Grief is one of the most painful states of all. And although it is a natural response to experiencing loss, it can really knock you off of your feet. Grief comes with all kinds of different emotions, difficult and unexpected ones, from deep sadness to disbelief, anger, guilt, confusion, loneliness, helplessness, and apathy. The pain of grief can also interfere with your physical health, making it difficult to sleep, eat, get out of bed, or even think straight. Some people report the initial feeling of ‘numbness’ before the pain arises. All in all, there is really no order or a ‘normal’ way of experiencing grief.
Coping with the loss of the loved one is one of life’s biggest challenges.
Going through the grief process is hard, and doing it alone and quietly makes it even harder. You probably heard that talking about your feelings, especially when you’re facing difficult experiences in your life, is important and good for you. And it’s true – letting yourself feel and express your emotions helps you process and validate them. This is especially true for the grieving process. However, it’s also true that grief makes facing emotions seem like a terrifying thing to do.
Talking About Your Grief Is Healing and Scary at the Same Time
Many people are afraid to let themselves feel the sadness and pain, let alone talk about it, because they’re afraid that, once they get started, they won’t be able to stop. They fear they won’t be strong enough to handle the pain, that they will fall apart and never put themselves back together again. But the truth is, when we let the words and tears flow, we’re letting the pain out. It’s uncomfortable at first, but in the end it frees up some space in our mind and heart for asking questions, seeking meaning, and finding some form of acceptance.
Grief feels like endless loneliness and incomprehension. These two are the main reasons why grief feels so overwhelming. Feeling disconnected from the world and questioning the meaning of the event is completely normal after experiencing significant loss. What talking about it does is that it tackles down these two main problems by doing two things:
It connects you with another human who is ready to listen and sit with you through your pain
Knowing that someone deeply listens and truly hears you is soothing. Disconnection and loneliness take a lot of space after a loss. Sharing your pain with someone willing to understand and accept it opens some of this space for letting connection and comfort in. It won’t take the loneliness away, but it can reduce it significantly.
It helps you untangle your thoughts and understand the situation, even for a tiny bit
Making sense of the loss may be one of the most difficult things to do, but it’s also essential for healing. The process of grief is a foggy experience full of hard questions. What does this loss mean in terms of who you are and where you’re going? What does it mean for your understanding of life?
Moving forward in the process of grief is, essentially, about exploring what the loss means for your present and future self. It’s about rebuilding a meaningful life after such a significant change. This is a difficult thing, because not only are these questions filled with difficult emotions that can seem too hard and scary to face, but there is also no definite answer. It’s different for everybody, and there is no ‘recipe’ or a shortcut to it.
Even if it doesn’t look like it at the moment, the pain will lessen. It won’t completely go away, it will come in waves, and sometimes you’ll feel like you’re drowning. But you will laugh again and love again and live a purposeful life again. In the meantime, give yourself a break. Give yourself a hug. Give yourself time – LOTS of it. And be kind to yourself. Seek out and accept help from someone who is willing to listen and provide support. A trusting friend, a family member, your significant other, a support group, a therapist – find what works for you, but don’t battle it alone.
If you know anyone who is experiencing grief, please be free to share this post with them, as well as on your social media.
Lindemann, E. (1944). Symptomatology and management of acute grief. American journal of psychiatry, 101(2), 141-148. (http://www.nyu.edu/classes/gmoran/LINDEMANN.pdf)
Bukman, M. J. (2017). The development of a new identity through the process of bereavement counselling: a qualitative study (Doctoral dissertation). (https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/83637608.pdf)
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 losing your job, know that you are not alone. In fact, dismissal from work is often cited as one of the top ten 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 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 are not gone with it – they are still yours, a part of who you are.
Feel the Feelings but Also Seek Support
As you can experience a layoff, as previously explained, as a loss, what often naturally follows is a grieving process. You may cycle through a range of different emotions, from anxiety to sadness to anger to vengeance to liberation and back again. It’s uncomfortable and distressing, but it’s normal and even necessary in order for you to process your new situation. 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 uncertainty about the future to 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 the 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 was asked to write 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.
Time 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. But don’t rush yourself through this process. Give yourself some time to figure out your next step.
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.