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When a man loses his job it is equivalent emotionally to a woman having a miscarriage of a child. This is perhaps a dramatic statement but it is nonetheless true and needs to be taken into consideration when men lose their job through layoffs, downsizing, or firing. It is one of the reasons why job loss for men is not being addressed adequately on an emotional level.
Women who have miscarried, no matter if it was in the first month or the third trimester, have told me that it was a uniquely painful experience. Now I’m sure some doctors might explain some of this by the special hormonal changes that take place in the first weeks of pregnancy. Such changes dramatically affect mood. Nonetheless no explanation can take away from the personal loss that these women feel. Many have told me that the miscarriage caused them to feel as if they had failed, not only as adequate mothers, but as women. So acute was their grief that they felt no one could understand it or contain it (and indeed they are right in this matter). Miscarriage is one of the loneliest and most isolating experiences a woman can have.
While the loss of the job is in no way equivalent to the loss of a child, a man’s identity is often tied closely to his employment. Men, either wired or trained from birth, identify with what they do more than with who they are. They generally need to find the value of their lives in their accomplishments, in their ability to support their family, and in their ongoing progress in their careers. Taking away a job thus robs the man of the very touch-stone of his identity and worth.
This reality is all the more dramatic when we address the chronically unemployed or unemployable. Those men who cannot hold down a regular job, whether it be through some fault of their own, through emotional or physical disability, or through their lack of current training and marketable skills, may well be in a perpetual funk. These men may actually be in a state of depression that is rooted in the core of who they perceive themselves to be, based on their lack of work, and therefore their lack of worth!
Understanding the dramatic effect of unemployment upon the male psyche might go far in how we raise and support our sons in discovering the kind of work they’d like to do from an early age. Yet, at the same time, we need to move men of our culture away from finding their worth in “doing” and instead, rediscover the joy and wonder of their “being.” Job loss as similar emotionally to miscarriage is but a jumping off point in our coaching of men as we help them discover that their careers and jobs are not themselves, but a mere extension among many of how men can be in the world.