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