A few hours ago you were feeling competent and content. Maybe even a bit cocky, wondering if it was time for a new challenge. Suddenly, all that is out the window. You’ve lost your job and your world has changed.
Why does joblessness cause such low self-esteem?
Part of healthy self-esteem is a realistic appreciation of the knowledge, skills, and qualities you offer the world. Finding yourself without a job of course challenges this self-assessment so can leave you filled with doubt. It challenges your sense of security and optimism, and your self-confidence along with it.
It’s also common that joblessness is merely a catalyst that re-awakens long-standing self-esteem issues. Many people go through life with persistent feelings of unworthiness, and such feelings are rarely caused by a single event like job loss.
They are distorted self-assessments that formed long ago, often as a result of negative childhood experiences like having an unusually critical or punitive parent, being bullied, having a learning disability that made fitting in and keeping up with peers difficult, or traumatic experiences like homelessness, witnessing violence, or surviving a natural disaster.
After losing a job, your first reaction may be to lay low and lick your wounds, or take some well-deserved time off. This is fine for a brief period, but letting days turn into months is likely to make things worse. Isolation from friends, co-workers and the workplace itself dents your self-image. You go from seeing yourself as an active, involved person to seeing yourself as someone on the margins.
It’s important to stop the self-esteem slide before it gets rolling, as lack of confidence often surfaces during interviews you then take for a new job, making you seem nervous, uncomfortable and desperate. This of course just lowers your self-esteem further.
Here are some steps you can take for improving self-esteem up and keeping you viable for the job marketplace:
- Update your resume to include the responsibilities and tasks your last job entailed so you can see how far you’ve come since you last looked for a job
- See your interim period as an opportunity to bolster skills you were weak in, such as putting together presentations or knowing how to use a spreadsheet program
- Ask yourself if there’s a way to enhance your value by adding a bonus skill, such as studying a second language or taking a course in business communications
- Re-haul your wardrobe into clothes you feel confident and successful in
- Seek emotional support from friends and family or a counsellor
- Continue networking with people in your industry
- Take a course in interview techniques
- Seek career counselling
The Power of Good Questions
When someone tells you your job is over, or interviews don’t produce job offers, you can feel like any control over your life is gone. Since making choices and directing one’s own life is part of being a competent, independent adult, joblessness challenges your self-esteem by making you feel like a child, or like someone at the mercy of others.
A recent study found that an effective way to get results is to ask yourself questions. The study showed questions work better than the ever popular affirmations. For example, an affirmation might ask you to turn a negative thought like ‘I’ll never find another job’ into a positive thought like, ‘I’ll find another job’. But when your self-esteem is down, it’s hard to convince yourself that this is true. Or, you may accept that it’s true, but picture yourself in a job that’s far inferior to the one you lost.
The authors of the study found that replacing a statement like ‘I’ll find another job’ instead with a question like ‘will I find another job?’ forced people to examine the personal assets that would lead to another job. The question format also stimulates creativity. Once you predict that yes, you will get another job, the mind leaps ahead to consider how to make it happen.
Fine-tuning this technique to fit your individual situation can be extgremely helpful. A negative thought like ‘the best part of my job was working with people, and I am really going to miss that’ can become the question, ‘since I was good at working with people and found it satisfying, what other jobs need that skill?’
Charting a New Course
Losing a job derails your forward momentum and undermines your self-esteem by creating the sense that is life going on without you. You may suddenly feel that you have no purpose, or that you were “not good enough” to be needed.
Self-esteem thrives on forward motion. Most of us can’t feel good about ourselves without the satisfaction of meeting small daily goals and working toward larger, long-term goals.
The interrogative method described above can help you see possibilities and understand what direction you want to go to in. You can then put those insights to good use by establishing new goals and creating a plan to achieve them.
Effective plans begin with a well-defined major goal, but then you must craft a blueprint for getting there. The blueprint needs to include all the steps necessary to reach the major goal and breaks large tasks down into small steps. “Get clients” would be an essential step for someone going into business as a consultant, but breaking that large, intimidating task into small, achievable ones like “contact ten prospects a day” and “have brochures printed” charts a path for getting it done.
(learn more about setting goals that work in our piece on S.M.A.R.T. goals).
Working with daily, and sometimes even hourly goals, provides the daily dose of achievement that nourishes self-esteem and re-establishes forward movement. It also allows you to fail one day and get a fresh start the next, rather than letting one day’s failure snowball into something larger.
When to Get Help
Low self-esteem is not a realistic reflection of who you are or how you function in the world.
Rock star David Bowie, tennis champion Serena Williams, and actress Kate Winslet are just a few of the people who have spoken out about suffering from low self-esteem. If you find yourself overwhelmed by negative thoughts, feel joblessness is “proof” that you’re a misfit, feel depressed or too blue to take on the challenge of finding a new job, then it’s time to get help. A coach, counsellor, or support group will help you to a realistic self-image that acknowledges your talents, assets, and achievements in life.
If money is a concern since losing your job, don’t feel you can’t get help. Nowadays there are a number of low cost counselling resources available, as well as internet forums and local support groups.
Did you struggle with self-esteem after losing a job? Would you like to share a tip? Do comment below, we love hearing from you.
Photos by: Flazingo Photos, Born 1945, Karen Eliot Andreas Klinke Johannsen