As the economic downturn takes its toll in job cuts, many people who have been severed from their employers' rolls find their biggest challenge is keeping a positive attitude.
"Losing your job louses up your psyche," stresses Charles Carroll of Success Management Inc., a Baltimore firm that does outplacement counseling. "We see people here who are bitter, who are very upset and whose pride has been hurt."
Regardless of the cause of a job loss, many people take the blame personally, job experts say. But the reality, they add, is that impersonal forces are often responsible for job losses these days.
"Even for companies that say their employees are their most valuable asset, they're also the most liquid," says Charles White, Success Management's president. "American business has taken out many layers of management and it's not going to put them back -- so you have a lot of midlevel managers wandering around malls all afternoon."
If you're out of work and wish to avoid the mall-wandering syndrome, keep in mind that your mental attitude and emotional state are crucial in the rebuilding process. Positive self-esteem is a main ingredient allowing you to move on, says Gerry Love Landrum of Columbia, a therapist who counsels people facing a self-esteem crisis, including loss of a job.
Expect a flood of feelings in the immediate aftermath of losing your job, says Ms. Landrum. The situation is likely to call up old fears and worries, many of them attributable to childhood experiences. And many people go through stages of grief, just as they might if they'd lost a relative or close friend to death.
She says, "First, people face shock and denial. They say, 'Gee, this will be great, I'll have a couple of weeks off.' Then they get into bargaining, saying that 'Maybe if I go out and look for the right job, I'll be OK.'
"Then comes anger; some people get upset with the culture, the president, the economy, the bosses, the hospital, the bank, themselves or whatever. Finally, there's depression. Instead of sending out resumes, they lose their motivation and would just as soon sleep in as look for a job."
Your task in a job crisis is to manage the emotions in a way that proves most beneficial to you and those around you, says Ms. Landrum, who has taught courses in building self-esteem for six years.
Anger and feelings of depression may be inevitable for many people, but they can be channeled. "This can be a time to re-evaluate and use your anger as an energy to move you in the right direction," she says.
In helping those who've suffered a job loss, Ms. Landrum focuses on what she calls "healthy self-talk." Job-seekers can encourage themselves rather than putting themselves down. "It's important you come to terms with the messages you're giving yourself that can prove damaging to your self-confidence," she points out.
When you're feeling crummy, write down all your thoughts on paper, Ms. Landrum suggests. (Keep a flashlight, pencil and large pad by your bed since negative thoughts often come at night.) Writing down your thoughts will help you become aware of the negative self-talk you're inflicting on yourself, and will put your thoughts and fears in a more realistic perspective.
Ultimately, you'll be able to "erase and replace" negative self-talk, Ms. Landrum says. She often recommends that clients use "affirmations" to focus on what they desire rather than what has happened. And she likes "guided imagery," a technique often used by athletes, to picture themselves being successful.
"Instead of focusing on what you don't have -- being out of a job -- visualize yourself being in a job again, satisfied with the work, enjoying the people around you, and getting well-paid," she recommends. There are a number of books on visual imagery that can help.
A support system is crucial to shoring up your attitude and staying out of a funk while you rebuild your career, Ms. Landrum says. Regrettably, your spouse and other family members, themselves frightened by the situation, may be unable to help. Usually, outside support is necessary.
An outplacement counselor, career counselor or job-seeking group can give you valuable support while you're going through the career-rebuilding process, experts say. An example is the "job search program," available through Careerscope, a non-profit career counseling center based in Columbia.
Susan Deutch, director of the job-search program, says the three-session seminar offers practical advice on how to structure a job campaign, and emotional support for those going through the process.
"Group support is very, very helpful because you realize you're in the same boat with others," Ms. Deutch says.
The first of the three sessions in the Careerscope program focuses on how to develop your own job leads. The second concentrates on making good contacts, writing effective letters and researching organizations. The third helps job-seekers cope with interviews and negotiate wage and benefit packages.