Today I’d like to introduce you to a book: The Courage to Be Disliked: How to Free Yourself, Change your Life and Achieve Real Happiness. It’s written by Japanese authors Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga and based around the theories of Alfred Adler.
If you’re not familiar with Adler, he’s considered to be one of the giants of 19th-century psychology, along with Freud and Jung. Adlerian psychology is also known as “Individual psychology” as his approach focused on the importance of nurturing feelings of belonging in the individual within the context of his/her community. A little interesting side note – Adler was part of Freud’s “Wednesday Society” (billed as the beginning of the psychoanalytic movement) where noted figures of the day in psychology and psychiatry enjoyed coffee and cakes and discussed each other’s presentations. I love this image – we can sometimes build these figures up to heroic proportions, but at the end of the day, we’re all still human, and very few of us can resist coming together with peers to enjoy some coffee and cake!
Adler was also the first to put an emphasis on the importance of the social element in the re-adjustment process of the individual and is credited with carrying psychiatry into the community.
But, back to the book. The aim is to teach us simple but profound lessons so that we can “liberate our real selves and find lasting happiness”. Essentially, the authors posit that we are all free to determine our own future, regardless of our past and other people’s expectations of us. This is a very interesting position, don’t you think? It’s counter to alternate theories that past traumas have an inevitable guiding hand on a person’s future.
What freedom it must be to anyone who has suffered in their past to consider that their future does not need to be defined by those experiences. We can be the architects of our own futures. We don’t have to be limited by past traumas or doubts or the opinions that other people might have of us. The book itself is presented by way of a dialogue between a philosopher and a youth, which makes this text an easier read than one might expect for something that deals with some fairly heavy ideas.
I talk briefly about four of those ideas below.
1. The Separation of Tasks
‘All you can do with regard to your own life is choose the best path that you believe in. On the other hand, what kind of judgement do people pass on that choice? That is the task of other people, and is not a matter you can do anything about.’ You have probably heard this before, but there’s no point in wasting time and energy in worrying about the things we can’t control. While we can (and should!) work on our own behaviour, we can’t make another person change theirs. Yet it isn’t always so easy to make the distinction between the things you can and cannot control.
Adler’s concept of “separation of tasks” can help us understand this distinction a little better by asking ourselves “whose task is this?”. In practice, then, in any given situation, we can learn to identify our own tasks as well as the tasks of the other person and make sure we don’t confuse the things we can control with the things we can’t.
An example: A “people pleaser” (person A) will often behave in such a way as to make another person (person B) like them. If we apply Adler’s concept of ”separation of tasks” in this situation we could say that it is the task of person B to decide whether they like person A or not. Here, person A has taken on a task that should be done by person B.
In every interaction or social situation, whether it’s a love relationship, a conversation with a colleague, or a family Zoom call, ask yourself: What is my task here? And what is the other person’s task?
Of course, it’s not going to be as easy as flicking a switch, where suddenly you’re an expert at not worrying about what you can’t control – like much of life, it’s something you need to intentionally practice. Yet think about how much extra mental and emotional “space” you’d have if you could master this one thing!
2. Horizontal relationships
The authors also encourage us to aim for “horizontal” relationships. What do they mean by that? A vertical relationship is one in which a hierarchy exists – some of the participants are viewed as being “above” while others are seen as “below” or “beneath”. A horizontal relationship, on the other hand, is one amongst equals. Insecurity inevitably leads to vertical relationships – it drives people to believe others are above them and so prevents the formation of horizontal relationships. Competition is another factor preventing horizontal relationships – by definition a competition will have a winner and a loser.
The book also gives some really interesting examples on why it might make sense to consider even those relationships that we typically view as vertical as horizontal – such as the parent/child relationship, or the teacher/student relationship.
Life shouldn’t be about seeking validation from others, yet so many of us live our lives this way. Instead, we should recognise ourselves as we are, celebrate what we have achieved, and give ourselves recognition and validation. We should work towards letting go of our reliance on others for our feelings of self-worth. As you might imagine, this is a pretty big one. While it absolutely isn’t an easy thing to accomplish, it is definitely worth striving for, and actually a very common topic in my online counselling sessions (LINK).
4. And, of course, the courage to be disliked
Why on earth would we want to be disliked? And what do the authors mean they talk about “the courage to be disliked”? Well, it’s not about seeking to be disliked. It’s about not letting the fear of being disliked inform everything we do. If we spend all our time worrying about making other people like us, we can’t focus any of our time or energy on discovering our true selves. Rather, we perpetually try to fit ourselves to a mould… maybe one imposed by our community, by those we interact with, or by our history.
And the word “courage” isn’t used lightly here – it does take a certain level of bravery to step off the hamster wheel. What might the consequences be? How will our relationships be affected? But how can we know or learn to love our true selves – the person we actually are – if our “self” is just a mish-mash of what other people want or need us to be? As I see it, having the courage to be disliked is a huge service to you, the person.
All in all, I very much enjoyed this book and the ideas it broaches.However, I didn’t rate it as a 5/5 as I did have a few issues with the way the student was portrayed (full disclosure – I actually found him quite annoying!). Although this may be due to the fact that I listened to the audio book rather than reading the text. It might also be due to some cultural differences between myself and the authors. Or perhaps I might just prefer a somewhat calmer conversational tone sometimes.
With all that said, I’ve still recommended the book to colleagues and clients alike, and have enjoyed some interesting discussions with the members of our LIT community during a book club session where “The Courage to be Disliked” was our book of the month.
Have you read it? What did you think?
Looking for more book recommendations? Check them out here!