When people lose a loved one, they are usually met with social support to aid them in their grieving. When we lose our pets, however, people seem to be considerably less empathetic, often times asking why we don’t simply get a new pet. Regardless of the actual amount of mourning involved, the lack of social support can often make the grieving process seem especially lonely, prolonging healing. In order to more fully understand why we feel so strongly about creatures that have never even spoken a word to us before, we must first become more familiar with the roles our pets played in our lives and the void that their absence creates.
One of the major reasons people have pets to begin with is because of their capacity for unconditional love. Our relationships with other humans are much more complex than those with our pets, diluted by anxieties about being judged or rejected. We are able to be much more open with our pets, sharing things that we otherwise would be too afraid to with our human friends. Because of pets’ acceptance of us and their ability to be natural listeners, they can play multiple roles to us, functioning as a substitute child, friend or even significant other. We also play multiple roles to our pets as well, being seen as a parent, a friend or a master; losing a pet includes feelings of loss from the termination of several relationships.
The demanding amount of maintenance that pets require provides us with a sense of purpose, with their absence leaving us with less motivation and feelings of worthlessness. The human social connections that dogs facilitate (i.e., talking to people while walking the dog, frequenting dog parks, etc.) can add to the sense of loss as well. Also, probably the most difficult to admit, is the fact that for many of us, our pets are our sole companions, especially for those with anxiety and depression. When they go, we experience the shock of losing virtually all of our social support with them.
Complications prolonging the grieving process
As if the sense of loss felt from losing a companion that filled multiple roles was not traumatic enough, we often inject negative emotions such as guilt into the situation, providing additional hurdles to get over in the grieving process. If we lose a pet, especially prematurely, we naturally blame ourselves for not giving them enough shots and medications, keeping them healthy with walks, overfeeding them, etc. If we do not feel that all options were completely exhausted, then we are left with unhealthy, compulsive thoughts about what we could have done to have kept them alive.
Euthanasia is also a common cause for guilt; no matter how much pain the animal was in, most people cannot help but feel guilt and uncertainty over prematurely ending the life of their pet, ruminating about whether or not they ended it too early. Also damaging is our tendency to impose a timeline on grieving, putting unnecessary emotional pressure on ourselves, ultimately prolonging the process.
Recovering from the loss of a pet
Ways to facilitate the healing process include being patient with oneself, finding additional social support and disposing of the pet’s possessions. Although they may be necessary to keep around in order to help with the mourning process, holding onto them permanently will only make it more difficult to let them go.
Sovereign Health is familiar with the negative effects that prolonged grieving poses on recovery, offering intervention services and a holistic approach to therapy in order to give our patients the best possible chance of a quick and lasting recovery. If you have any questions regarding the grieving process or about our mental health treatment programs, feel free to contact our admissions staff today at (866) 819-0427.