Dear Papa Bear,
I am in the midst of a problem with a friend I met over Skype. She's been going through a lot of stress in her life, and I want to be able to help her, but I don't know how. At the same time, however, I'm worried about if she may be exaggerating her stress either because she's not thinking coherently or because she wants attention. Here's what I have heard from her regarding the things that have been stressing her out:
I want to be able to say something, anything to try and help her work her way out of the situation, or at least help her find a solution to the problem, but I don't know what I should say. I feel like whenever I try to talk to her I always end up stressed out, but at the same time, I also feel like I should be talking to her just to give her someone to talk to that does care about her. The question I guess I'm trying to ask is this: How am I supposed to accomplish this under these circumstances?
Thank you for your time, and I hope to hear a response at a time that works best for you.
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As you might imagine, this question is right up Papabear’s alley. Furries write to me with their problems and I respond as best I can. I do this because, like you, I want to help those in trouble. The danger lies in becoming too emotionally invested in this. Like a surgeon operating on a patient’s heart, you can use all the skills and knowledge at your disposal, and sometimes the patient still dies. This is why it is difficult for many doctors to develop a good bedside manner—they fear they might like the patient too much and become too emotional, which would affect their professional judgment.
In your situation with this young woman, there are things you can do and things you shouldn’t do. You can (but only if you really want to): help her with her job search, help her look for other living arrangements, even help her a little with school. Things you should NOT do: offer to help her with money, invite her to be your roommate, try to get in the middle of her family issues.
If you can offer her advice that will help her, do so. Often, when people are having a difficult time and multiple things are going wrong, they have a hard time thinking clearly. You can help her with that. That’s really a large part of what I do.
But don’t feel bad if you can’t solve all her problems. It is kind of you to want to help—and we should ALL have friends like you in our lives!—but you can’t do everything, and you must remember you have your own problems to deal with and it can easily take a toll on you to assume the burdens of other people, as well. Papabear has been going through an experience like this recently. I have a friend in the UK who is having a hard time getting over a love affair. I spent a lot of time working with him, giving him options and advice, even consulting a psychologist on his behalf, but he refuses to stop obsessing about this guy who will in all likelihood never come back to him. I finally had to tell him that I didn’t want to hear him talk about it any more because I couldn’t help him and he refused to change. He has to help himself and he has to quit obsessing or he will never get over the pain.
You can’t help people who won’t or can’t help themselves. But if this woman is trying to move ahead with her life, you can encourage her, offer advice, and give her a shoulder to cry on as any good friend would, but don’t let yourself get sucked into their misery if it doesn’t help. You cannot solve the problems of the world or of all the people out there. Be content that you are a good person and have at least tried to create a bright spot in the universe. But don’t beat yourself up if you are unable to help this woman.
Thank you for being a good person.
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