Healthy Connections

Ending destructive life patterns

When Job Loss Strikes: How to Survive and Thrive

Coping with the emotional toll of job loss


There is much talk lately about the financial stress involved in job losses, lay offs and demotions. It is undoubtedly the first thing we react to if we are facing the prospect of a dramatic loss of income that we had previously taken for granted.

What is rarely discussed or even acknowledged is the personal emotional toll for those of us who may define ourselves by our careers and positions. Even if the savings account and unemployment compensation holds out for a while, eventually the grief, self doubt and loss of identity take hold and for some can cause paralysis.

I have had one career for more than 30 years. There have been many jobs in that one career. In fact, I was fired from my first serious job after going through what I now call my "I am Woman!" phase.

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I read a book called "When I say No I feel Guilty" and decided to tell my boss what I thought of his management style. Oh well, lesson learned. Even then, despite my youth and the long road of potential opportunities ahead of me, I thought my career was over and I would never recover.

I was a single parent with a four-year-old child to feed and scared to death. I've heard others say "In the end, it was the best thing that could have happened to me." However, it took a while for me to feel that.

In my case, I had naively become the spokesperson for the wrongs of the system and thought I had support in my idealistic point of view. When I was fired, I found my friends fleeing in the opposite direction out of fear of catching the disease I appeared to have. I was devastated but I was also angry. After weeks and months of tears, I decided to get even by succeeding. That worked for me.

Things are different when we are not so young. Others rely on us. We know what can happen. We've seen people who didn't recover, relationships that ended and careers derailed.

Changing careers can be a really positive move when it is something you wanted anyway. A job loss can mean an opportunity to do what you've dreamed of or for some it may feel more like the job you didn't love but stuck with in order to keep bread on the table. You feel like you sold out on your dreams, the job is gone and it's too late to start something new. You may think "I can't go back to college, I can't afford to move, I don't know how to do anything else."

My concern for people in this kind of slump is that they want to rush toward decision making in order to stop the pain - fear, shame, guilt, anxiety, sadness, frustration of their situation and may make bigger mistakes as a result.

If the crisis of unemployment is close to life threatening, obviously something must be done immediately!

If it can wait for even a little while there are some positive steps that can be taken to address the emotional turmoil and identity issues that may guide you in a healthier direction.

1. Let go. If you are spiritually inclined or would like to be, get some tools together. These may include books like Wayne Dyer's Power of Intention, Eckhart Tolle's A New Earth and many others. Read or listen to them slowly on a regular basis. Shift your focus away from external things and fears over to trusting yourself and listening to that voice that has been trying to get through to you for years but you were too busy to listen. Make this reading a habit and use it whenever your mood gets negative and fear takes over.

2. Face the reality of your loss. In the early days and weeks of your loss, don't listen to those who say "It's not that bad, It could be worse, Just pray, Get over it." Let yourself feel and acknowledge, first to yourself, and then to someone who loves and accepts you, that you lost something important and you feel bad. If there is no one to tell, write it down in a journal. Cry if you feel like it.

3. Put that journal aside and get another journal that will become your Abundance Journal. This is mandatory. Every day at the end of your day you must write down every little thing that happened that is evidence that things are going in a positive direction. For example: You got a refund of $20 for an overpaid phone bill. You had an idea for the type of work you would like to do. A long lost friend called and told you how important you are to them. Only good things go into to this journal.

4. Whenever you are slipping, pick up the abundance journal and read it over again.

5. If your self esteem has taken a big hit from the job loss, think of 5 people who know you well and are either neutral or genuinely care about you. Ask them to tell you two things that they admire about you and one thing they think you could work on. Do not ask questions, defend yourself or even talk about what they say. Just say thanks and write it down and when you have all of the feedback sit down by yourself and look at it. Hopefully you are thinking "I'm not such a mess after all" and you have new insight into your personal challenges.

6. Learn from the negative. It is important to stop and process what happened to you and how you got to be where you are. No pounding on yourself however. The goal is enlightenment and empowerment. Knowing yourself well helps you make sound decisions you can live with. For example, if you are a very sensitive person and easily hurt, the environment you live and work in really matters. Keep that in mind. If you have been a doormat in your relationships, you may want to learn to say No more often and take better care of yourself.

7. Build on the positive. If more than one person thinks you are kind, you probably are. Own it. Your gifts and strengths can be a compass to guide you toward what is best for you. Notice what activities, people, or places make you feel so good that time flies. (I'm not talking about romantic involvements here.) Usually what makes you feel good is a clue to your talents and the type of work you may be seeking.

8. Pay attention. Stick with this plan and learn to be very observant of what is going on around you. If you are integrating a spiritual approach you may start to notice that messages and guidance are coming at you every minute of every day. Follow that guidance like pebbles leading out of the forest. I have learned many times over that when you don't know what else to do, it is best to just pay attention to what is going on around you. Getting depressed or negative causes you to look down, expect nothing and miss subtle clues to what your future holds.

9. Imagine you are 5 years into your future and you have everything you hoped for in terms of work, career, support system, healthy relationships and environment. Be there in your mind and imagine that you are in that place with a great deal more wisdom than you have today. Write yourself a letter from the person you are 5 years from now. Include how you are feeling, what you did to get there, anything you want your past self to know about you, and give yourself a little advice. Keep the letter and read it frequently. It may pull you toward what you want and need.

10. Three simple things to remember long term: Remain positive, Use your gifts, and Pay attention.

 

Ann Smith is the author of the books Grandchildren of Alcoholics and Overcoming Perfectionism.

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