Coping With Job Loss Part 2 – Recovering Who You Are

 In Career Tips

Coping With Job Loss - Recovering Who You AreYour response to the first part of this series on coping with the emotions of job loss was overwhelmingly positive. We’re so glad it connected with many of you. In this second part of the series, CPGjobs Guest Blogger Beth Moore discusses the five stages of grief over job loss and getting on the road to recovery.

After posting the Part One of this series in the CPGjobs Blog last month, I was contacted directly by several people who expressed their thanks for raising this little-discussed topic. “After all,” one woman said to me, “We’re supposed to be professionals, right? We’re supposed to be able to just pick ourselves back up, get back out there with confidence and act as though nothing has happened.”

For some of us this approach may work. But for many others the road to recovery is not quite a straight line. And it’s important to realize that the emotions related to the loss of your job are sometimes delayed – perhaps for weeks or even months.

One gentleman wrote, “At first I was full of excitement at the idea of getting back out there for a fresh start. I called everyone in my network, sent tons of emails, got active on LinkedIn. And that worked for a while. I even got a few interviews very quickly and I was sure one of them would bear fruit. But after a few weeks, people called me less frequently. The phone just stopped ringing and I was alone, frustrated, and honestly, pretty scared.”

Why is job loss so devastating for so many of us? Of course, there is the financial challenge of unemployment. But surprisingly money problems can be much easier to deal with than emotions, which by their very nature are not measurable, less solid and ever changing.

In our culture our jobs literally define who we are in the world – they define our very “being-ness.” Think about the last social event you attended. What was the first thing every new acquaintance asked you? When you’re unemployed, the simple question,  “What do you do for a living?” can fill you with dread. It’s as though you are slowly fading away from active participation in society. In many ways it can feel like a dying process, and in fact, from an emotional perspective there are quite a few similarities.

We tend to hurry people back into job search without allowing them any outlets for expressing or truly working through their emotions. The loss of routine, role identity and prestige is simply ignored. Imagine if we hurried a man or woman who had suddenly lost his or her spouse back into remarriage within a few days! Yet this is what we do to the suddenly unemployed.

It was Elizabeth Kubler-Ross who famously documented the 5 stages of grief and loss in her book On Death and Dying. The Kubler-Ross model is still used all over the world to describe the emotional patterns experienced by those who have lost loved ones.  Reality is that we provide tons of support to friends and family members whose lives are affected by death; however, there are few similar support systems for those experiencing job loss.

I recently read a very interesting article in Career Rocketeer by a counselor who specifically works with unemployed clients. In this article he explained how he uses the Kubler-Ross model as a way of helping clients understand their emotions as a pathway towards getting back on their feet. See if any of these stages of grief sound familiar to you:

 

Denial, numbness and shock – “Denial is usually only a temporary defense for the individual. This feeling is generally replaced with heightened awareness of situations and individuals that will be left behind after death.”

Upon Job Loss: They can’t really be letting me go. Who is going to handle (fill in the blank)? My boss will never be able to get along without the work I do around here.

 

Anger – “ In this stage, the individual recognizes that denial cannot continue. Because of anger, the person may have misplaced feelings and envy. Any individual that symbolizes life or energy is subject to projected resentment and jealousy.”

Upon Job Loss: I can’t believe (fill in the blank) is still working there and they dumped me. S/he is such a slacker. My boss always was a joker.  I hope I meet him in the supermarket so I can tell him what I really think of him and that company.

 

Bargaining – “The third stage involves the hope that the individual can somehow postpone or delay death. Usually, the negotiation for an extended life is made with a higher power in exchange for a reformed lifestyle. Psychologically, the person is saying, ‘I understand I will die, but if I could just have more time’…”

Upon Job Loss:  If only I had paid more attention to (fill in the blank), then this wouldn’t have happened to me. I never should have taken that long vacation last year. If I had shown some personal sacrifice they would have understood my dedication to my job and they would have passed me over.

 

Depression – “During the fourth stage, the dying person begins to understand the certainty of death. Because of this, the individual may become silent, refuse visitors and spend much of the time crying and grieving.”

Upon Job Loss:  I can’t eat or sleep. No one calls me anymore. All my friends are working and I miss them. Anyway, I don’t want to see anyone. What’s the point? Why doesn’t everyone just leave me alone?

 

Acceptance – “This final stage comes with peace and understanding of the death that is approaching. Generally, the person in the fifth stage will want to be left alone. Additionally, feelings and physical pain may be non-existent. This stage has also been described as the end of the dying struggle.”

Upon Job Loss:  This has happened to me. It is the opening of a new pathway of opportunity. From here I can go anywhere. What will I choose?

 

Passing through these stages of emotional resolution is not a linear process. One day you may feel depressed, another day you are ready to conquer the world. This is totally normal, totally human.

Unless you were fired from your job for severe malfeasance, the acceptance of your loss brings the recognition that the days of staying with the same employer for 30 years are over. The average American now changes jobs every three years. This is the nature of employment for the majority of American workers. This is not your fault. You’re going to be just fine – even better than fine, because now you have bravely faced the experience and have conquered your fear.

Working with your emotions while searching for a new job is not easy, but there are a few things you can do to make the process easier:

  1. Allow yourself to experience your emotions and thoughts. Recognize that yours is a completely normal reaction to the circumstance. Give yourself permission to grieve your loss. Avoid becoming your own “punisher.”  I’ve never met anyone who laid themselves off, have you?
  2. Seek the confidence of one or two people who are closest to you. Ask for what you need. You will be surprised at the level of support you receive. If this doesn’t feel comfortable, seek the help of a professional counselor.
  3. Nurture yourself by taking time just for you. For some this may be writing in a journal, taking up an exercise program or a meditation practice.
  4. Take the time to ask yourself the bigger questions; “Who am I?” “What do I really want?” “If I knew I could do anything – without obstacles standing in the way – what would I do?”

Job search is time consuming and stressful. But nothing can kill the offer of a second interview faster than feelings of depression or the nagging overinvestment in your previous job, employer or company role. Avoid the temptation of “marrying another” too quickly. Give yourself the time to make sure you are able to recognize when you’ve found the “right one.”

 

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