So why are employment wrongful termination cases so emotionally grueling? The answer may lie in our caveman ancestors and their survival need to be included in a group and its relation to society’s desire to not be isolated.
Part of the reason that wrongful termination suits are so emotionally difficult is because when a person gets terminated from a company, such action is serving the dual purpose of clearly excluding that person from being in the “in group” of employees, and it is also giving feedback to the employee that he or she is not good enough to make it in that environment. This is true even if the termination is part of a reduction in force.
The problem is that people hate to have negative criticism. Not only do negative events play a stronger part in our pysche, but the criticism often is a direct threat to our personal identity.
According to Karen Wright from Pyschology Today, criticism affects our sense of personal identity.
At the heart of our loathing of criticism is the fear of exclusion or loss of connection, which in turn is tied to fear for our physical survival, contends Peter Gray, a research psychologist at Boston College. If being berated at work or benched at a game doesn’t seem life-threatening at first glance, consider that people couldn’t survive outside of the cooperative hunter-gatherer milieu in which our psyches were forged. Isolation or ostracism was potentially lethal then, and still is. In some very real sense, our social connections keep us alive, although contemporary interdependence masks itself as reliance on electricity, the Internet, and espresso drinks, rather than on one another.
“Identity is very closely tied up to the groups we belong to,” says Neal Ashkanasy, a professor of management at the University of Queensland in Australia. “Strong criticism threatens your membership in that group, and that’s a powerful force.”
What hurts most in negative feedback, then, isn’t the overt content of the message so much as the threat of exclusion, abandonment, and ostracism that accompanies it. (How to Take Feedback, Pyschology Today)
Ultimately, terminating a person’s employment is the ultimate criticism and act of being ostracized. Given that losing a job can affect a person’s survival and ability to feed the family, it is no wonder that such an act can be the ultimate criticism and affect a person’s identity.