Chapter 1:  Coping With Job Loss--Personal Impact


m1.jpgLosing your job is a life-changing event. Your professional career has been taken away from you and, just as surely as you've lost a love one, you need time to grieve. Through my work with PIT members and with the help of Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, the renowned expert on death and dying, I have identified the "emotional wave™" (or e-waveTM for short), which represents the job-loss grief process.

I have found that the stages of death and dying are linear. Death is an ending that provides built-in closure, while the trauma of job loss and the rawness of emotions can become part of an endless loop. Even after you've experienced all the stages of job-loss grief, and you feel ready to move on with your career, a setback might send you plummeting back into the depths of despair again. This explains why the "acceptance" stage of bereavement becomes the "temporary acceptance" stage of the "emotional wave™".  Though job-loss grief is a universal experience, there are minor differences in the way individuals experience it. In that way, it is similar to bereavement. You might pass through all of its stages in sequence, as the chart illustrates, each time you pass through the cycle. Or you might bypass one stage and jump directly to another, or experience the stages in a different order from most people. Sometimes it might take you weeks to cycle through the emotional wave™ stages, while at another time you speed through them all in the space of five minutes.

Along with the emotional issues you are likely to encounter when you're unemployed, there are also physical and behavioral symptoms of job-loss trauma. For example, many people report eating and sleeping disorders, dizziness, palpitations, forgetfulness, aching limbs, headaches, hyperventilating, perspiring, repetitive dreams, inordinate risk-taking, endless chattering, irritability, and hyperactivity while they're unemployed. There's often some interplay between the emotional, physical, and behavioral symptoms of job loss. For example, recurring nightmares might launch a bout of depression, or fear and panic might cause headaches or perspiring. While the actual physical and behavioral manifestations of unemployment vary widely from one person to another, the emotional wave™ typically unfolds in the context of at least some of these symptoms


  • Loss of appetite
  • Forgetfulness
  • Problems falling asleep
  • Lack of concentration
  • Anxiety Attacks
  • Migraine headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Heart Palpitations
  • Aching Limbs
  • Repetitive Dreams
  • Irritability
  • Hyperactivity

Once you understand the emotional wave™, you can predict how it might shape the weeks ahead of you and prepare yourself to deal effectively with each emotional stage, as you encounter it. This is the first step toward interrupting the cycle, reestablishing control of your life and, ultimately, achieving reemployment.


Here's an overview of how the Emotional Wave™ works.

  • First, you get the news that you've been terminated. The sudden change in your life casts you adrift in a turbulent ocean.
  • As you tumble from wave to wave, you experience shock and denial, fear and panic, anger, bargaining, depression, and temporary acceptance.
  • Just when you think you've reached the trough of the wave, you begin to climb back up to the crest.
  • The cycle continues until you learn to positively channel, rather than avoid, your real feelings.
  • Once you're able to confront and manage your emotional wave™, you can navigate your way through the stormy waters and, eventually, safely reach the shore.

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