On feeling important and valued, and a Tale for the Time Being (in progress)

I usually alternate my book posts and my “life” posts, but today I’m going to write both.

My first read of the new year is Ruth Ozeki’s 2013 Booker Prize finalist, A Tale for the Time Being, which I’m still in the middle of reading (and enjoying quite a lot). It’s the story of a writer, Ruth, who finds a Hello Kitty lunch box washed up on shore near her home on a Canadian island. When she opens the lunch box she finds the handwritten diary of a seemingly perky teenage girl, Nao, in Tokyo. She begins reading it, and learns quickly that Nao is in fact planning to kill herself. Nao recently returned to Japan with her parents after having spent her whole life in California, and she is being bullied relentlessly at school and her father is unable to find employment. Her father, thinking that he is of no use to the family, throws himself in front of an oncoming commuter train in a failed attempt to end his life.

What’s struck me so far, aside from the fact that the language is a lot lighter and funnier than what my description may lead you to believe, is the idea of feeling important. Nao writes in her diary:

“I hope you understand that I don’t think he [her homeroom teacher who participated in her bullying] was a bad man. I just think he was very insecure and could convince himself of anything, the way insecure people can. Like my dad, for example, who can convince himself that his suicide will not harm me or my mom because actually we’ll be better off without him, and at some point in the not-so-distant-future we’ll realize this and thank him for killing himself.” (page 78)

Both Nao and her dad have suicidal fantasies. Neither feels wanted. Nao feels unwanted for obvious reasons: her classmates actually hold a fake funeral for her in homeroom and make no bones about the fact that they don’t appreciate her existence. But Nao’s dad’s sense of not being needed seems more self-imposed. He’s unable to provide for his family, feels ashamed for not fulfilling his role, and believes that his family will be better off without him. (I haven’t read any evidence of his family actually rejecting him.) It’s only after he sees Nao’s devastated reaction that he realizes he was wrong in his perception of his place in the family.

This got me thinking about the whole concept of feeling entitled – to love, to owning a space in someone’s life. This theme struck me because I’ve felt both loved and not in different areas of my life, and I have known others who have felt the same. What makes us feel wanted and needed? And how do we show others that we want and need them?

For all the griping I’ve done about the often too-close relationship that I have had with my mother, she at least gifted me with a strong self-worth within my family. And because she took her role as a mother so seriously, I carried that importance with me when I became a mother too. I know I am needed, by sheer title alone. I know my place in our family, I know I have a critical role to fulfill, and I know that my loved ones would be devastated if anything were to happen to me.

That may sound obvious to many, but I mention it because I’ve been surprised and hurt to hear important people doubt their self-worth and their place among loved ones. I know that people have walked away from families, or have ended their lives, due to distorted or real views of where they stood in their loved ones’ lives. I have no answers here, only questions.

~~~

My early experiences with close friendship were not as positive as my experiences with family. The first “real” friendship that I have clear memories of was with a friend I’ll call M. She and her sister were daughters of my mother’s friend, and we used to all hang out whenever our moms played mahjong together. Then M turned 13 (I was about 11) and she suddenly became mean. She began putting me down about my clothes and my house and led her sister and a couple of mutual friends to begin excluding me, until after a year or two of on-and-off psychological bullying I stopped  accompanying my mother to their house. (And no, I never said a word of any of this to my mother…)

That early experience did define the value I held of myself in terms of girlfriends. I rarely took initiative to start friendships or to pursue them deeply. I left the ball in others’ court. Among groups of friends, I never expected to be included. Then one day during sophomore year I was shocked when a classmate invited me to join her and her friends for a movie. I remember thanking her profusely and she looked at me as if I were crazy. I honestly didn’t realize that my reaction wasn’t normal until I saw her face.

Emmy changed my life, and she gave me the confidence to find more friends like her.

All of this leads me to my next question, which is how do we show others that they are important to us? And the answer is not as forthcoming as I had thought. I am trying to think back to Emmy, and how she made me feel wanted. She was never the sentimental or affectionate type. In fact, she was pretty no-nonsense and blunt. But she included me. She listened. She waited. She always answered my phone calls with “Hey, Seal!” as soon as she knew it was me on the other line, no matter how unenthused she may have sounded when she picked up. Likewise, I think back to the other people in my life over the years who have made me feel valued, and I think about what they did to convince me of it. They included me. They listened. They waited. They were glad to see or hear from me, and they showed it.

It made me think about how I am showing the people in my life that I value them.

How often do I ask questions, and hope to get a long answer? How often do I pick up the phone, and how often do I let it go to voicemail? How often do I carve out time for others, and how often do I say “Unfortunately, I’m working” or “Hurry up!”? When was the last time I invited a friend out for lunch, instead of waiting to be invited? When was the last time I asked for help? When my mother called last time, couldn’t I have mustered a more enthusiastic tone when I heard her voice?

While I know I am important in friends’ and family’s lives, do they know how important they are in mine? I’ve had an extreme need to assert my  independence for most of my life, and in the process I’ve failed to show some of the people I care about most just how much I really need and value them.

Can you relate to any of this? Has rejection or bullying touched any part of your life? Do you allow people into your life and space easily?

25 thoughts on “On feeling important and valued, and a Tale for the Time Being (in progress)

  1. This is a very thought-provoking post. I don’t often think about whether or not I feel valued or, more importantly, make others feel valued. I’d like to think I do, but mostly I just go through life without thinking about it. I do think that I’m a passive person- I tend to let things happen to me rather than make them happen. I tend to wait for a friend or family member to contact me, rather than be the one to contact them. Not always, but most of the time. You ask some good questions. I know I am more aware of it with my children. With them, I know the importance of listening to them and hearing them and being in the moment with them, but sometimes it’s tough to find time for it all. It helps to be reminded every once in a while, though, so thanks!

    • It’s probably a good sign that you haven’t had to think about it 🙂 The passage I quoted jumped out at me because it reminded me of someone I know, which got me thinking…and more than one person I’ve cared about had mentioned my “distance” or doubted my love. I agree that we are probably most aware of this when it comes to our parenting. To be honest I also never gave any real thought to this until I started reading this book. Thanks for commenting!

  2. I prefer to build myself and others up than break them down, especially women who need to stop with the insecurities and jealousy and taking it out on other women. I do not trust easily and it started with an experience at the age of 4 and have struggled since then. I let very few people inside my circle let alone into my heart. I have been in the work environment from hell for a good 2 years now and I am hoping to leave for a new position this month or next. My whole being is just done with it! Great Post – Great Topic of Discussion – thanks so much for sharing your story too! Happy Tuesday:)

    • Thanks Renee, and thank you for sharing your experiences too. I’m sorry to hear that an early experience has impacted you to this day. But such is the reality of hurt, isn’t it? And I totally agree with you about women needing to take care of their own. Often we are each other’s worst enemies. I also hope that you’re able to get out of your work situation. My first job was in a toxic environment, and it can really do a number of you.

  3. Yes, I can relate to this. The last paragraph especially, is all me. I think I become a bit too detached in my dealings with others sometimes, and yes, I think it has something to do with not wanting to be dependent or vulnerable. While that can be a good thing with people who are acquaintances, I don’t know if my friends are okay with it. Over the past few years though, I’ve started showing my feelings, telling them that they matter to me. Strangely enough, the change has been almost subconscious. It makes me feel a little uncomfortable, but with close friends, it has become easier. And I don’t have to wonder if they know. I know that they know I care.

    I’ve been bullied in school for quite some time. Thankfully it wasn’t as bad as the situation in the book, but it was hurtful all the same. At that age, it mattered a lot to me what my peers thought, and it was a lonely period. But on the other hand, I started writing for myself around the same time. That really helped me, and it has developed into something that I dearly enjoy even today. So, I suppose something good came out of it. 🙂

    It was very touching to read about your experiences. Thanks for the post. 🙂

    • Thanks for sharing your personal story, Akshita. I’m really sorry to know that you had experienced bullying for a long time. Mine was relatively mild, but I have family members who had gone through worse and I know the psychological scars are lasting. I’m glad that you found writing during that time. And I’m glad to know that you can relate to my post. I’m sure that once you start opening up a little it will become easier, especially when the feelings are reciprocated.

  4. As others have said, this is a very thoughtful post. I loved that you took a lesson from the novel and applied it to your own life — too few readers do that, unfortunately. I’m not a particularly affectionate person, and I’m also an introvert, so sometimes I think people don’t realize how important they are to me. I find it challenging to nurture multiple friendships/relationships, and instead focus on cultivating a handful of very strong ones. I think that’s a good personal strategy, though I’d never thought about it in quite those terms before reading your post today.

    • Thanks so much! I do like to be able to connect a book’s themes to regular life. I can relate very much to what you said here, and introversion is the other big piece (thanks for mentioning that). I really saw it in a new relationship with an extroverted friend, and how that difference can lead to misunderstanding. I agree with you that it’s a good personal strategy to expend your energy on just a few core friendships.

  5. Reblogged this on Raising A.J. and commented:
    Another really touching post. I mean this hit home as well. Does anyone value my existence? Do people know how much I value theirs? When I read this, I instantly thought of my best friend from high school, Johnny. We were literally attached to the hip. He admitted to wanting to be with me but I pushed that idea away because I was young and there was no interest. Until the day Johnny wasn’t around anymore. I realized he was the man for me. He was everything I had ever looked for and I pushed away. I don’t think he ever knew how important he was to me. I never want someone to leave my life without knowing how valuable they are to me. I can be pretty bitchy sometimes, especially with my family but they mean the world to me. 2013 was a hard year for me and my family picked me up without question and helped me with A.J along the way. They really mean the world to me. I do admit to having a short fuse and very little patience (how unchristian of me) but it is definitely something I want to work on for my loved ones. I just wish I knew my value to them. I know my son would miss me if I were absent but what would everyone else feel?

    • Thank you for reblogging and for sharing your story and thoughts here! Young love is hard, and we are still so young then. Timing makes it all the trickier too. I don’t know what your family is like but in our family (I mean the one I grew up in)/culture we never show affection. In fact, we yelled a lot and were always losing our fuse. It took me some time to understand our family’s unique way of showing love and affection. I hope it is the same way with your family – that is, that you have your own language of showing that you value one another. Thanks for reading!

      • Thanks for your reply. I didn’t think of it that way: My family having their own way of showing affection. I guess it makes sense but only if everyone else understands it. If they don’t then it won’t come off as affection and that’s where the harm lies.

        Someone once told me that everyone wanted to be loved a certain way but everyone loves their own way and it may not match. What matters is that there’s love being shown no matter how it’s displayed. While I may think flowers are romantic, my ex might’ve thought letting me pick the movie was. Perhaps that’s the downfall of most relationships: not understanding how differently everyone loves.

  6. That sounds like a wonderful book so far. I’m excited to read your review when you finish it. And I love everything you say about taking the initiative to actually make connections. One of my personal New Year’s Resolutions is to be better at keeping in touch with people, because I am HORRIBLE at it. I hate talking on the phone, but that’s how most of the people I want to stay connected with are able to talk. I don’t know why it’s so hard sometimes.

    • Oh, I am the same way – hate the phone! One of my friends doesn’t like to write and so I feel that our friendship is kind of at a standstill, ha ha…I’ll send her long emails that she doesn’t respond to but I think it is because they overwhelm her. Anyway, I hear you, Ariel. I hope you make good headway on your New Year’s resolution!

  7. I love following (and am envying) you on your book reading. You’ve had quite an array this past year, and I’m going to read some of your recommendations from your favorites list. (I’ve been reading your posts; I just haven’t had the time to comment!)

    Also, thank you for sharing your story. Friendships can be tough no matter how old we are. Of course, it’s harder when we’re younger, when we’re just starting to form our own identity, but now, even when we’re sure (or at least more certain) of ourselves, it’s still tricky to navigate. Who we allow into our lives influence how we behave and perceive ourselves, and perhaps that’s one of the main reasons I’m so particular about the people with whom I form a bond, and maybe that’s why I feel so fortunate to count you as my friend.

    • Thanks for everything you said here, Justine. 🙂 I think it’s no coincidence that we bonded through our blog/writing. We speak the same “language.” I think good friendships are even harder to come by as we get older. Thank goodness for the internet!

  8. Thank you for this thoughtful, heartfelt post! As others have expressed here, I really don’t like talking on the phone — I’m not much of a conversationalist and prefer to write rather than talk. As a result, I do a terrible job of keeping in touch with loved ones. As I grow older, the reality of lapsed relationships hits home more and more and I have been making a greater effort lately to reach out to loved ones (and to be more accessible), but I’m still far from where I’d like to be. This post inspires me to try even harder.

    • Thanks, Johanna! I’m glad to know that there are others out there who prefer writing over talking. (For a while I used to think there was something wrong with me socially, but I think we are likely just introverted…plus I like writing in that it allows you unpressured time to think through what you want to say.) Just being aware and taking that step to reach out is important. Thanks for stopping by!

  9. I think that as children if we are expected to “live up” to a standard we are more likely to interpret rejection from other children as our fault, and to feel ashamed and therefore not mention it to our parents. I always felt this and sadly I think I unconsciously did this with my older daughter.

    My younger daughter has an innate sense that any problem is with the other person, which has stood her in good stead!

    As I have grown in confidence and genuinely stopped worrying about what others feel, I feel that both girls have taken my lead and assume it is the other person’s problem, and are happier.

    I am glad you are enjoying a Tale for the Time Being. I agree that the author’s capturing of Nao’s voice was very skilled and sparky.

    • That’s an excellent point, Denise, and I think that’s huge, that your daughters have a strong enough sense of self to not blame themselves for others’ inconsiderate behavior. Talking to girlfriends even now as adults I know that constant worrying of “What did I do wrong? What did I say?” can drive us crazy, and it’s something that girls/women really internalize. Kudos to you for having taken the lead to model that strength to your daughters!

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