Furries, self-esteem, and identity: perspective from a psychologist

by Patch O'Furr

‘If everybody’s doing it, it’s probably wrong’.

From The man who destroyed America’s ego: How a rebel psychologist challenged one of the 20th century’s biggest – and most dangerous – ideas:

“FOR MUCH OF HUMAN HISTORY, our beliefs have been based on the assumption that people are fundamentally bad. Strip away a person’s smile and you’ll find a grotesque, writhing animal-thing. Human instincts have to be controlled, and religions have often been guides for containing the demons. Sigmund Freud held a similar view: Psychotherapy was his method of making the unconscious conscious, helping people restrain their bestial desires…”

Furries: Do you like your fursona? Do you have higher self-esteem, and feel happier and better with it?

Or do you represent “bestial desires” of a “grotesque, writhing animal-thing?” Are you fundamentally bad, and need to restrain what you are inside?

The 1960’s brought an alternative movement of self-esteem, dedicated to boosting “unconditional positive regard” for the self. Education and public policy has now become deeply supportive for this. But there are dissidents to this, too. Meet Roy Baumeister.


Roy Baumeister challenged the popular movement for self-esteem. In his argument, it breeds harmful, hollow narcissism. Hitler had high self-esteem- that’s it in a nutshell. It suggests refocusing beyond self and identity… to things like earning merit, offering value in relationships, and giving to community.

Baumeister crossed a divide, like another notable dissident, Camille Paglia. She proposed that modern society descends from two opposing philosophical traditions from the 18th century to now: Rosseau’s idealizing of nature’s beauty, vs. De Sade’s focus on reality’s pain and cruelty (pointing to Darwin’s theories about survival.) In the middle, there’s realistic trade-offs between choices, and practical free will.

In recent news, there’s another symbol for toxic narcissism: Elliot Rodger, the killer in the UCSB shootings. Did that rageful, homicidal, suicidal, social failure have high self-esteem? Yes, really.

The news I’ve briefly sampled (I don’t want to dwell on it) suggests that his rage came not from lack of self-validation, but because OTHERS didn’t validate his own feeling about himself. (I haven’t seen a better example of a narcissistic “Patrick Bateman”-type character.) It seems that Rodger had no friends. In his mind, people just rejected him and he couldn’t understand it. After the ugly, pointless tragedy, people who knew him were puzzled. They said: we tried to be friendly, but he “rebuffed” us!

This disconnect between inner image and outer action says it all. In his disconnect, he couldn’t understand his isolation… and how being a friend is about giving, not taking. Especially to people (or animals) who don’t benefit yourself. (Imagine if he’d volunteered at an animal shelter.)

A friend of mine jokes about a difference between L.A. and San Francisco. In LA, people take pride in how much they spend on clothes. In SF, they’re proud of how cheaply they got something at the thrift store. Rodgers was pathologically obsessed with validating his worth by the cost of clothes.

(Furries are lovable with the way cost of a Fursuit means little… the importance is how creative it is, and how you use it.)

Rodger had no friends… but, with massive over-exposure in news, he makes the perfect symbol for every agenda you could name. He’s been called a “nerd”, as if liking Pokemon was all it took for that meaning-drained label. Guns, mental health, disdain for masculinity… too much money, soft liberal parenting… It’s possible to argue from all kinds of directions. It says as much about agenda-holders as the events. Start that, and get lost in the weeds.

Back to the title topics:

One reason I completely support fursona play, is because it’s so unreal. It’s absurd. It’s play. It’s impossible to say with a straight face, that your inborn identity is actually a husky-fox-bat from another planet, and be taken seriously.

Some people DO say it with a straight face, though. “Species dysphoria”. Can you say that without laughing? Welcome to bizarro-world! “Unconditional positive regard” gone amok? If you hear me laughing, I’m laughing WITH you, not at you. I like having special people around, and being one when it doesn’t hurt anybody. Society needs more of that- until it really counts, at the line between play and having inmates run the asylum.

Let’s keep it real (when it counts) and spend less time on inner-focused circles, in favor of “How can we make things better outside ourselves?”

Happily, I think furries do a great job at that. I see it in Street fursuiting. Whatever it is for you, do share.