Suffering from a job loss? Suffering a bit is normal. Continuing to suffer however is bad for your self-confidence, can put strain on your family and friendship relationships, and can make matters even worse for you by triggering marriage problems.
There are cultures and countries where folks stay in one job for their full career. That’s not the USA way. For better and for worse, companies make cut-backs. They change priorities and shift personnel. They can fire people. That’s life in the working world.
Here’s four suggestions to help you survive and even thrive. I’ll illustrate each step from the situation of George who lost his highly lucrative job as a salesman for a drug company.
- Talk or write about it. Have a good cry. Lick your wounds. Accept hugs.
- Reframe how you see the loss.
- Detoxify so you can learn from what happened.
- Externalize the fault, and activate your search for the next job.
George felt devastated when his boss told him they were letting him go. “Here’s your check for the past week,” his boss said. “No need even to go to your desk to get your pencils…”
The emotional shock left George feeling shaky inside and totally demoralized. He hadn’t seen the termination coming, and believing it now felt too painful.
Step 1. Emotional release: Have a good cry, lick your wounds. Accept hugs.
George headed for home. At first he turned on the TV, but when he couldn’t concentrate he turned it off. He couldn’t cry, but he did sit down at the kitchen table and put his head on his arms.
George felt like he wanted to cry but the tears wouldn’t come, so instead he got out his computer and started to write. Whatever came to mind went straight onto the paper. He felt sorry for himself, and wrote about all the ways his firing felt unfair.
By the end of writing whatever thoughts and feelings flowed, a few tears welled up in his eyes. With the tears, and with putting his pain into words, the load felt lighter.
When George’s family came home, he told them the bad news, fearing that they would all try to give him advice. They did just that, trying to reassure him with suggestions to try this and try that. George responded by explain to them quietly, “Actually, I'm not ready yet for solutions. For now I’d prefer just a big hug…” Multiple hugs later, plus a good night’s sleep, and yesterday’s trauma began already to feel like history.
Step 2. Reframe what happened.
At first George felt bitter. He felt that his firing was unfair. Sure, the company was losing money, but why was he the one chosen to be let go? The more he thought of the unjustice of his job loss, the more upset he felt. The urge to revenge rose like an angry wolf within him.
“Anger will do me no good. Getting back at them may make them feel bad for a bit, but it really won’t help me. It won’t solve my problem of having to find another job or even heal the hurt I feel about having been fired.”
So George switched from telling himself all the ways that the company had wronged him to deciding how this turn of events could turn out to be to his benefit. Switching his focus from a victim stance, “what they did to me,” to a more positive view of what happened to him is called a reframe.
Remembering what he had disliked about his former job helped. “My boss has been a downer from day one. I do feel glad to be free from having to deal with him every day.”
A further type of reframe looks at what was fortunate in his job loss. “I sure am lucky that they fired me with a full month of severance pay. That should give me time to find something else.”
That ‘how I’m fortunate” thought led to yet another reframe in the same vein. “I can see that my company has been going down the drain for several years now. I’m probably one of the lucky ones who got out early. That will give me time to grab one of the few remaining job in our industry ahead of the pack who are going to all lose their jobs pretty soon.”
Already George’s feelings of being a victim and a loser were giving way to feeling like a winner. Losers experience a drop in serotonin. Decreases in serotonin create feelings of depression. Feeling like a winner shoots serotonin into the system. Increases in serotonin yield positive feelings.
3. Detoxify the messages from others and from yourself about why the job loss occurred.
George was fortunate. His boss had not given him criticism the day he’d been fired. Still, in his own mind he heard the words his boss his said in the last evaluation. “George,” his boss had told him, “you’ve gotten lazy.”
“Am I really a lazy person?” George thought, beginning to kick himself. To detoxify the word lazy, George looked back on what his boss had been observing.
“I’ve been getting burned out on my work. I also have felt demoralized working for a boss who is so often critical and who give so little positive feedback.”
Lazy is pejorative. Burned out and demoralized are sympathetic detoxified descriptions of the same phenomenon that his boss had labeled so negatively.
George began to realize that he had been labeling himself negatively also. “You idiot!” he’d said to himself. “You should have seen this coming.”
To detoxify this message, George told himself, “You sure were surprised by this firing.”
4. Externalize the fault, and activate your search for the next job.
Having ceased blaming his boss, and even himself, George began to think about external causes for his job loss. He realized that the economy was shrinking. He realized again that the company was failing. Better to leave a sinking ship early enough to swim to safety that to go down with it.
“The match between what I’ve been doing and my best skills was never ideal there anyways,” George realized. The concept of match is often helpful for understanding jobs, and also relationships, that seem to end prematurely.
“Most important, working in the kind of negative environment that my company has become is probably not good for anyone,” George realized, feeling increasingly energized to find a new and better job.
“On to the computer!” George said to himself, heading for the job search sites. “I think while I’m at it I’ll look even in some new areas. I guess it was time for a change!”
Denver clinical psychologist Susan Heitler, Ph.D. is author of the book for therapists From Conflict to Resolution. Her book for couples, The Power of Two, teaches the skills for couple success that she also teaches via her fun interactive website, poweroftwomarriage.com.
Click here for more PsychologyToday blogposts from Dr. Heitler.