Losing a job and coping with unemployment can be devastating financially, but it can also cause a great deal of psychological stress. In fact, the psychological effects can be similar to the stages of grief that individuals go through after other major life tragedies. It can mimic the feelings associated with the death of a friend or loved one, divorce, coping with a severe illness, or having a disability. Psychiatrist Elizabeth KŁbler-Ross, documented five stages of grief that many go through when experiencing a traumatic loss in life. People experiencing job loss and unemployment may go through any or all of these same phases.
When dealing with unemployment and job loss, in the first phase, Denial, individuals may feel stunned. They may attempt to ignore the fact that they are unemployed and try to behave as if everything is normal. They may avoid telling others about the job loss. Unfortunately, because of this, they may avoid doing the things necessary to ensure their own and their familyís financial security during this phase.
The second phase is Anger. During this time, individuals feel intense feelings of anger and frustration with the job loss and are usually defensive. They may become suspicious of their former managers, co-workers, and even loved ones who are trying to help them. When prolonged, this stage negatively affects individuals by preventing them from recognizing the supportive people around them and understanding how they themselves must adapt to succeed.
The Bargaining stage is when individuals may have feelings of desperation as they begin to recognize the severity of the situation. This may lead them to attempt to bargain with their former employers, offering to return to work and accept more responsibilities, contract work, or do whatever is necessary to restore employment. Unfortunately, this is often a futile effort. In rare instances, this may work, but in most cases, employers have severed ties and have moved on. They are unwilling to reconsider their decisions.
In the Depression stage, individuals may turn their anger inward toward themselves, which causes feelings of self-blame and hopelessness. Like a broken record, their minds may repeat negative self-talk saying things like, ďIím stupid for what I did or did not do. Iím worthless to my family now. Iíll never be able to succeed. No one will want to hire me after this. Iím going to lose everything.Ē They may stop caring for themselves and others, become lethargic, stop eating or eat too much, and become socially and professionally stagnant.
The final phase is Acceptance. This is the first sign that an individual is beginning to recover. At this time, the negative self-talk begins to fade, and the person recognizes that there are things that can be done to cope more effectively with the situation. Individuals may begin to actively reassess their values and goals in life. They may become willing to seek training needed to re-tool their careers. They begin preparing for a new job search or a different lifestyle that they can sustain in different ways.
Individuals may go through some or all of these phases. They may spend more time in some phases than others or skip some altogether. Depending on what is happening around them, they may move forward and then drop back into a previous phase when faced with adversity.