There you were, in a difficult relationship, and getting laid off was the pebble that turned into a landslide that ended in actions you regret. Or maybe you were already trying to change your harmful behavior, but then you’re blindsided by losing your job. For those working to stop hurting the ones they love, unemployment and domestic violence can be dangerously linked.
It’s true that there is not a cause–effect relationship between unemployment and domestic violence or abuse because not all unemployed people are violent or abusive. However, it’s pretty clear that joblessness and hurtful conduct are linked. The connection makes sense when we think about it – because unemployment can have effects that trigger, or contribute, to our worst behavior.
Fallout from unemployment: stress and self-esteem
Losing a job means losing income, can lead to financial difficulties, and can force us to give up things we value in life. No doubt the change and uncertainty are stressful. When we’re in a state of stress, our ability to handle even the smallest things is diminished. You could say our resilience tank is running on empty.
“What do you do?” – this is usually the first thing we ask someone after we learn their name. When we lose a job, it can seem as though we’ve lost the main thing that defines us. And if our partner is still working and paying the bills, it’s easy to feel like we’re not contributing. Being unemployed can be a huge blow to our self-esteem.
Being unemployed can be a huge blow to our self-esteem.
When we have deep doubts about whether we’re worthy or useful, we are less likely to be kind and empathetic to those close to us. We may deal with our negative emotions by shifting the blame onto them, or criticizing them for their part in the situation. “We’d be fine if you weren’t spending all our money on ___” probably isn’t fair and will just create another problem—with your partner.
Or, we may be so sensitive that even the smallest criticism feels like proof that we are not worthy. I remember saying, “I guess I am a useless piece of you-know-what and I’ll never get another job” when my wife asked me if I paid the power bill. My over-reaction to a legitimate question was a good indication that I needed to pay attention to what was going on inside of me.
Low self-esteem is a root cause of abuse because it leaves us constantly relying on other people to make us feel good about ourselves. When their words or actions don’t have the desired effect, we lash out in anger or try to make them feel guilty for not making us feel valuable. It’s a terrible strategy once we see it and think about it: it doesn’t work and, in fact, causes damage to our closest relationships.
Trying to control too much
Nobody loses their job on purpose – well, maybe with a couple of exceptions. Often, becoming unemployed can make us feel like our life and career have gone off the rails. And to make matters worse, getting back on track depends on many factors that are beyond our control. All this can make us feel extremely powerless and vulnerable.
At times like this, many of us naturally try to find ways of regaining a sense of control. We draw up strict daily schedules, frantically send out resumes, or tidy the house within an inch of its life. Constructive actions to solve the problem are good, but not every attempt at control is helpful.
Constructive actions to solve the problem are good, but not every attempt at control is helpful.
We may also find this impulse to regain control expressing itself in other ways. Perhaps our spouse goes out with their friends for the evening, and we send dozens of texts demanding they come home. Or we check their shopping receipts to see how much they spent and yell at them for being irresponsible. Trying to control others hurts them and harms our connection with them, which only adds to our stress and makes our problems worse.
Breaking the link between unemployment and domestic violence
Being unemployed is undoubtedly scary, difficult, and stressful – and it can contribute to actions and behavior that hurt our partners and ourselves. The first thing we can do is be aware of this. Accept the situation, acknowledge that it poses a challenge, and remind yourself that this is a temporary state of affairs—another bend in the road. It doesn’t reflect on whether you are worthy, valuable, or lovable.
Being unemployed doesn’t reflect on whether you are worthy, valuable, or lovable.
Keep an eye on when you’re feeling stressed, down on yourself, or powerless. Catch any bad behavior before it gets out of hand. Recognize when you’re worrying about the future or beating yourself up, and see if you can challenge your negative thoughts.
There are lots of steps we can take to not just monitor our emotions at this time, but actively manage them. These include maintaining a daily routine that gets us out of bed in the morning and exercising to keep our bodies and minds healthy. Talking to our families and friends can help us get things off our chests and remind us of the important things in life. Generally, making an extra effort to look after yourself, in whatever form that takes for you, is a good strategy. If that means building shelves, taking long bubble baths, or sitting in the car with the stereo on full blast, more power to you.
Steps to end both unemployment and domestic violence
Stay focused on what you can control in your job search rather than what you can’t. You can determine how many jobs you apply for or how many of your LinkedIn contacts you message. You can’t control what happens as a result of your efforts. Have faith that doing the right things will eventually produce results, even if you can’t see any evidence right now.
If you don’t get an offer you were hoping for, don’t take it personally. There could be any number of factors behind the decision. All you can do is keep learning and being proactive.
Consider using your time to volunteer or do other good deeds in the community. Offering your services adds to your resume, builds your skills, and connects you with others. It also can make you feel useful and good about yourself—a great esteem booster when you need it most.
There is a dangerous link between unemployment and domestic violence and abuse. Don’t let the challenge of a job loss suck you into even more trouble. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, start by committing to just one thing that will help you respond positively to the situation. Self-awareness, self-compassion, and focusing on what you can control will help you move in the right direction with your career and relationships.
Perhaps the biggest breakthrough that came from my relationship with God was learning that he loves and values you and me, unconditionally. This means that our worth doesn’t come from our job, or from how much money we make, but from him. Remembering this is a safety net when we experience a shock to our sense of self-worth, like losing a job or experiencing financial difficulties.
God also promises to protect and provide for us. The more we trust that promise, the more we can challenge our fears and insecurities, including those associated with being unemployed. And the better we get to know God, the more we will see him as good, loving, and trustworthy.