Grieving the loss of a job – an opportunity for personal development
Most people change their employer more than once in their professional career. Some make this decision actively, often with the new job in their pocket, looking forward to the new challenge. Others, on the other hand, are confronted with termination from one day to the next. Perhaps you have already suspected it, perhaps there is a voice inside of you that is also relieved that the decision was made for you. But maybe the sudden change also triggers fear and despair. Especially in times of the Corona pandemic, when the feeling of uncertainty is great anyway. But every change, whether self-initiated or brought about from outside, is also an opportunity for personal development.
When we quit ourselves
Maybe it’s a very quiet inner voice at first that tells us it’s time for a change. We want to try something new, we’re bored, we feel like we’re treading on the spot, and we wonder if this is all there is to life. We notice that our creativity is waning, as is our commitment to finding solutions. Gradually, the inner voice gets louder and louder and we start to look around. We reflect on ourselves, ask ourselves who we are, who we want to be and what our professional vision is. Through this initial questioning, the detachment and grieving process begins. From this point on, we illuminate factors that are important to us so that we are satisfied with and at our work: the nice colleagues on the one hand, the less challenging job on the other. And then factors such as salary and career opportunities also play an important role. At the end of this weighing process, we come to a decision and have often taken one step further in the direction of self-discovery.
When we are terminated
The situation is different when we are terminated. The process described above does not start until much later. From one moment to the next, our future perspective changes without us having any influence on it. We are deprived of our footing and we begin to worry – about the uncertain future, about our financial security and about our cherished social environment at work. About all that we lose through the job loss. We may also react with anger: after all, we have always given our all, accumulated overtime and done our work conscientiously – is this now the thanks we get for our hard work? Especially those who are highly identified with their work feel lost. Questions often arise here: Who am I without my work? Or: What purpose do I have in my life other than my work?
After the initial shock and anger, the process of change and mourning then sets in here as well.
The psychoanalysis of grief
Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, dealt a lot with the subject of grief as early as 1915. And even though many of his thoughts have been revised to this day, his insights on grief are still very relevant today. For Freud, grief is a dysphoric reaction to the loss of something that has a high value for us – in the case of termination, the employer or the job. Freud understands the mourning process as such as a kind of “psychic work,” with the goal of detaching oneself from the lost object. In this respect, the mourning process represents an adaptation effort on the part of the mourner. This adaptation consists in having to endure the finality of the loss. For this, according to Freud, we have to live through the loss by consciously dealing with both the positive and negative aspects of what we have lost. Only in this way can we integrate what has been lost and understand it as a part of ourselves that we can reintroduce and experience in a new workplace. In the case of job loss: professional successes and failures, good working relationships with colleagues, but also difficult interactions with superiors. During this mourning process, from the perspective of object relations theorists, the inner space vacated by the loss must be filled anew. This requires so-called good inner objects, i.e., representations of former attachment figures that we have internalized and that give us security and support. We can also gain support from a sympathetic counterpart who offers consolation and helps us to bear the pain of the experience of loss. If inner and outer support are not given, then the feeling of powerlessness inherent in the loss and the accompanying anger can be experienced as overwhelming. In this case, a normal mourning process can lead to a pathological form – depression.
The opportunities of grief
Experiences of separation are an indispensable prerequisite for psychological development. We experience separation again and again in many areas of life and throughout our entire lives. In early adulthood we move out of the parental home and separate from our parents, we become adults. We separate from toxic relationships to avoid losing ourselves when we realize that our own boundaries seem to have been lost. We separate from a work relationship because we realize that we have stopped, that we have left the path of development and (professional) self-discovery. It is through these separations and ruptures that the psychological development process begins. The pain of separation that accompanies the breakup, the grievance or anger, stimulate us to ask important questions, to question ourselves and our lives. We come into contact with ourselves and at the end of this process we can (in most cases) realign our inner compass. This may not ease the pain of the separation process, but it does give meaning to it.