Being Trapped in a Role

Nick: This is episode eight of the Rolefulness Podcast, Professor Daiki Kato and I are back to discuss 'role captivity.' Last week we discussed hikikomori, a form of extreme social withdrawal and a state of rolelessness. So if you haven't listened to that episode, we recommend that you do. Hey there, Daiki, good to see you again.

Daiki: Yeah, good to see you again, too.


Nick: So some time ago, you introduced me to an interesting word, and it is toraware. So what does that word mean?

Daiki: It's difficult to pronounce, toraware. The word originally means captivity. For example, we use the word when a criminal is captured.

Nick: I see. And so the verb form would be torawareru?

Daiki: Yes.

Nick: Okay. So I think I was familiar with the verb form. But this is the noun form. And what I love about this word is the kanji. So would you like to describe the kanji for this word?

Daiki: Yes. The kanji of toraware or torawareru represent the situation. Very rare. It is made of a box and a human figure. So it is difficult to show the kanji character for the audience. So the figure of a man trapped in a box is the meaning of the kanji. 

How toraware relates to rolefulness

How toraware relates to rolefulness

Nick: Yes, it articulates it perfectly. I think we feel this sometimes, we do feel trapped in some roles. So how does this relate to rolefulness?

Daiki: Rolefulness does not mean satisfaction of a specific role such as gender role and job position. It is a more familiar role satisfaction in our daily lives.

For example, I feel happy when my friend expresses gratitude for me. However, the role stereotype and the sense of responsibility is strong in the society. We might be captured by our given roles.

Nick: So is it a state of being trapped in a roleless or meaningless role?

Daiki: Yes, we feel anxiety if we don't have a role and think that our role is meaningless. The anxiety drives us to seek roles and depend on it too much.

Nick: And something that came to mind as well, Daiki, would there be this sense of toraware in a role with a lot of pressure and responsibility? Do you think?

Daiki: Yeah, I think so. When we feel a lot of pressure, we are captured by our very big roles.

Nick: Yeah, that might relate to our previous episode where there's so much stress and pressure and responsibility in a role. Like, you might just want to quit and hide in your home and become hikikomori. So maybe that happens to some extent.  

Conditions of toraware in the context of role

So yeah, on that theme, what would be the conditions of toraware in the context of role and what do people feel or experience?

Daiki: It's a difficult question, but very important. I think we aren't always happy if we have several roles at the same time. Sometimes we are captured by our roles and suffer from it. We would like to share a quote that expresses the state of toraware.

The words of Mieko Kamiya are very impressive to understand our roles. Nick, you researched about her and could you introduce her words?

Nick: Absolutely, yes. So she is one of my personal heroes, and I like to think of her as the mother of ikigai. From my perception of her, she had this very roleful life; she was a linguist, a translator, psychiatrist, teacher, professor, author, wife, and mother.

Yet even, she had her frustrations, her role frustrations, or this role captivity we're talking about. 

And so to quote from her book, actually, from her diary, and this is translated, but I was quite shocked by this quote because my impression of her was, you know, very successful, living a very full life. But this is what she wrote in her diary.

And this was when she was correcting English papers I think for her husband. Her husband was a professor, too. And so the quote is: 

"Every day I get so frustrated with my English correction to the point I want to kill myself. Is life the experience of doing things you don't want to do? How long do I have to be a language teacher? Languages, you are a curse to me. If I spend so much time on these things, I will never be able to stand on my own as a psychiatrist. 

I don't know how many times I have thought of giving up my full-time job and becoming a lecturer. How can I manage the responsibilities of a full-time job, my family, and my studies? It is a very human thing to do. Oh God, please give me the strength I need to climb these mountains forever and ever and ever and ever." 

So she sounds very stressed, very conflicted. So do you think this quote articulates toraware or role captivity?

Daiki: Yes, the words of Mieko expressed role captivity pretty much. She had many roles such as teacher, a doctor, a psychiatrist, and a wife. Of course each role is important for her and other people, but she was too busy and not able to feel satisfaction and happiness for them. She may be suffering from role captivity and role confusion.

Nick: Yeah, she really sounds trapped, like languages--she's talking to the languages like you were a curse to me. So it sounds very stressful.

And I mean, I can relate to some degree; I think when I taught English in Japan I enjoyed it for several years, but then it became frustrating. 

Then it was very hard to probably find a different type of job in Japan. So I eventually started my own school. And, yeah, in a way that was exciting at the beginning, building my own business.

But then I felt toraware in that because I had all these responsibilities of the school and then I was still teaching and it was quite hard to remain positive, and teach with all this pressure.  

Personal experiences of role captivity

I really understand we can get trapped in a role. So what about you, Daiki, have you ever experienced role captivity?

Daiki: Yes. In the area of psychology, work family conflict is an important research topic. I got a position as a university lecturer about 13 years ago. After that, my son was born. Both of them were the happiest experiences for me, but I felt conflicted between the role of father and lecturer.

I thought that I had to be a good father and more successful in my job. I felt heavy pressure from it and at the time I lost my health. It was a very big pressure for me. How about you, Nick? Have you experienced role captivity like me?

Nick: Yeah, I think actually, when I quit my teaching job in Japan, that's when I found out I was going to be a father too. So I felt this pressure to think, I've got to be close to home, and I've got to be more available.

So, yeah, I guess I feel captive in my school thinking I'm too far away, and I'm frustrated here. So I thought a solution would be I'll quit my job, I'll start my own school. 

And then I can be closer to home and be the father I want to be. But yeah, even that kind of created a new captivity eventually, and I thought, 'Oh, no, I can't take holidays, I can't hire someone to replace me.

My school's not a big school.' So, yes, that's interesting. Sometimes when we pursue something we want, maybe we want to become a lecturer, or psychiatrist or a psychologist, or we want to start our own business. 

But eventually, we run into this problem of role captivity, where there's too much pressure, or we have multiple roles. And here, we don't have enough time or energy. And, as you mentioned, it can impact our health, our physical health, our mental health.  

How to break away from toraware or role captivity

Break away from role captivity

So, if we're in this situation, where we're feeling captive, how can we break away from toraware? Do you have any advice, Daiki?

Daiki: One of the solutions is to leave or give up the role. Having too much role often be a trigger of role confusion and toraware. Being free from given roles might be a good chance to be aware of your original and ideal role.

Setting boundaries for your roles is a good way, too. As I mentioned earlier, I felt a conflict between the role of father and lecturer. 

The problem was that I tried to do both roles perfectly at the same time. Focusing on each role and setting the boundaries might help you to be free from the capture. Professional role has given you confidence and yarigai. Do you want to explain the word yarigai in English?

Nick: Yes. So yarigai is a very common phrase, and far more common than ikigai. Yaru is 'to do' and gai is 'value or worth.' So if something is yarigai, it is worth doing, it's worthwhile.

Daiki: Thank you very much. It's difficult for me to explain yarigai in English. Makes sense. Thank you very much. Yarigai is very important, but you may feel pressure from it sometimes. In that case talking with colleagues or boss would be helpful.

For example, my profession is clinical psychology and counsellors worry about how to deal with our clients. At that time, we talked about it with our colleagues and supervisors. So those kinds of conversations help and support us very much.

Nick: I see. Yeah, this is interesting, because I had an extreme case of role captivity, where the only solution for me was to leave. It was actually after I came back from Japan in 2008. I thought I've got to get a job. And yeah, it was a big move. So we were moving back to Japan, moving the whole family, basically starting again. 

So we had to find a house to rent and I had to find a job and have an income. And I found a job and it looked optimistic and promising and soon it became stressful.

I guess, like any job, but then it became extremely stressful; there were three managers and I was sort of the fIx it guy, or I was putting out fires. So if there was a problem, it was like ‘Get Nick to do it.’ So I was moving from one role, one type of job to another often. 

And at the same time, one of the managers was, basically, he was a bully, very intimidating, very rude, very aggressive. It was getting very bad, so I started to document the bullying, and then this greatly impacted my mental health.

I couldn't sleep, I was going home stressed. And I remember, they had partnered with another company, and they were going to do a new social media campaign, and then they wanted me to move to that role. 

And I just thought, I can't do this anymore, I'm going crazy. So I remember one afternoon, after the bullying was pretty bad, I got a witness, I went to a different manager, I said I'm reporting workplace bullying, and I'm leaving now. And I got up and just walked out, and that was it. I never went back to that job. 

It's sort of funny now, but it was very stressful, very painful. This is 10 years ago, or more than 10 years ago. But yeah, I did feel kind of trapped in that box, and it was very soul destroying, because the job was meaningless.

Some people were good, but this one person, this one manager, was just a horrible person. I mean, I woke up every day, not wanting to go to work and being depressed. 

So a role where it's meaningless, where there's intense pressure, and where you're not growing, you're not learning, it can deeply affect your well-being and it can lead to depression.

So, you mentioned leaving the role or giving up a role, which can be hard, because if you give up your professional role, where do you get the money? But sometimes it might be what you have to do. 

You know, just kind of move on to a better life. It might be challenging, and it's sort of a risk. And then yeah, setting boundaries, that's important.

And I guess that requires very good communication, especially in a professional context, so you'd have to approach your employer and say, 'Look, I'm not satisfied in this role, I want to help you more or I want to express myself.' 

And I guess you have to do some sort of role negotiation. What about you, Daiki? Do you have role stress or role captivity sometimes in your current role? Or is it something you really enjoy at the moment?

Daiki: So generally, I'm satisfied with my roles now. But as you mentioned, it's the same as me. Now I'm working at a university and so I have various roles: teaching for students, doing research, or attending meetings.

Some of the roles are very stressful and causing pressure for me, but I think that it is important to find another role in our jobs or private times. 

For example, I'm writing a paper and Nick found my paper, and you sent me emails. It is the beginning of this project, and we could make a good friendship. This podcast is my new role, and it is a very happy time for me.

I think that we have many opportunities to find new roles, but many people can't focus on them or ignore them, because they are very busy, or their viewpoint is too narrow. 

So think about or view things from a wider viewpoint, so you can find new hobbies or new people or new things. That is an opportunity to expand your new roles. So one of the solutions is read, reading the source for the role.

But another way is the challenge to find new roles. It's okay if it's not a big role. Small role is okay, I think. It is very helpful to be satisfied with a role and increase rolefulness.

Nick: It's interesting, isn't it? Because I found your paper, and we did a podcast, like over a year ago, on my other podcast. And I had you also as a guest for a webinar. And yeah, we built a good connection.

And then this idea of rolefulness was in my mind, thinking there's a book in this idea. And then eventually, I thought, I've got to contact Daiki and say, you should write a book, or maybe we could write a book on this. 

So the idea was kind of write a book, but it led to these two roles for you and me and a friendship, and now we're doing the podcast. So we have all this opportunity now to express our rolefulness or feel rolefulness. So in a way we kind of engineered a role for both of us.  

Creating your own role

Creating your own role

So it's like you can create a role. So maybe that's a helpful way to think about rolefulness. We have this kind of basic rolefulness where you can experience it in all areas of your life through greetings, conversation, gratitude, but you can also kind of create your own role out of nothing like you just think, well, I'm going to, you know, maybe collaborate with someone on a book, or I might join a local community and volunteer, or maybe I'll take up a sport or coach a sport. 

So there's this opportunity to create a role and maybe having this positive role balances your life where you have another role where it's still a meaningful role. It might have high levels of stress, so you're not going to leave it, but you can balance it. 

And then of course, we stumbled upon LARPing. So that idea of Live Action Role Playing where people become warriors, or they dress up in armour and have swords, and they live these roles for a couple of hours a week because it's so fulfilling.

So, yeah, you can create a fantasy role or create a new role where you're actually doing something. So this is a fascinating concept that you've stumbled upon, Daiki, and you coined rolefulness. 

So I'm very glad you wrote your paper. And I'm very glad I found it. And look where it has led to. I think we need to kind of send this message that you can control rolefulness. So, thanks to you, Daiki. 

Alright, I think we'll wrap up. I guess we've looked at some interesting problems in the last couple of episodes. Last week, hikikomori, this idea of toraware, today; being trapped or captive in a role.

And next week, we will probably look at role confusion and role conflict. But I think after those episodes, we'll probably move on to more positive subjects. 

But these are important to understand, because we will probably go through these feelings of being trapped in a role. So I look forward to talking to you next week, Daiki, on role confusion and role conflict. Thank you for your time.

Daiki: Yeah, thank you very much.