Staying Resilient When Bad Things Happen - To Other People

It was back in 2001 that we first wrote about the impact of staff reductions on the resilience of both victims and survivors. Now, a decade later we’re still dealing with the topic. It comes up in almost every Adaptiv resilience training workshop. And just last week, an Adaptiv Enews reader asked me how she could get back to resilience after a major downsizing at her company. Sadly, companies continue to cut staff, and how those left standing respond and recover continues to be a topic worth exploring.

This piece isn’t about how to maintain your sanity while doing the work once done by two or three – or more. We’ll cover that in a later post. It’s about how to retain – or regain - your emotional equilibrium after you learn that people you’ve cared about, worked along side of, and counted on, are suddenly gone.

Our work has shown that it’s how we think, on two different levels, that drives what we feel. Today we’ll look at how to get a handle on the emotions fueled by our surface thinking. Next time we’ll cover how our bigger, deeper belief systems – our Icebergs – can get in the way and how to recover.

Most conversations about the emotional impact of downsizing on remaining staff deal mainly with “survivor guilt”. Sure, some people may feel guilty, but others might feel sad, or anxious, or frustrated, or even angry. And expressing a so-called negative emotion in response to the loss of co-workers may be healthy. But if that emotional reaction starts to sap our resilience and interfere with our productivity, we need to take action.

The first step is to be aware of what you’re feeling when you find out that your favorite colleague is gone. The next step is to understand the thinking that led to your emotion. Check this list of the common “negative” emotions and the surface thinking that causes them:

Emotion/ Typical Surface Thought"

Sadness / "This place won't be the same without him."

Anxiety / "I relied on her support. What if I can't deliver without her?"

Frustration / "I tried to tell them we couldn't afford to lose this person."

Anger / "I deserve an employer that values its people."

Guilt / "They deserve this job more than I do."

Embarrassment /"Now that they're gone, my weaknesses will be exposed."

Shame / "It's wrong to feel good when others suffer."

Once you've got a handle on the emotion you're feeling and the thinking that's fueling it, you can ask yourself if your thinking in this moment is either accurate or useful.

Let's say you're feeling Sad and your thinking is something like the example above. Just ask yourself, "What's one way I can think a bit differently about this that might make me feel better? Sure we will miss him. But we can stay connected outside of work so I can keep the relationship intact." With this slight shift in your thinking, you should find that you feel a bit less sad and a bit more hopeful about the future.

With some practice, you'll find that you can easily tune into your thinking and tweak it enough to break free of whatever emotion is getting in your way.

One final note: Resilience is not about being devoid of emotion. If you check your thinking and find that it's accurate, then don't try to change it. Let yourself fully experience the emotion - at least for a reasonable amount of time - and then move on.

How do you stay resilient when bad things happen to others?

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