I sometimes get patients in my consultation room saying that they don't feel that anyone needs them. And no matter how many times I hear that remark, it rocks me from my center. Sometimes patients shed tears, saying that no one would care if they suddenly disappeared.
When I was still an inexperienced psychiatrist, I would quickly deny their comment and say things like, "Your workplace needs you," to which a patient might say, "My boss told me they'd rather I quit." Then I'd scramble to turn the conversation around by saying something like, "But regardless, you're contributing something to your workplace." And the dialogue would get nowhere fast. I would sometimes say, "But your family needs you," and when a patient would say, "I have no immediate family," I'd hastily come back with a far-fetched response, like "But there must be a relative who needs you."
My thinking on this -- and therefore my response to patients who feel this way -- has changed in recent years. Are we really living life because others need us? Put another way, can we not go on living if no one says they need us? I don't think that's the case. This would be unrealistic, but if someone were to be born into this world and continued living alone without being known by anyone, would that person's life have no meaning? I don't think so. That person would experience life's joys and sorrows, and that alone has significance.
To those who come to me and say that no one needs them, I now sometimes say, "Do you really want to be needed that much?" I tell them, "Even if someone told you they needed you, you'd never know if that was the truth. So before you think about what others feel about your existence, recognize that you need you. Can't that be enough?"
Many people seem surprised when I tell them there's no need to be needed by others. But most of them eventually realize that they deserve to continue living even if no one else needs them.
Instead of spending time and energy trying to figure out what others want from you and trying to fulfill those roles begrudgingly, it's much more important to spend that time and energy to make yourself happy. Whether that be taking a walk in the autumn sunshine or making delicious food, that will make you feel that it's worth being alive.
Of course, it's wonderful to have family and friends say that they're happy to have you in their lives. But to those of you who may be under the impression that unless someone says so, your life has no meaning, I'd like to say, live life for yourself. Put yourself first. (By Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)