Newsletter - April 2009
Since the fall of 2008 both of us have gained much more experience in working with job loss experienced by our clients. As a result, we have had to gain expertise in helping people deal efficiently with loss and promoting resilience in a relatively short period of time. We hope this article gives you some ideas and help.
"I can't believe they let me go. I knew there were going to be layoffs, but hearing it was a shock. I'm angry, sad, and I keep replaying the scene in my supervisor's office over and over again." Jane was sitting in my office, switching between anger, sadness, fear and confusion. She had been obsessively going over the moments just before and just after hearing the news. Well meaning friends and family had been telling her to move on, but she couldn't.
Dealing with the scene of the "crime", the trauma of losing a job, is the first step to moving forward. There are many resources and approaches for an effective job search, but it is difficult to use them if the trauma of the job loss is not dealt with first. In Jane's situation, that meant treating the actual event of hearing the news about her layoff as a trauma. Despite talking about the job loss in therapy and with friends, she was stuck, and we used EMDR, an effective and quick method originally developed to deal with trauma, to help her process the events just before, during and immediately after the meeting with her boss.
In addition to the trauma of the event of a job loss, losing a job also means, for many people, multiple other losses; a structure to their lives, a social network, a source of self esteem and self worth, and last but not least, the loss of income. Shame, embarrassment and a sense of failure came along with the layoff for Jane. Deep feeling of unworthiness overwhelmed her at unexpected times during the day and night. One loss often reactivates other losses in life, and this was true for Jane. An earlier loss in Jane's life surfaced, and it was important for her to put this earlier loss in perspective so that she could confront the current loss of her job without older losses intruding.
In the current economic climate there are many support and networking groups available, some through churches and synagogues, others through professional organizations, even through social media networks like Facebook. Jane began to join networking groups, and found she was not alone, that many other accomplished and competent people were in the same boat. Seeing others in the same situation and hearing their stories helped lessen the sense of shame she had about being laid off from her job. Normalizing her circumstances through group support was enormously helpful. She was not alone.
The importance of reaching out to others, of sharing one's story cannot be overstated. Suffering in silence is a recipe for prolonging pain. Talking with family, friends, a therapist, and in groups promotes resilience, the ability to recover quickly from change or misfortune. Through sharing her vulnerabilities with others she strengthened her relationships and gained connection and support. Resiliency is a necessary quality to have at all times and particularly in difficult times.
Whatever you decide to do, looking for another job, going back for more education, or starting your own business, requires resilience, the ability to recover quickly from the ups and downs of change. Jane was in a stressful period of transition, a period with many small and large setbacks. The mind, body and spirit are connected, and she found that she was over reacting to the stress she encountered in her job search, which she experienced as an emotional roller coaster. She learned and practiced techniques to help her diffuse stress reactions and reactivity. Talk therapy was not enough. Through simple relaxation, breathing and imagistic techniques reinforced through hypnotherapy she was able to strengthen her capacity to bounce back from upsets.
Increasing her resilience allowed her to access her inner resources, competencies and her spiritual wisdom. The crises of a job loss forced her to take a look at her overall life and helped her clarify the important from the transitory and trivial. By lessening her reactivity Jane was able to see the patterns and the big picture of her life, and to draw support and strength from inner resources and important relationships.
David Hammerman, Ed.D.