Coping With Job Loss Part 1 – The Emotional Side of Unemployment

 In Career Tips

Coping With Job Loss Dealing With Emotional IssuesJob loss brings with it all kinds of obvious stresses, not the least of which is the emotional side of unemployment.

Last week I was talking with one of our candidates on the phone (we’ll call him “Bill”), when the conversation turned to his emotional state. A solid CPG professional with an MBA and an exceptional background, Bill has experienced the loss of 2 consecutive positions (due to economic conditions) over the past 2 years. He is now in his 10th month of unemployment.

“It feels as though my entire life has been ripped away from me, my identity, my friends. To make it worse, some of my friends have gotten new jobs and their backgrounds aren’t nearly as good as mine. I tell you this is really hard to take.”

The other very insightful thing Bill said to me was that “If you are sailing through this recession and are unscathed- you just don’t get it. I’ve had it with the platitudes of well-meaning friends. This economy sucks and it’s impossible to even get seen” This is so true.  Even if you are the most empathic person on the planet, it is impossible to know what your unemployed colleagues are really going through if you’ve got a job to go to every morning.

I feel confident that we are going to be able to help Bill find a good position. But there are a lot of “Bills” out there; People who, through no fault of their own, find themselves in lengthy periods of unemployment – and without a way of connecting to others who are riding the same emotional roller coaster themselves.

A very interesting project was recently completed at the University of Georgia called Surviving Tough Times. This project has yielded a 19-part publication specifically for individuals and families experiencing under-employment and unemployment.

It is important to understand that feeling hurt, vulnerable and angry are completely normal and acceptable responses to job loss. According to the U of G project, “Our jobs are much more than just the way we make a living. They influence how we see ourselves, as well as the way others see us. Our jobs give us structure, purpose, and meaning.” That’s why job loss and particularly extended periods of unemployment are one of the most stressful things you can experience.

Beyond the loss of income, these emotional losses can be even more difficult to face:

• Loss of your professional identity

• Loss of self-esteem and self-confidence

• Loss of your daily routine

• Loss of purposeful activity

• Loss of your work-based social network

• Loss of your sense of security

In fact, much of what you feel after you lose your job closely mirrors bereavement, accompanied by (sometimes severe) feelings of true grief.

The important thing to know is that grief is a normal, natural response to this situation. You have a right to be upset, so it’s important to go easy on yourself. And there’s something else you need to keep in mind.

Most successful people have experienced major problems and failures in their careers. Nonetheless, they’ve managed to turn such failures around by picking themselves up, learning from the experience and moving forward.

There are several effective ways to deal with your feelings during a period of unemployment. Here are 4 suggested by the University of Georgia paper:

Face Your Feelings – Fear, depression and anxiety are only going to make searching for a job more difficult. Acknowledge your feelings and challenge your negative thoughts:

  • Write about your feelings. Express everything you feel about being laid off or unemployed, including things you wish you had said (or hadn’t said) to your former boss. This is especially cathartic if your layoff or termination was handled in an insensitive way.
  • Accept reality. While it’s important to acknowledge how difficult job loss and unemployment can be, it’s equally important to avoid wallowing. Rather than dwelling on your job loss—how unfair it is; how poorly it was handled; things you could have done to prevent it; how much better life would be if it hadn’t happened—try to accept the situation. The sooner you do, the sooner you can get on with the next phase in your life.
  • Don’t beat yourself up. It’s easy to start criticizing or blaming yourself when you’ve lost your job and are unemployed. But it’s important to avoid putting yourself down. You’ll need your self-confidence intact as you’re looking for a new job. Challenge every negative thought that goes through your head. If you start to think, “I’m a loser,” write down evidence to the contrary (“I lost my job because of the recession, not because I was bad at my job.”).
  • Look for the silver lining. Losing a job is easier to accept if you can find the lesson in your loss. What can you learn from the experience? Maybe your job loss and unemployment has given you a chance to reflect on what you want out of life and rethink your career priorities. Maybe it’s made you stronger. If you look, you’re sure to find something of value.

Knowing the pitfalls you are going to face beforehand can also be helpful:

  • Retreating to your “cave”. Taking refuge in your “cave” may provide temporary comfort, but is little help if your time spent there is not constructive. Surrounding yourself with positive, supportive family and friends may better help your self-esteem.
  • Attending the “pity party”. Venting your anger and frustrations may only make you feel worse if you find yourself in the middle of a “pity party.”  There are people who actually enjoy misery and the misfortune of others.
  • Numbing out. Drinking (or drug-ing) is at best a temporary relief, and for some people, can lead to a crippling addiction. Just don’t go there.

I want to add to this one final point, and that is to state again, “It’s NOT your fault” and “You are NOT alone.”

I talk to many candidates and I can tell you that the emotional side of unemployment is a real and shared experience.

I would love to start an online group specifically dedicated to discussing the emotional challenges of job loss. What do you think? Would any of you find this helpful? Do you have any successful strategies for dealing with the loss of your job? How about in helping a friend through the situation?

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