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The psychology of layoffs

Support network key to 'survival'


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Need to cry

Spiritual support

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(CNN) -- Kathleen Natalie knows how it feels to lay employees off.

"Twenty-two years in human resources, and it still affects me," Natalie said. "There's no way you can grow accustomed to dealing with it."

In October, Natalie got the bad news herself.

"The company I was with decided to downsize, and that left us with a fairly large mortgage, no income and no healthcare benefits," she said. "I've learned that no matter what level of job you have, it makes no difference. You end up on an emotional roller coaster."

As far as stressful events go, losing a job ranks just slightly behind the death of a loved one and a divorce. More and more, people are learning that the psychological toll can be as important as any of the financial problems that may result.

"I had a lot of mixed emotions -- anger and bitterness (and) a lot of questions that were not answered," Natalie said.

Career expert Dick Bolles advises the newly unemployed to get as much support as possible from everyone they know -- friends, former colleagues, loved ones and the community.

Need to cry

"They need to cry a lot. They need to get that out of their system," said Bolles, author of the classic career-guidance manifesto "What Color is Your Parachute?"

Other phases of job loss, according to Bolles, are:

  • Shock and denial
  • Longing for the old job
  • Feelings of anger and betrayal
  • Depression and embarrassment
  • Experts strongly recommend that people focus on a new career search with an optimistic attitude to help to defeat such feelings, which also can lead to emotional paralysis.

    There are a number of good therapies that people can use that encompass physical, spiritual and emotional components, said Bolles.

    "It's a time to sit down an make a big thanksgiving list," he explained. "Even if there is no turkey on the table, just say 'Here are all the things in my life I am very thankful for.' "

    Common-sense advice includes eating right and getting plenty of sleep and exercise.

    Spiritual support

    "If you have faith and you see each day as putting yourself in God's hands, it makes all the difference in the world," continued Bolles. "Use (the layoff) opportunity to reorganize life in a simpler fashion."

    After her layoff, Natalie spent more time caring for her dying mother.

    Damian Birkel, founder of a job-loss support group called Professionals in Transition, advises that time will help to heal the wounds of layoff.

    "You have to be patient," Birkel said. "It's very frustrating. I can remember making more mistakes than right decisions (and) getting rejected more than I got accepted."

    People "always think that unemployment happens to the other person," he added. "And one day you wake up and you are that person."

    Extra vigilance is necessary as the months pass to prevent a depression, experts warned, pointing up the importance of looking for the best in life.

    "It's a temporary situation," noted Natalie, who has focused her job search, in part, by making lots of telephone calls. "It's not a disease. You will get through it."

    Q&A on failures
    January 31, 2001
    U.S. recession unlikely, says IMF chief
    January 11, 2001
    Ed Garsten: December a rough month for retail, automotive industries
    January 4, 2001
    Career resolutions: A smile and a shoeshine
    January 1, 2001

    Professionals in Transition
    U.S. Department of Labor: Extended mass layoffs quarterly
    American Psychological Association

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    4:30pm ET, 4/16

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