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Coping with Pet Loss Guilt

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12 Tips to Reduce Pet Loss Guilt
By Karen Litzinger, Author of Heal Your Heart: Coping with the Loss of a Pet

Guilt is a natural part of the grieving process resulting from a real or perceived failure.  It is easy to get stuck in the grip of guilt from excessive “could haves” and “should haves.”  Since our pets are as dependent on us as children, we can feel more guilt in the death of a pet than many other deaths, since we feel such caretaking responsibility.  It is important to realize we are human and cannot control everything, to forgive ourselves, and to allow our energy to move toward healing.

1.    Pet Talk – Imagine or write down what your pet would want for you or say to you.  Likely, it would not be critical, but more like “I know how much you loved me, and appreciate how you took care of me throughout my life.  Allow the unconditional love I shared with you to be how you treat yourself now.”  Another angle is to write a letter to your pet first, and then your companion’s response.

2.    Friend Talk – Imagine that you are talking to a friend who has had your experience.  What would you say to that person?  Consider writing this down, so you can review it if you continue to experience guilt.

3.    Reframing Self Talk – Using principles of cognitive psychology, write down your negative self-talk statements and then reframe them to reflect a more realistic and neutral reality.  Example: Negative Self Talk - “I feel so guilty that I didn’t get more tests at the emergency hospital because they were so expensive.” Reframed Self Talk - “Although there were more tests available, the vet said everything pointed to an incurable condition.   I made the best decision I could with the information and limitations that I had.”

4.    Support Groups – Whether in person or on-line, support groups can help give you an objective perspective of your situation as well as help you know you are not alone in your struggle with guilt.  Consider chat rooms at www.aplb.org and www.petloss.com.

5.    Counseling – For additional support, consider connecting with a pet loss or grief counselor.  If your feelings of guilt extend for a long time and affect your daily living, consider talking to a therapist.  For pet loss counselors: www.pet-loss.net and www.aplb.org.  For therapists: therapists.psychologytoday.com/rms/.

6.    Simply Talking – Externalizing your feelings with anyone supportive can help disrupt the internal negative self talk and may provide an objective view.  This is best in combination with other strategies.

7.    Good Things List – Make a list of all the good things you did for your pet throughout his or her lifetime to remind yourself that the positive caretaking outweighs any mistake you may have made.

8.    Stop Technique – When you hear your negative self talk or feel stuck in guilt, tell break the cycle by saying to yourself “Stop. This is not a good use of my energy and is not helping me.” Then think of a better use of your energy, such as volunteering at an animal shelter or taking care of yourself.

9.    Giving Back – Volunteering to help others can shift your focus from your own problems.  You can also give back by honoring your animal’s memory with a monetary contribution to an animal cause.  Honoring your animal’s memory through creating a memorial stone, writing a poem, or other ritual is another way to give.

10.Examining Motivation – Sometimes people subconsciously get stuck in guilt to hang on to their animal, to show remorse and receive approval from others, or other psychological reasons.   Reflect on motivations.

11.Forgiveness – Allow self-forgiveness rather than continuing to torment yourself.  Perhaps say to yourself, “I am only human.  Therefore, I can’t control everything and may have made some mistakes.  Everyone deserves forgiveness.”  Post this or something similar in a visible location.

12.Learning – Write about what you learned from this real or perceived mistake to help yourself and possibly others.  Or write about what you learned from your animal as a reminder of how he/she will live on in you.

©2010, Karen Litzinger, Pittsburgh, PA.  All rights reserved.  Permission is granted to reproduce this handout, only if photocopied in its entirety including by-line and this statement.  Karen Litzinger is author of the award-winning CD, Heal Your Heart: Coping with the Loss of a Pet, available at www.HealFromPetLoss.com.  You may link to this article at the same site, but please do not copy content to your site.  Karen is a Licensed Professional Counselor in Pennsylvania and professional member of the National Speakers Association.  Contact: Karen@HealFromPetLoss.com. 

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