The latest New York Times headline gives us good news and bad news. The good news is that the unemployment rate has dropped to 9.5% and the bad news is that 125,000 jobs were lost this past month. In a recent article in the Wall Street Journal 26 % of those currently working had some period of unemployment during the past 30 months. Still, many people who are unemployed feel a sense of shame. "I feel like a loser", one man said. "People will look down on me".
Unemployment is about the Market
The irony of these shameful thoughts is that they don't seem to recognize that unemployment is highly likely for millions of people in the workforce. Market conditions--- changes in financial stability, declining demand, over-supply, and pessimism-lead companies to let workers go. State and local governments have a declining tax base and increasing deficits and have no alternative, at times, than to lay off highly qualified workers. Unemployment is part of a larger system of uncertainty, change, and lack of control. It is often beyond the control of those who are let go.
Why feel shame? There is nothing immoral, malicious or negligent about being unemployed. It's not likely that you chose to lose your job. You didn't control the market conditions that affected downsizing. You don't control the demand in the economy for your services or goods. Indeed, unemployment is almost always higher in the European Union---does this mean that Europeans should be ashamed of themselves?
Shame Isolates You
The consequence of your shame is that you may isolate yourself: "I don't want people to know I'm not working". As a result you stay home, don't return emails, and hide from the world. This leads to more rumination, more shame, more isolation. Ask yourself if you have ever known anyone who lost a job. Would you treat them like a pariah-an outcast who is a social leper? Or would you sympathize with them and try to think of how you could be supportive? Some of my patients who have been unemployed have found that there are some people out there who actually want to help. But, it's true that there are going to be some people who will avoid you (some former co-workers) or even judge you. That says something negative about them-not about you. I've always thought that when someone I know is having a hard time, it's my turn to step up and support them.
If there are people out there who are judgmental, then keep in mind that you never want to be like them. Someday-when you have that job-someone else you know will be unemployed. And you can be a better friend than some fair-weather friends that you may have.
People who are unemployed are not "different people"-they just find themselves in a temporary situation with which they must cope. If you think of this as a "situation" or "a problem to solve" rather than as a badge of failure, you can be more proactive in dealing with your temporary period of unemployment. (I will blog about this in the next few weeks-how to cope.) But shame is not a way to cope and it's not a personal failure. It's a situation that needs to be addressed. I don't recall the eleventh commandment: Thou shalt not lose thy job.
You can also review some of the tips that I describe in an earlier blog, Facing Unemployment: Ten Steps in Handling Unemployment.
You are not alone.