Coping with Guilt During Grief

Sometimes we are our own worst critics. Learn more below as Dr. Lawlor shares some insight into this phenomenon.



When a traumatic loss occurs, in this case the death of our companion animals, we as humans tend to...

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• Blame ourselves;

• Believe that we should have been able to stop the loss from happening;

• Have trouble accepting that it happened; and/or

• Try to forget it happened, or at least the worst aspects of it.

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These thoughts are frequently exacerbated if the loss was sudden and unexpected.


“There are 2 kinds of emotions that follow traumatic loss; the first are known as “natural emotions.”


Natural Emotions


There are 2 kinds of emotions that follow traumatic loss; the first are known as “natural emotions”...


These are the feelings that we would expect to follow a loss or death and are felt by most everyone: sadness, loneliness, isolation, longing, hopelessness, anger, etc. While the memories of our pet will always hurt to some degree, they should become more “manageable” with time, typically within a year (approximately). It is essential for our mental health that we let ourselves experience ALL the emotions we have related to the loss so that they can run their natural course.


Manufactured Feelings


The second type of emotions following a traumatic loss are referred to as “manufactured feelings”...


These feelings are not based directly on our natural response to the loss, but rather on how we personally interpret the loss. If we believe that we should have been able to save our pet or that something is clinically wrong with us because we can’t “just get over it,” then we will absolutely feel guilty and ashamed (and several other negative, unhelpful feelings).


"These emotions are NOT based on the facts surrounding the loss, but rather on our interpretations of it."

The more we continue to think about the loss through these lenses (which distort our ability to understand and accept it), the more manufactured feelings we are going to have, and the more distressed, overwhelmed, and stuck we are going to become.


Treatment for Resolving Guilt


If we can modify our thoughts and interpretations about the loss, our feelings will automatically change, usually to self-compassion for what you’ve gone through and the recognition that you gave our pet a wonderful life.


  • When we feel stuck, we should focus on the actual FACTS of the situation.

  • Do NOT get stuck in hindsight bias, which distorts our memories of what we knew/believed/had the financial resources for, etc. before the loss occurred.

  • Instead, we should try to remember our behaviors leading up to the loss, specifically all the kind and loving gestures we did for our pet.

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