When someone becomes unemployed, they nearly always experience feelings they didn’t know they could have, never would have foreseen, and certainly don’t enjoy.
Some try to ignore those feelings. Others won’t admit to them at all.
However, consciously or unconsciously, people who lose their jobs always have three questions in their minds. (Their spouses probably do, too.)
Finding answers to these three questions is crucial to both the unemployed person and anyone who wants to help them.
And here’s the hard truth: With over thirty million people unemployed today, either you’ve lost your job or know someone who has.
We’ll talk about questions two and three in the coming weeks. But here’s the question that relates to how the unemployed reach out for help — and why they sometimes don’t get what they need.
QUESTION #1: Who wants to know?
An unemployed person will always ask him or herself, “Who wants to know (a) how it’s really going, and (b) how I honestly feel?” Deep down, we want others to understand what’s going on.
People who lose their jobs want to maintain a positive attitude about the future. We know instinctively that potential employers look for someone who projects an air of optimism. We also need to keep an upbeat perspective if we want to reassure our family and friends that everything’s going to be okay.
That positive attitude you see is often very real — it’s not merely a “fake it till you make it” façade.
There are good reasons to feel upbeat during a period of unemployment. You get to rethink your gifts — how and where you’ll use them. It’s also a fantastic opportunity to take on a new challenge in a new environment.
But not all days feel this way. The journey of unemployment is full of ups and downs. It’s like a roller coaster, and those “down” feelings hit you when you least expect them.
As someone who’s experienced the ups and downs of unemployment myself, I can tell you: A person can get very good at hiding their feelings on a down day.
If you’re unemployed, when people ask you, “How are you doing,” or “How’s the search going,” your immediate response will likely be: “I’m good,” or “I’m fine,” or “The search is going well — I just haven’t found the right opportunity yet.”
The reason unemployed people answer positively is simple. Those are the answers most people want to hear!
People want to know you’re “okay,” but most people are thankful you didn’t give another answer because the don’t know what to say. It’s awkward. They’re not necessarily bad people. They might be too busy to listen or even afraid of unemployment themselves.
If you honestly want to help someone who’s unemployed, you probably need to be more proactive. And if you need help yourself, you’ll have to consider who you’ll ask.
If you’re trying to help someone who’s unemployed…
When an unemployed person responds to “How are you?” with “Okay,” you might need to say: “No, I want to know how you’re really doing.”
They might still respond by saying they’re “okay.” You may need to ask a third time before they realize you’re sincere.
If you are willing to be a listener, know that this isn’t a one-time opportunity. You need to make yourself available to hear about their ups and downs regularly, through their entire journey.
If you’re unemployed…
If you are unemployed and no one has reached out to you, you need to reach out to others. Choose a couple of people who are willing to listen. Ask if they’re willing to meet and talk, not just once, but periodically.
Find someone willing to keep your conversations confidential. If you don’t know anyone you can trust, seek out a professional counselor.
Don’t try to do it all on your own. Keeping your emotions bottled up inside isn’t helpful.
Make sure you have a few people who:
- Care about you
- Sincerely want to know how you feel
- You can trust to keep what you say in confidence
By yourself you’re unprotected. With a friend you can face the worst. Can you round up a third? A three-stranded rope isn’t easily snapped.
Ecclesiastes 4:12 (MSG)
Resources for the Unemployed and Those Who Love Them
- Here’s my devotional for dealing with the difficult emotions of unemployment
- Pastors and small group leaders, here’s a six-week study covering the same material but is expanded for groups
- If you take part in a B-B-T group, consider In the Waiting for your group
- Check out my resources page for free articles explicitly created for those in transition and their families
And if you don’t know who turn to or need someone to speak to your group, feel free to reach out.