Dealing With Job Loss, Divorce or Loss of a Loved One? Be Gentle With Yourself

Wednesday, August 18, 2010 12:50

By Ellen Brown

When you’re dealing with a difficult life transition, such as divorce or job loss, do you sometimes beat yourself up because you can’t seem to  “get over it and move on?” Many of my clients fall into that familiar pattern, and I’ve certainly done the same from time to time. The problem is that scolding ourselves only makes matters worse.

Such was the case with my client, Josh (not his real name), a young and talented attorney who was laid off during the economic downturn. Josh had solid credentials, a great resume, and a gentle presence that made him a delight to be around. But Josh had been out of work for nearly nine months, and he had begun to see that long lapse as a character flaw. Sometimes, in our sessions, he would berate himself for being out of work, which only made him feel worse. That, in itself made it harder for Josh to sell himself in his job interviews. Over time, I helped him see that treating himself more gently was actually more helpful than beating himself up.

But it wasn’t easy, because Josh was like many of us who believe that a swift kick in the you know where is the best motivating force in helping us move forward. And why not? That belief is instilled in us by parents and coaches and bosses who tell us to “just buck up” or “stop your bellyaching” or “quit your complaining and get on with your life.” But comments like these only heap on the shame and shame, while sometimes paralyzing, is rarely motivating.

To me, the best medicine for dealing with a difficult transition is to be gentler with yourself. Why? Because when you’re going through a transition, you’re already in a compromised state. You may be feeling sad or angry or scared. Or you may be confused about what your future holds. When you’re navigating this rocky terrain, what you need is a best friend who’s cheering you on. Not a bully, threatening to knock you down.

If you’re wondering how you could be gentler with yourself, for starters, you could:

  • Stop yelling at yourself and treat yourself with the same love and respect that you’d show a good friend
  • Allow yourself to “be” with your feelings instead of pushing them away. This will allow your feelings to move through you in a natural way, instead of getting stuck.
  • Remind yourself of your strengths and successes everyday
  • Counteract your negative self talk, such as “I’m a loser” with positive messages you believe (e.g. “I’m a valuable employee”)
  • Take some time to reflect on your new circumstances through journaling, meditation, or spending time in nature
  • Balance out this tough time with enjoyable activities – in whatever form that takes for you
  • Remember that  nothing lasts forever and “this too shall pass.”

So, do you tend to beat yourself up, or are you able to treat yourself with gentleness when you’re going through a difficult transition?

What keeps you from treating yourself more gently?

I’d love to hear what you have to say. Please leave a comment here on Stepping Stones by scrolling down to the bottom of the page.

Are you dealing with job loss, the death of a loved one, or another challenging life transition? If so, I’d love to help out. Visit my website at to sign up for an introductory coaching session or a coaching package that’s right for you. Since coaching sessions are conducted by phone, I can work with clients anywhere in the world.

If you’d like to hear more about the benefits of being gentle with yourself, check out one of our recent episodes of Dialogues with Dignity, in which we discuss that very topic:

Ellen Brown is a certified professional coach based in Cleveland, OH.

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6 Responses to “Dealing With Job Loss, Divorce or Loss of a Loved One? Be Gentle With Yourself”

  1. Carl Slater says:

    August 23rd, 2010 at 8:28 pm

    Ellen, Thanks for the reminders. I am going through a major transition now. I had to give up leading hikes, and almost any hiking for the present, because of a chronic health problem. For the first week I was beating myself up and saying, “How could you do this to yourself? why didn’t you pay attention to what your body was telling you?” Then this week, as I continued to meditate and reflect on it, I began to feel gratified, that I knew what I was doing all summer, I knew I was pushing the limits, and I am pleased with what I accomplished, before I was forced by my body to take time off. Oh, that’s the word I was looking for—-I got to acceptance. 

  2. Ellen Brown says:

    August 24th, 2010 at 11:29 am

    First of all, Carl, I’m sorry you’re going through a tough time. I hope you are feeling a bit better. Chronic health problems can be tough stuff to deal with.

    Still, it is wonderful that you got to that place of self-acceptance and gratitude. I so often find that my biggest stumbling block is a resistance to “what is.”

  3. Carl Slater says:

    August 24th, 2010 at 2:54 pm

    Interesting follow-up. Yes, I have achieved the acceptance around the giving up of the hiking, but I discovered after that previous note that I still had not accepted the basic health problem and was therefore not taking care of myself as I need to. Reading through and reflecting on your suggestions is getting me back on track. Thanks. 

  4. Stash Serafin says:

    August 26th, 2010 at 11:27 am

    Ellen, I love how you describe not beating self up and being gentle, not pushing feelings away, but merely honoring them as the feelings come up to be felt.

    I’m good at doing this when I coach non skaters, but when I practice skating, the temptation to push and go beyond my limitations seems natural, and this post will help me be gentle with my goals, not to push too much, and allow the natural movement of skating to flow rather than fight and again, push.

    I’m also not beating myself up as much when my doubts come up, as sometimes as I skate, and folks comment how good I look, I can’t see what I’m doing. I can’t even watch a video of myself (sigh).

    The process of feeling my doubts and allowing myself not to fight with them really helps, and yes; its back to being gentle.

  5. Ellen Brown says:

    August 26th, 2010 at 12:48 pm

    I love the idea of being gentle with our goals. I, for one, could stand to do that more often, so I really appreciate that reminder, Stash!

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