re going through a rough patch after a job loss, know that you are not alone. In fact, dismissal from work is often cited as one of the top 10 traumatic life experiences, along with divorce and death of your spouse. For example, according to the famous Holmes-Rahe Stress Scale, it is one of the top ten most stressful life events you can experience in your life.
So, in short, losing a job hurts. Here are some guidelines on handling the emotional challenge of the job loss and, eventually, bouncing back from it.
Losing a Job Is Not the Reason to Lose Yourself
How many times did you say something like “I am a [job title]” when asked to tell something about yourself? The deep-rooted western-culture question: “What do you do for a living?” testifies of how significant a job title is for describing a person today. A professional role, for many of us, became an important part of how we see ourselves (and others). It became a part of our identity. For some, work is central for defining their self-image and self-worth. This is known as a “work-role centrality” – when you’re defining yourself mostly through your job role.
Looking from this perspective, losing a job, for some, is not only about losing financial safety but also can mean losing a part of an identity. It’s like losing a part of yourself, as well as direction and meaning. A layoff, therefore, can result in confusion on who you are and how you feel about yourself. Identity problems that emerge after a job loss are upsetting, and it’s important to recognize and address them.
It might be helpful to have one truth in mind:
Your job is what you DO, not who you ARE.
Personal identity is far more complex than your professional role. Yes, you might’ve loved your job and contributed to society in amazing ways through it, but that is only one small part of who you are as a person. There are other parts of who you are as well that you may be overlooking. Your relationships, your core values, skills, passions, interests, they are all a part of your identity. All those traits may have influenced the career path you’ve chosen and the role you’ve taken on your former workplace. When you lose that job, these qualities do not leave with it – they are still yours, a part of who you are.
Feel the Feelings but Also Seek Support
A layoff is often experienced as a loss. What often naturally follows is a grieving process. You may cycle through a range of different emotions, and that’s okay. Let yourself be sad about all the things that you have lost with your termination. You’re allowed to feel the anger for the unfairness of the circumstances you’re in. Give permission to that unsettling feeling of be with you. Don’t suffocate your emotions because it will eventually only lead to more confusion and stress. Know that this unpleasant mix of emotions is normal and passable, and you’re able to handle it.
In fact, did you know that letting your emotions out on paper after you lose your job can be healing and stress-reducing? What’s more, it may increase the odds of you finding new employment more quickly!
James Pennebaker, a reputable Texas-based social psychologist, has shown the powerful effect of expressive writing on the well-being and even reemployment of those who lost their jobs. In his research, 63 recently laid-off, unemployed individuals were separated into two groups. The experimental group wrote about their feelings and thoughts about the job termination, while the control group avoided the painful topic of their past job and wrote about job-seeking strategies, or did not write at all. The surprising result? 53% of those who wrote about their feelings landed jobs in the next few months compared to 18% of individuals from the control group. They all went through approximately the same number of interviews.
What’s important in this phase is that you don’t go through it alone. Reach out for support from your friends or family, your significant one, your therapist, someone you trust. Be clear about your needs and the type of support you need, and genuinely ask for it. Sharing your struggles with someone lessens the weight of stress and isolation you may be feeling and strengthens the connection with people who care about you.
Job Loss Can Be an Opportunity for Self-discovery
It’s possible that you spent most of your time on your job, working for years with little to no rest. Even if you loved your job and enjoyed making an impact through it, maybe some other aspects of your life or other interests got a little neglected. It might be a good time to give yourself some space to rest and gain some clarity. This gap between jobs can serve as a valuable time for you to rediscover your interests and introspect about what you really want your career and your life to look like. It can be also a good opportunity to set priorities, learn from your past mistakes, make a plan and, eventually, when you’re ready, take action.
Give yourself some time to decide what to do next. And, as you decide on the next step or your next job, remember not to carry your old emotional baggage with you. As you can see, there are companies that opt for other methods to hire someone before they conduct a regular screening. This can include background checks, health screenings, and more. Therefore, be sure to leave your past behind and start over.
And don’t forget to be kind to yourself. It’s okay to pinpoint your past mistakes, but don’t criticize or bury yourself with dwelling on “what if…” and “if only…”. Instead, remember everything you appreciate and like about yourself and what you do well. Keep your strengths in focus, set goals, and gently move forward.
Have you or someone you know ever unexpectedly lost a job? We’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.
Also, if you like this post, please share it on your social media – you might help someone going through a hard time of losing their job.
Spera, S. P., Buhrfeind, E. D., & Pennebaker, J. W. (1994). Expressive writing and coping with job loss. Academy of management journal, 37(3), 722-733. Online HERE
Emotional support is one of the most important aspects of successful relationships. Knowing that our partner will comfort us and be there for us through difficult times enhances the feeling of connection and value of our relationship. However, for different people support can mean different things, and that is where big trouble in paradise may arise.
“I wish he could be more supportive”.
“She complains and then when I try to help her she doesn’t appreciate it”.
Very often, too much of the wrong kind of support and too little of the kind of support we need can lead to misinterpretation, frustration, anger, resentment, and damage of intimate connection.
One of the most common examples is when one partner is reaching out for emotional support while the other is trying to fix the problem without validating their partner’s emotions. Soon they both become frustrated – one for not feeling understood and listened to, and the other because their advice is dismissed and their efforts unappreciated.
But how to break this cycle?
Let’s clarify a couple of things first.
What do people who complain actually want?
For some, this will come as a surprise, but what people most often seek when talking about their problems is not the solution. It is understanding.
People want to feel like they are not alone in this problem, that someone gets where they’re coming from and what they’re experiencing. It’s not only understanding but also a validation of their emotions that they’re looking for. As counterintuitive as it may sound, a person complaining most often wants to hear how her situation really is hard and how things do suck and how she is right for feeling frustrated, angry, or sad.
Having someone who carefully listens and understands what we’re going through feels cathartic. It takes off the burden of having to deal with the situation alone and tells us that it’s okay to feel the way we feel. Emotional support lessens the pressure, which gives some clarity and, finally, makes space for taking an action toward resolving the problem.
However, what many don’t realize is that, by giving advice, they are rushing a person to this final step, which is counterproductive.
Why offering advice is not the best strategy?
People who offer advice usually have the best intentions. They are moved by the desire to be helpful and want the other person to feel better. And while it can be nice to hear someone else’s perspective, what usually happens with advice without emotional support is exactly the opposite – a person with a problem feels worse.
Part of why receiving advice feels so unfulfilling is that the person didn’t ask for it in the first place. They received something they don’t need and haven’t got what they actually wanted. Some may even understand unsolicited advice as a sign of disrespect to their ability to deal with their own problems.
An additional reason is that the person who receives advice instead of emotional support feels rushed to “stop complaining”. They want to feel understood and heard, but instead, the underlying message they receive is: “I feel uncomfortable listening to your negative emotions and want to make this stop as quickly as possible”. It can feel like the person who gave advice put their needs and wants first – to feel helpful and to end the uncomfortable situation.
The frustration that results from a mismatch in the way partners understand emotional support is mainly a communication problem. Thus, to get on the same page with your partner, you need to talk to each other openly and without judgment, get clear about your needs, and discuss how to overcome differences and give each other the right kind of support.
“This is how I feel, and this is how you can help me”
Often, when we come to our partner with an issue, their automatic reaction is to try to help us fix the issue practically. It makes sense – if we remove a problem, our negative emotions will also stop. And sometimes that’s exactly what we need – a fresh perspective and possible options that may help us solve the problem. But more often than not, we need a much different kind of support – an emotional one.
So, how to get emotional support instead of advice? There is a simple solution – ask for it.
Expecting support from your partner is okay. It’s the foundation of a good relationship. But assuming your partner knows what kind of support you need (and even worse, assuming that they refuse to provide it to you) is the way of thinking guaranteed to lead to bitterness, disappointment, and unhappiness. No partner should be a mind reader. If you feel your partner is not in tune with your need for support, stating clearly how they can help you instead of waiting for them to figure it out could save you both from dissatisfaction and resentment down the road.
Sometimes we don’t even know what we’d like to get from our partner but only that we’re not getting it. Funny enough, it doesn’t prevent us from becoming irritated with our partners. It may be a good idea to ask yourself beforehand what kind of support you need and what your partner could do. This will help you be much more clear and direct in communication.
Learn the right way to ask for emotional support
Stating clearly what kind of support you need is great, but asking for it in the right way is even more important. When our partner keeps offering advice without acknowledging our emotions, it’s easy to follow the same resentful pattern where we think or say things like: “You always do this”, “You never listen to me”, “Why can’t you, just for once, understand my feelings?!”.
Criticism most probably won’t lead to a satisfying solution. Instead, a criticized person feels the need to defend themselves and their point of view, which likely won’t end up changing their behaviour. In their need to protect themselves, they may start finding flaws in your behaviour (“I’m trying to help you, can’t you appreciate it?”, “You don’t understand”, “Nothing I do is good enough for you!”), and before you know it, you might end up in an argument. Not the most constructive thing, right?
So, it may be a good idea to ditch the criticism and use I statements. Instead of: “You always do this and never do that”, saying something like: “I feel like this and I would like you to do that. It is what I need and it would really help me to feel better. Would you please?” could be much more productive. It gives your partner a clear idea of how they can ease your pain, which is what they want to do in the first place. Also, it decreases the possibility of them feeling attacked and becoming defensive.
Talk openly and come up with a mutually acceptable solution
As mentioned before, problems that arise from a discrepancy between partners regarding how they like to give and receive support stem mainly from poor communication on the issue. Your partner and you may be different, and that’s okay. Talk with each other about how you like to give and receive support and in what ways the right kind of support helps you feel better. Find out the differences and commit to finding a mutually acceptable solution. Teach your partner what feels best for you, and learn what kind of support they want.
If you both come from a place of mutuality where you truly care about each other, you can be open to learning ways of supporting your partner the way they need you to. Keep anger or defensiveness aside and stay connected to caring feelings you have for your partner.
Additionally, whenever you notice your partner does something emotionally supportive, tell them and show your appreciation. Telling your partner what they are doing well will encourage them to keep that behaviour in the future, and will also grow intimacy in your relationship.
Again, open communication and mutual understanding is the key. But if, after all your efforts of asking for emotional support clearly and in a loving way, your partner still doesn’t provide it, then that’s the issue that probably goes beyond this topic.
If you find this post helpful, please leave the comment below and share it on social media – maybe others will find it helpful too!