How to bounce back after losing your job
WHEN someone loses his job - because he was fired due to poor performance or laid off due to the company's poor performance - there is ensuing grief. This is because grief is a natural consequence of all types of loss.
Such grief needs to be addressed. If the grief is bypassed or suppressed, one runs the risk of getting into depression or other mental health problems in later years.
Following job loss, grief can emerge in a number of ways.
Over four decades ago, psychiatrist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross identified five stages of grief for terminal patients facing death in her hospital. They are:
Although losing one's job is not the same as the prospect of losing one's life, the same elements can still manifest themselves in our emotions.
In the early stage, for example, an employee facing the possibility of being laid off may tell himself as part of his initial denial that it will affect some of his colleagues, but not himself.
As the reality sinks in that he is being laid off, he may be angry over his perceptions of "Why me?" and other injustices.
Such anger can be directed at his past employers, those who are retained, himself, family members or other convenient targets.
Bargaining can take the form of hope of subsequent re-employment within the same organisation or securing an alternative job within a short time.
Feelings of sadness and depression will soon set in as his daily job routine is disrupted and he is separated from his usual role, which gives him his identity and self-worth.
As time passes, he begins to adjust emotionally to the job loss and eventually comes to accept what has taken place and prepare himself to face the challenges ahead.
Overall, losing a job affects different people in various ways as each person grieves in a unique manner despite the general patterns of human thought, feelings and behaviour.
We must also understand that the passage of grief is a process and the stages of grief may overlap, occur in any order or simultaneously, be of varying intensity and unpredictable duration, and may disappear or reappear at random.
Economic concerns are often a natural consequence of job loss as a person thinks of the monthly expenses and bills, as well as mortgage instalments to be paid.
Common worries include "How long can my savings last" and when can one expect to receive new income.
At the same time, we are all social beings who need to relate to one another. Losing a job will disconnect us from our former colleagues, resulting in feelings of loneliness and isolation.
Furthermore, if we identify ourselves by our jobs and derive meaning and purpose from our work, job loss can shatter our world view - we could feel empty and directionless.
We also need to remember that job loss will affect the dynamics of the whole family.
Everyone in the family needs to adapt to the change since all these factors will significantly impact spousal and parental relationships.
These other impacts of job loss can, separately or together, add to the grief.
COPING WITH JOB LOSS
The loss of a job usually presents major coping challenges in managing grief. Many people will ignore their grief to concentrate on their finances and search for a new job.
However, the emotional distress can negatively impact our ability to function effectively by disrupting our concentration and impairing our judgment.
The following tips may be helpful:
Grief is often experienced as an entangled ball of emotions that are distressing and debilitating. It needs to be processed and released through:
Talking about the loss: Do this with someone who understands what we are going through and can empathise with us. Grief shared is grief halved.
Resolving issues: Many of our emotional issues arise from having the wrong perceptions and our unconscious desire to hold convenient targets of blame for our suffering.
We need someone to gently point out to us our faulty thoughts and attitudes.
Finding new meaning: As we question our assumptions about how the world works, like our belief that diligent work will be recognised and rewarded, we need someone to encourage and guide us to re-examine and reconstruct a new world view that can accommodate our job loss experiences.
Seeking professional help if needed: If our grief is overwhelming and depression or other mental illnesses set in, we need to see a psychiatrist or therapist.
A job loss leaves a big void in us and we need to organise ourselves to fill it up. Inactivity will soon breed helplessness, which pushes us deeper into our grief.
Addressing our grief requires that we not only attend to the emotional pain, but also maintain a positive problem-solving attitude and proactive approach such as:
Acting on what is in your control: Do not look too far ahead, just do what you can each day. Focus on your present resources and strengths to make whatever adjustments are necessary and start looking for a new job.
Keep away from negative people who only complain and take no action.
Establish an active routine: Put routine back into your day and make a daily job search plan. Wake up at regular times and get out of the house if necessary.
Maintain helpful relationships: Do not isolate yourself but maintain contact with people who may be able to help you in your job search.
Remind them that you are looking for a job and seek their support.
Learn from experience: Rejection is a common experience during a job search.
Learn from the experience by finding out why you are not selected as an avenue for self-improvement.
THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK
The writer is a former business chief executive, works as a psychotherapist and is a United States-certified thanatologist.