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Coping with Unexpected Job Loss

Hearing about employment layoffs isn’t a rare event anymore. As the economy slows down, more and more businesses are making cutbacks or going out of business. If you or someone you know has gotten laid off, you can understand that getting a pink slip causes some people to see red. Others react by becoming decidedly blue.

According to experts, it’s a rare individual who responds to an involuntary loss of employment without feelings of anger, sadness or both.

“All job losses sting. People who don’t care about their jobs quit. Employees who remain almost always have an emotional investment that causes them pain when they are asked to leave before they’re ready to,” said clinical psychologist Kathleen Brehony, Ph.D., of Norfolk, Va. “The loss of work is much like other losses in our lives in this respect — it causes considerable grief and suffering.”

Brehony, the author of the recently published “After the Darkest Hour: How Suffering Begins the Journey to Wisdom” in which the emotional aspects of job loss are given considerable attention, adds that the amount of sting experienced depends on how critical the job was to a worker’s identity. “Some people define themselves by what they do for a living, while others treat work as more incidental to who they are,” Brehony said. “For that reason, emotional reactions to job loss can range from moderate disappointment to ‘I’m going to jump off a bridge.'”

Normal, Predictable, but Not Necessarily Logical

Former emergency-room physician turned top-level corporate management consultant Arky Ciancutti, M.D., founder of The Learning Center in San Enselmo, Calif., believes most such reactions are normal and predictable, even if they aren’t always logical.

“Individuals who over-identify with their jobs often blame themselves when they are laid off. They turn this hostility inward, experiencing it as depression,” said Ciancutti, co-author of “Built on Trust: Gaining Competitive Advantage in Any Organization.” “Others blame everyone but themselves, focusing their hostility outward on the company, a supervisor, even their parents or upbringing. You can predict variations of those two reactions to predominate whenever layoffs occur.”

Victim Mentality

Cheryl Pepper, Ph.D., organizational psychologist and co-author of “Bringing Your Soul to Work,” characterizes job loss as one of the most devastating events in life. “Even if it has nothing to do with one’s own performance and results from downsizing, restructuring, a company closing or general economic conditions, being let go is a very threatening experience,” she explained. “It’s not difficult to get into a victim mentality — feeling that you’ve somehow been overpowered and taken advantage of by your employer.”

Coping with Unexpected Job Loss

Holly VanScoy, Ph.D

APA Reference
VanScoy, H. (2020). Coping with Unexpected Job Loss. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 5, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 14 Jan 2020 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 14 Jan 2020
Published on Psych All rights reserved.