Job Loss Grief: The Misunderstood Emotion

I’ve given so much of my life, energy and resources to this position.  This company has been my dream job for many years.  I’ve developed relationships with my co-workers.  I’ve watched them get married, get divorced, get promoted and have children.  I’ve seen changes in management and the many adjustments that everyone made to facilitate the new organizational changes.  We’ve come to this: Massive job lay-offs.  A whole division of my company – gone.  I sat there in the lobby of my building with my box of belongings in the seat next to me processing what had just transpired.  I was just let go, fired, laid off, down-sized.  Stunned.  Feelings of anxiety overwhelmed me as I gathered my box and headed for the parking garage.  My once thriving position and upward mobility in a company I’ve invested so much in is gone.  I feel like a hollow shell was once filled with hopes, dreams & expectations.  Now all I feel is uncertainty.

According to the Grief Recovery Handbook written by John W. James and Russell Friedman, the definition of grief is “the conflicting feelings caused by the end of or change in a familiar pattern of behavior”.  Loss is something that we all experience in our lives at one time or another.  It’s unavoidable. The pain experienced by loss can be devastating leaving us with unanswered questions and lifelong emotional pain. You can’t describe to anyone exactly what you feel because they can’t understand how you feel.  They claim they “know how you feel”, but in actuality every relationship and experience is unique to that individual; therefore, no one really knows how you feel but you.  And sometimes we ourselves don’t know how we feel, as the overwhelming aspects of grief can make it difficult to sort out our own emotions.

Grief is an emotional response to loss.  It is not intellectual.  Since most of us were socialized to divert our feelings to our intellect with phrases like, “Don’t feel bad, she’s in a better place,” we tend to try to use that idea to deal with all of our emotions. The net result is that we try to heal out emotions with our heads, which is something like shopping for milk in the hardware store.  Logical reasoning does not lessen the pain of a broken heart.  The heart screams out to communicate what it feels but the brain informs us that if we tell the truth that we will be judged or criticized for expressing what we truly feel.  An internal war ensues and we try to reason away the pain, but that rarely ever works in the long run.

Grief is unique to each individual.  The impact of losing a job varies from person to person.  Some didn’t like their current positions and see it as an opportunity to explore other careers and others are paralyzed by losing a job and find it difficult to move forward.  Losing a job is one of life’s major losses.  In our American culture we place much emphasis in what we do rather than who we are.  Allowing a person the space and the place to “grieve” and adjust to the new reality is a process and doesn’t happen instantly.  When job seekers are allowed to express their true feelings in a non-threatening, non-judgmental atmosphere they’re more apt to take advantage of the many resources available to help them adjust to the new reality and move forward.  Grief is not about the head, it’s a matter of the heart.


Tracy Washington is a Job Loss and Transition Strategist, Speaker, Author & Coach and can be reached at or (888)715-9977. 



  1. I gave a talk about job loss to my Toastmasters club recently. I spoke about the damage to self esteem and the depression that can come as a result of it. Grief is one emotion that I failed to mention, but one that I am very familiar with. My youngest brother lost his job after 15 years, much the way as you describe in your story. He never recovered and committed suicide 2 years later. Please help make people aware that job loss involves much more than financial hardship.

    • Tracy says:

      That’s awesome Diana! So much of our identity is tied up in what we do for a living that many find it difficult to see themselves correctly.

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