More than 55 million workers have filed for unemployment benefits in the past six months due to layoffs from COVID-19. Not only is a layoff devastating financially, but it can also be devastating emotionally, as many people feel largely defined by their jobs.
Research has shown that recessions, mass layoffs, and prolonged periods of unemployment can dramatically affect self-esteem and mental health. Layoffs directly affect our self-concept or view of ourselves, and as humans, we struggle to accept ourselves when our self-concept is threatened. For many people, a layoff shatters their self-image as hard-working and contributing members of society. This is especially true when you feel responsible for providing for your family.
How we feel about ourselves internally has a significant impact on how we present ourselves to the world. Practicing self-acceptance helps you be more confident, collaborate more effectively, learn faster, and foster more creative ideas. Because of this, it’s important for people facing unemployment to actively work on the practice of self-acceptance. But how do you do that when your world feels torn apart?
Uncover the story in your head about your worth
Many of us develop subconscious stories in our heads about who we are based on our childhood and other life experiences. As kids, we tend to make everything about us, so even small interactions can imprint on our brains and create a false narrative about our worth as humans. Until we can dissect those stories, we will struggle to gain control of our thoughts. For example, you might believe:
- You are lovable when you accomplish things
- You are significant/special because of your position
- You are competent based on what you are earning
Rewrite the story in your head
Once you know your story, you have the power to rewrite the ending. Our brains are not great at simply “letting something go” and often look to replace one thing with the next. Think of this as framing, or simply finding a story that serves you more effectively.
Because you’re consciously developing this story as an adult, you’re likely to create a more accurate account with more mature and evolved brain capacity. Here are some examples of stories that can replace the subconscious stories you used to tell yourself:
- I’m worthy of love simply because I exist
- I am significant and special for the lives that I touch (like family and friends)
- I am competent to navigate life’s challenges. A smooth sea doesn’t create skilled sailors
Focus on the journey
Your life is not on pause because you are unemployed. While you may find yourself longing for the day when you are once again employed, focus on your life at this moment. This is the journey, and there is no destination.
To do this, try thinking of your life as only having good days with bad moments to bring yourself back to a grounded place where you can stay present. Life is full of moving milestones, and there is always a new goal to work toward. If you fall into the trap of thinking you’ll accept yourself when you achieve a specific goal, you’ll never reach true self-acceptance. Self-acceptance and self-improvement coexist, and you will be your best self when you choose both simultaneously.
Practice self-acceptance through daily habits
You might be wondering, “How do I practice self-acceptance?” There are small, daily practices that you can integrate into your life that absolutely will make a difference over time.
One is the practice of taking credit for your success. Taking credit is a way to acknowledge your progress, especially when things are difficult. Instead of constantly pulling your attention to the ways in which you feel you are falling short, highlight all the things you do that demonstrate progress (not perfection), show courage, and help you get closer to where you want to go. There is nothing too small to take credit for, so reward yourself for your progress, not just the “final” success.
Another daily practice is to say affirmations. I know this can be easy to cast off as a joke, but neurolinguistic programming has shown us that our words matter. You can actively create neural pathways to change how you see yourself and how you see the world, especially through repetition. Bust through the awkwardness, and actually say them out loud to yourself in the mirror. You can also put Post-it notes on the mirror to remind yourself of those affirmations.
Stream of consciousness journaling is another great tool to help you become more precise about your thoughts and focus on the direction you want to go. Prompts like, “What are the things that are moving me closer to accepting myself?” can help you find things to take credit for and pay more attention to your life’s positive forces.
It can feel easier to accept yourself when you are feeling good, so focus on the things in your life that create joy within you. Find those little moments of joy every day. This can be listening to music, laughing, connecting with people, or getting into nature. There are likely a lot of things that you don’t feel in control of, but don’t let that make you forget the control you do have.
Focus on your future self
When practicing self-improvement, it helps to set goals, as they can focus our energy in a way that builds confidence. Think of your future self:
- Who do you want to be?
- What does your future self do?
- What traits does your future self exhibit?
Begin to work toward those objectives now and allow yourself to be driven by the person you want to become versus the person you think you have always been. You might surprise yourself and be closer to attaining some of your goals than you think, which helps to build confidence. Thinking this way might also lead to a dramatic shift in your life, such as a new, more fulfilling career path.
A layoff can be a significant blow to your self-concept but remember, you are more than your job function. You are a human being who still has so much to offer the world—even if you don’t feel that way right now.
Laura Gallaher, Ph.D. is a keynote speaker, leadership coach, and organizational psychologist.