Grieving the loss of a job
Working through Anger and Sadness
Grieving the loss of a job can be an intensely emotional experience. Not many people realize that it comes with a mental process until they go through the experience themselves, because we think of these as objective events rather than something that has impact and meaning. But grief often accompanies a job loss and it is real.
What we lose and why we grieve
If the idea of having to work through the five stages of grieving the loss of a job feels silly or self-indulgent, but it is not.
Work is part of who we are
Most of us have the idea baked into our psyches that our career is a definitive part of our identity. One of the first get-to-know-you questions at a party is “What do you do?” If you are ambitious and driven, the job can represent how far you have come in life and what you have accomplished. If you end up on the list of people who get laid off, it can feel like rejection (especially if others on your team get to stay).
Work shapes our daily routine
The ground beneath your feet has moved and it is destabilizing and this thing that was there every single day is now gone. That something gave us purpose, identity, and an income. Losing it is important.
Work can be an important source of friendship
Aside from a loss of identity, you have also lost some of your people. Many of us may spend more time with our colleagues than our friends, our kids and life partners. When a job comes to an end, it is very likely you will never see many of these people again. Not all work friendships survive the job itself and if you are not hearing from your former colleagues, that can add to the pain. So, losing these people is also a big deal.
How to navigate through grieving the loss of a job
Feeling grief after a job loss is expected and normal. Do not think, “Ugh, I’m sad again. WHY?” Do not scold yourself to just “shake it off”. It is important to recognize these emotions and work through them. While there is no one tip that can magically make the feelings of sorrow and rage disappear, there are some healthy ways to deal with your emotions. It is a healing process.
Practice patience with yourself.
Like any loss in life, each one will affect you in a different way. Some will have a glancing blow while others will hit you like a ton of bricks. For that reason, healing from your loss of a job will be a unique process — and it will have its own timeline. If you are not “over it” as soon as you would like, try to understand that taking longer is also OK. Picture a tablet of Alka Seltzer dropping into a glass of water.
Water and Tablet
The water and the tablet create a chemical reaction, agitating the liquid with pulses of bubbles. You cannot hurry that process; it has its own timeline. Your grieving of a loss of a job in this unique situation works in the same way. So, if it has been a few weeks or months since your job loss, and you still get hit with waves of anger or sadness, do not worry. You do not have a character flaw. You are human.
Reach out to your people.
In times like these, people do not know what to say or how to act. They may be afraid of saying the wrong thing. Or they may not realize how much you can use a friend right now. Do not shy away from initiating contact. Spending time with friends and family can get you out of your head for a while, and help you get a more hopeful outlook.
Share your grief
You are not alone in this and plenty of people have been in your shoes, writing and vlogging about the churning stew of emotions that accompanies a job loss. If you are open to it, you can also share your experiences, whether it is a video you make and post on social media, or a blog you start. Do not be surprised by who comes out of the woodwork, as people share their stories — including those you respect professionally — on the losses they faced and how they coped. Sharing can offer a release valve for your emotions but hearing from others can also give you hope.
But do not turn to those who minimize your grief
With any loss, you may encounter people who will try to minimize your feelings. Some may try to one-up you instead of listening, or they will try to talk you out of feeling bad. These are the people who are not equipped to help you with your grief. That does not make them bad friends, they are just not going to be the ones who help you deal with your emotions. Acknowledge their limitations and try finding someone else who is more capable of helping you.
Zoom out the life lens
Life is long. Picture these days and weeks as smaller moments on the timeline of your life. Painful as it is, in the end, this job loss represents a short life chapter. Putting a little perspective on the situation, serious and urgent as it is, can take some of the edge off your intense emotions. After all, some people get through life without at least some high stakes setbacks. If you eventually end up with a great new job, it will make your victory all the sweeter.
Bring structure back to your life
One of the things we lose with our jobs is the daily structure and routine. Even if you are enjoying the break from the daily grind, its absence can leave you feeling unmoored, which can deepen the sense of loss. Reclaim a piece of the feeling that someone is counting on you and think about volunteering or joining the gig economy. Sweep floors, pack lunches for low-income kids, or work the phone bank for your favorite cause, or shop for groceries. Throw yourself in a hobby. Spend more time with an organization you belong to. For now, it can be a good-enough substitute to help you get through this tough time.
Do not stuff your emotions
Whatever you do, do not deny your feelings. When you feel the anger or the sadness arise, it is important to give those feelings a place to go. Journaling, painting, pounding an angry tune on the piano, cranking your stereo. Heck, you can even drive out to an empty field and release some primal screams. If it makes you feel better (and does not trigger a noise complaint with the local police), do it!
Conclusion: Grief stinks, but it is manageable
When you suffer any loss, including a job, grief can be like an unwanted house guest. It is a condition we sometimes find ourselves in because life with its victories and setbacks is an ongoing and constantly evolving situation. We cannot help you evict grief, but doing some of the above things can help you manage it. Hang in there. You are not your job. Keep on swimming, and one day, you will find those better days ahead.
The swirl of emotions that accompany grief become your constant companion and you may wake in the morning feeling normal for a moment. Then, like a gloom that was hovering over you, waiting to descend, you remember your new reality and the day begins.
Bottom line: Moving through the grieving process after the loss of a job is normal and facing your emotions and letting yourself process them can help you move on.