Over the past decades, people have started to focus on mental health a lot more, especially in the West. The truth is, discussing this topic has long been overdue. Mental health problems are finally an important talking point and we are starting to understand their effects over society at large. However, this topic is still a complex one, and we are still struggling with a lot of intolerance and misunderstanding.
Because being on the lookout for more effective ways to explain mental health is extremely important, throughout this book summary you will find a somewhat different approach than what you might expect. The media has long been promoting Freudian studies and pop psychology, but
The Courage to Be Disliked
focuses on Alfred Adler’s response to Freudian theories, which has become more and more popular over the last decade.
In our book summary, you’ll learn more about the ways in which we can take Adler’s psychology theories and apply them today. Despite being over one century old, Adler’s beliefs that we need to become active agents and take control of our lives are as important as ever.
Throughout Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga’s The Courage to Be Disliked summary, you will learn:
how to understand and discipline children who dislike school;
why being a heart surgeon might be worse than being a refuse collector: and
why you are more open and less rigid than you thought.
The Courage to Be Disliked Main Idea #1: Although we are inclined to think that our past determines our future, change is always a possibility.
If one day you learned that there was a recluse who lived in the building across the street and who spent his whole life shut off from the outside world, you’ll probably come to a few natural hasty conclusions.
You will probably assume that the person who is living in isolation has dealt with a lot of trauma, which shaped their entire life. That would explain why the recluse remained in that isolation state for the rest of their life.
But assumptions such as these are actually born from our belief that our past experiences have an enormous impact on our future behaviors.
These suppositions are usually based on the popular concepts of human psychology which claim that everything is somehow rooted in trauma.
A good example of such a supposition is the child who was bullied in school or at home and who transfers his trauma in his adult life. It works the other way too: when we see a child who is too spoilt, we always come to the conclusion that he will be a terrible grown-up, unable to face the realities of the world.
This way of thinking indicates that all of our psychological problems are somehow rooted in our past.
In truth, however, this deterministic type of thinking is for the birds. We are all free to decide our own future and to do whatever we want. This was how Alfred Adler, a twentieth-century psychologist from Austria, viewed the human psyche. According to him, we are not forced to be defined by our past trauma.
After all, not all children who have been abused or bullied become awkward adults who can’t function in society. Adler’s theories suggest that there might be a different explanation.
Let’s go back to the recluse who never left his apartment. What if he chose to isolate himself from the outside world because that’s what he wanted to do. His anxiety might have been triggered by his desire to be indoors.
In other words, our psychological problems are not fixed, the reasons behind them can always change, and we always have the freedom to do things differently.
The Courage to Be Disliked Main Idea #2: People become resistant to changing their way of thinking because they get used to their specific outlook on life.
We meet all sorts of different character types in our social circles. The easiest way to make a distinction is by classifying them as pessimists and optimists. We are familiar with them, and it’s easy for us to think that people’s personalities are fixed and can only work in one way or the other. This is a perfect example of what traditional psychology will have us believe. It doesn’t matter if we are happy, cheerful, or moody, we are more often than not convinced that there are a limited number of categories and we all fit into a particular one.
Alfred Ader’s psychology takes a very different approach. Adler uses the term lifestyle when describing what traditional psychologists refer to as personality or a character
By changing the terminology, Ader highlights the fact that our moods are not fixed and we don’t fit a certain category. But, in fact, our moods are just reflections of the ways in which we view the world. Whenever we have a negative view of the world, we are more likely to become pessimists.
According to the Adlerian psychology theories, we start to choose our worldviews and lifestyles around the age of then. Furthermore, our decisions are only based on our previous and current life experiences and can be both negative and positive.
When it comes to changing our worldviews, however, it is true that we are extremely intransigent in allowing ourselves to do so.
Let’s think of all the people that we know who spend a lot of time talking about their unhappiness, and how they wished things were different. Our first instinct will be to think that they want things to change when in reality, they probably don’t. According to Adler, if these unhappy people actually wanted things to change, they would have done something already.
While a lot of people find themselves in situations that they detest, they don’t change anything because familiarity brings them comfort. Change, however, might lead to discomfort and don’t have the courage to take that risk. In order to make an actual change, one must be ready to face the unknown and must accept a potential failure.
A great example of the aforementioned situation is the singleton who is unhappy. He has been alone for years, and he wished he had a partner, but he doesn’t have the courage to go out into the world and meet new people. At this point, socializing seems like a great effort to him, so imagine how difficult dating might seem.
According to the author, the singleton finds himself in this situation because he became extremely comfortable in his unhappiness and solitary lifestyle. After all, it’s easier to deal with a problem that you are familiar with than ending up being hurt in unexpected circumstances.
The Courage to Be Disliked Main Idea #3: People use self-hatred born from their perceived imperfections as a strategy to distance themselves from others.
We all have shortcomings and we all like to whine and make a big deal about them. We all stare in the mirror for long periods of time and find infinite bad things about ourselves that we don’t like and that we become concerned about.
Our real problem, however, isn’t that we have these small imperfections, but that we transform them into big issues that affect our lives.
One of the authors of The Courage to Be Disliked, Ichiro Kishimi, is extremely familiar with this issue. When one of his students told Kishimi that he disliked himself, the author was surprised and asked him why.
The student told him that the reason why he dislikes himself so much was that he was extremely aware of his faults. The student’s worldview was extremely pessimistic and he completely lacked self-confidence. Furthermore, when it came to social situations, he was so awkward and self-conscious that he couldn’t act naturally and felt out of place and when surrounded by people.
Kishimi’s student thought that if only he could fix all of his faults, all his problems will be solved. He was so desperate that he was even considering taking self-confidence classes.
But Kishimi was not happy with what he heard, so he asked the student whether discussing his feelings openly made him feel good or bad. The student told him that it made him feel even worse. Additionally, he claimed that he now had a better understanding of why nobody liked spending time with him as he had so many faults.
And that’s when Kishimi found the reason behind the student’s self-loathing. While he was so busy analyzing all the negative aspects of his personality, the student managed to create “good reasons” for hating himself and for avoiding social situations.
Think about it for a moment: When people choose to retreat into themselves, they often do it because they want to avoid being hurt by others. Ironically, however, in doing so, they might seem arrogant and aloof.
But things don’t always have to be like this. People need to accept that exclusion and pain are parts of life just like inclusion and happiness are. By choosing isolation as a defense mechanism, people actually create the wrong solution for an issue that they misidentified.
The Courage to Be Disliked Main Idea #4: You shouldn’t let unnecessary external worries get in your way and you should remember that competitive societies can be destructive.
When you take a closer look at the way in which our world is constructed, you notice that we spend a lot of time focusing on competition. This is our way of measuring and promoting progress.
But there’s an issue with that. Competitive mindsets can have a negative impact on people’s mental well-being and their overall happiness.
A competitive worldview encourages people to think of themselves as being either winners or losers. And it comes as no surprise to learn that nobody wants to be the loser. As a result, there’s a clear tendency towards seeing others as threats or as rivals who stand in the way of our success. Therefore, it becomes obvious that living in a world packed with threats and rivals is extremely stressful.
In a system dominated by competition, people with low self-esteem and people who have a tendency towards ‘losing’ are going to suffer. But winners won’t have an easy life either, as they will always feel a huge amount of pressure to maintain their winning position and to drive on to their next big success.
This explains why people who are highly productive and very successful can still be deeply unhappy.
In order to free ourselves of this stressful competitive attitude, we should understand that other people are not our rivals and they are not holding us back.
For example, worrying about appearances is a very common thing and it has been for hundreds of years. We are constantly concerned about the way in which other people see us and what they think of when they look at us. Sometimes, a simple walk down the street can trigger feelings of anxiety and can make us think that passers-by are silently judging us.
Of course, more often than not, this is pure nonsense, as most people are too busy worrying about themselves and don’t really pay attention to others.
Creating a fantasy world that is filled with scornful faces and judgmental thoughts is all too easy. But it’s important to take a moment and remember that it isn’t real. When we are able to realize that nobody cares about the way we look, about the way we walk, or about our life choices, we will finally achieve freedom. After that, we will be able to do the things that we really want, because in truth, nothing, except our own attitude, is responsible for holding us back.
The Courage to Be Disliked Main Idea #5: Avoid trying to fulfill other people’s expectations and live your own life.
Getting caught up doing bad things just to get approval from others is something that happens quite often. That’s exactly how school bullying works. People who are picking on the weaker ones, or on the nerds, are probably only doing it because they think it will make them look stronger and make other bullies notice and appreciate them.
But this is not a good way to live your life. Seeking approval and confirmation from others can make your life difficult and can ultimately lead to unhappiness.
Just try to imagine that you have one colleague at work who always picks up the litter and who always cares about the environment. Normally, this person would stop doing this nice thing as soon as she realized that nobody appreciates her efforts.
Always seeking approval can be a risky dynamic. Let’s think of our educational culture, which is based almost entirely on the concepts of reward and punishment. Ever since we were children, we were taught that we would get a reward whenever we did something good, and we would get punished when we did something bad.
Unfortunately, this way of thinking can be very destructive and it can make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for us as adults to motivate ourselves without knowing that we will either get rewarded or punished.
By realizing that we are not forced to live up to other people’s expectations, we can break this cycle. If you are motivated by other people’s approval, then all your life choices such as your job, your partner, and the way in which you raise your children will be based on other people’s values.
For example, adolescents are often pressurized by their families to choose a certain profession. This might stem from their family’s traditions and social values and expectations. But putting pressure on a young adult is extremely risky and it can have a very negative effect on their lives. They might end up with jobs that don’t fit them and which make them unhappy and they might never know what their true calling was.
But if you want to make choices that are good for you, you need to be prepared to disappoint your family and pretty much everyone else.
It is perfectly fine if sorting and picking up litter is an occupation that brings you more happiness than performing a complicated surgery does. You should let your own passions guide your career, instead of worrying about what others want you to do.
The Courage to Be Disliked Main Idea #6: There are better ways to interact with others without meddling in their lives.
When a child starts to get bad marks, it might mean that they stopped caring about school. Most parents will overreact and automatically become stricter with the child, as they think that only discipline can solve the problem.
Unfortunately, putting more pressure on the child is the wrong thing to do under these circumstances. Trying to forcefully make a child change their habits will have bad results, especially when discipline is used. That’s because meddling in other people’s lives is not the right thing to do. In fact, taking responsibility for our actions can have much better results.
For example, if a parent starts to put pressure on a child to do better in school, the child will not automatically start to love studying. He might get better results for a while, but he will end up hating school even more.
There is a thin line between slightly interfering in someone’s life and trying to take full control. Trying to control someone’s life does not show concert, but in fact, it shows that you are trying to push your own agenda and expect them to act according to your own interests and values. So, in this example, the parents might desperately want their children to do better in school in order to receive confirmation from the community that they are successful at parenting.
Instead, parents should support their children’s decisions and allow them their freedom, while also showing them that they have their best interest at heart. This sort of parenting has much better results and helps children become mature and independent adults who love learning and who know what their true passions are.
All that being said, recognizing when and how you’re interfering in other people’s lives can be quite difficult, especially since it means that you’ll need to find new ways to interact and socialize.
After all, sometimes, we are used to seeing our closest family members and friends as appendages to ourselves, forgetting that they are separate beings. This means that more often than not, our version of support can actually be a form of selfish manhandling.
Imagine that your partner is unemployed. Your instinct might be to start searching for solutions for them to find a job. You might even push them to do certain things, to go to interviews or to check the newspaper daily. It’s very important to understand that this is not real support.
What you need to learn is how to empathize and help others without trying to control them. And that means loving and being there for someone despite making mistakes or being unable to get a high-paying job at a certain point in their lives.
The Courage to Be Disliked Main Idea #7: We are all part of one big community, so inflating your ego as if you’re somehow superior is useless.
Over the last decade, feelings such as isolation and loneliness have become more and more common. People feel that they are being cut off from society when in reality, we are all part of one big global community.
According to Adolf Adler, being part of a community is extremely important for humans. This comes as no surprise, but Adler takes this even further by advocating the notion of a
According to him, the community is not made of the people that we know or the people that are in the same neighborhood, but instead, it encompasses everyone and everything: any mineral, plant, animal, or human and every being in the entire universe.
The main idea is that we, as humans, should be capable of finding happiness and fulfillment by becoming a valuable part of this massive community. As soon as we realize what our role in this global community is, we will start to behave and to think differently. We will start to care more about the things around us and worry less about minor problems.
When we realize that we are not the center of the universe and that things do not revolve around us, our attitude will change for the better and our worldview will become more positive.
Of course, seeing ourselves as the protagonists of our own lives is a natural instinct, but when we start to think that we are bigger than that, things start to get out of control.
If we do start thinking that we’re the royal majesties of the cosmic expanse then, our interactions with other people will become unhealthy, negative, and will lack reciprocity.
This type of attitude, in turn, will lead to a life of frustration, because nobody is that important and an ego that is so inflated will be almost impossible to satisfy.
That’s why it’s important to change our perspective. Thinking what the world can give us is not a healthy attitude and these expectations will get us nowhere. On the other hand, thinking about all the things that we can give to the world will greatly improve our lives and the lives of those around us.
The Courage to Be Disliked Main Idea #8: Being self-centered and self-obsessed can make us lose our perspective and can lead to a wide range of issues such as workaholism.
Spending time thinking of ourselves as victims is a trap that we are very familiar with. After all, despite a few accidental encounters with people who were absolutely awful, we have to admit that most people that we meet are pretty okay.
Thinking that we are the victims is an attitude that results from becoming too self-absorbed and overly fixated on ourselves.
Being self-centered can make us lose our perspective and our realities become warped by subjective realities dominated by negativity and misery.
For example, we hear people say things like “I never do anything right” or “Nobody loves me” all the time, but we know that it’s nonsense. When they say these things, people are actually focusing on a few isolated and unpleasant events and exaggerating.
On a similar note, people who stumble over their words are of particular interest in Adolf Adler’s psychology theories. According to him, most of these people will begin to stammer as soon as they become worried about the way they talk. Maybe this is a reaction that people have when they feel like they are being judged or criticized. Unsurprisingly, worrying makes it more difficult for them to express themselves.
It is natural for people who stammer to think that their lives would be better and easier if others were kinder. But of course, in reality, most people are rather kind and would never tease someone who stammers. So, based on Adler’s theories, the solution can be found in the stammerer’s behavior and perspective, as he should stop being self-centered and pay more attention to others instead.
There are other negative effects that result from being self-obsessed. Using work as a coping mechanism and becoming a workaholic is one such issue. Think about it. Work is a way in which people are able to become respected and to get attention and admiration. So, when people are starting to put their work above all the other aspects of their lives, it means that getting affirmation is more important for them than engaging and socializing with others. That is a very selfish attitude.
Having learned a lot about Adolf Adler’s theories, we can now draw some conclusions. It is safe to say that if we are in the pursuit of happiness, we need to make serious changes in how we view the world. First off, we must become more independent, we must ignore the concept of competition that is enforced on us by society, and we must stop worrying about getting other people’s approval. Additionally, we need to be less self-centered and understand that we are not the center of the universe, and learn how to contribute to the global community.
It might sound like a difficult thing to do, but it is not impossible!
In Review: The Courage to Be Disliked Book Summary
What was the key message of this book?
A lot of people firmly believe that the only ways to achieve success are by putting in a lot of effort and by making plans. They imagine, for instance, that great artists go through this whole process. However, life becomes a lot more pleasant when we enjoy each moment. Having a dream of becoming a good artist is a great thing, but postponing and sacrificing your whole life in order to achieve that dream might make you very unhappy. By practicing your art freely and enjoying the moment, you will achieve success on a daily basis and learning that life is not a be-all and end-all we change your whole perspective.