It’s the most powerful book I’ve ever read. The book provides a nice introduction to Adlerian psychology with a unique conversational format between the philosopher and youth, which grew on me. I had a lot of aha moments and will be picking this again soon.
Here are my notes from The Courage to be Disliked:
- None of us live in an objective world, but instead in a subjective world that we ourselves have given meaning to. The world you see is different from the one I see, and it’s impossible to share your world with anyone else.
- Everyone wishes they could change. I know I do, and I’m sure anyone you might stop and ask on the street would agree. But why does everyone feel they want to change? There’s only one answer: because they cannot change. If it were easy for people to change, they wouldn’t spend so much time wishing they could. No matter how much they wish it, people cannot change. And that’s why there are always so many people getting taken in by new religions and dubious self-help seminars and any preaching on how everyone 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 what this says is that our present and our future have already been decided by past occurrences, and are unalterable.
- In Adlerian psychology, we do not think about past “causes” but rather about present “goals”.
- Your friend had the goal of not going out beforehand, and he’s been manufacturing a state of anxiety and fear as a means to achieve that goal. In Adlerian psychology, this is called “teleology”.
- PHILOSOPHER: Suppose you’ve got a cold with a high fever, and you go to see the doctor. Then, suppose the doctor says the reason for your sickness is that yesterday, when you went out, you weren’t dressed properly, and that’s why you caught a cold. Now, would you be satisfied with that?
YOUTH: Of course I wouldn’t. It wouldn’t matter to me what the reason was—the way I was dressed or because it was raining or whatever. It’s the symptoms, the fact that I’m suffering with a high fever now that would matter to me. If he’s a doctor, I’d need him to treat me by prescribing medicine, giving shots, or taking whatever specialized measures are necessary.
PHILOSOPHER: Yet those who take an etiological stance, including most counselors and psychiatrists, would argue that what you were suffering from stemmed from such-and-such cause in the past, and would then end up just consoling you by saying, “So you see, it’s not your fault.” The argument concerning so-called traumas is typical of etiology.
YOUTH: Wait a minute! Are you denying the existence of trauma altogether?
PHILOSOPHER: Yes, I am. Adamantly.
- In Adlerian psychology, trauma is definitively denied. This was a very new and revolutionary point. Certainly, the Freudian view of trauma is fascinating. Freud’s idea is that a person’s psychic wounds (traumas) cause his or her present unhappiness. When you treat a person’s life as a vast narrative, there is an easily understandable causality and sense of dramatic development that creates strong impressions and is extremely attractive. But Adler, in denial of the trauma argument, states the following: “No experience is in itself a cause of our success or failure. We do not suffer from the shock of our experiences—the so-called trauma—but instead we make out of them whatever suits our purposes. We are not determined by our experiences, but the meaning we give them is self-determining.”
Focus on the point Adler is making here when he refers to the self being determined not by our experiences themselves, but by the meaning we give them. He is not saying that the experience of a horrible calamity or abuse during childhood or other such 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. We determine our own lives according to the meaning we give to those past experiences. Your life is not something that someone gives you, but something you choose yourself, and you are the one who decides how you live.
- Suppose there is someone whose parents had divorced in his past. Isn’t this something objective, the same as the well water that is always sixty degrees? But then, does that divorce feel cold or does it feel warm? So this is a “now” thing, a subjective thing. Regardless of what may have happened in the past, it is the meaning that is attributed to it that determines the way someone’s present will be.
- Why are you rushing for answers? You should arrive at answers on your own, not rely upon what you get from someone else. Answers from others are nothing more than stopgap measures; they’re of no value. Take Socrates, who left not one book actually written by himself. He spent his days having public debates with the citizens of Athens, especially the young, and it was his disciple, Plato, who put his philosophy into writing for future generations. Adler, too, showed little interest in literary activities, preferring to engage in personal dialogue at cafés in Vienna, and hold small discussion groups. He was definitely not an armchair intellectual.
- Without question, there is no shortage of behavior that is evil. But no one, not even the most hardened criminal, becomes involved in crime purely out of a desire to engage in evil acts. Every criminal has an internal justification for getting involved in crime. A dispute over money leads someone to engage in murder, for instance. To the perpetrator, it is something for which there is a justification and which can be restated as an accomplishment of “good.” Of course, this is not good in a moral sense, but good in the sense of being “of benefit to oneself.”
- Although there are some small inconveniences and limitations, you probably think that the lifestyle you have now is the most practical one, and that it’s easier to leave things as they are. If you stay just like this, experience enables you to respond properly to events as they occur, while guessing the results of one’s actions. You could say it’s like driving your old, familiar car. It might rattle a bit, but one can take that into account and maneuver easily. On the other hand, if one chooses a new lifestyle, no one can predict what might happen to the new self, or have any 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 might lie ahead. Simply put, people have various complaints about things, but it’s easier and more secure to be just the way one is.
- I have a young friend who dreams of becoming a novelist, but he never seems to be able to complete his work. According to him, his job keeps him too busy, and he can never find enough time to write novels, and that’s why he can’t complete work and enter it for writing awards. But is that the real reason? No! It’s actually that he wants to leave the possibility of “I can do it if I try” open, by not committing to anything. He doesn’t want to expose his work to criticism, and he certainly doesn’t want to face the reality that he might produce an inferior piece of writing and face rejection. He wants to live inside that realm of possibilities, where he can say that he could do it if he only had the time, or that he could write if he just had the proper environment, and that he really does have the talent for it. In another five or ten years, he will probably start using other excuses like “I’m not young anymore” or “I’ve got a family to think about now.”
- It’s basically impossible to not get hurt in your relations with other people. When you enter into interpersonal relationships, it is inevitable that to a greater or lesser extent you will get hurt, and you will hurt someone, too.
- Being alone isn’t what makes you feel lonely. Loneliness is 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.
- 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.”
- Those who go so far as to boast about things out loud actually have no confidence in themselves. As Adler clearly indicates, “The one who boasts does so only out of a feeling of inferiority.”
- When we refer to the pursuit of superiority, there’s a tendency to think of it as the desire to try to be superior to other people; to climb higher, even if it means kicking others down—you know, the image of ascending a stairway and pushing people out of the way to get to the top. Adler does not uphold such attitudes, of course. Rather, he’s saying that on the same level playing field, there are people who are moving forward, and there are people who are moving forward behind them. Keep that image in mind. Though the distance covered and the speed of walking differ, everyone is walking equally in the same flat place. The pursuit of superiority is the mind-set of taking a single step forward on one’s own feet, not the mind-set of competition of the sort that necessitates aiming to be greater than other people.
- This is what is so terrifying about competition. Even if you’re not a loser, even if you’re someone who keeps on winning, if you are someone who has placed himself in competition, you will never have a moment’s peace. You don’t want to be a loser. And you always have to keep on winning if you don’t want to be a loser. You can’t trust other people. The reason so many people don’t really feel happy while they’re building up their success in the eyes of society is that they are living in competition. Because to them, the world is a perilous place that is overflowing with enemies.
- But do other people actually look at you so much? Are they really watching you around the clock and lying in wait for the perfect moment to attack? It seems rather unlikely. A young friend of mine, when he was a teenager, used to spend a lot of time in front of the mirror arranging his hair. And once, when he was doing that, his grandmother said, “You’re the only one who’s worried how you look.” He says that it got a bit easier for him to deal with life after that.
- If someone were to abuse me to my face, I would think about the person’s hidden goal. Even if you are not directly abusive, when you feel genuinely angry due to another person’s words or behavior, please consider that the person is challenging you to a power struggle.
- The first thing that I want you to understand here is the fact that anger is a form of communication, and that communication is nevertheless possible without using anger. We can convey our thoughts and intentions and be accepted without any need for anger. If you learn to understand this experientially, the anger emotion will stop appearing all on its own.
- It’s not that you mustn’t get angry, but that there is no need to rely on the tool of anger. Irascible people do not have short tempers—it is only that they do not know that there are effective communication tools other than anger. That is why people end up saying things like “I just snapped” or, “He flew into a rage.” We end up relying on anger to communicate.
- People are extremely selfish creatures who are capable of finding any number of flaws and shortcomings in others whenever the mood strikes them.
- If one takes appropriate action, one receives praise. If one takes inappropriate action, one receives punishment. Adler was very critical of education by reward and punishment. It leads to mistaken lifestyles in which people think, If no one is going to praise me, I won’t take appropriate action and If no one is going to punish me, I’ll engage in inappropriate actions, too. You already have the goal of wanting to be praised when you start picking up litter. And if you aren’t praised by anyone, you’ll either be indignant or decide that you’ll never do such a thing again. Clearly, there’s something wrong with this situation.
- Studying is the child’s task. A parent’s handling of that by commanding the child to study is, in effect, an act of intruding on another person’s task. One is unlikely to avert a collision in this way. We need to think with the perspective of “Whose task is this?” and continually separate one’s own tasks from other people’s tasks.
- In general, all interpersonal relationship troubles are caused by intruding on other people’s tasks, or having one’s own tasks intruded on. Carrying out the separation of tasks is enough to change one’s interpersonal relationships dramatically.
- There is a simple way to tell whose task it is. Think, Who ultimately is going to receive the result brought about by the choice that is made? When the child has made the choice of not studying, ultimately, the result of that decision—not being able to keep up in class or to get into the preferred school, for instance—does not have to be received by the parents. Clearly, it is the child who has to receive it. In other words, studying is the child’s task.
- When reading a book, if one brings one’s face too close to it, one cannot see anything. In the same way, forming good interpersonal relationships requires a certain degree of distance. When the distance gets too small and people become stuck together, it becomes impossible to even speak to each other. But the distance must not be too great, either. Parents who scold their children too much become mentally very distant. When this happens, the child can no longer even consult the parents, and the parents can no longer give the proper assistance. One should be ready to lend a hand when needed but not encroach on the person’s territory. It is important to maintain this kind of moderate distance.
- A stone is powerless. Once it has begun to roll downhill, it will continue to roll until released from the natural laws of gravity and inertia. But we are not stones. We are beings who are capable of resisting inclination. We can stop our tumbling selves and climb uphill. The desire for recognition is probably a natural desire. So are you going to keep rolling downhill in order to receive recognition from others? Are you going to wear yourself down like a rolling stone, until everything is smoothed away? When all that is left is a little round ball, would that be “the real I”? It cannot be.
- Freedom is being disliked by other people.
It’s that you are disliked by someone. It is proof that you are exercising your freedom and living in freedom, and a sign that you are living in accordance with your own principles.
- A community that you can break relations with by simply submitting a withdrawal notice is one that you can have only so much connection to, in any case. Once you know how big the world is, you will see that all the hardship you went through in school was a storm in a teacup. The moment you leave the teacup, that raging storm will be gone, and a gentle breeze will greet you in its place.
- In the act of praise, there is the aspect of it being “the passing of judgment by a person of ability on a person of no ability.” A mother praises her child who has helped her prepare dinner, saying, “You’re such a good helper!” But when her husband does the same things, you can be sure she won’t be telling him, “You’re such a good helper!”
In other words, the mother who praises the child by saying things like “You’re such a good helper!” or “Good job!” or “Well, aren’t you something!” is unconsciously creating a hierarchical relationship and seeing the child as beneath her. The example of animal training that you just gave is also emblematic of the hierarchical relationship—the vertical relationship—that is behind the praising. When one person praises another, the goal is “to manipulate someone who has less ability than you.” It is not done out of gratitude or respect.
- It is when one is able to feel “I am beneficial to the community” that one can have a true sense of one’s worth.
- Without judging whether or not other people did something, one rejoices in their being there, in their very existence, and one calls out to them with words of gratitude.
- It is even said that to truly understand Adlerian psychology and apply it to actually changing one’s way of living, one needs “half the number of years one has lived.” In other words, if you were to start studying it at the age of forty, it would take another twenty years, until you turned sixty. If you were to start studying at the age of twenty, it would take ten years, until you turned thirty. You are still young. Starting at such an early stage in life means that you might be able to change more quickly. In the sense that you can change quickly, you are walking ahead of the adults of the world. To go about changing yourself and making a new world, in a way you are ahead of me, too. It is okay to lose your way or lose focus. Do not be dependent on vertical relationships or be afraid of being disliked, and just make your way forward freely. If all the adults could see that young people were walking ahead of them, I am sure the world would change dramatically.
- In the teachings of Judaism, one finds the following anecdote: “If there are ten people, one will be someone who criticizes you no matter what you do. This person will come to dislike you, and you will not learn to like him either. Then, there will be two others who accept everything about you and whom you accept too, and you will become close friends with them. The remaining seven people will be neither of these types.” Now, do you focus on the one person who dislikes you? Do you pay more attention to the two who love you? Or would you focus on the crowd, the other seven? A person who is lacking in harmony of life will see only the one person he dislikes and will make a judgment of the world from that.
- Imagine that you are standing on a theater stage. If the house lights are on, you’ll probably be able to see all the way to the back of the hall. But if you’re under a bright spotlight, you won’t be able to make out even the front row. That’s exactly how it is with our lives. It’s because we cast a dim light on our entire lives that we are able to see the past and the future. Or at least we imagine we can. But if one is shining a bright spotlight on here and now, one cannot see the past or the future anymore.
- When one adopts the point of view of Freudian etiology, one sees life as a kind of great big story based on cause and effect. So then it’s all about where and when I was born, what my childhood was like, the school I attended and the company where I got a job. And that decides who I am now and who I will become. To be sure, likening one’s life to a story is probably an entertaining job. The problem is, one can see the dimness that lies ahead at the end of the story. Moreover, one will try to lead a life that is in line with that story. And then one says, “My life is such-and-such, so I have no choice but to live this way, and it’s not because of me—it’s my past, it’s the environment,” and so on. But bringing up the past here is nothing but a way out, a life-lie. However, life is a series of dots, a series of moments. If you can grasp that, you will not need a story any longer.
- No matter what moments you are living, or if there are people who dislike you, as long as you do not lose sight of the guiding star of “I contribute to others,” you will not lose your way, and you can do whatever you like. Whether you’re disliked or not, you pay it no mind and live free.
- You say you wish you had known this ten years ago. It is because Adler’s thought resonates with you now that you are thinking this. No one knows how you would have felt about it ten years ago. This discussion was something that you needed to hear now.
If you liked the above content, I’d definitely recommend reading the whole book. 💯
Until We Meet Again…