I suffered a lay off years ago, but the loss of that job still triggers me from time to time. I really want to move on and not feel so resentful about being let go.

Elaine Varelas provides guidance on the importance of reflecting on a job loss and advice on moving forward.

Q.  I was laid off during the Pandemic back in 2021. This was a job that I had really hoped to continue working at until my retirement. I know the reason I was laid off was because of my salary and the fact that I earned more than the colleagues on my team. Of course, I’ve moved onto another great job, but I’m still so bitter about the layoff whenever I think about it. No one else on my team was laid off so it really was a blow to my ego and stung. How can I stop ruminating about this?

A. I’m sorry that you were impacted by a layoff, especially during the Pandemic, which most likely made it much harder to deal with the loss and potentially harder to start a job search. The way in which people react to layoffs is diverse. Some people get mad, some people feel hurt, some people are bitter, and most people have immense fear. Financial fear, fear of ever being employed again, fear of taking a significant pay cut, added to the insecurity of whether you really are good at your job or not. For many of us, our identities are closely tied to our professions and losing a job can be devastating and can negatively impact one’s self-confidence. Recognizing the range of emotions that you may be continuing to have is important to explore. The feelings of loss and grief don’t go away just because the causing event has passed. 

It’s wonderful that you’ve moved on careerwise, but what’s clear from your message is that you haven’t moved on emotionally. The loss of a job is recognized by psychologists as one of the top five losses in an individual’s life. What’s most challenging about loss is that the impact of losses is often compounded, and one loss reminds you of a previous loss. The grief of multiple losses often comes back in powerful ways that are not easily sorted.

While companies need to make difficult business decisions including layoffs, they need to be aware of the impact the loss of a job has on people and how they can support people through this transition.  The language used by the notifying manager is vital. The respect with which the message is delivered, and letting impacted employees know the decision was difficult.  And letting the impacted employee know that the people and the organization appreciate the contributions the person made. None of these remove the sting, but later, they can be the better memory of the separation than anything else. Companies should plan to have someone available to talk to immediately after the notification – an EAP counselor and an outplacement consultant to help people make sense of what just happened and make plans for their next steps. 
You believe that you were laid off because of your compensation being higher than anyone else on your team, but it sounds like you perhaps doubt that. If you felt confident that it was just about money, you would see it as a business decision. For some reason you are reading more into this and potentially seeing it as a much more personal decision than just a business decision. Every redundancy is a blow to the ego and repairing that takes more time than anyone can anticipate.

You may never feel like you know the true story, and companies must protect themselves legally.
Even if you have the opportunity to talk to others at the company that you left, there may be nothing they say that will ease the pain of that loss. Try to figure out what might help you, other than time, which most people say heals all (it doesn’t). You might consider talking to a therapist, counselor, or EAP about loss in general and other losses that you may be mixing up with this loss. Hopefully you will continue to focus on the positives in your new role and the recognition by others of the contributions you make at work.

Grief and loss are some of the most challenging emotions that therapists work with individuals on, and there is no easy cure. Loss is very complicated. There’s not a pill, not one methodology. Instead, every person needs to look at grief, take the time to explore grief, and see how they can transition through it.