Highly sensitive people tend to take things personally, including being laid off. But keep these things in mind before you do.
I was laid off during a two-minute Zoom call.
As any highly sensitive person (HSP) knows, two minutes is barely enough time to rehearse your coffee order — much less to process such life-altering news. It took me the entirety of those two minutes, and then some, to even make sense of the words coming out of the COO’s mouth: We’re sorry, but we’ve had to do some restructuring, and your position is among those being affected.
Navigating a sudden job loss is tough for anyone, but as an HSP, I was especially rattled. With a brain wired to process information deeply and respond strongly to the world around me, I was immediately overstimulated — flustered, frozen, and unable to muster anything more than an absurd “thank you” and a ridiculous smile before the call abruptly ended.
It’s a simple fact: As HSPs, everything just affects us more. And there’s nothing like learning you’ve just lost your income, healthcare coverage, and other benefits — not to mention, in some cases, your very sense of self — to overstimulate an HSP.
Fortunately, I got through it — and you can, too. Here’s what I learned in the aftermath of my layoff, and five tips for other highly sensitive employees who find themselves in the same boat.
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5 Reminders for Any HSP Navigating a Layoff
1. It’s not personal (even though it seems like it).
This may have been the hardest thing for me to wrap my head around in the days immediately following my termination: It’s not personal. Even though the COO explained I was being laid off due to a “workforce reduction,” it was hard not to feel some personal sense of rejection.
As an HSP, I’ve always struggled with insecurity. In fact, many HSPs struggle with self-confidence issues, thanks to factors like higher rates of social anxiety and perfectionism, past rejections, and general feelings of “otherness” — a sense that we are different from our peers who don’t share our sensitivity. Feeling like I was somehow responsible for my layoff initially felt like another personal failing.
Of course, this wasn’t true. After the fact, I received kind messages from former coworkers, assuring me that I was talented, had done great work, and that they were sorry to see me go. My LinkedIn feed was flooded with posts from others at the company — many of whom had been there longer than I had and whose work I admired — who had also lost their jobs and were now looking for work. Clearly, I was not alone, and a workforce reduction was not a reflection of me or my work ethic.
The same is true for you. As an HSP, you are likely a creative, detail-oriented, careful thinker who values quality and takes pride in your work. In fact, your sensitivity gives you many advantages in the workplace that make you a stellar employee. Try to remind yourself of that, and don’t be afraid to reach out to trusted friends and people in your network if you need additional encouragement.
2. It’s okay to grieve your job loss — like anything else, it’s still a loss.
Losing a job is a real loss in so many ways. Not only are you losing your livelihood, which can create financial stress, but you may be losing your daily routine (which is important for us HSPs!), relationships with coworkers you’re used to seeing every day, and possibly the future you saw for yourself at your company. Because work can be so intertwined with our sense of identity, you may even feel like you’ve lost a part of yourself.
If you’re an introspective HSP who spends a lot of time reflecting on big, existential questions, like who you are as a person, these kinds of losses can hit especially hard. And if you’re anything like me, you may have a tendency toward stronger emotional reactions, like crying — something I found myself doing on and off in the days after I was laid off.
Personally, what hit me hardest about losing my job was the feeling that I was somehow being knocked back to “square one.” While I didn’t feel my identity was tied too closely with this particular job (I hadn’t been there that long, after all), I had never not had a job before, and I hadn’t realized how much I associated myself with being the “star employee.”
As HSPs, we tend to be wildly creative, deeply empathetic, thoughtful, and attuned to small details — all beautiful strengths possessed by many “high achievers.” But when you’re used to being successful in the workplace, the pain of a sudden job loss can feel that much sharper. And when you’re an HSP, your emotional response to that pain may be that much stronger.
The good news is that HSPs have an advantage when it comes to resilience; we are used to constantly adapting and regulating “big emotions.” We also tend to think and process stimuli deeply — which may be uncomfortable in the moment, but could also help us move forward with a stronger sense of closure in the end.
Research shows that job loss is often cited as one of the most stressful life events. As an HSP, you may feel that stress intensely… and that’s okay. Remember that it’s okay to grieve. It isn’t “weak” or silly to take some time to catch your breath after a sudden layoff. Be kind to yourself, and give yourself the time you need to make sense of this big life change.
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3. Find your own way of moving forward.
Conventional wisdom suggests that when you lose a job, your first step should be to make it known and “put yourself out there” — post about it on social media, sharing the news and letting anyone (and everyone) in your network know that you’re #readytowork.
But for me, this wasn’t the best path forward. I needed time to work through everything I was feeling and make sense of what I really wanted to do next. I was very fortunate to have a safety net of savings built up (thanks to my careful planning and drive for safety/stability as an HSP!). This gave me some wiggle room to take a step back, breathe, and think about what I wanted to do next before I jumped straight into networking.
In fact, I found myself feeling deeply unhappy scrolling through LinkedIn, seeing post after post from old classmates and coworkers boasting about their latest career achievements. I found the forced, unnatural interactions on the platform exhausting and eyeroll-inducing. As an introverted HSP, I craved true connection and authenticity, and this style of networking didn’t feel like that for me. So I did the unthinkable as a job searcher: I set my account to hibernate.
I accepted that that might mean it would take me longer to find a new job, and that not everyone would get it… But I was so much happier when I stopped scrolling and turned my attention inward, toward my own goals and what I really wanted out of life and my career.
Then, I found my own quiet way of networking and getting back out there, bit by bit. I reached out to old coworkers and asked them if they’d provide a reference for me. I connected with old friends over coffee and exchanged resume tips and job ideas. I considered a few out-of-the-box opportunities offered up by real-life connections. And I felt the world open up to me in a way that social media wouldn’t have allowed.
There is no rulebook for how to move forward after a job loss. Don’t be afraid to think outside-the-box and find what works for you.
4. Take this opportunity to find work that truly fits you.
Once I got past the initial shock of being laid off, made a budget, and started thinking about my transition plan, I actually felt relieved… and even a little excited for the opportunity to start fresh. As an HSP, I had always found my previous work to be incredibly draining. This was my chance to redefine myself and change direction, to rethink my career and do something completely different, if I wanted to.
I thought about the things I liked — and disliked — about my previous work. I thought about the work environment and schedule that would work best for my sensitivity. I thought about my long-term goals and dreams. By this, I don’t mean just the kind you devise for an employer interview when they ask you “where you see yourself in five years,” but the deep-in-my-soul, life’s-purpose kind of dreams. (After all, we HSPs thrive on finding our purpose!)
If you find yourself unemployed as an HSP, you actually have an incredible opportunity in front of you. This is your chance to seek out the type of work that truly aligns with your values, moves you toward your goals, and allows you to be yourself.
So take some time to think about what you truly want out of your work, and then use this as your opportunity to start building the type of career where you can thrive as an HSP. Your dream job is waiting!
5. Don’t worry — you’ve got this!
HSPs navigate the world with care and sensitivity, and while this may be a tough time, these qualities will help you get through it — and come out stronger than you thought you could be. While a job loss may be extra tough to navigate as a highly sensitive person, we also have some unique advantages when it comes to moving forward.
Take a deep breath and trust that you’re going to make smart, thoughtful decisions about where you go from here. Chances are, you are already in tune with your emotions and intuition. Listen to what they say, and let them guide you. They won’t steer you wrong. And, the more you focus on what brings you joy, the easier it will be to find a new job or career you love!
You might like:
- 12 Ways High Sensitivity Is Your Greatest Strength in the Workplace
- How to (Actually) Find Your Purpose as a Highly Sensitive Person
- 18 Things That Fill Highly Sensitive People With Joy
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