How To Overcome The Trauma Of Being Fired
I remember my hands shaking as I shut my laptop.
The Zoom call couldn’t have lasted more than 90 seconds but the impact still sits with me two years and three jobs later. On a loop, I’ve replayed the image of my then-supervisor, HR director and senior vice president looking politely contrite as they read from a script to deliver the news that that day was my last working for the company. They then rattled off all the reasons why I wasn’t adequate enough for the job I’d been hired for.
“Whaaat?” I asked, confused. I peered away from their faces to the corner of the screen where a little blinking red dot indicated the call was being recorded. Another blow. A small, ugly voice popped into my head–“they’re going to play this back and laugh.” It was a completely unreasonable notion, but valid in my mind at that moment. I was my awkward, gangly 11-year-old self again who didn’t get picked to jump double dutch with the cool girls in recess. That old distant yet familiar rejection crawled up my leg and sat in my lap as I remained rooted to my computer chair for a full 20 minutes.
I’d parted ways with jobs before. An unpaid internship that took a backseat to my full-time college course load or an entry-level role that required senior-level dedication had led to my seeing the writing on the wall well before receiving a pink slip. But this? I was truly blindsided by this one and it felt deeply, stunningly personal. The residue of that firing still shows up every day, even as I sit gleefully happy in my current dream job.
Panic now sets in at the sight of a Slack DM from a superior. Profuse apologies for a narrowly missed deadline have become second nature, even when, as most journalists know, shifting work timelines can often fall outside of our control. Before that blurry, disorienting November day, I never thought PTSD could be derived from workplace experiences but they absolutely can, and I’m not alone.
Last spring, a viral Twitter thread spotlighted its prevalence where people shared their workplace PTSD experiences, noting that anything from retracing their old commute to forced small talk at their new jobs induced chest pains and muscle spasms among other physical symptoms.
But there’s hope. Although it can be a painful blow to the ego…and psyche, moving on from the trauma of being fired is possible. Here are some things I learned on my own journey to landing on my feet again.
Feel your feelings.
Similar to losing a loved one, it’s important to allow a grieving period when fired, especially if it was unexpected. Losing a job induces a whirlpool of emotions, all fighting to get to the surface at once. It’s awful, but it’s perfectly healthy to feel them all. Americans are intrinsically linked to their professional identities so being let go can feel like a personal failure. Take time to remind yourself (even if you don’t believe it at first) that you can be happy again in another role.
Searching for a new job is a full time job, so it’s important to prioritize self-care to improve your physical and mental health. Taking a step back from the job sites for a minute and watching your favorite comfort show for an hour, getting some fresh air, doing household chores or even getting dressed like you’re off to the job you want to land can do wonders in boosting your inner-badass.
Count the small wins.
One of the mantras I’ve learned over my nearly 15 years in the workforce (and outside of it) is there’s always a positive on the other of side of any negative. Now, before you dismiss this as toxic positivity, hear me out. The position you were let go of may not have been the right fit for your skill set. Now, with the extra time you have on your hands, you can focus on aligning with a role that better suits your true talents. This also allows for the space necessary to map out your true wants and needs in a job.
Don’t get stuck.
Although I sat catatonically in the minutes after being fired, I immediately jumped into action that same day. Im not suggesting this for everyone, but the goal is to keep moving on your own time. In the next hour after being being let go, I’d compiled a list of the pros and cons of the employee experience I’d had with the company and began my search for a new job that fit. Two weeks later, I landed a new role that eventually led me to work with ESSENCE.
Although it may not make sense now, I am a firm believer in redirection being protection in the long run. Losing a job isn’t easy on anyone, but moving on to bigger and better is possible. I can attest to it.