Stop Job Loss from Stealing Your Confidence and Your Identity

Clinical psychologists and therapists provide insights on how not to lose your identity when you lose your job.


One big challenge a professional faces when he’s lost his job is that he’s also lost a big piece of his identity.

“Being out of work is a terrible feeling,” said Elizabeth Friedman, PhD, a clinical psychologist in New York. “We identify at least part of our self with what we do. Hopefully it’s not all of our self-definition, but it is a big part of it. So we lose our grounding, our footing, in certain ways. ‘Who am I? Where am I going? What do I do tomorrow morning at 8:00? Do I get up? Do I stay in bed?’ ”

Staying in bed is not the right answer, experts agree. In fact, sticking to a routine and applying control when and where you can is key.

“Take one day to feel terrible, and then get moving,” Friedman said. “It’s very important to keep basic routines. You can’t suddenly be up all night long watching ‘Law and Order.’ Get up in the morning; take a shower. If you’re a guy, shave; if you’re a woman, do your hair. Send out a million e-mails, contact all of your friends.”

A sense of identity loss can affect a person’s relationships and family dynamics, as well.

“When you’ve lost a job, you start to question your own identity,” said Kevin Skinner, who has a Ph.D. in marriage and family therapy and shares expert advice at “Sometimes if it’s an extended job loss, you begin to feel guilty, especially if it’s affecting your family, and maybe your wife has to go back to work. You start to feel like, ‘What’s wrong with me?’ And it’s not about that.”

What it is about, said Skinner, is reaching out to others and focusing on realistic solutions.

“The best thing we can do in these times is get additional support,” he said. “You might have to turn to family for support. You might have to go live somewhere else — downgrade your home, downgrade your cars. The resilient people are going to say, ‘I’m going to find a solution — I’m a person who finds solutions to problems.’ “