By Dr. Sunny Joseph*
To recover from a layoff, it is first important to understand how it affects an individual emotionally. The typical emotional reactions of individuals who experience a significant loss were defined by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, a well-known Swiss-American psychiatrist, using her DABDA (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance) model. This model is also useful for capturing various emotions people go through after they are laid off, considering that, for most, losing a job forms a loss that symbolically represents their established identity, designation, role and responsibilities.
Let's look more closely at the various stages:
Initially, you may believe that the layoff is just a rumour or a mistake. You may refuse to believe that you are being shown the door. You might think, "There must be some misunderstanding, I think I need to sort it out." You might continue to believe that something has gone wrong and cling to a false, preferable reality.
Then you may recognise that denial cannot continue. You may get irritated by the very fact and become frustrated. People around you find you getting angry without any apparent reason. You might ask yourself or people close to you "Why me? It's not fair" or "How can this happen to me?" or "Who is to blame?" or "Why would this happen?"
Sometimes people carry anger or depression to their next job, causing problems with productivity, interpersonal relationships and work efficiency.
The third stage involves the hope that you can avoid a cause of grief. Usually, the negotiation for an extended life is made in exchange for a reformed lifestyle. For instance: "I'd give anything to be back—work hard, take up the shift that I always avoided or even work under the manager that I hated." Or: "If only he'd give back my job, I'd promise to stay focused and perform better."
Soon, this leads to depression and a feeling of sadness. Usual thoughts at this time are: "There is no meaning in working hard for organisations like this. There is nothing to look forward to. It'll be really tough to find anything, I feel like giving up. What's the point in putting up a fight and, after all, what am I fighting for?" At this stage, you might realise the ultimate realities of life—an absolute lack of control over such events, helplessness, and uncertainty. In this state, people close to you find you being silent, refusing to meet people or not taking interest or pleasure in your usual activities.
Those who fake acceptance put themselves in big trouble as emotional problems continue.
Finally, a calm sets in, and you start to feel a lot more in control about not being control. You tell yourself: "It's going to be okay. There is no point fighting it anymore. I am done with this organisation; I may as well prepare for something new, possibly better." In this stage, you might embrace reality or inevitable truth. This stage brings you confidence within and a kind of conviction about whatever you are able to do.
Ultimately, there are no short-cuts. You may have to go through all these stages before coming out at the other end of the tunnel. Individuals go through these stages at their own pace, staying at each stage for varying durations. However, those who stay longer get into psychological adjustment problems and typically experience the negative effects of stress. Another situation we need to watch out for is when people carry anger or depression to their next job, causing problems with productivity, interpersonal relationships and work efficiency. Further, those who fake acceptance put themselves in big trouble as emotional problems continue. Therefore, it is important you patiently allow yourself to feel all these emotions until acceptance dawns.
Dr. Sunny Joseph is a Clinical Psychologist and Behavioural Neuropsychologist currently associated with Manipal Hospital, Bangalore.