The Courage to be Disliked
by Ichiro Kishimi & Fumitake Koga
Based on the philosophy of Alfred Adler, The Courage to be Disliked follows a conversation between a philosopher and a young man. This format makes the topic very approachable.
The philosopher explains to his pupil how each of us is able to determine our own life, free from the shackles of past experiences, doubts, and the expectations of others. It’s a way of thinking that is deeply liberating, allowing us to develop the courage to change.
A new school of psychology was established by the Austrian psychiatrist Alfred Adler at the beginning of the twentieth century: Adlerian psychology. Although Freud and Adler started out in the same discussion group they formed in Vienna, their philosophies have some stark contrasts. This lead to Adler disengaging from the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society to start his own school of psychotherapy. He proposed an “individual psychology” based on his own original theories.
I find more value in the uplifting psychology of Adler, because it puts individuals in a position to change themselves. It requires us to confront ourselves and disconnect personality and dispositions. It is about becoming aware of your thoughts and actions in the present. Instead of ‘I was born a pessimist’, it becomes: ‘I have a pessimistic view of the world’. You cannot change the world around you, but you can change your perception.
The focus is on the future, instead of the unchangeable past.
No matter what has occurred in your life up to this point, it should have no bearing on how you live from now on.
~ Ichiro Kishimi in The Courage to be Disliked
People have no choice in shaping their personality
Present behavior is caused by the past (e.g. childhood)
Emphasis on unconscious process
People are motivated by things they lack
People are responsible for who they are
Present behavior is shaped by the future (goals orientation)
People are aware of what they are doing and why
People are actively seeking to improve themselves
Etiology vs. Teleology
Everybody can change. If we focus only on past causes and try to explain things solely through cause and effect, we end up with determinism. Because our present and future would have already been determined by past occurrences and are unalterable. Adlerian psychology says that the past doesn’t matter. It’s not about past causes, but rather about present goals.
Your friend is insecure, so he can’t go out. Think about it the other way around. He doesn’t want to go out, so he’s creating a state of anxiety. This is called teleology. This is difference between etiology (= the study of causation) and teleology (= the study of the purpose of a given phenomenon, rather than its cause).
Etiology is looking for causes in the past, which are often used to console you by saying: ‘you see, it’s not your fault’. The argument of traumas is typical of etiology. Freud’s idea is that a person’s psychic wounds (traumas) cause his or her present unhappiness. But Adler denies the existence of trauma. “No experience is in itself a cause of our success or failure. We do not suffer from the shock of out experiences, but instead we make out of the whatever suits our purposes. We are not determined by our experiences, but the meaning we give them is self-determining.” He is not saying that the experience of abuse during childhood or other terrible incidents have no influence on forming a personality, their influences are strong. But the important thing is that nothing is actually determined by those influences.
People fabricate emotions
Self-harm, locking yourself indoors and similar behaviors are done with the intention of receiving attention. People will start to worry and treat you carefully.
To fulfill the goal of shouting, people create the emotion of anger. The goal of shouting came before anything else. That is to say, by shouting, you wanted to make someone submit to you and listen to what you had to say. Anger is a means to achieve a goal.
Emotions exist, but we are not controlled by emotion or the past.
Unhappiness is something you choose for yourself
Fixating on what we are born with does not change reality. It is not replacement we need but renewal.
The Greek word for ‘good’ (agathon) has no moral meaning. It just means ‘ beneficial’. Conversely, the word for ‘evil’ (kakon) means ‘not beneficial’.
In Adlerian psychology, personality and dispositions are describes with the word ‘lifestyle’. Lifestyle is the tendencies of thought and action in life. How one sees the world, and how one sees oneself. It’s the way one’s life should be. It is something you choose for yourself.
‘I’m a pessimist’ vs. ‘I have a pessimistic view of the world’
Personality vs. View of the world
A personality suggests that it is unchangable, but a view of the world should be possible to alter.
There are some things you cannot choose, like where you are born, with which parents and in which era. These have a great deal of influence. But what you do from here on is your responsibility.
If you leave your life as it is, your experience enables you to respond properly to events as they occur, while guessing the result of one’s actions. But if you choose a new lifestyle, you cannot predict what might happen to you and you have no idea how to deal with events as they arise. It will be hard to see ahead to the future and life will be filled with anxiety. A more painful and unhappy life may lie ahead. Even if you complain about your current life, it is easier and more secure to be just the way one is. There is the anxiety generated by changing, and the disappointment with not changing.
Adlerian psychology is about courage. Unhappiness cannot be blamed on your past or your environment. And it isn’t that you lack competence, you just lack courage.
What should you do to change your life?
- Stop your current lifestyle.
- You’ll never be able to change if you live in the realm of the possibility of “if only such and such were the case”. Saying ‘if only I could be like him/her’ is an excuse to yourself for not changing.
- Live in the here and now, as that is the person who determines your life right now.
Why people do not commit to anything
People want to leave the possibility of ‘I can do it if I try’ open, by not committing to anything. They don’t want to expose their work to criticism and certainly not face the reality that they might produce an inferior piece of writing and face rejection. It’s people like them who talk that coulda, woulda, shoulda stuff. Excuses like: ‘I could do it if I had the time, if I was in the right environment, if I didn’t have a family to think about’. By not committing to anything, you are not able to move on.
But having simple tasks while continually coming up with various reasons why one can’t do them sounds like a hard way to live. It is often the Self that is making life complicated and too difficult to live happily.
All problems are interpersonal relationship problems
You notice only your shortcoming because you’ve resolved to not start liking yourself. In order to not like yourself, you don’t see your strong points and focus only on your shortcomings.
Some shortcomings are really easy to cure, e.g. Blushing. But it’s thanks to your shortcoming, that you can accept your dissatisfaction with yourself and the world around you. It’s thanks to your shortcoming and caused by it. If your shortcoming was cured and nothing in your situation changed at all, you would want your shortcoming back. Most people have wishes like these. ‘If I graduate, my life will be great’, ‘if I get the promotion, my life will be good’, ‘if I get a baby, my marriage will be saved.’
When someone request a cure for a shortcoming, you must not cure the symptoms. Then recovery is likely to be even more difficult. Get the person to first accept ‘myself now’, and then regardless of the outcome have the courage to step forward. In Adlerian psychology, this kind of approach is called ‘encouragement’.
‘To get rid of one’s problems, all one can do is live in the universe all alone.’ Loneliness is not about being alone, but having other people and society and community around you, and having a deep sense of being excluded from them. To feel lonely, we need other people.
Feelings of inferiority
If you see someone around your age who is really successful, you can get feelings of inferiority. If someone else who’s lived the same amount of time I have is so successful, then what on earth am I doing with myself? In German the word is Minderwertigkeitsgefuhl (= feeling of having less worth). So the feeling of inferiority has to do with one’s value judgment of oneself. That judgment is subjective and arises entirely by comparing yourself to others. But because it is subjective, it is also up to you whether it’s an advantage or disadvantage.
Value is based on a social context. One dollar and one hundred dollars cost practically the same to produce.
People enter this world as helpless beings. And people have the universal desire to escape from that helpless state Adler called this the ‘pursuit of superiority’. Hoping to improve, pursuing an ideal state. Adler is saying that the pursuit of superiority and the feeling of inferiority are not diseases, but stimulants to normal, healthy striving and growth.
Feeling of inferiority is not the same as an inferiority complex. A complex is an abnormal mental state made up of a complicated group of emotions and ideas. However, there is nothing particularly wrong with the feeling of inferiority itself, as it can be a trigger for striving and growth. When something is insisting on the logic of: A is the situation, so B cannot be done, that does not fit with feeling of inferiority, but an inferiority complex. E.g. ‘I’m not well educated, so I can’t succeed’ or ‘I’m not good-looking, so I can’t get married.’
Superiority complex is to act if someone is indeed superior and to indulge in a fabricated feeling of superiority. An example of this is ‘giving authority’. One makes a show of being on good terms with a powerful person, and by doing that, one let’s is be known that one is special. Think of lying about work experience on your resume or excessive allegiance to luxurious brands. It’s to make a person look superior or special. At the base of that is an intense feeling of inferiority. Those who make themselves look bigger on borrowed power are essentially living according to other people’s value systems. ‘The one who boasts does so only out of a feeling of inferiority’.
Bragging about your horrible life
One particular feeling of superiority is bragging about one’s own misfortune. It’s a feeling of superiority that manifests due to the feeling of inferiority itself becoming intensified. Talking about the difficult youth, and when someone tries to comfort this person, he/she will refuse the helping hand by saying: ‘You don’t understand how I feel.’ or even: ‘You think you know what I had to go through, huh?!’. That way everyone around the person would handle him/her very carefully, afraid that the person might burst. By doing that, your position becomes superior to other people’s, so you can become special. People who do that, try to worry the people around them and to restrict their speech and behavior. Nobody is capable of completely understanding how someone is feeling.
Weakness can put you in a position of power
In our culture weakness can be quite powerful. The strongest person in our culture might even be the baby. The baby rules and cannot be dominated. Because of his weakness, no one can control him.
We tend to think of the pursuit of superiority as a desire to be superior to other people, to climb higher even if it means kicking others down. But Adler does not uphold such attitudes. According to him, we are on the same level playing field; there are people wbo are moving forward, and there are people who are moving forward behind them. The distance covered and the speed of walking differ, but everyone is walking on the same flat surface. The pursuit of superiority is the mindset of taking a step forward, not the mindset of competition that aims to be greater than other people. It’s enough to just keep moving in a forward direction, without competition with anyone. And there is no need to compare oneself with others. A healthy feeling of inferiority does not come from comparing yourself to others, it comes from comparing yourself to your ideal self. When you are trying to be oneself, competition will inevitably get in the way. By looking at the world as a competition, with winners and losers, you will start to see everyone as your enemy. As if everyone is waiting for you to slip and attack you at the drop of a hat. Even if you would be winning, you will never have a moment’s peace. You don’t want to become a loser, so you have to keep on winning.
Don’t get into power struggles
Many forms of abuse are at their core a challenge to a power struggle. Political discussions often turn into heated arguments, as neither of you is willing to accept any differences in opinion, until it reaches a point that one engages in personal attacks. ‘You’re stupid, because of people like you, this country doesn’t change.’ The other person’s goal is not only to discuss politics. It’s that he finds you unbearable and wants to criticize and provoke you, and make you submit through a power struggle. If you get angry at this point, the moment he has been anticipating for will arrive, and the relationship will suddenly turn into a power struggle. Even if you win and he withdraws, he will be scheming some revenge in another place and another form, and will reappear with an act of retaliation.
Take a child who is oppressed by his parents. He can become revengeful. By dropping out of school, cutting his wrists, things like that, the parents will get upset. They’ll panic and worry themselves sick over him. The goal behind the behavior should come into view.
Once an interpersonal relationship reaches the revenge stage, it is almost impossible for either party to find a solution. To prevent this from happening: when you are invited to a power struggle, never allow yourself to be taken in. Don’t answer his action with a reaction. Do not respond to provocations.
Being convinced you are right, turns conversations into power struggles and clouds your judgment
No matter how much you think you are right, try not to criticize the other party on that basis. The moment you are convinced ‘I am right’ before a conversation, you have already stepped into a power struggle. Thinking that you are right automatically leads to the assumption that the other person is wrong. At that point, the discussion shifts from the rightness of the assertions to the state of the interpersonal relationship. Finally it turns into a contest and you are thinking that you have to win, aka a power struggle.
If you think you are right regardless of other people’s opinions, the matter should be closed then and there. If not, you run into a power struggle and you try to make other people submit to you. And because you don’t want to lose, you are unable to admit mistakes, and you end up choosing the wrong path. But admitting mistakes, apologizing and stepping down from power struggles are not defeats. Being hung up on winning and losing clouds your judgment and this way you lose the ability to make the right choices.
In Adlerian psychology, there are two objectives for behavior: to be self-reliant and to live in harmony with society. Then the two objectives for the psychology that supports these behaviors are the consciousness that I have the ability and the consciousness that people are my comrades. These objectives can be achieved by facing what Adler calls ‘life tasks’, he referred to them as ‘tasks of work’, ‘tasks of friendship’ and ‘tasks of love’. These are solely obligations in terms of interpersonal relationships, that is the distance and depth in the relationship.
Tasks of work
Regardless of the kind of work, there is no work that can be completed all by oneself. Work that can be completed without the cooperation of other people is in principle unfeasible. Interpersonal relationship of work have the lowest hurdles. They have the easy-to-understand common objective of obtaining good results, so people can cooperate even if they don’t always get along, and to some extent they have no choice but to cooperate. And as long as a relationship is formed solely on the basis of work, it will go back to being a relationship with an outsider when working hours are over or one changes jobs.
Someone who doesn’t get into the interpersonal relationships at this stage are the people referred to as NEETs. Not in Education, Employment or Training. Or Shut-Ins, a person confined indoors.
Task of friendship
This is a friend relationship in a broader sense, away from work, as there is none of the compulsion of the workplace. It is a relationship that is difficult to initiate or deepen.
Task of love
This is divided in two stages: love relationships and relationships with family, particularly parent-child relationships. It is most likely that the task of love is the most difficult. When a friend relationship has turned into love, speech and conduct that were permitted between friends may no longer be permitted the moment they become lovers. Socializing with friends of the opposite sex might be enough to arouse jealousy. The distance is that close and the relationship that deep. Relationship in which people restrict each other eventually fall apart. If two people want to live together on good terms, they must treat each other as equal personalities. In love relationship you can choose to separate, but in parent-child relationship this cannot be done.
Sometimes, especially in marriage, a person resolves to him/herself to want to end this relationship, and then looks around for material with which to end it. But the other person hasn’t changed at all, it is all his/her goal that changed. By making up flaws in other people, you can avoid your life tasks and avoid interpersonal relationships. Alder calls this the life-lie.
Adlerian psychology is not a psychology of possession but a psychology of use. ‘It’s not what one is born with but what use one makes of that equipment.’
There is also no need to seek recognition from others. If you concern yourself only with how you are judged by others, you’ll end up living other people’s lives. People often seek recognition due to the influence of reward-and-punishment education. People who have established their social status do not truly feel happy.
Separation of tasks
Intruding into another person’s task is likely to cause a collision. You should pay attention though and let the person know that you are ready to assist him whenever he wants to work on his task. A simple way to tell whose task it is, think: Who ultimately is going to receive the result brought by the choice that is made? In the same way, you are the only one who can change yourself. Forcing change while ignoring the person’s intention will only lead to an intense reaction.
All you can do with regard to your own life is choose the best path that you believe in. If someone doesn’t like what you do or dislikes you, that is that person’s task, not yours. No person wishes to be disliked. But to not be disliked by anyone, one should constantly gauge other people’s feelings while swearing loyalty to all of them. This is like a politician who has fallen into populism and begun to make impossible promises and accept responsibilities that are beyond him. Naturally, his lies will come to light before long. He’ll lose people’s trust and turn his own life into one of greater suffering.
An adult who has chosen an unfree way to live, on seeing a young person living freely here and now in this moment, criticized the youth as being hedonistic. Of course, this is a life-lie that comes out so that the adult can accept his own unfree life. An adult who has chosen real freedom himself will not make such comments and will instead cheer on the will to be free.
The Rock of Life
Imagine that your life is like a rectangular rock. You could push the rock of a mountain and watch it tumble downhill. All inclinations, desires and impulses will take the rock wherever it wants. You could see this as ‘freedom’. But once the rock started rolling downhill, it continues to roll because of the natural laws of gravity and inertia. You would have no way to stop it. All the people and obstacles you come across along the way down leave a mark and shape you. Ultimately, you will be worn down and smoothed away; all that is left is a little round ball. Would you consider that to be the real You?
Instead you could take control over your rock, start downhill and push it uphill. It is a route that requires more effort, but you will see gradual growth and every milestone is because of your own efforts. Instead of tumbling uncontrollably, you can choose your route. You can steer away from obstacles, shape your rock into more convenient shapes and explores areas left and right. Between the tumbling rocks you will see other people who also chose to push their rock uphill. They will warn you for common pitfalls and some will offer a helping hand to get past rough terrain. When your rock reaches a plateau and is stable for the time being, you could take some time to build signposts along the route you took and give other rocks a push. Ultimately will reach your top and you can enjoy the view. You look at your rock and see a collection of memories. It was a tough climb, but you were in control and you had a tremendous journey.
What is freedom?
Children who have not been taught to confront challenges will try to avoid all challenges. By taking away a task a kid is struggling with, the kid will cease to learn anything and lose the courage to face his life tasks.
Freedom is being disliked by other people. It is proof that you are exercising your freedom and living in freedom, a sign you are living in accordance with your own principles. It is not purposefully engaging in wrongdoing. People would like to not be disliked by anyone, they want to satisfy their desire for recognition. Accounting for everyone’s opinion is an extremely unfree way of living.
People should move forward without fearing the possibility or being disliked. You cannot decide for other people if they like you. Many people think that interpersonal relationship cards are held by the other person. They wonder: How does that person feel about me? and end up living to satisfying their wishes. But you are holding all the interpersonal relationship cards. When changing, you are the only one who changes. It can happen that someone else changes at the same time.
How Emotions Are Made
by Lisa Feldman Barrett
In How Your Emotions Are Made, psychologist Lisa Feldman Barrett draws on the latest scientific evidence to reveal that our ideas about emotion are out of date.
Her research overturns the widely held belief that emotions live in distinct parts of the brain and are universally expressed and recognized. Instead, she has shown that emotion is constructed in the moment, by core systems that interact across the whole brain, aided by a lifetime of learning.
Emotions aren’t pre-programmed in our brains and bodies; rather, they are psychological experiences that each of us constructs based on our unique personal history, physiology and environment.