When Overwhelmed With Guilt Over Our Animals

woman crying sad thinking

Being a human caretaker for my animal family is not always an easy job. Oh, the feeding, the watering, the daily care and routine of my animal family is easy enough. It is when I encounter those times that force me to realize I am not in control that immobilizes me and fills me with dread.

I believe that one of the most horrific times I’ve ever experienced with any of my animals was ten years ago when my horse Shiloh needed to have his eye removed. He was suffering from equine recurrent uveitis, also know as moon blindness. You can read his story, our story, here. I remember getting the phone call after the surgery saying all went well and I could come visit him anytime.

I couldn’t bring myself to go visit Shiloh. I was traumatized, thinking I had let him down: if only I had done one more thing, if only I had done something different, if only I could have saved his eye, then my beloved boy would not have to have had his eye removed.

The guilt I was experiencing was paralytic, and the painful consequence of that guilt was that it was wrecking our relationship. Yet I couldn’t help it, I didn’t know how to act differently.

Guilt In Our Relationship With Our Animals

I’ve noticed in my animal communication practice that problems or topics for sessions seem to come in clusters. So if someone schedules a session about why their Fluffy is not using the litter box, I am confident I will be getting similar cases because other Fluffies aren’t using their litter boxes either.

The most recent cluster of cases have been around guilt – guilt the human is feeling because “if only I could’ve, would’ve, should’ve” things would have turned out right.

People tell me they feel guilty because:

  • I didn’t do enough _______
  • I forgot Rover’s _________
  • I got the wrong kind of _________ for Fluffy
  • I couldn’t afford ________
  • The cleaning crew scared Fluffy
  • Fluffy/Rover was looking for me and I wasn’t there
  • I failed Tweety because ________
  • The list goes on

Guilt does not translate into love

When people share this with me, I understand it and I feel for them. I get only too well what it’s like to be inundated with guilt and feel impotent.

At the time of Shiloh’s surgery, I mistakenly thought the amount of guilt I was feeling over Shiloh’s eye surgery was at least as much as the love I felt for that lad. But in hindsight, I realized the amount of guilt I felt did not translate into the amount of love I felt for Shiloh. Guilt does not equate with love, but with fear.

Cause And Effect Thinking

When we suffer from guilt, we are sanctioning a judgment against ourselves, a conviction that we are at fault for what happened, we are to blame. Humans fall into that cause and effect way of thinking. We can’t help it, we’re only human.

Cause and effect thinking is ‘if only I had done A, then B would not have happened’. That’s not necessarily true, is it? Sometimes we do A, B, C and D all the way to X exactly as we’re supposed to, and still the unimaginable happens. It is hard, so hard for us humans to accept that we did nothing wrong. We did nothing wrong and the unthinkable still happened in spite of all our super human efforts to prevent it.

In short, guilt forces us to accept the fact we are not in charge. We are not the end-all, the Universe does not revolve around what we want and deign to happen. There are times when life sucks and the only thing you can do is accept it and do the best you can in the circumstances.

What The Animals Say

If you are drowning in guilt, this is a good thing to keep in mind. Our beloved Angel Animals, the ones over which we are feeling the guilt, do not hold us to blame.

This bears repeating: our beloved Angel Animals do not hold us to blame, they do not judge us for what we did or didn’t do at the time of their illness or transition.

They realize that in every action we took for them we had their best interest at heart. They know we did the very best we could for them, within the circumstances that occurred. The animals know, as we humans usually either don’t know or accept, we can only work within the circumstances as they are. While there are times we can work with the circumstances and possibly illicit change, there are also times that is impossible.

This is not me talking. This is what the animals have consistently told me in hundreds upon hundreds of  conversations.

Shiloh’s Final Say

As usual in our relationship, Shiloh always had the final word. Since I started writing this post, Shiloh transitioned. We were not together when this happened; by his own choice he was in Minnesota and I was in Montana. I am coming to terms there is absolutely nothing I could have done to stop his passing, even if I had been at the barn when it happened; however, some days it’s easier to accept that than others. You can read Shiloh’s final story here.

When I fall into that well of guilt over Shiloh’s passing, a thought always twitters in my mind: in his entire life Shiloh only asked that I love myself as much as I loved him. By holding on to that thought, accepting it as best I can and using it to transmute the guilt into acceptance, I am honoring Shiloh and accepting his still active role of being in my life.

Here’s To New Beginnings,

Janet

7 Comments

  1. Jason March 21, 2016 at 5:23 am #

    I think we are all learning, every day of our lives. It’s only natural to make mistakes, and it’s natural to worry about the way we did things in the past. As long as we do the best we can in our present state of mind, and learn from mistakes, we can be at peace.

    Reply

    • Janet Roper March 21, 2016 at 10:39 am #

      Jason, your response is right on and so well said, thank you!

      Reply

  2. Rebecca April 3, 2016 at 6:59 am #

    I was hanging onto such hard feelings: maybe I euthanized my beautiful Myles too soon, or had left him in pain for too long. Thank you for this, and thanks Myles for sending me to these words.

    Reply

    • Janet Roper April 4, 2016 at 9:01 pm #

      Rebecca, you are very welcome. I’m glad you listened to Myles and visited. What if Myles orchestrated his transition the way he wanted it? Are you open to that? Take good care.

      Reply

  3. Suzy April 3, 2016 at 9:45 am #

    A lovely article, thank you so much. I suffer constant guilt over my animals. I never feel like I am doing enough. And when those dreadful times have come where I have had to help a pet across the rainbow bridge…..well, I don’t think “self hatred” even covers the way I feel afterwards. We have 9 cats, a dog, a parrot and 5 horses, so I’m spread pretty thin, but I love them all so.

    Reply

    • Janet Roper April 4, 2016 at 9:05 pm #

      Suzy, that’s a tough place to be in, a wearing place. Animals ask that we care for ourselves only as much as we do for them. What would that be like for you to try? Take good care, thanks for stopping by.

      Reply

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