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The courage to be disliked

Updated: Oct 7, 2020

Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga have written a leading best seller called: The courage to be disliked. The book is based on Adlerian Psychology, and there are some really powerful messages in the book. Here are the top eight which provide a very hopeful picture of the world and for individuals within it.

a. OBJECTIVES OF LIFE: There are two overarching objectives of a life lead by Adlerian principles : To be self-reliant and to live in harmony with society. If you can embrace these 2 objectives then you will live a more fulfilling life and also recognise that you cannot please everyone hence the title: The courage to be disliked

b. TAKE RESPONSIBILITY: Self-reliance does not mean shunning others, but instead taking responsibility for how your life turns out. Life is not predetermined and you can take responsibility for what happens now. Individuals may continue to blame others for their misfortune, but nothing will change until one takes responsibility for the choices we make in life.

c. PROBLEMS: At the heart of Adlerian psychology is the belief that all problems are interpersonal relational problems. We don’t operate in a vacuum, we operate in relation to others and when we have problems, they are mainly to do with how we are relating to other people. If we want to resolve our problems, then we need to change how we are interacting with others.

d. INFERIORTY AND SUPERIORITY COMPLEXES: Adler is the psychologist who helped to define the inferiority complex. He recognised that we place ourselves in deference to others (inferiority) or at times above others (Superiority). The pursuit to overcome this inferiority feeling is what can lead to strength and growth and is an important factor in human development. Modern Psychologists have continued to build on this principle eg Jennifer Garvey-Berger.

e. VERTICAL AND HORIZONTAL RELATIONSHIPS: How we place ourselves in relation to others can lead to either vertical relationships or horizontal relationships. Vertical relationships are where there is a power imbalance. This is where one member tries to take on the role of the expert or parent and the other is more like a child or dependant. In this dependant state we expect people to rescue us by telling us what to do. If we operate from the parent or rescuer state, we are responsibility stealers. Horizontal relationships are where we treat each other as resourceful adults. Trying to move towards more horizontal as opposed to vertical relationships will enable one to take more responsibility. It also leads us to think that we do not have to please others all the time.

f. ACCEPTING ONESELF: In moving to horizontal relationships, it takes away the need to please and thus comes the title of the book – The courage to be disliked. If one is in the vertical relationship, we are often seeking recognition from the other as we are unable to give it to ourselves yet. Learning how to accept oneself and therefore gaining that recognition internally will enable more horizontal relationships.

g. CONTRIBUTE TO COMMUNITY: By learning to accept oneself and not getting caught up in the self-drama means that that one can then contribute to community and thus fulfil the second objective of life of trying to contribute to community.

h. BE PRESENT: In learning to accept oneself you have to recognise that you cannot change the past and you can only change the present. This way you can learn to be at peace with yourself and the world and learn how to choose happiness.

There were some points that we couldn’t quite agree on:

1. Adler presents a very objective way of the world and takes some of the subjectivity out by trying to negate emotions and the unconscious. He would not have been aware of the neuroscience research at the time but saying that we can choose emotions negates the power of the unconscious. Saying we can deny anger is not helpful and nor is saying we can always choose happiness, as life is a roller coaster of events and emotions. We can choose the subsequent behaviour but we can’t deny the emotion. For example, I might be driving along the road, and someone cuts in front of me, and I break. Now the immediate emotions I might feel are anger (nearly caused an accident) and Fear (I could have been hurt there). I then have a choice as to how I will respond. I might hurl abuse at the other driver with gestures or words as an anger response or I might not and choose to be more present to how I am feeling and notice how my anger is showing up and what that means for me.

2. He denies trauma exists. Again, recent evidence would suggest otherwise. For those that are more interested in this, books like The body keeps the score by Bessel Van Der Kolk would be a good starting point.

The book is also written in an unusual way as a conversation between a philosopher and a youth, where the youth is placing the philosopher in a vertical relationship. As such, it makes the book a bit hard going. It should also be taken in context as Adler was one of the original psychotherapists alongside Freud and Jung and wanted to present a different way of being and about life. It is also written by two Japanese men, which gives another flavour which is distinctly male and may say more about that culture.

However, notwithstanding if you are someone or know someone who is learning to take responsibility for themselves or for leaders/parents who find it difficult to give up responsibility, then this book might be for you/them.


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