Hi, Papa Bear,
I'm glad to hear you're doing well, and also glad to hear you're getting a chance to visit relatives.
Well, about what I wanted to ask... As you might guess from the length of this email, it might be a much simpler question, but I provided quite a bit of context so maybe you can help me identify a pattern here. Some of it does get explicit and heavy, so I would suggest reading this at a time when you're sure you won't get too phased, when and if you do.
How do you stop yourself from wanting to be a hero of a rescuer to your friends, before it only gets overbearing for them? And in the case of the second story I share with you, how can one really forgive oneself for not having done what was best to do?
It seems as though as if attempting to have a hero, rescuer or guru complex has been doing nothing but harm, in the sense that I've been getting results that were the polar opposite of what I was expecting, and in several occasions it has been precisely because I didn't stop to listen to people or to think about the situation that they were in before I made my own assessment of what I thought I should say to them.
Almost a month ago, a friend that I had been out of touch with since 2017, and that I had been trying to get back in touch with since 2019, added me on Discord and we were going to catch up; however, when I asked her how things were going when she last messaged me, came the subject of her marriage, which had went far from well. As a matter of fact, she was divorced and she didn't want to talk about it, but I kept asking. As she finally began to open up, it was clear she had been in a physically abusive relationship. I feel bad admitting to this now, but I've always had this firm belief that if someone gets into an abusive relationship, it's partly their own responsibility, because they're indirectly looking to have someone else take control of their lives--because they don't have faith in themselves, or whatever may be the case, but I believe it's a subconscious choice that stems out of poor self esteem, since abusers don't abuse people who are assertive, but people who are weak.
Anyway, as she told me more about her story, I didn't give her any signs that I was actually listening. As a matter of fact, I kept on trying to find comparisons between the kind of abuse she lived and the kind that I experienced (which was much milder in comparison, definitely not the same situation); and ultimately, she opened up about something she didn't want to bring up to begin with, and I didn't listen because I was too focused on wanting to share my own experiences, and I suppose that it was to attempt to make it look like I had learned things that I could share with her... And well, she has virtually not talked back to me ever since and it's not difficult to see why now.
I don't know why she still hasn't removed me yet, but I have a feeling that I've ruined things beyond repair, or at least I have no idea how I can repair any of it. I sent her an apology without trying to dip too much exactly into what went wrong (for the sake of not rubbing salt into the wound) but I doubt that's made things any better, and without any feedback, I don't know if she's taking temporary distance from me, or if she wants me to be the one who makes the decision to walk away.
(This next part is a bit explicit and it contains (albeit unintentional) animal cruelty...)
And today, I had the displeasure to witness how a puppy got ran over (or rather... Crushed ) by a pickup truck, and I couldn't react fast enough, I couldn't yell to the driver in time for him to stop the truck, and I could have because he was parking... I had no better idea than to yell at him angrily for what he did when he stepped out of the truck, and he got angry at me because I just told him off instead of trying to help, and he attempted to fight me, before checking in on the dog and then just driving off. I didn't even think of taking the license plate number. The owner's daughter was crying, I got up close to them to try and offer moral support but by then I noticed there was nothing I could do and... I just felt so useless and stupid. I wanted to play hero by showing this driver my outrage and all I did was giving him a reason for him to drive off, and the one thing I could have done which was to take his license plate number, I didn't think of until he was gone.
Now... As you might have noticed I have a bit of a problem with brevity. I don't know how many of these details I could have spared, I often have this idea in my head than in order to get a proper grasp of the situation, the listener should have all the context available, but I don't know how much of all of this that I've told you was gratuitous or not.
If you've read this far, I would also like to ask you how I can convey a point to someone (someone that I want to have input from about something), without needing to barrage them with so much stuff for the sake of giving them context.
I hope you're doing well, I'm sorry if this was too heavy to read, I guess I'll find out when I read your response.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to have a space to talk about this stuff.
Mihael / Jun / Kyū
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Dear Mihael (or Jun or Kyū):
Thank you for writing a very important letter, and I apologize for my delayed reply. What you've written here is highly relevant to what I do as the "Ask Papabear" advice columnist. You might have noted that I have a Disclaimer page that explicitly points out that I do not have a degree in psychology or social work and that if you have a serious issue you should see a professional therapist for help. The column was started innocently enough to be about informing furries on the ins and outs of the fandom, but it has become much more than that.
I take this column extremely seriously when it comes to responding to people with relationship or health issues. I draw on my decades of personal experiences that include everything from weddings and divorces to parental abuse and attempted suicide, but even with all my best intentions, I do not always get it right. Sometimes, you have to recognize that you are in over your head and you should just give the person a hug and let them go. I'll give you an example. I was living in Michigan, and I was at a Meijer store and bumped into a former coworker I had worked with at a publishing house. Her clothes were stained and unkempt. I started talking with her, and she proceeded to tell me how her life had gone south. People, she said, were spying on her, conspiring against her, even burning down her mobile home and she was now homeless. The more I listened, the more I realized that she was suffering from extreme paranoia. She was not a well woman. I wanted to do something, but I didn't know what. After talking for what must have been about 20 or more minutes, I wished her well and left the store. Later, I talked to one of my friends who had also been there at my old job, and she wisely said, "There are some things you can't fix and shouldn't try to because it is beyond your ability to help." That's a tough pill to swallow, but it is true.
You can't rescue everyone, and it is not your job to do so. Now, don't think that I mean you shouldn't try to be a friend. After my husbear Jim died in 2015, I learned about the two types of friends who try to console you. One type tries to "cure" you of your grief and, eventually, tells you that you should "try to move on." This is the worst possible thing you can say to a grieving person because the reason would-be consolers do this, quite frankly, is that they don't want to hear about your grief anymore. They want you to be happy only because you are making them sad. The other type of friend is the one who won't try--you might think this is ironic--to offer you advice or force you to feel better. These are the people who give you a shoulder to cry on. They listen and hug you. They offer to make you a meal or (as my dear friend Bart did) accompany you to a concert to try and give you a little something fun to do, a break from your grief.
So, to answer your first question, don't try to be a hero or rescuer. DO be a friend. Real, true friends are the most precious gift anyone could have.
About the friend who was in an abusive relationship. I think you know by now, but I want to make clear that it is never the fault of the abused person when they are in an abusive relationship. I cannot stress that enough. There are three things you should do if this ever happens again: 1) Listen. 2) Listen. 3) Listen. Keep your focus on the other person and do not go into rescue mode. Be there for the other person.
Here's the next point I need to vehemently stress that you might find surprising: If you believe that your neighbor is being victimized, do not call the police unless you see violence occurring right in front of you and you fear for the immediate safety and life of someone (just as you should for any violent crime). Here is why: you could actually make the problem worse and put the abused person in more serious danger. Imagine this scene. You contact the police and they visit your neighbor's house and the husband opens the door. The police say there have been reports of domestic violence. Without any evidence (or being caught in the act), they can't just walk into the house and rescue the wife. So, the husband tells the police to get out of his house unless they have a warrant, and then turns on his wife and beats her for calling the cops. I've heard many stories, too, in which police arrive at a scene and don't believe the woman when she says she is being punched or raped.
As noted in a Brick Underground article: "It’s very dangerous to call the police if you don’t know that’s something the person who’s being victimized really wants," explains Lorien Castelle, director of prevention at the New York State Coalition Against Domsetic Violence (NYSCADV). "Because there can be dire consequences if the police are called and then the victim is blamed for them showing up. Sometimes the violence escalates." She adds: "The problem is that all of our systems are a little bit broken, and people don't always understand domestic violence in the way they need to in order to responsibly help. Quite often, when the police get called, it starts this ripple-out effect of services and systems involved in a person's life, all of which tend to assume that once a victim leaves the home, they'll be safer. But women living apart from their abusers experience nearly four times the amount of physical assault, sexual assault, and stalking than they do when they live with their abuser."
The Office on Women's Health provides a list of resources concerning domestic violence at https://www.womenshealth.gov/relationships-and-safety/get-help/state-resources. You can do some research and discreetly offer the information to the victim, as well as offering them a sympathetic ear.
The same can be true when you think someone might be suicidal. I have made this mistake once. Years ago, I was chatting with a furry. They told me with increasing earnestness that they were going to kill themselves. Alarmed--and knowing where they lived--I contacted the local police. The officers showed up at his door and he got rid of them. Then, he called me and read me the riot act and never spoke to me again. Now, that wasn't an incident involving my column, but I sure learned my lesson. When someone writes to "Ask Papabear" and expresses suicidal thoughts, I urge them to call the national suicide hotline for help, and then I step out of the way. If you are unsure what to do, you yourself can contact domestic abuse or suicide prevention hotlines and ask them for advice on what you can do to help victims. ALWAYS seek guidance from the people who have training and expertise in such matters.
Regarding the puppy incident: this is really a whole nuther animal, so to speak, and worthy of a separate column, but let's address it here and now. Let's not get into the whole thing about your yelling at the guy who hit the animal, causing an argument without results. Here is what you need to know about car/animal accidents....
Here is a good article all about hitting pets. https://pethelpful.com/pet-ownership/I-Hit-a-Dog-with-My-Car-What-Am-I-Legally-Required-to-Do.
One does not play the hero by yelling at someone you believe has done something wrong. If you witness something that is criminal behavior or dangerous and violent, the thing to do is not take matters in your own hands. Ask for help.
I hope this helps.
My youngest nephew (16) recently opened up to me about being a furry. He hasn't settled on a fursona as of yet but identifies as either a puppy or a kitten.
He has also been opening up about a lot of trauma, bullying and troubles at home under my sister who has been quite abusive, bullying and totally just awful as a parent (see: narcissistic parent, treating child like property/emotional outlet).
I've had a number of conversations with him about boundaries, the importance of recognising appropriate and inappropriate relationships and friendships, and discussed in some small detail why he wishes to be a furry.
It's all very complex and I'm fairly confident, given my nephew has OCD, ADHD and is on the autism spectrum, that the idea of being a furry might be a way to escape awful realities and just feel loved, understood, cared for and so on.
I'm trying to figure out the best ways of helping my nephew deal with his past and current traumas... to be able to process emotions and so on... he has become very attached to me in the last two months and has placed a lot of trust in me opening up about things. I have some concerns about his online friends - especially older ones - and of course worried a little about sexualised language and content he has admitted accessing. I am also a little worried that given he has only ever really been shown love/affection/hugs from his brother and the family pets (a cat and a dog) that everything might blur into one for him i.e. that he is craving a normal family relationship with hugs and support etc but that this might then become confused in his head with sexualised relationships etc.
So I basically just want some advice on how best to approach things, to support him and ensure he doesn't internalise anxieties and embarassment so he doesn't feel like an outsider or a 'freak' or a 'weirdo'.
I also need to know a bit about boundaries myself i.e. how far to I myslef indulge his being a furry... he already asked if occasionally I replace giving him a hug with a back scratch or the like... and I'm comfortable with that so long as in his mind it isn't being sexualised as that isn't appropriate (and I have discussed that directly with him). I just don't want him to become alienated or have a massive freak out about the reality of him opening himself open as he has done if that makes sense? I basically have all of the questions and need comprehensive advice.
Anonymous in the UK
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Dear Kind Uncle,
I applaud you for being such a caring and loving uncle to your nephew and for reaching out to try to find some help for him. As you know, I am not a psychologist or social worker, so it is my duty to first recommend you do a little research on professional services out there for autistic children (you may have done so already, but just to be sure...). A good place to start for UK residents such as yourself and your nephew is the National Autistic Society, which offers advice and resources. OCD Action provides guidance for those with OCD, and the ADHD Foundation is a good place to start for that concern. Fortunately, there is a lot of help available to you in your country.
But you came to Papabear because of my knowledge of furries, and I am honored to try and help you there. Many--not all--people who come to the fandom do so because they feel rejected in one way or another by society or they feel uncomfortable navigating human relationships and the complexities of said society. This is why many who have Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) find their way into the fandom (about 10% to 15% of furries in surveys indicate they have autism spectrum). The fandom can offer them two things: an accepting community/environment and a way to express themselves through a fursona (or fursonas) that provides them a means to get outside themselves and communicate their emotions and feelings. I recently came across a fantastic article about this very thing. The author, Joey Thurmond, explains how the play and imagination of furry assists people in becoming their true selves and helps them break out of their shells (ironic that wearing a costume can help us reveal our true selves!)
There are scientific studies that help back this up, too. A group of social scientists and psychologists have even created the FurScience website that delves into the social phenomenon of the furry fandom, who is in it, and why they participate. One of the members of FurScience, Dr. Elizabeth Fein of Duquesne University, has investigated furries who report being on the autism spectrum. In this article on the DU website, she notes how the fandom helps with lessening anxiety, building self-esteem, and fostering feelings of being part of a community. A Pittsburgh NPR station elaborated on her findings here.
Although Dr. Fein is talking about ASD, her findings have relevance to ADHD and OCD. While these three conditions are not the same, they share some commonalities, and a Scientific American article noted that they share the same genetic roots or "brain markers." Anxiety is a key trait in all three, and I am confident in saying that the furry fandom can help many people with easing anxiety and stress.
As to what you, personally, can do for your nephew, the biggest thing is to just be there for him and be supportive as you are doing now. Furries with various anxiety disorders are actually treating themselves by discovering and participating in the furry fandom. They are seeking an outlet, and here they may have one.
BUT!!! You are also right to exercise caution. As noted, there are a lot of adult things in the fandom, and there are also some dangerous people, just as there are anywhere on the internet. Trolls and other abusers are not stupid; they discover this entire community filled with very vulnerable youngsters who make easy targets for them to attack. The best thing for you to do here is to monitor internet and phone behavior, educate your nephew about the potential dangers of ALL social media, but do not impose drastic restrictions (e.g., "I forbid you to chat online with furries." Such strategies cause rebellion and resentment.) And the best way you can manage this is by telling your nephew that you support their furriness and you want there to be no secrets between the two of you. Tell him there is no need to be embarrassed about being a furry and that you hope he will talk to you all about it and about his adventures. So, go ahead and "indulge" him in his furriness, but also be on top of things and monitor what he is doing to the best of your ability. The things you can teach him about boundaries and the hazards of the internet will apply to both his online furry behavior and his online behavior in general, so it's all good.
If you feel up for it, take him to a furcon. Unfortunately, because of Covid, this is a bit problematic lately, but some cons have moved online for now, including ConFuzzled and Wild North, which is having an online con in October. Hopefully, next year the cons will be live.
As for your concerns about your nephew becoming alienated or a social outcast--don't worry about it just yet. Allow him to perform therapy on himself through the furry fandom and partner this with traditional help and advice from the resources I provided above. This is a lifelong journey for him (and you), and I think you are just the best uncle ever for striving so hard to help this young man.
Please write again if I have missed addressing any of your concerns or if you have further questions.
Dear Papa Bear,
I keep thinking that everything I do isn’t good enough, whether it’s creating artwork or music, writing code or stories, or just generally doing anything that requires imagination. I get frustrated, angry, and tend to ragequit when my imagination just abandons ship as soon as i try to use it to do anything creative, usually resulting in either nothing or an unfinished product. This generally leads to me thinking about how I’m not good enough, among other self-criticism.
My question is this: How do I improve my imagination so that I can think that I’m worth more as a person?
Becquerel (aged 14)
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Unless you have aphantasia, a rare condition in which a person literally cannot picture things in their mind, then you have an imagination. But even if it were true that you have no creative imagination, you do not need to have one to be a worthwhile person, nor do you need to do anything artistic to live a fulfilling life. Many people contribute to society in other ways besides the arts. So, even if you don't have any talent in art, music, or literature (and I can't say whether or not this might be the case, having never read or seen anything you have created), it doesn't mean you do not have value.
That said, artists are always their own worst critics. Writers hate their writing, often throwing out their compositions. Artists burn their paintings. Musicians have tantrums and quit composing. It's all because they judge themselves too harshly. Sometimes it helps to hear other voices to give you feedback. I don't mean family or friends because if they say nice things you'll just think, "Well, they're being nice because they are family/friends." I mean joining an art group or writing group. If you're a musician looking for support, you can try some of the musician groups on Facebook listed here, or, if you want to get some fandom support, you might try Fuzznet, a furry music and support collective. If you're an artist, there are a lot of online groups you can join to chat and ask for feedback from other artists (an example would be FurReal at on Facebook), or just build a network of artist friends to chat with and talk about your progress. And same goes for writers groups, too, of course. Just do a little searching online and you will find lots of writing groups, both furry and not.
So, now that I have hopefully dismantled (or at least put a dent in) your notions that you A) have no imagination and B) are only a worthwhile person if you do, here are some tips on improving your creativity:
All of these things have something in common: turning off your inner critic. By allowing ideas to flow unhindered, you break down the damn that is holding back an entire reservoir of creativity.
Hope this helps. Good luck!
For the last year or so I've been feeling sexually attracted to animals (mainly horses). Whenever I see one, I get an erection, or when I see a picture of one.
Do you have any advice so I can set these thoughts apart and don't have to live with them?
Anonymous (age 18, the Netherlands)
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Perhaps this letter that I wrote back in 2013 will help. My advice directly to you would be this: First, sex with animals is strictly banned in your homeland of the Netherlands as of 2008. This means that if you are caught indulging in your equinophilia, you could go to jail. The same is true if you are caught with pornography depicting sex with animals.
There may be a couple reasons for your sexual thoughts. One is that you are genuinely a zoophile, a subject I talk about in the article linked above. The other is that images of horses--their genitalia, rumps, etc.--may be a psychological tool to disguise other sexual impulses. For example, you are a male and you are attracted to the large penis of a horse, so it could be that you are disguising homoerotic feelings by covering them up in the idea of a horse rather than admitting you want sex with a man. This might sound counterintuitive, as one would think zoophilia would be worse than homosexuality, but the brain works that way sometimes. Also, if you have OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Behavior) or PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), this can make your condition worse.
The best thing for you to do at this time would be to find a professional counselor to advise you, since Papabear is not a trained professional. You should really figure out what is going on in your head before you decide what to do about it. Follow this link for tips on where you can seek some help in your area.
I would like to end by saying there is nothing "wrong" with you. Human sexuality is complex, to say the least. At 18, you are at a time in your life when your hormones are raging and you are also going through many physical and mental changes. There is no shame in asking for help, and if you can't open up to a family member, then your best solution is to find a good counselor.
A note on comments: Comments on letters to Papabear are welcome, especially those that offer extra helpful advice and add something to the conversation that is of use to the letter writer and those reading this column. Also welcome are constructive criticisms and opposing views. What is NOT welcome are hateful, hurtful comments, flaming, and trolling. Such comments will be deleted from this site. Thank you.