Friday, September 4, 2009

Furloughs Affect Us Like Any Other Tragedy

Furloughs are an absolute tragedy for many of us. So much so that people are processing furloughs under the Kubler-Ross Model, commonly known as the stages of grief and loss, just as they would process the death of a family member. Psychologists find that many people experience 5 different stages as a part of the mourning process:

1. Denial and Isolation. The first reaction is to deny the reality of the situation. This is a temporary response that carries us through the first wave of pain.

2. Anger. As the masking effects of denial and isolation begin to wear, reality and its pain re-emerge. Pain is expressed through anger.

3. Bargaining. Secretly, we may make a deal with God or our higher power in an attempt to postpone the inevitable.

4. Depression. Two types of depression are associated with mourning: the reaction to the practical implications relating to the loss (for us, the loss of money), or, our quiet preparation for the loss.

5. Acceptance. This phase is marked by withdrawal and calm. This is not a period of happiness but must be distinguished from depression.
You can almost always tell what stage a person is in after your talk with them about furloughs. Most of the people I’ve talked to are living somewhere between anger and depression. The wave of furlough lawsuits we are hearing about are definitely expressions of anger and bargaining. Getting through each stage is tough, and going back through stages we’ve already been through is common.

My personal experience hasn’t been any different. I heard about the possibility of furloughs long before they were implemented, but honestly did not think it would happen to me. Attorneys don’t get furloughed, right? This is classic denial. Once furloughs became official, the anger stage began. I chose to move through this stage pretty quickly because it wasn’t productive for me. I don’t feel as if I did much bargaining—the reality of the loss of pay led me straight to depression. At this point, I’ve moved on to acceptance, but depression is still very visible in my rear view mirror.

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