Inevitably, everyone will have to deal with loss and grief at some point in their lives. Grief is not only about processing the loss of a loved one, but it may also arise from the loss of a job or the end of a relationship. Generally, grief is about everything that entails change and transition to a condition less pleasant or comfortable. How prepared are you to embrace such a life transition?
The loss of a job is similar to any other kind of loss and there is always a grieving process following. Whether your job loss resulted from organizational downsides or from you not being a good fit for the position, chances are that you will experience unemployment grief.
Why is job loss a ground for grief?
The reason why job loss feels so overwhelming is that work accounts for a big part of our daily life. If you consider that we are awake only for 16 hours per day and half of them are at work, it becomes understood that losing our job equals change for half of our life. Let alone the fact that losing a job equals financial insecurity, many people see their career as self-fulfillment and validation. Finally, work is usually associated with a social network and a predictable routine.
The grieving process can be complex and different for everyone but being aware of the grief stages and how you uniquely experience them can enhance your self-understanding and help you better understand your needs.
The 5 stages of grief
In her landmark book “On Death and Dying”, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross presented the five stages of grief. The work was first described in the context of understanding patients dealing with a terminal illness, but it was later used to describe grief more widely:
1. Denial: This is a common defense mechanism that gives you the time you need to process the bad news while pretending that the loss or change is not happening. A typical example of the denial stage is to consider the results are wrong when there is an illness diagnosis or to expect to call you back from your work after you were fired.
2. Anger: This is like a masking effect covering the feelings of bitterness and sadness with anger. A typical example of anger in the grieving process is to accuse God after you got diagnosed with an illness or to accuse your boss of being a bad leader after you were fired. During this stage, it is important to make sure you do not suppress your emotions but try to dissipate some of that energy.
3. Bargaining: This stage relates to a sense of regaining control even after the outcome. It is like adding logic in a bid to postpone the pain and sadness. A typical example of the bargaining stage is the “what ifs”, e.g. “They wouldn’t fire me if I worked more weekends”. During this stage, you may tend to beat yourself up, but bear in mind that this will not help the situation.
4. Depression: Following the aforementioned intense emotions, depression comes as the “quiet” stage of grief, where you get to embrace these emotions and start coping with them. Feeling lost and not knowing how to move forward characterizes this stage in case of a job loss.
5. Acceptance: This is not necessarily a “happy ending stage” of leaving grief behind but relates more to realization. Acceptance is about comprehending what the change means in your life now. For instance, if you lost your job, the acceptance stage is about realizing that a new career opportunity is opening up from now on. At the end of the day, acceptance is being ready to move on.
Did you know?
In his more recent work, grief expert David Kessler presented a sixth stage: Finding meaning. According to Kessler, many people look for “closure” after a loss and this is finding meaning beyond the five stages of grief. This can transform grief into a more peaceful and hopeful experience.
What can I do to help my grief?
- Now is the time for hobbies: When we work, we tend to think about what we would do if we had more time. This time is now, so try to make the most of your free time.
- Ask for help: Losing your job can have a big impact on your life and everyone understands this. Don’t take the burden all by yourself, ask for help from your loved ones and you will be surprised to see how helpful this can be.
- Build a routine: Just because you don’t go to work anymore, this does not mean that you don’t have to leave your bed in the morning. Developing some routine activities can help you structure your day and feel you are in control of your free time.
It is important to remember that:
- this is not a prescribed order and not everyone necessarily goes through all of the five stages.
- there is no specific time period for any of these stages; it may take from weeks to years long.
- everyone experiences grief differently but understanding the stages of grief can help you better interpret your emotions and be more ready to face them.
- a mental health professional can help you manage your feelings at grief times.
- Success in life is vastly linked to how you manage failure.
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