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Book Summaries Psychology

The Courage to be Disliked Summary (7/10)

The Courage to be Disliked, which was wildly popular in Japan, was written by Ichiro Kishimi, who did for Adler what Plato did for Socrates. Alfred Adler was considered one of the three pillars of psychology, alongside Freud and Jung.

The latter psychoanalysts focused on analyzing the unconscious, an aetiological approach (that seeks to determine past causes for why people behave the way they do), while Adler’s individualistic psychology was about focusing on what could be done today, regardless of what happened in the past. 

Through a Socratic dialogue that takes place between an anxious, disillusioned youth and a wise philosopher, we learn about Adler’s approach to psychology as a philosopher. The purpose of the dialogue was not to give the youth the answers to life, but to open his eyes to a new way of thinking.

Adler acknowledges that the past does determine future behavior to some extent. The inferiority and superiority complex are examples. Everyone assumes that their past behavior influences how they think about the world, but Adler is saying that it is not our patterns that control us in the present, but our goals.

An addict who says to himself that he wants to quit and fails can give many excuses, such as the social group he interacts with, his previous patterns of behavior, and his life’s problems. But in truth, the addict’s real goal is to remain in his comfort zone, because change is scary and difficult, and there is no way of knowing whether things will become better as a result of it. He may outwardly proclaim that he is trying to curb his addiction, perhaps because he acknowledges its social and personal repercussions, but it is also a refuge for him, a way to escape life’s problems.

Everyone feels inferior. This stems from our childhood experiences. Our parents open large doors for us, they do things that to us are unimaginably difficult and they are much more powerful than us, when we are children. This imbues us with a sense of helplessness. Individuals react to this in one of two ways. Either they try to overcompensate by working diligently to avoid these feelings of inferiority in the future, or they shirk away from life altogether, they become recluse, and avoid life’s tasks of romance, work, and friendship.

To Adler, these reactions are temporary in that the individual, at any moment, can choose to respond to life differently. A person, who in the past was a coward, can become courageous in the present. 

The philosopher makes a distinction between a feeling of inferiority and a complex. Feelings of inferiority are natural, everyone has them. A complex is when pathology is involved. The oedipal complex is a complex because it is a type of thought pattern that is antithetical to the flourishing of the relationship between mother and child, it is a disorder. 

An inferiority complex occurs when the individual becomes so concerned with accumulating power that all their behavior becomes dominated by this impulse. It is as if they live only to out compete and subordinate others. This not only causes personal misery but is often a catastrophe to their community. 

A superiority complex happens when the individual fails at their attempt to compensate for their weaknesses, and then turns towards shortcuts to elevate them socially. A person who is obsessed with wearing expensive jewelry displays a superiority complex. 

Horizontal and Vertical relationships.

Vertical relationships are hierarchical, you see others as being either inferior or superior to you. Horizontal relationships are egalitarian, you see others as your equals. Adler believed that you could not have both, since the ways in which you relate to others define the way you view interpersonal relationships.

Life’s tasks 

Adler defined three life tasks: work, friendship, and love. Some people decide to avoid life’s tasks, they become recluse, do not work or contribute to society, they don’t try to maintain friendships, and do not seek love. But these life tasks are essential for psychological well-being. All of these relate to people, in one way or another. Indeed, Adler believed that all problems were interpersonal problems.

Ultimately, community is the purpose of life. You cannot do anything worthwhile without providing value to your community. But Adler defined community very broadly. He did not include family and close friends, but all living things – past and future. If you contribute, even if you feel like you are contributing psychologically, then you will be happy. It is why wealthy people often do charity work; it is to feel they deserve to exist.  

Boundaries

Despite the importance of community, you cannot be a slave to its whims. If you only do what others want you to, so that you become popular, or accepted, you will disrupt your personal growth. Pleasing the crowd is not a sustainable strategy for two reasons. One, they will never be fully satisfied. No matter what you do, they will demand more. Two, they don’t pay very much attention to you anyway. Many people falsely believe that they are constantly being judged and scrutinized by others, but in truth, other people barely think about them at all. People are far too concerned with their own problems.

What you need to foster, ultimately, is the courage to be disliked. You need to accept that many people will not be happy with your behavior, but that is okay. Your goal should be to contribute to the community in your own way, to draw boundaries between your tasks and theirs, and to be honest with yourself.

The Courage be disliked 

Kant had a concept he called “inclination” that describes the instinct of craving social acceptance.

Picture a stone rolling down a hill, because of gravity, the stone will continue its course, it becomes smaller and smoother and then hits a flat surface.

In the same way, the will to appease others, to belong, to feel popular and liked is akin to a stone falling down the mountain. Of course, no individual is immune to this feeling, but if you are not careful and more self-aware, you become like a stone, you become diminished and smooth. The ideal is not to live to make life people happy because that is impossible to achieve. But rather, to do what you believe is right.

Many young people feel guilty if they disobey their parents, they feel that by doing what they want, they are acting selfish, particularly if their parents expressed outright indignation towards them. But it is not the young person who is being selfish, but their parents. The parents want to force their child to conform to their own vision of reality and do not want to consider what their child wants. That is selfish. It is the responsibility of the parents to come to terms with their feelings, it is not the child’s responsibility. 

Dostoevsky had a term that stated that money was “coined freedom” but being wealthy does not necessarily make you free. You can be wealthy and trapped by self-destructive ideology, and in pathological and limiting relationships.

Freedom is not something you can buy; it is a way of thinking. 

"A gilded No is more satisfactory than a dry yes" - Gracian

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