Understand Your Reactions to Job Loss

Layoffs abound -- they are a fact of working life today. Whether you're the only person or one member of a group caught in a major staff reduction; the bottom line tends to be a feeling that you have lost control of your life.

You may feel that you ceased to be in charge of things the moment your job was taken from you. You've lost the structure it provided, and the habits and rules that shaped your life an hour ago do not seem to fit this new and abnormal situation.

Knowing what emotions to expect can help you through this difficult time. You are likely to react in one of five ways.

  1. Anticipation
    This is the most typical reaction to job loss. You may be surprised and shocked, but these feelings are the result of having your worst fears confirmed, not from being totally surprised by the decision. You may never have acted on these fears and you may never even have admitted them openly to yourself. But at one level or another, you recognized them. So, when the actual termination does occur, you're somewhat prepared for it.
  2. Disbelief
    You may not anticipate the termination at all, and your reaction may be complete disbelief. You'll feel totally shocked, and you'll say things like, "You can't do this to me," or "I won't allow this," or "This can't be happening to me." You probably won't let yourself be drawn into a real conversation and will answer questions with a simple yes or no. It is possible that you may not accept the situation at all, which can be dangerous until the reality sinks in.
  3. Escape
    You can also react to the separation notification meeting by trying to escape the situation. "I can't stand this," you tell yourself. "I'm getting out of here." You understand what has happened to you, but you don't know what to do and decide that flight is the best option.
    You may leave the meeting before you understand the terms of your support package. You may head to the nearest tavern where, well-fortified, you share your troubles with a less-than-adoring public. People have even stormed out of interviews and called newspaper reporters sharing their problems in the most public and, potentially, the most self-destructive manner imaginable.
  4. Euphoria
    You might react as if you are delighted to hear the news that you have been fired. You tell your boss that you are positive you can handle the situation. Your boss is overjoyed; you've made a sticky chore easy. Euphoric reactions sometimes occur to people who are so highly geared to taking directions from their bosses that they agree to be terminated just as they would agree to work overtime. Other times, people are genuinely happy, as the decision has confirmed a step in a path already identified or explored. They just needed the push.
  5. Devastation
    You might feel so devastated by the news that you feel violent or wild. Almost everyone feels some degree of anger at losing a job. You may scream, holler obscenities, threaten your own legal action, or swear that you will pull it down with you by publicizing damaging news.

Whatever your reaction to losing your job, take some comfort that we all cope a little differently. Understanding your emotions will help you to move forward and focus on the future rather than the past. And this is the first step towards successfully securing that next career position.