Pink expressing my cognitive dissonance about Toaster!
In my last article (“They Lived and Laughed and Loved and Left”) I touched briefly on the topic of cognitive dissonance, which I experienced in making the decision to "lift up" my two service dogs, Toaster and Pink.
I promised to expand on this topic in the next article in
this series on "Making the Difficult Decision to "Lift Up" Your
Pet and Healing the Grief That Follows."
This is it!
As defined by Merriam-Webster dictionary, it is a
"state of psychological conflict resulting from incongruous beliefs and
attitudes held simultaneously." It is a very common experience during
"making the hard decision," the dying process and/or hospice care of
your beloved pet (and also a beloved
The state of cognitive dissonance often leads to anxiety and
depression, which often leads to another layer of cognitive dissonance, and
pretty soon your head is spinning.
I felt this way just before and during the "hospice
stage," which lasted months for
Pink. I experienced such angst over the
thought of losing her. I felt so very sad at the thought of not having her
around to take care of. Here's the dissonance: at the same time, I imagined,
and even sometimes yearned for, the utter relief I would feel not having to watch her decline, not having to take special care of
her-which at a hospice level was 24/7.
And on top of those two seemingly conflicted feelings, I added guilt that I even felt, for a moment,
the relief of her being gone! The mind bending and boggling of cognitive
dissonance made me feel a wave of constant emotions and thoughts, and the urge
to not feel anything.
In situations related to loss, cognitive dissonance is often
tied with anticipatory grief. I experienced a lot of anticipatory grief-
experiencing the loss before it actually happens. Unlike the excited feeling you might have as
the holiday time is approaching and you can see the Christmas lights right
after Thanksgiving, and you know it is right around the corner… anticipatory
grief is filled with dread. Have you ever felt this while you watch your
beloved pet heading towards Rainbow Bridge?
You would think dealing with so much anticipatory grief
would make the grief that follows the actual loss easier. Well, it doesn't. At
least one of the reasons is due to this common experience of cognitive
What to do? A common coping
mechanism for dealing with cognitive dissonance is the denial
of your feelings and thoughts. I don't recommend that!
Instead, I encourage you to do the opposite: embrace both feelings, understanding that rather than being
in conflict, they are just two different sides of the same coin: LOSS.
Seeking support from others who allow you to talk about all states of cognitive dissonance, without judgment, will bring you greater peace and understanding that life is full of two sided coins. Sometimes that coin makes life complicated, but sometimes it also makes life richer. As Joni Mitchell wrote in her song Twisted, "And you know two heads are better than one!" (ok, I’m dating myself)