How to stop obsessive thinking about getting fired?
October 28, 2015 3:29 PM   Subscribe

Every job I have ever had I become convinced I am getting fired. How can I stop believing this and sabotaging myself at work.

I wanted to check in and see if anyone has overcome this issue before, and what their strategy was. Every job I have ever had seems to go the same way. I start with a honeymoon phase, work really hard, then I start to get paranoid. I particularly experience a lot of paranoia after I assert myself in any way. I feel like if I speak up or ask questions or express any concerns I have I am definitely going to get fired. I have a new job, am just past my three month probation and I did briefly bring up some concerns I was having about the location I am working in with my regional manager, I found out today I now have an impromptu meeting with her tomorrow and I am convinced I am being fired. I know it sounds irrational but I am sure of it. Every time there is a closed door I think it's about me, I obsessively check emails to see if I can discover any clues. It's super frustrating to be experiencing this again and I am afraid I am going to inevitably sabotage myself at this job and I actually will get fired. Can anyone relate?
posted by thelastgirl to Work & Money (26 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Are you familiar with impostor syndrome? I think this feeling is extremely common among folks (especially women) who have impostor syndrome struggles. You may find a lot more targeted resources and people who can relate (and therapists who can help you work through it) by googling the term.
posted by phunniemee at 3:35 PM on October 28, 2015 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I do this quite a bit, but I try to do the "and then what?" game with myself. This involves saying, "And then what?" to myself at each thing that would happen next.

1. I'm getting fired!
2. And then what?
3. I'd need to look for a new job.
4. And then what?
5. I've been pretty good at getting jobs, so I'll probably get a new job.
6. And then what?
7. And then I'll have a job.
8. So you'll be okay?
9. Yeah, I guess I'll be okay.

You can't control what other people (including your bosses) do, and even though there's probably little to no chance you're being fired, knowing you'll be okay even in the worst case scenario can help, I've found.
posted by xingcat at 3:39 PM on October 28, 2015 [22 favorites]

I have the same thing. Keeps me working hard and doing a good job, to put a positive spin on it.

It's also made me psychotic about saving money.

So......not all bad if you can harness it.
posted by jpe at 4:17 PM on October 28, 2015 [4 favorites]

I regularly think this about every job I've ever had, including the job I had here, which makes no sense because I was basically the exact opposite of someone about to get fired. I got treatment for my anxiety and it really helped me reframe a lot of my weird obsessive concerns in ways that were pragmatic and useful to me
posted by jessamyn at 4:17 PM on October 28, 2015 [19 favorites]

Oh sure, for years and years, every time my boss closed his or her door, I'd think there was a conference going on in which the decision to fire me was being made. I finally had to just start joking about it. For quite a while, I'd say, "Oh they're in there signing my separation papers." Then I started joking that the decision to make me partner was being made. Ultimately, I was able to kind of see my whole reaction as a joke, so I stopped having the anxiety.
posted by janey47 at 4:26 PM on October 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

Sounds like an anxiety problem to me. Metafilter cliche, I know, but maybe therapy might be worth a shot?
posted by noxperpetua at 4:37 PM on October 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

So you get fired? If you know you've done your best and you get fired, that's life. Happens to most of us eventually. It's not like you could have done more than your best, and odds are if you could it wouldn't of mattered anyway. You find another job and life goes on.
posted by COD at 4:37 PM on October 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

I used to have this exact fear. Like, it was so strong it caused me to develop anxiety and chronic insomnia. I had a boss who was the worst human ever - 110% pure jealous bully, who obviously picked up on this and ruined my life by torturing me with her sick mind games for over two years.

I overcame this fear. By getting wrongfully let go. There, I said it.

It's obviously a long story because it was a false termination with slander that resulted in legal action THAT I WON.

It took me months to get over it and I still have my moments, but I was immediately hired by a big company less than 2 weeks later after leaving that place and I'm now happy as a clam. People get fired all the time and it's scary, but not the end of the world. Definitely seek therapy because this is catastrophic thinking. From all this I learned that when fear is faced and you're still breathing and then you realize...woah! Everything is going to be ok! It's no longer a fear. There is something intoxicating about having no fear.
posted by floweredfish at 4:40 PM on October 28, 2015 [5 favorites]

Agreeing that this sounds like anxiety, and specifically intrusive thoughts (I can't vouch for that particular website as a whole, but that page looks on-the-money in terms of description and advice about intrusive thoughts, and knowing the term might help you search for help specific to that.)

You don't deserve to feel like this - good luck.
posted by penguin pie at 4:47 PM on October 28, 2015 [3 favorites]

This is the story of my career. It's anxiety. Treatment for anxiety will help address the underlying issues, but in the meantime, there's a pretty easy trick you can use to manage: just keep in mind that no one schedules meetings to fire people. If they want you gone, they just come by and interrupt what you're doing and tell you to go into the boss's office. Even if they're just giving you a warning, they probably won't schedule a meeting to do that. The fact that a meeting has been scheduled means it's highly unlikely that you'll be fired at that meeting.
posted by kevinbelt at 4:52 PM on October 28, 2015 [4 favorites]

I have this same fear, so much so that I actually submitted my resignation yesterday out of fear that I was going to get fired in a meeting to which I was summoned with HR and my supervisor. (What was I supposed to think?) As it turns out, I didn't get fired in that meeting, but my job was causing me insane amounts of stress that was basically ruining the rest of my life. So forcing a decision to leave, even based on an incorrect assumption, will ultimately be a good thing. Right now, like right at this minute, I feel terrible. But. Tomorrow I'll feel less awful and the day after that will be even better. Like xingcat said above, I'll get a new job. Maybe it'll be awesome and maybe it won't, but it won't be the fresh hell that I'm in, either.

Yes, I'm in therapy for my anxiety. You should look into it, too. Best of luck!
posted by heathergirl at 5:08 PM on October 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

This is an INCREDIBLY common feeling. Similar to xingcat, I play the "what's the worst that could happen" game when I start worrying about this and usually determine that losing my current job isn't really that terrible. There are more jobs out there.

The most productive thing you can do to address the worry is to keep your resume and skills up to date so that you can continue to be employed at a moment's notice.
posted by joan_holloway at 5:19 PM on October 28, 2015 [3 favorites]

Nthing anxiety and maybe consider therapy. As well as playing xingcat's game, I also practice challenging negative thinking by substituting the thought with the exact opposite. Find out I have an unscheduled meeting. Negative thought: "I'm going to get fired!" Opposite: "I'm going to get a promotion and fat pay rise!" Why is one more likely than the other? I may as well have positive fantasies than negative ones because the reality tends to be much more mundane and in between: "Had a run-of-the-mill debrief with boss." Going to a party. Negative thought: "I'll look like shit and no one will talk to me!" Opposite: "I'll turn all heads and be the life and soul!" Reality: "It was fine". It just takes practice. Good luck tomorrow.
posted by billiebee at 5:55 PM on October 28, 2015 [3 favorites]

I actually submitted my resignation yesterday out of fear that I was going to get fired

I've never done exactly this, but I've found another job and quit my current one because I was sure I was on the verge of being fired. And when I quit, they expressed surprise, disappointment, and begged me to stay. So clearly I wasn't on the verge of being fired.

In my current job, I got a big promotion six months ago, and a 15% raise a few weeks ago. Probably not on the verge of being fired.

In fact, I've never been fired in my life, or even had it suggested that I might be. But I'm still regularly terrified I will be fired any day now.

I guess that's not really comforting, but I wanted to reinforce the others who said you're not alone.....
posted by primethyme at 6:37 PM on October 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

CBT for severe depression that also turned out to be (surprise! Not really) anxiety. Has not troubled me since.
posted by sideofwry at 6:42 PM on October 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

I have an appointment on Friday to talk about this with a professional. You're not alone.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 6:55 PM on October 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

You were able to get your current job, yes?

If you had to, you could do it again. You could. You are strong and powerful. Stronger and more powerful than you think.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 7:09 PM on October 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

Just another person chiming in to tell you that I feel the same way, too, and that it's a problem I'm actively trying to work on. However, one thing that makes me feel better is just to think about all of the inept, dumb, and just plain-bad-at-their-jobs people you have ever come across in the working world. If they can get a job (and keep it), why should I be worried!?
posted by modesty.blaise at 8:15 PM on October 28, 2015 [6 favorites]

Yes. Constantly. I don't have a solution but I think this is more common than you might think. I blame it on the recession but that's just speculation.
posted by deathpanels at 8:58 PM on October 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

Do you have other types of anxiety or intrusive thoughts? You sound like you could really benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy. I've found it really helpful for anxiety.
posted by radioamy at 9:24 PM on October 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

I once used a joking tone to say to my boss (with secret sincerity), "Wow, every time you ask me to come into the office I feel like I'm in huge trouble! I always wonder what's so bad we can't just talk about it near my desk, haha!" She said "Oh wow I never thought of that, totally makes sense! OK! I'll do that more often!" That convo went much better than I expected.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 9:30 PM on October 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

In many cases your employer will put you on a performance plan or some kind of probation. If this happens, it's maybe for 2-6 months. As soon as something like that happens, start looking for a job. If the thought of unemployment is part of what makes you anxious, remember you'd probably get some advance warning.
posted by bendy at 10:43 PM on October 28, 2015 [3 favorites]

I'm another datapoint of 1) yes, definitely felt this way, but have never been fired, and 2) therapy and anxiety medication have taken me a long way in overcoming this
posted by raw sugar at 11:09 PM on October 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

I've never had a job that I've been fired from - in fact every job except one has resulted in glowing reviews from people above me - and yet I feel exactly this same way. I'm 4 months into a new job right now and feeling that way at this very moment. Not really sure what to do except keep on keeping on.
posted by gloriouslyincandescent at 2:04 AM on October 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

If they were going to fire you, they would not have waited for the three-month probationary period to end and then do it say, a week later. Plus hiring new employees and then training them/getting them up to speed is a real drag. No one wants to do that. Keeping you is, at the very least, the path of least resistance! (which is not to say that you do not deserve your job because I'm sure you do)

Otherwise nthing what xingcat said.
posted by lyssabee at 5:56 AM on October 29, 2015 [3 favorites]

I am a manager. I am not your manager...

Kevinbelt has it - no one schedules a meeting in advance to fire someone. It's always an abrupt end, usually to a discussion that senior managers have been having for weeks, and should be AFTER a couple of disciplinary discussions with said employee where they were advised of the problem.

I also agree that looking at the inept schmucks surrounding you who are still working there can be of some comfort.

Some advice not necessarily to you but to others upthread - never submit a resignation unless you want to quit. There are some highly specialized exceptions - I knew a guy who had a politically appointed job whose boss (an elected official) asked for and got an undated resignation the day he started - because if anything ever hit the paper that was how he was going to go out. But for the rest of us - my rule to those I consult is "never turn down a resignation." If you want to ask for help, ask for help. If you screwed up, apologize. Don't resign in order to express frustration or regret.

Another thing that may help - unless your entire management structure is incredibly toxic, firing is a last resort. It's a disaster for the employee, but it also sucks for the manager, the company, the co-workers, etc.

Being called into someone's office -- there are a lot of reasons. I have to pull people aside daily. I look for ways to do it that are less obtrusive, but if you're in an open plan, the only alternative is to discuss stuff in front of everybody. The majority of things that you might pull someone aside for as a manager are NOT detrimental to the person who reports to you:

- new assignment (don't want to discuss in front of the guy or gal who didn't get it)
- raise (self explanatory)
- a lot of HR issues (anything to do with insurance, illness, a leave request)
- how is a project going? (don't really want to hear from the peanut gallery while talking to the one person whose opinion I want)
posted by randomkeystrike at 7:36 AM on October 29, 2015 [4 favorites]

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