The Courage to be Disliked is a book that summarizes the school of thought of psychologist Alfred Adler.

The authors Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga present Adler’s teachings as a dialogue between a youth and a philosopher. 

The youth, an insecure person who dislikes himself, seeks out the philosopher. The philosopher has a background in Greek philosophy and has combined it with the tenets of Alfred Adler.

Their dialogue gives several unique points of view to view life.

I heartily agree with many of the positions the authors expound, and I am reserving judgment on some of the teachings. Regardless, there are many points that made me sit up in my chair.

Here are 6 points from the book that called themselves out to me. 

1 — Trauma Doesn’t Exist

Wait, what? 

What about all the trauma that I went through — how can you say it doesn’t exist?

According to Adler’s philosophy, our self is not defined by our experiences but the meaning we attribute to our experiences. And we give meaning in such a way that we experience trauma. If trauma is the natural response, the same situation would create trauma in every person. We know this is not the case. Some people experience trauma, others are resilient.

We create trauma — and we can equally deny trauma.

2 — People Fabricate Anger 

Again, what?

Isn’t anger a primal human emotion that is common to everyone? To insinuate that we fabricate anger? 

The youth in the book narrates an instance where a waiter accidentally spilled food on him, and the youth immediately burst into an outburst. 

The philosopher explained this interaction in a counterintuitive Adlerian perspective: the youth got angry so that he could shout.

The youth understandably was bewildered. What the heck? It was but natural to lose control and get angry in such a situation.

The philosopher countered — if the youth had a knife with him, this line of argument would say that it is natural to stab the waiter. 

Nope. Anger is a choice. Yes, a choice that has been conditioned as second nature over a long series of transactions. A choice nonetheless.

And we can choose not to get angry — by training our minds over time.

3 — All Problems are Interpersonal Relationship Problems

This is the most famous takeaway from this book: All problems are interpersonal relationship problems.

If there were nobody else in the world, our problems as we know them wouldn’t exist. 

All our problems have the touch of other people in some way or the other. 

What about a problem such as low self-confidence? This surely is an individual problem that has nothing to do with interpersonal relationships? Not so fast – we are afraid of being judged by others which likely causes the low self-confidence.

This statement helps us analyze other people’s roles in our problems, which can help us take appropriate corrective measures. 

4 — We Dislike Ourselves to Serve Some Purpose

Another counterintuitive point of view.

We all know people who dislike themselves. Heck, we may be someone who dislikes ourselves. I, for one, spent most of my younger days loathing myself. 

Adlerian philosophy says we dislike ourselves to serve some purpose.

The philosopher in the book gave the example of a young girl who would blush deep red in social situations. She came to the philosopher and asked him to cure her blushing. She believed that she couldn’t interact well socially thanks to her blushing. The philosopher discovered that the girl liked a boy and was hesitant to express her feelings to him. He refused to cure her of the blushing. The girl could tell the story “If I could be free of blushing, I could go and profess my love.” But what happens when she is cured of blushing and she can’t face her fear of rejection? She’d want the blushing back, which is not possible. 

Many people dislike themselves to avoid bigger pain. 

The way to tackle this situation is to face the pain directly — which will hurt badly — but this is the way to long-term happiness. 

5 — Freedom is Being Okay if Other People Dislike You

“What if they don’t like me?”

This is a fear that is common to almost every human being. We’re wired to thrive in communities — the fear of disapproval makes people freeze inside. The reality, though, is that someone will dislike us. 

Being okay with people not liking us is freedom.

We wouldn’t go and purposefully work to make people not like us. But we shouldn’t let go of our authenticity and make people like us. We should be ourselves — and be okay whether people like us or not. 

6 — Don’t Do Other People’s “Tasks”

When people don’t like us, that is their problem.

We usually think it is our problem. The Adlerian school of thought says it is not our problem. 

The authors talk about “separation of tasks” — differentiating the tasks that are your responsibility and those which are not yours.

Relationships turn messy when people infringe on other people’s “tasks”.

Parents who tell children to study are doing their child’s “task”. 

Wanting our partner to act the way we want is interfering in their “task”.

Wanting people to like us is doing “their task”.

Separating what is “our task” and what is “their task” will redefine relationships, and more importantly help us focus on doing “our tasks” well. 

Image Credit: Gioele Fazzeri from Unsplash