While losing a loved one can be devastating, people can grow up because of grief. This is a process known as post-traumatic growth (PTG), whereby individuals change in positive and significant ways in response to traumatic events, and beyond what the person had before. traumatic event. But while we know this to be true when we lose human beings, is it also true when we lose our beloved pets?

This question was at the center of a study conducted by psychologist Wendy Packman of the Pacific School of Psychology. Studies show that the pain of losing a pet can be equal to or greater than that of a loved one, although it is not clear how the grieving process may differ.

In order to continue this investigation, Dr Packman and his team recruited participants who lost a pet to death. From there, participants completed various questionnaires about pet loss, PTG, and their grieving experiences, which were analyzed and coded.

The results have been striking. They showed that PTG in response to the loss of a pet strongly resembles the grieving process of a beloved human being, with a few key differences.

Post-traumatic growth factors

A selective overview of the study results is described below.

Relating to others

Participants approved this theme the most at 19 percent. The most frequently coded feelings were “I have a greater sense of closeness to others” and “I have more compassion for others”. Following the loss, participants felt closer to their immediate family. One participant shared, “I feel a stronger bond between my son and my husband. I was far from my husband until this tragedy. Now I’m starting to see how awesome he is.

The authors also note that only a few participants agreed with the statement, “I know I can count on people when I have a problem. They speculate that this may be because the loss of a pet is a disenfranchised form of bereavement and that support may be limited to that of their closest friends and family.

Personal strength

It was the second most frequently coded theme (with an appreciation of life below) at 12 percent. The element “I found out that I am stronger than I thought I was” was coded most frequently in the study, possibly due to participants’ experience with euthanasia, the authors say. One participant said: “I can survive a heartbreak that crushes the soul. It didn’t kill me when I felt it could have.

Appreciation of life

In this theme, the item “I changed my priorities regarding what is important in life” was the most frequently coded. Participants’ perspective on life as fleeting and precious also emerged. One participant remarked: “I realize that death is the only certain thing in life and that I need to appreciate my two dogs even more.

Another highly coded element in this theme was “I can appreciate each day better”. Grieving pet owners have learned important lessons from their pets. One participant put it this way: “Every loss reminds me to value those in my life, to appreciate each of them, humans and animals.

Spiritual change

This theme represented 8% of participants’ responses. The element “I have a better understanding of spiritual matters” was one of the most frequently coded elements in this theme, reflecting being more present and connected with the universe. One participant shared, “I have a better appreciation of all living creatures. I am less attached to material objects and have a feeling of connection with the universe.

New possibilities

At 7 percent, this theme was the least frequently coded. In this theme, the most common item was: “I am more likely to try to change things that need to change”, which was largely related to how the participants would improve the quality of life of their animals. company survivors.

Emerging growth themes

In addition to these post-traumatic growth themes, Dr Packman and colleagues found answers in other areas, which are described below.

Animal related

Participants’ responses were largely coded for the attachment relationship, reflecting the deep bond participants had with their pets. Some responses were also coded for unconditional love. Consider a participant’s reflection:

She taught me unconditional love. In her final hours, I think she was hanging on because she was afraid to leave me. I told her she had my permission to leave, and when she left I think it was a real privilege to hold her paw at the last minute.

Maintaining Links / Dealing With Loss

In this theme, participants’ accounts were primarily coded for lessons learned, with particular respect for the qualities of their pet that they admired. A participant relayed:

I use my pet as a symbol of motivation and courage to get things done. He taught us so much during his lifetime; he left a legacy that I hope to live one day. Tolerance, humor, kindness, daring, I could go on forever.

This article is dedicated to Pippin Eisenberg, who gave so much love and taught so many lessons. We miss him very much.

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