The Courage to Be Disliked - by Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga

In Adlerian psychology, we do not think about past “causes” but rather about present “goals.”

Trauma Does Not Exist

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.”

How to Live Without Being Controlled by the Past

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.

Think of the possibilities. If one assumes that people are beings who can change, a set of values based on etiology becomes untenable, and one is compelled to take the position of teleology as a matter of course.

Are You Okay Just As You Are?

To quote Adler again: “The important thing is not what one is born with but what use one makes of that equipment.” You want to be Y or someone else because you are utterly focused on what you were born with. Instead, you’ve got to focus on what you can make of your equipment.

Unhappiness Is Something You Choose for Yourself

At some stage in your life, you chose “being unhappy.” It is not because you were born into unhappy circumstances or ended up in an unhappy situation. It’s that you judged “being unhappy” to be good for you.

People Always Choose Not to Change

You probably think of disposition or personality as something with which you are endowed, without any connection to your will. In Adlerian psychology, however, lifestyle is thought of as something that you choose for yourself. Whether you go on choosing the lifestyle you’ve had up till now, or you choose a new lifestyle altogether, it’s entirely up to you.

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.

Your Life Is Decided Here and Now

As Adler’s teleology tells us, “No matter what has occurred in your life up to this point, it should have no bearing at all on how you live from now on.” That you, living in the here and now, are the one who determines your own life.

Why You Dislike Yourself

Just like the young woman with the fear of blushing, who was afraid of being rejected by the man, you are afraid of being negated by other people. You’re afraid of being treated disparagingly, being refused, and sustaining deep mental wounds. You think that instead of getting entangled in such situations, it would be better if you just didn’t have relations with anyone in the first place. In other words, your goal is to not get hurt in your relationships with other people.

Now, how can that goal be realized? The answer is easy. Just find your shortcomings, start disliking yourself, and become someone who doesn’t enter into interpersonal relationships. That way, if you can shut yourself into your own shell, you won’t have to interact with anyone, and you’ll even have a justification ready whenever other people snub you. That it’s because of your shortcomings that you get snubbed, and if things weren’t this way, you too could be loved.

All Problems Are Interpersonal Relationship Problems

You were so afraid of interpersonal relationships that you came to dislike yourself. You’ve avoided interpersonal relationships by disliking yourself.

An Inferiority Complex Is an Excuse

Adler is saying that the pursuit of superiority and the feeling of inferiority are not diseases but stimulants to normal, healthy striving and growth. If it is not used in the wrong way, the feeling of inferiority, too, can promote striving and growth.

One tries to get rid of one’s feeling of inferiority and keep moving forward. One’s never satisfied with one’s present situation—even if it’s just a single step, one wants to make progress. One wants to be happier. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the state of this kind of feeling of inferiority. There are, however, people who lose the courage to take a single step forward, who cannot accept the fact that the situation can be changed by making realistic efforts. People who, before even doing anything, simply give up and say things like “I’m not good enough anyway” or “Even if I tried, I wouldn’t stand a chance.”

If one really has confidence in oneself, one doesn’t feel the need to boast. It’s because one’s feeling of inferiority is strong that one boasts. One feels the need to flaunt one’s superiority all the more. There’s the fear that if one doesn’t do that, not a single person will accept one “the way I am.”

A healthy feeling of inferiority is not something that comes from comparing oneself to others; it comes from one’s comparison with one’s ideal self.

When you are able to truly feel that “people are my comrades,” your way of looking at the world will change utterly. No longer will you think of the world as a perilous place, or be plagued by needless doubts; the world will appear before you as a safe and pleasant place. And your interpersonal relationship problems will decrease dramatically.

From Power Struggle to Revenge

When you are challenged to a fight, and you sense that it is a power struggle, step down from the conflict as soon as possible. Do not answer his action with a reaction. That is the only thing we can do.

The moment one is convinced that “I am right” in an interpersonal relationship, one has already stepped into a power struggle. At that point, the focus of the discussion shifts from “the rightness of the assertions” to “the state of the interpersonal relationship.” In other words, the conviction that “I am right” leads to the assumption that “this person is wrong,” and finally it becomes a contest and you are thinking, I have to win. It’s a power struggle through and through.

Overcoming the Tasks That Face You in Life

In Adlerian psychology, clear objectives are laid out for human behavior and psychology. First, there are two objectives for behavior: to be self-reliant and to live in harmony with society. Then, the two objectives for the psychology that supports these behaviors are the consciousness that I have the ability and the consciousness that people are my comrades. These objectives can be achieved by facing what Adler calls “life tasks.”

Adler made three categories of the interpersonal relationships that arise out of these processes. He referred to them as “tasks of work,” “tasks of friendship,” and “tasks of love,” and all together as “life tasks.”

Don’t Fall for the “Life-Lie”

Adler called the state of coming up with all manner of pretexts in order to avoid the life tasks the “life-lie.” One shifts one’s responsibility for the situation one is currently in to someone else. One is running away from one’s life tasks by saying that everything is the fault of other people, or the fault of one’s environment.

Deny the Desire for Recognition

Adlerian psychology denies the need to seek recognition from others. Wishing so hard to be recognized will lead to a life of following expectations held by other people who want you to be “this kind of person.” In other words, you throw away who you really are and live other people’s lives. And please remember this: If you are not living to satisfy other people’s expectations, it follows that other people are not living to satisfy your expectations. Someone might not act the way you want him to, but it doesn’t do to get angry. That’s only natural.

How to Separate Tasks

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?

Discard Other People’s Tasks

Intervening in other people’s tasks and taking on other people’s tasks turns one’s life into something heavy and full of hardship. If you are leading a life of worry and suffering—which stems from interpersonal relationships—learn the boundary of “From here on, that is not my task.” And discard other people’s tasks. That is the first step toward lightening the load and making life simpler.

How to Rid Yourself of Interpersonal Relationship Problems

First, one should ask, “Whose task is this?” Then do the separation of tasks. Calmly delineate up to what point one’s own tasks go, and from what point they become another person’s tasks. And do not intervene in other people’s tasks, or allow even a single person to intervene in one’s own tasks. This is a specific and revolutionary viewpoint that is unique to Adlerian psychology and contains the potential to utterly change one’s interpersonal relationship problems.

What Real Freedom Is

“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.

It is certainly distressful to be disliked. If possible, one would like to live without being disliked by anyone. One wants to satisfy one’s desire for recognition. But conducting oneself in such a way as to not be disliked by anyone is an extremely unfree way of living, and is also impossible. There is a cost incurred when one wants to exercise one’s freedom. And the cost of freedom in interpersonal relationships is that one is disliked by other people.

Conducting oneself in such a way as to not be disliked by anyone is an extremely unfree way of living, and is also impossible. There is a cost incurred when one wants to exercise one’s freedom. And the cost of freedom in interpersonal relationships is that one is disliked by other people.

One neither prepares to be self-righteous nor becomes defiant. One just separates tasks. There may be a person who does not think well of you, but that is not your task. And again, thinking things like He should like me or I’ve done all this, so it’s strange that he doesn’t like me, is the reward-oriented way of thinking of having intervened in another person’s tasks. One moves forward without fearing the possibility of being disliked. One does not live as if one were rolling downhill, but instead climbs the slope that lies ahead. That is freedom for a human being. Suppose that I had two choices in front of me—a life in which all people like me, and a life in which there are people who dislike me—and I was told to choose one. I would choose the latter without a second thought. Before being concerned with what others think of me, I want to follow through with my own being. That is to say, I want to live in freedom.

You Hold the Cards to Interpersonal Relationships

Many people think that the interpersonal relationship cards are held by the other person. That is why they wonder, How does that person feel about me? and end up living in such a way as to satisfy the wishes of other people. But if they can grasp the separation of tasks, they will notice that they are holding all the cards. This is a new way of thinking.

Individual Psychology and Holism

Adler was opposed to any kind of dualistic value system that treated the mind as separate from the body—reason as separate from emotion, or the conscious mind as separate from the unconscious mind.

In Adlerian psychology, physical symptoms are not regarded separately from the mind (psyche). The mind and body are viewed as one, as a whole that cannot be divided into parts. Tension in the mind can make one’s arms and legs shake, or cause one’s cheeks to turn red, and fear can make one’s face turn white. And so on.

When one separates the “I” from “emotion” and thinks, It was the emotion that made me do it, or The emotion got the best of me, and I couldn’t help it, such thinking quickly becomes a life-lie. This view of the human being as “I as a whole,” as an indivisible being that cannot be broken down into parts, is referred to as “holism.”

The Goal of Interpersonal Relationships Is a Feeling of Community

If other people are our comrades, and we live surrounded by them, we should be able to find in that life our own place of “refuge.” Moreover, in doing so, we should begin to have the desire to share with our comrades, to contribute to the community. This sense of others as comrades, this awareness of “having one’s own refuge,” is called “community feeling.”

Community is not merely one of the preexisting frameworks that the word might bring to mind but is also inclusive of literally everything—the entire universe, from the past to the future.

You Are Not the Center of the World

In Adlerian psychology, however, a sense of belonging is something that one can attain only by making an active commitment to the community of one’s own accord, and not simply by being here.

One faces one’s life tasks. In other words, one takes steps forward on one’s own, without avoiding the tasks of the interpersonal relations of work, friendship, and love. If you are “the center of the world,” you will have no thoughts whatsoever regarding commitment to the community; because everyone else is “someone who will do something for me,” and there is no need for you to do things yourself. But you are not the center of the world, and neither am I. One has to stand on one’s own two feet, and take one’s own steps forward with the tasks of interpersonal relations. One needs to think not, What will this person give me? but rather, What can I give to this person? That is commitment to the community.

Listen to the Voice of a Larger Community

When we run into difficulties in our interpersonal relations, or when we can no longer see a way out, what we should consider first and foremost is the principle that says, “Listen to the voice of the larger community.” Do not cling to the small community right in front of you. There will always be more “you and I,” and more “everyone,” and larger communities that exist.

Do Not Rebuke or Praise

In Adlerian psychology, we take the stance that in child-rearing, and in all other forms of communication with other people, one must not praise. Physical punishment is out of the question, of course, and rebuking is not accepted, either. One must not praise, and one must not rebuke. That is the standpoint of Adlerian psychology.

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.” 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.

Whether we praise or rebuke others, the only difference is one of the carrot or the stick, and the background goal is manipulation. The reason Adlerian psychology is highly critical of reward-and-punishment education is that its intention is to manipulate children.

One wishes to be praised by someone. Or conversely, one decides to give praise to someone. This is proof that one is seeing all interpersonal relationships as “vertical relationships.” This holds true for you, too: It is because you are living in vertical relationships that you want to be praised. Adlerian psychology refutes all manner of vertical relationships and proposes that all interpersonal relationships be horizontal relationships.

The Encouragement Approach

It is necessary to offer assistance that does not turn into intervention. It’s the approach of “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” One neither praises nor rebukes. This kind of assistance, which is based on horizontal relationships, is referred to in Adlerian psychology as “encouragement.”

Being praised is what leads people to form the belief that they have no ability. Even if you do derive joy from being praised, it is the same as being dependent on vertical relationships and acknowledging that you have no ability. Because giving praise is a judgment that is passed by a person of ability onto a person without ability. Because giving praise is a judgment that is passed by a person of ability onto a person without ability.

How to Feel You Have Value

The most important thing is to not judge other people. “Judgment” is a word that comes out of vertical relationships. If one is building horizontal relationships, there will be words of more straightforward gratitude and respect and joy.

Being praised essentially means that one is receiving judgment from another person as “good.” And the measure of what is good or bad about that act is that person’s yardstick. If receiving praise is what one is after, one will have no choice but to adapt to that person’s yardstick and put the brakes on one’s own freedom. “Thank you,” on the other hand, rather than being judgment, is a clear expression of gratitude. When one hears words of gratitude, one knows that one has made a contribution to another person.

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. That one can act on the community, that is to say, on other people, and that one can feel “I am of use to someone.” Instead of feeling judged by another person as “good,” being able to feel, by way of one’s own subjective viewpoint, that “I can make contributions to other people.” It is at that point that, at last, we can have a true sense of our own worth.

Let’s look at other people not on the “level of acts” but on the “level of being.” 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.

This is a very important point. Does one build vertical relationships, or does one build horizontal relationships? This is an issue of lifestyle, and human beings are not so clever as to be able to have different lifestyles available whenever the need arises. In other words, deciding that one is “equal to this person” or “in a hierarchical relationship with that person” does not work. If you are building even one vertical relationship with someone, before you even notice what is happening, you will be treating all your interpersonal relations as vertical.

Not Self-Affirmation— Self-Acceptance

Three things are needed at this point: “self-acceptance,” “confidence in others,” and “contribution to others.”

One cannot change what one is born with. But one can, under one’s own power, go about changing what use one makes of that equipment. So in that case, one simply has to focus on what one can change, rather than on what one cannot. This is what I call self-acceptance.

The Difference Between Trust and Confidence

Here, I will consider the words “believing in others” in the context of distinguishing trust from confidence. First, when we speak of trust, we are referring to something that comes with set conditions. We refer to it as credit. For example, when one wants to borrow money from a bank, one has to have some kind of security. The bank calculates the amount of the loan based on the value of that security, and says, “We will lend you this much.” The attitude of “We will lend it to you on the condition that you will pay it back” or “We will lend you as much as you are able to pay back” is not one of having confidence in someone. It is trust.

By contrast, from the standpoint of Adlerian psychology, the basis of interpersonal relations is founded not on trust but on confidence. Confidence in this case is doing without any set conditions whatsoever when believing in others. Even if one does not have sufficient objective grounds for trusting someone, one believes. One believes unconditionally without concerning oneself with such things as security. That is confidence.

Of course, if one believes in others without setting any conditions whatsoever, there will be times when one gets taken advantage of. Just like the guarantor of a debt, there are times when one may suffer damages. The attitude of continuing to believe in someone even in such instances is what we call confidence.

The way to understand Adlerian psychology is simple. Right now, you are thinking, If I were to have confidence in someone unconditionally, I would just get taken advantage of. However, you are not the one who decides whether or not to take advantage. That is the other person’s task. All you need to do is think, What should I do? If you are telling yourself, I’ll give it to him if he isn’t going take advantage of me, it is just a relationship of trust that is based on security or conditions.

If it is a shallow relationship, when it falls apart the pain will be slight. And the joy that relationship brings each day will also be slight. It is precisely because one can gain the courage to enter into deeper relationships by having confidence in others that the joy of one’s interpersonal relations can grow, and one’s joy in life can grow, too.

The Essence of Work Is a Contribution to the Common Good

Contribution to others does not connote self-sacrifice. Adler goes so far as to warn that those who sacrifice their own lives for others are people who have conformed to society too much. And please do not forget: We are truly aware of our own worth only when we feel that our existence and behavior are beneficial to the community, that is to say, when one feels “I am of use to someone.”

The most easily understood contribution to others is probably work. To be in society and join the workforce. Or to do the work of taking care of one’s household. Labor is not a means of earning money. It is through labor that one makes contributions to others and commits to one’s community, and that one truly feels “I am of use to someone” and even comes to accept one’s existential worth.

Workaholism Is a Life-Lie

They probably try to justify that by saying, “It’s busy at work, so I don’t have enough time to think about my family.” But this is a life-lie. They are simply trying to avoid their other responsibilities by using work as an excuse. One ought to concern oneself with everything, from household chores and child-rearing to one’s friendships and hobbies and so on. Adler does not recognize ways of living in which certain aspects are unusually dominant.

In a sense, that is a way of living of refusing to acknowledge one’s life tasks. “Work” does not mean having a job at a company. Work in the home, child-rearing, contributing to the local society, hobbies, and all manner of other things are work. Companies and such are just one small part of that. A way of living that acknowledges only company work is one that is lacking in harmony of life.

You Can Be Happy Now

For a human being, the greatest unhappiness is not being able to like oneself. Adler came up with an extremely simple answer to address this reality. Namely, that the feeling of “I am beneficial to the community” or “I am of use to someone” is the only thing that can give one a true awareness that one has worth.

You are not the one who decides if your contributions are of use. That is the task of other people, and is not an issue in which you can intervene. In principle, there is not even any way you can know whether you have really made a contribution. That is to say, when we are engaging in this contribution to others, the contribution does not have to be a visible one—all we need is the subjective sense that “I am of use to someone,” or in other words, a feeling of contribution.

Do you see it now? In a word, happiness is the feeling of contribution. That is the definition of happiness.

Two Paths Traveled by Those Wanting to Be “Special Beings”

Whether they are trying to be especially good, or trying to be especially bad, the goal is the same: to attract the attention of other people, get out of the “normal” condition and become a “special being.” That is their only goal.

Whether it is one’s studies or one’s participation in sports, either way one needs to make a constant effort if one is to produce any kind of significant results. But the children who try to be especially bad—that is to say, the ones who engage in problem behavior—are endeavoring to attract the attention of other people even as they continue to avoid any such healthy effort. In Adlerian psychology, this is referred to as the “pursuit of easy superiority.”

The Courage to Be Normal

Why is it necessary to be special? Probably because one cannot accept one’s normal self. And it is precisely for this reason that when being especially good becomes a lost cause, one makes the huge leap to being especially bad—the opposite extreme. But is being normal, being ordinary, really such a bad thing? Is it something inferior? Or, in truth, isn’t everybody normal?

You are probably rejecting normality because you equate being normal with being incapable. Being normal is not being incapable. One does not need to flaunt one’s superiority.

Life Is a Series of Moments

People who think of life as being like climbing a mountain are treating their own existences as lines. As if there is a line that started the instant one came into this world, and that continues in all manner of curves of varying sizes until it arrives at the summit, and then at long last reaches its terminus, which is death. This conception, which treats life as a kind of story, is an idea that links with Freudian etiology (the attributing of causes), and is a way of thinking that makes the greater part of life into something that is “en route.”

Do not treat it as a line. Think of life as a series of dots. If you look through a magnifying glass at a solid line drawn with chalk, you will discover that what you thought was a line is actually a series of small dots. Seemingly linear existence is actually a series of dots; in other words, life is a series of moments.

Live Like You’re Dancing

Think of it this way: Life is a series of moments, which one lives as if one were dancing, right now, around and around each passing instant. And when one happens to survey one’s surroundings, one realizes, I guess I’ve made it this far.

With dance, it is the dancing itself that is the goal, and no one is concerned with arriving somewhere by doing it. Naturally, it may happen that one arrives somewhere as a result of having danced. Since one is dancing, one does not stay in the same place. But there is no destination.

Shine a Light on the Here and Now

We should live more earnestly only here and now. The fact that you think you can see the past, or predict the future, is proof that rather than living earnestly here and now, you are living in a dim twilight. Life is a series of moments, and neither the past nor the future exists. You are trying to give yourself a way out by focusing on the past and the future. What happened in the past has nothing whatsoever to do with your here and now, and what the future may hold is not a matter to think about here and now. If you are living earnestly here and now, you will not be concerned with such things.

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.

The Greatest Life-Lie

You set objectives for the distant future, and think of now as your preparatory period. You think, I really want to do this, and I’ll do it when the time comes. This is a way of living that postpones life. As long as we postpone life, we can never go anywhere and will pass our days only one after the next in dull monotony, because we think of here and now as just a preparatory period, as a time for patience. But a “here and now” in which one is studying for an entrance examination in the distant future, for example, is the real thing.

The greatest life-lie of all is to not live here and now. It is to look at the past and the future, cast a dim light on one’s entire life, and believe that one has been able to see something. Until now, you have turned away from the here and now and shone a light only on invented pasts and futures. You have told a great lie to your life, to these irreplaceable moments.

Give Meaning to Seemingly Meaningless Life

Adler, having stated that “life in general has no meaning,” then continues, “Whatever meaning life has must be assigned to it by the individual.”

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.

if “I” change, the world will change. This means that the world can be changed only by me and no one else will change it for me.

“Someone has to start. Other people might not be cooperative, but that is not connected to you. My advice is this: You should start. With no regard to whether others are cooperative or not.”