Applying the Grieving Process to Losing a Job
What Has Happened?
Eleven years on a job is a pretty long time for someone aged 34. I spent most of my young life at this Firm and was disheartened when I walked into the job to discover I was laid off. I was not let go due to performance or being difficult to get along with; I was let go, along with others, due to the business decision of downsizing. On my last day I was told I was amazing and was a pleasure to work with. I will not start this post being dishonest exclaiming I was ecstatic by the compliments as they only created mixed feelings. I went through a process to accept what happened and I believed that process was the grieving the process.
I learned from the first episode of Season 6 of the T.V. show Frasier that grief is not limited to losing people but also things or changes in circumstances. After a while a job becomes a part of who we are. When someone asks you to introduce yourself somewhere in that introduction you will include your line of work as that is a part of you.
I did not 100% believe this theory until I was laid off and thought I would share my experience in case there is someone out there that may be or is currently experiencing this process.
Ideally there are 5 stages of grief which consist of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. These five steps help you to process things or people that you might’ve lost.
My 5 Stages of Grief
Stage 1: Denial
On the day I was let go, I was flying high from the compliments that I received and tearful to say goodbye to the friends I collected during my 11-year tenure. I kindly went through the motions of understanding unemployment and all that business jazz that comes along with being laid off. I cried a little in the HR office as it was the end of a chapter and I had no idea what to do next. All in all, I was still in a decent mood because now my life is a blank canvas and new and excited things will be happening in my life.
Because I was let go on a Friday, my weekend was normal as I was always off on weekends. Then Monday came and I arose at the time I would normally get up from work. I kindly reminded myself that I did not have anywhere to go and laid back down to sleep. This happened for the majority of the first week. I watched all of the day television shows, talked on the phone, went for a walk one day (it was sweltering hot that week). I texted my ex-coworkers and some of those that were laid off with me, life was great!
It did not seem like I lost my job at all. It felt more like I took a staycation and was off work for a week. I was relaxing as if I was going back to work the next week. I felt nothing just going through the motions of my day. When the second week approached I started to feel a strong emotion growing inside of me.
Stage 2: Anger
I had a dream that I was at work and it was a normal day. Later in that dream I was let go. I popped my body up in the bed to realize that was not a dream but my reality. My anxiety level increased to the point that I texted a friend. She assured me this was the beginning of a process and that I would get emotional. Little did I know I already started the process last week by denying this thing happened to me at all.
I grew angrier and angrier from one week to the next, thinking to myself:
“How could they do this to me?”
“I gave my best”
“If I was so awesome why was I let go?”
These thoughts and more started accumulating in my head, the more questions I asked myself the higher my anxiety rose. This feeling was so uncomfortable as I am usually the bubbly and the optimistic one. I blamed everyone for the loss of my job and I mean everyone…somehow my husband had played a part in this too. Boy O Boy the theories kept regurgitating out of my mind and I lost a grip of reality. I grew madder and madder at the situation and withdrew from contacting anyone associated with the place as it only made me angry. My family steered clear of me during this phase, there was nothing they could say that I had not already prepared a rebuttal for. I will admit I was a difficult person during this phase. Thankfully, this emotion died down and led me to the road of negotiations.
Stage 3: Bargaining
One day I woke up and was not angry anymore, however, it took me a couple days to see the damage I done. Everyone steered clear of me and I was alone in this. This could be because I was a pain to be around. I did contact the people in my line of fire to apologize and they gladly accept but still I withdrew from talking to any of my friends at the old job as much as I could. I did not stop talking to them for the reason of them doing anything to me…at that point it was just too painful, it reminded me of the old job. I was trying to erase the memory of the place that in actuality would be an unhealthy thing to do. If I suppressed my old job I would lose all the skill sets I developed there, I would forget all the friendships I developed there and the opportunities they gave me. At that time, I was not thinking of any of that…I was thinking of continuing my career there.
Yes, you read it right, I was thinking of continuing my career there. I was trying to conjure up ways to get back in the job. I thought about how much I complained to myself while there. I took my complaining and transformed it as not appreciating my job enough. In reality, no job is perfect and of course there are things you would like to change, but overall, I liked it there, I loved what I did.
In the Bargaining world, I did not love it enough and maybe I should express that to my former employer. I began devising a plan on how I could explain to them how I could do some things better. I wanted to send an apology letter for that time I was extensively sick last year (even know they were understanding and FMLA was involved).
I thought about contacting my old boss and asking if there was something that I could do to be rehired. I began dreaming that I worked back at the place and somehow they called me and said they were rehiring some of the laid off individuals.
Man OH Man was my mind racing!
My husband talked me out of every idea. He kept explaining to me I was let go due to business reasons and that it was a lay off and not a firing. At that time termination was termination and there was nothing that could be said to me to convince me that is wasn’t my fault.
Thinking back on this time, I would say some of these thoughts derived from fear on starting that new chapter I was so optimistic about while in the Denial stage. I wanted to run back to a familiar place because I was petrified of entering something new.
Stage 4: Depression
The feeling of fear derived from my Bargaining actions led to depression. I once heard from one of my psychology professors that “Depression is anger turned inside out”. Meaning grief stage 2 had returned but in a more intense form. I was in this stage longer than I wanted to be.
This fear of moving forward made me feel hopeless and I believed I would never get hired again. I rearranged my resume and LinkedIn a million times over. I did not think I was good enough for another job and the skills I learned at my former employer only applied at my former employer. My earned degrees were a waste of time as I never really utilized them. Woe is me and Woe is me.
I went from watching what I ate to watching ALL I ate. The television was on but mostly I stared into space. My parents and husband tried to get me out of bed…the most I walked was to the bathroom and back. I slept a lot and my dreams were mostly of that job…WOULD THEY JUST STOP ALREADY!!!!
I was wrestling with the action of letting go. You read in Self-Help books how letting go is fantastic but they sometimes forget to mention the process of letting go. The process is painful if you were holding on to a life you envisioned for yourself. I did have dreams of someday using my degree but that was all they were because I was comfortable at that job. I was knocked out of my comfort zone so swiftly and everything felt out of my control, including my emotions. I wanted to get better but couldn’t.
A couple of weeks later, I started writing my prayers because my mouth went mute. I started praying for the strength to let go. I started making myself get up and apply for jobs. Basically, I started fighting. Depression is something you fight through, it is not something you can take on lying down.
I put the food down and picked a wreath form up and started crafting. The activity gave me something to do during the day. I love crafting so much I started a business a year ago that I forgot about during this process. I also started a blog you are currently reading that I forgot about while being depressed. Overtime I was reminded of the things that brought me joy. Day by day I was feeling better and my confidence was rising.
Stage 5: Acceptance
This is the stage of relief.
This is the stage I accepted my reality for what it was. I was working on a job for 11 years I learned so much from and met great people. The skills I learned from there will take me to higher heights and now I have the chance to do whatever I want. I realize this free time will make time for me to craft more. I crafted so much that I am now frequently attending craft shows to sell my items. I am now working on building clientele.
I made the conscious decision to utilize my Masters degree and work towards starting my Human Resources career. I changed my resume again and am now pursuing what I want to do. I am no longer letting fear get in the way by deciding to make the most of my situation and be thankful for this new chapter presented to me.
Now acceptance does not erase the emotions you have towards losing something or the memory of that person you lost. It just simply means you’ve accepted this lost and will attempt to go on with the rest of your life the best you can. It means you have come into terms this instance is uncontrollable and that it is unwise to try changing the uncontrollable.
In this stage you learn your reactions to each situation is the thing you can control.
I hope and pray that if you are going through a loss of anything that you allow yourself to process the loss. Although most of the emotions are uncomfortable, it is healthy and allows you to push forward this thing called life.