Navigating the Pain of Pet Loss: Insights from a Therapist's Perspective
Updated: May 22
I was devastated for months when I lost my childhood dog, Hershey. Pets are not just animals; they are family members who bring joy, companionship, and comfort. Losing a pet can be one of the most challenging experiences of our lives. The grieving process after losing a pet can be a long and challenging journey. Knowing how to navigate your emotions and cope with the loss can be difficult. I've included therapy techniques that can help you navigate pet grief and the stages of grief you might experience.
Understanding the Stages of Grief
When it comes to grief, there is no right or wrong way to feel. Everyone grieves differently, and there is no set timeline for the grieving process. However, grief can be broken down into five stages:
Denial: This stage is characterized by feelings of shock, disbelief, and denial. You might find yourself thinking that your pet will come back or feeling as though the loss isn't real.
Anger: As the reality of your loss sets in, you might feel angry or frustrated. You might blame yourself or others for your pet's death or feel as though the world is unfair.
Bargaining: During this stage, you might try to make deals with a higher power or wish that things could be different. You might find yourself thinking, "If only I had done X, then my pet would still be alive."
Depression: This stage is characterized by feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and despair. You might withdraw from friends and family, lose interest in activities you used to enjoy, or experience physical symptoms like sleeplessness and appetite changes.
Acceptance: In this final stage, you come to terms with your loss and begin to move forward. You might still feel sadness or miss your pet, but you can start to find joy in life again.
It's important to note that these stages are not always linear, and you might experience them in a different order or revisit some stages multiple times.
Techniques for Grief
Mindfulness: Mindfulness is the practice of being present and fully engaged in the current moment. Mindfulness can help you manage overwhelming emotions and reduce stress. Try taking a few minutes each day to sit quietly, focus on your breath, and notice the sensations in your body.
Radical Acceptance: Radical acceptance is the practice of accepting things as they are, even if they are not what you want. Radical acceptance can help you let go of the idea that your pet's death was unfair or that you could have done something differently. Instead, try to focus on accepting the reality of your loss and moving forward.
Coping Ahead: Coping ahead is the practice of planning ahead for stressful situations. For example, if you know that a particular day will be difficult because it's the anniversary of your pet's death, you can plan to do something to honor your pet or engage in a self-care activity that day.
Expressive Writing: Expressive writing is the practice of writing about your thoughts and emotions related to your loss. This can be done in a journal, through poetry, or by writing a letter to your pet. Expressive writing can help you process your emotions and gain insight into your grief.
Support Groups: Support groups can provide a safe and supportive environment for you to share your feelings with others who have experienced a similar loss. Support groups can also provide practical advice and coping strategies for navigating grief.
Therapy: If you are struggling with pet grief, a licensed therapist can provide support and guidance as you navigate the grieving process. A therapist can help you identify and work through the emotions and behaviors that are contributing to your grief.
Allow yourself time to heal
Navigating pet grief can be a challenging and emotional journey, but with the right tools and support, it is possible to find healing and peace. Remember to be patient and kind with yourself as you navigate the stages of grief and try out different techniques to find what works best for you. With time and self-care, you can honor your pet's memory and find a sense of peace in the wake of your loss.
About the author
Brianna Paruolo, MSED, CMHC-LP, works as a women's perfectionist and self-esteem therapist, offering guidance and support to women who want freedom from the pressures they so often place on themselves. She is passionate that everyone can welcome a new normal where they love themselves and face the future with hope. Send her an email at Brianna@goldtherapynyc.com to connect today!
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