How to Process a Layoff & Recover From It

6 minutes

Waking up and going to work is hard. Sitting in your cubicle, working on excel sheets and powerpoint presentations, attending inane meetings and drowning in deadlines was not what you wanted. But then came the day, when you were laid off- it hurt, it hurt real bad.

Being laid off is associated with shame, worthlessness and rejection

I know. I’ve been there. Obviously, I didn’t tell anyone, because acknowledging that I was deemed useless enough to be thrown out was like a knife twisting in my belly. I needed to never speak of it, to never even think of it, to wait out the time when I was unemployed. To constantly feel that “all that happens, happens for a good reason”.

How are we to heal? What does recovery look like? Here are a few things to remember:

If it’s painful, it’s normal

Rejection can feel paralyzing. A study claims that –

when we experience rejection, the same areas of our brain get activated as when we experience physical pain. That’s why even small rejections hurt more than we think they should, because they elicit literal (albeit, emotional) pain

Psychologist, Guy Winch discusses why rejection is so debilitating. He shares –

…the greatest damage rejection causes is usually self-inflicted…We call ourselves names, lament our shortcomings, and feel disgusted with ourselves. In other words, just when our self-esteem is hurting most, we go and damage it even further. Doing so is emotionally unhealthy and psychologically self-destructive yet every single one of us has done it at one time or another

Self-compassion is tremendously important

Even if you’re fired once, your mind replays that  moment again and again, wherein you keep re-experiencing the associated emotions. What consistently makes things even harder is the self-criticism. We’re often not compassionate to ourselves at the time of need. In her book, My Stroke of Insight, Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, mentions that the stress hormone cortisol stays in our bodies for only ninety seconds. This implies that if we experience the same emotions beyond that, it is because we are re-triggering them, and that somewhere, we are controlling how we feel about our lives – success or failure.

Love yourself

Self-compassion, according to its prime researcher Kristin Neff, asks us to notice suffering, to be moved by it, and to remember that it is part of the human condition. It requires us, in short to treat ourselves as we would when a friend is in pain.

Engaging with others, instead of isolating oneself is a significant act of self compassion. Others include self-care, involving oneself in creative undertakings, and monitoring and editing what we tell ourselves.

Putting yourself out there again is scary

When one has experienced a layoff, finding another job, or trying a new venture can often be intensely daunting. There’s always a nagging question even when you go find a new job- do I really belong here? Am I a fraud? Our self-worth, self-esteem, and our self-confidence takes a hit. There is increasing evidence to show that our body and role changes shape the mind.

Something we can try, when we feel like we don’t belong, is power poses. What are power poses? Think of a state where you feel confident and powerful- and mimic that expression through your body- it can be the way you stand, the way you sit or the way you carry yourself. The way we move has an effect on how we feel, think and act. We could really use some good feeling at moments like these.

Mastering the art of resilience

What makes some trauma survivors thrive while some take decades to rebuild their lives?

Psychologist and researcher Brene Brown, who has extensively studied the physics of vulnerability and shame, says

Embracing failure without acknowledging the real hurt and fear that it can cause, or the complex journey that underlies rising strong, is gold-plating grit. To strip failure of its real emotional consequences is to scrub the concepts of grit and resilience of the very qualities that make them both so important — toughness, doggedness, and perseverance

These qualities speak of resilience. That is what makes the difference.

If we are brave enough often enough, we will fall; this is the physics of vulnerability

says Brown.

Dealing with the Vacuum

For a lot of us, a layoff opens up a whole new world of existential crisis. It brings about an existential vacuum- a feeling of profound pointlessness.

Existential crisis

It’s important to not sugar coat it- that this was good- maybe not just yet. It is, however, important to acknowledge the hurt, and to remember that suffering is a difficult but necessary thread interwoven into the fabric of our lives. In his book, Man’s Search for Meaning,  Viktor E. Frankl explains

Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way

An existential crisis requires us to come face to face with the unknown, face the questions and accept the fact that we will have more questions than answers. It allows us to be in a space of discomfort which mustn’t be brushed away. We need to make meaning of our lives. When we go through times where everything seems futile, we must indulge in our meaning making process.

In conclusion, I can tell you one thing with complete surety, recovering from a layoff takes time- and that’s okay. You can and will do it.

This article is a part of  #Fired2FiredUp Campaign by YourDOST. Visit the page for real life stories, learnings and tips from career psychologists and recruiters.

Have you experienced a layoff recently? Are you finding it difficult to cope with it? Talk to an Expert at YourDOST.

Shreya Giria

Shreya Giria is a practising psychotherapist. She's also a word nerd and a passable karaoke singer. She likes to incorporate eclectic forms like behavioural therapy, humanistic approach, art and narrative therapy in her counseling. She believes in the power of words in shaping our evolution and helping in the human condition.