When we have tough losses such as losing a job or a friendship, we don’t always get the support we might if, say, a family member passes away. When someone dies, friends likely connect with you by sending cards or calling, attending a wake, sending flowers, or making charitable donations to demonstrate how they value you and the person who passed away. Those acts that comfort you when you grieve death remind you that you are connected to others and are valued by them. But those responses to loss are not usually offered when you lose a job or a relationship.
If you think you should “tough it out” – get busy or “just move on already” – should you lose a job or a friend, you might be surprised when emotions you did not notice initially re-emerge later. Relationship or job losses affect your identity (your connection to yourself) and your community. When “who I am” is challenged, you need to restore stability to your self-worth and self-esteem (identity). Why? The ability to connect and be connected is a component of psychological well-being. Disconnection from identity as a worker or from friendship can shake you deeply.
How do these losses affect you?
Jobs. Many people hold an identity as a self-sufficient worker and see it as vital to their self-worth. If you lost a job during COVID-19, it was especially challenging, because you went through that loss when others were far less available to know about it, commiserate, support, and help you network. Even if you are now re-employed or did not suffer large financial loss, your sense of your importance (usefulness, contribution) might well have been dented. If you are feeling depressed or feeling self-doubt, pay attention to whether these emotions are coming up at the anniversary of the job loss.
One client, Terryl, lost her job just as COVID-19 lockdowns began, and her company laid off her entire department. Connecting with friends to commiserate became impossible. With the strain of networking entirely by zoom or email, the feeling of being disconnected caused such distress that Terryl felt panicky, but she believed it was merely about finding a job again. She and her partner did okay financially, so she told herself she should not think of the job loss as a big deal and pushed any upset feeling aside because “others had it far worse than I did.” But her anniversary reaction made it clear that it was far more significant than she realized.
As we came out of lockdown and the job market allowed her to get back to work, Terryl was plagued with a sensation of anxiety that seemed unrelated to going back to work. She noticed that the timing was nearly a year after losing the job, and, as we talked about it, she became aware of the importance of work to her identity. She was startled to realize that she had felt like she was worthless when she lost her job, but she could not talk about that with anyone because all of her colleagues were also out of a job. She realized that the sense of being disconnected from supportive people at the same time she felt disconnected from herself (her identity) was almost like disappearing, a truly panicky feeling. As she processed this anniversary reaction, it opened the door to resolving that temporary, but important, loss. And more, it allowed her to begin to separate self-esteem from what she does (accomplishments) and connect it instead to how she does things by acting in accordance with her values.
Sometimes an anniversary reaction occurs during a situation rather than a time of year.
Friendships. Friendships are another significant source of information and stability about who you are. When someone you trusted suddenly ghosts you, blocks you on social media, refuses to pick up a call or return a text, or otherwise disconnects from you, the loss is not just the time you might have spent together but also the loss of trust in yourself as well. When my client Danielle* was ostracized from a small book group she was part of, she could not explain why everyone else was suddenly getting together without her. Then, when COVID-19 lockdowns began, she felt extreme feelings of dread. Social isolation awakened an anniversary reaction to being shut out of the book group, losing her intimate friendship group without a reason.
Danielle’s loss was further in the past than the pandemic, but the feelings of disconnection were not. As she thought through what might have caused the friendship to break apart, using the journaling method I described in my last post, she could see how her feelings about the two situations were related. Sometime after the group ended, she learned that her live-in boyfriend of that time had been inappropriately seductive to a woman in the group. She surmised that they could not tell her, so, instead, they cut her out, leaving her to suffer an identity-damaging loss. This is an example of an anniversary reaction that is not about an event that occurred at a specific time of year, but rather of how a situation stimulated an anniversary reaction.
The Essential Process of Re-establishing Connectedness
Reconnecting to yourself and to others creates the best outcome.
I have made a point about feeling disconnected from oneself (one’s identity) or from other important people in your life. Once you see that the excessive degree to which you feel a sense of disconnection in a current situation may be prompted by anxiety and a depressed/sad mood about a prior situation in your life, you might find immediate relief. However, a few ideas might help you along that pathway.
Boost your self-esteem. When people feel their identity affected by loss of job or friendship, the disconnect shows in loss of self-worth and self-esteem. Genuine self-worth is knowing you are valuable as you are, which is often the result of knowing that you have as much value as every other person without having to prove it and your accomplishments are only to be measured by the effort you made, not by measuring them against some external standard.
Self-esteem emerges from living according to your values, which are expressed in your character traits. For example, if you believe that it is important to be kind but then treat someone else very unkindly, your self-esteem will suffer. If you find that your identity was challenged, you can improve self-worth and self-esteem. Try this:
- Write a list of 25 things about yourself that are positive. These may be character traits (honest, kind, friendly, etc.), talents (athletic, artistic, writerly, musical, etc.), accomplishments (sales manager, social worker, MBA, parent of three), and so on. If you get stuck, ask someone who cares about you to help you make a list. I guarantee that anyone who cares about you will be willing and able to help out.
- Every day, for at least a week, put a check next to the items on the list that you noticed were apparent or were somehow evident in your day.
- At the end of a week, notice if you feel more self-worth and self-esteem. You will very likely feel more connected to yourself.
If you have suffered the loss of confidence (connection with yourself) in your identity or lost the feeling of being connected because of a disruption in a friendship, remember that feeling connected is vital to our well-being. It is time to take some action to restore connectedness.
Reconnect with others. If you have become disconnected, the process of reconnecting may take some effort.
- Start small. Write a text, send a photo, leave a voicemail, or write an email that simply indicates you are thinking of the other person. One woman I know establishes a sense of connection by sending a quote from her daily meditation to any friend who comes to mind while she is reading. It invariably makes her feel she is more connected and usually receives an appreciative message from the friend, thus completing the interactive connection.
- Set specific appointments to get together. If you offer a vague comment such as “We should get together sometime” and expect the other person to get busy and set a date and time, you are missing the point of re-connecting. Rather, issue a specific invitation with a day, time, and activity, e.g., “Could you meet me for coffee next Tuesday afternoon at 4?”
If it is not immediately obvious, I should emphasize that the reconnecting efforts should first go to persons whom you know care for you even if you have not seen them for a while. These ideas are not offered as a way to repair a broken or perhaps permanently broken bond with another person.