Beyond Self-Blame: Destigmatizing Unemployment

Flawed System, Flawed SelfFlawed System/Flawed Self: Job Searching and Unemployment Experiences

by Ofer Sharone

University of Chicago Press, 2013


As a career-development specialist in the Boston area, I watch my clients translate who they are into what they do and then experience the satisfaction of meaningful employment. The process can be deeply fulfilling for both the job seeker and the career counselor. But I have recently come to realize that this work can also be damaging: I see now that for years I unknowingly perpetuated self-blame among those who, despite their best efforts, remain unemployed or underemployed.

Ofer Sharone’s book Flawed System/Flawed Self: Job Searching and Unemployment Experiences gave me a new framework for understanding the damaging effects of a fundamental premise behind most job search assistance: the idea that unemployment is the result of remediable failings in an individual’s job search strategy, rather than a systemic failure created by the structure of our economic system.

Sharone’s book helped me realize that I have been repeating the messages that keep job seekers in a position of isolation and distress. How often have I focused primarily on an individual’s “fit” for a job, minimizing the role that broader economic forces play in keeping many people unemployed for the long term? Using Sharone’s book as a guide, I have come to understand more clearly how the individual and the system are intimately connected, and I can work to interrupt the troubling patterns of self-blame I have been supporting in my role as a helping professional.

The Emotional Toll of Unemployment

Individuals who once thought that a college education, a solid record of work experience, and a positive work attitude would ensure economic security are finding this is no longer true. Those with limited educations or spotty work histories, meanwhile, are having an even harder time supporting themselves. Many hardworking individuals are struggling to support themselves and retire with any semblance of financial security.

While statistics indicate that the economy is improving, the long-term unemployed continue to experience the effects of being out of work for longer periods of time—effects that take a very serious toll on their emotional and physical health.

At first being out of work may feel like an opportunity, a time to take a break or explore new paths. But after about six months of constant rejection, with no positive responses from potential employers, individuals start to take it personally. They ask, “What is wrong with me that I am not getting a job?”

Sharone explores this move toward self-blame with a critical eye, showing how the career-management industry’s focus on improving individual job seekers’ strategies contributes to this problem of self-blame.
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