Is it really possible to lose your identity after losing your job? As far-fetched as it sounds, it’s actually a very common mental issue.
I once had a client who came to see me for therapy following a job loss that had happened months before. She and her husband were coping financially but she cried almost every day. She was quickly becoming depressed and anxious and couldn’t understand what was happening to her.
After some discussion, it became apparent that she was very passionate about her job, and that all of her friends and social activities had been connected to that job. It was as if she was in mourning. She couldn’t go back, but equally, she couldn’t move forward either.
She didn’t know who she was.
She didn’t know how to talk to people that weren’t in her old circle, but she no longer knew how to talk to old friends either. She felt that she was “no good” anymore.
That came across in interviews and even put her off applying for jobs that she was perfectly capable of doing. Her self-confidence and self-regard were low and she was becoming more and more withdrawn.
This story is certainly not an isolated one.
In this day and age, we find ourselves more and more defined by our jobs. When meeting someone new often one of the first questions we are asked is:
“What do you do?” or “where do you work?”
We equate our jobs as being an inherent part of ourselves, and for lots of us, that’s a completely accurate assessment. We live in a society which is driven by money, power, and success and this makes our profession an integral part of how we see ourselves and how other people see us.
What happens to your identity after losing your job?
Many people feel that the biggest concern for someone following a job loss will be financial worries, and although this is often true, this seems to be a far less hard-hitting and long-lasting effect than the loss of identity that people express they feel.
You can take action to relieve financial concerns, look for a new job, dip into your savings or ask friends and family for help. It’s much, much tougher to find the mental resilience that redefining yourself might call for.
So, what can you do about it?
People lose their jobs for many reasons and often these can feel completely unfair and be entirely unexpected. A company goes bust, is bought out, downsizes, technology fills roles – all these reasons can leave a person unemployed through no fault of their own.
The most important thing at a time like this is to ensure you don’t pull away, even if you’re hurting or feeling embarrassed or ashamed.
5 ways to deal with an identity crisis after losing your job
Be clear on why you were let go
If it was for economic reasons, then make sure you say that. To yourself most importantly, but certainly to others as well. Being clear on this point means that there’s less space for the doubts to start creeping in about why they let you go and not Mandy who is the same pay grade.
Don’t let the niggling mind monkeys get any space to start running riot and pulling you down. Telling others as you ask them to keep you informed of any potential new jobs allows them to help you in a productive way.
Stay social and keep in touch with old friends
This is tough as a friendship with a colleague is often based solely around your roles BUT don’t let these go prematurely. Former work colleagues can help you in the job market, and some of them might turn into genuine life-long friends. Don’t let your pride and feelings of hurt sabotage old friendships or new opportunities.
Assess whether you loved your job, or whether you were just good at it
What about your job was important to you? What parts did you love and what did you hate? Learn from your experience and use this as an opportunity to apply for roles that you actually want to spend years doing, rather than roles you ‘could do’. That doesn’t mean if you need the money urgently that you shouldn’t apply for a stop-gap role – but it’s very easy to make stopgap roles last for years and years once we get comfortable in them. Take this chance to consciously choose your direction. Find a new role that you love!
Talk to people
This is a tricky one. I don’t want to encourage you to tell the whole world about how awful it is and that you don’t know what you’re going to do. I recommend you seek professional help to talk through your feelings and actions if you need this (more information available below). Keep a level head on show for other people as much as you can.
Check your language when you’re talking to people. Keep it positive and give yourself a great chance of catapulting into the area of business that you want to be in. That doesn’t mean you can’t occasionally sob and scream at your partner, but know that they’re not qualified to help you and can only offer comfort – this might be all you need, or it might not!
Importantly, if you feel that what you’re feeling is causing you to become depressed or low, speak to someone. Get professional help as soon as necessary before you go down the slide into the black pit of lethargy and depression. It takes courage to ask for help – you’ve got this. My contact details are on the contact page – I’m available for therapy sessions by Skype or can possibly recommend someone in your area!
You’ve been through hard times before I’m sure. If you got to where you were through hard work and determination then you’ve certainly got what it takes to get yourself through this. Keep your chin up, lovely lady, you’re still the same fabulous person you’ve always been.
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