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The Courage to Be Disliked

嫌われる勇気 [Kirawa reru yūki]
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Published: 5/8/2018
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up for the mind, The Courage to Be Disliked is the Japanese phenomenon that shows you how to free yourself from the shackles of past experiences and others’ expectations to achieve real happiness.

Book Summary - The Courage to be Disliked by Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga

Key Insights

The Courage to be Disliked uses a blend of Adlerian psychological principles and self-help to guide readers toward a new way of considering mental health. Under Adler, readers will be asked to see themselves as active agents in their own lives and to focus on their own values and actions instead of the values and actions of others. The book explains that personality isn’t rigid, and there is always space for personal change. It also discusses child psychology and uses metaphors to discuss self-worth and competition in contemporary culture.

Key Points

We are not defined by our trauma; we are defined by our choices.

Much of contemporary psychology is defined by Sigmund Freud, who believed that everything we experience is rooted in our past. Our past traumas define our lives. If we hear about a recluse living in the apartment upstairs, we assume they have been traumatized and are acting out that trauma by avoiding the world. But this book focuses on a different brand of psychological understanding - the work of Albert Adler. Adler believed that while we do experience trauma, we are not necessarily defined by it. Instead, we make the choice whether or not to act on that trauma. According to Adler, we might make choices because of our trauma, but we are not stuck in that particular pathway. If someone chooses to become a hermit because of fear of being harmed, for example, they can always choose to make a change and channel that fear in other ways. Adler reminds us that not everyone who is traumatized as a child becomes a social outcast as an adult. There must be another way - Kishimi and Koga explain that this is true because we have a choice about how we act in each moment.

Our personalities aren’t permanent, but we don’t like to change them.

When we think about personality, we often think of people as fixed in a certain way of being. For example, someone might be perpetually an optimist, or perpetually a pushover. But Adler prefers to use the word lifestyle over personality of character. This is because, unlike some other psychologists, he believes that we actively choose each day what kind of person we want to be.

We are not born with our personalities - instead, they are manifestations of how we view the world. Someone who is a pessimist, for example, has a negative outlook, and they act accordingly. We begin to make active choices about our outlook and lifestyle around the age of ten, based on previous life experiences. But we are not stuck in those ten-year-old viewpoints - we can change that outlook at any time.

That being said, changing your outlook is not something that humans frequently want to do. People prefer to be comfortable and not change, even if they don’t enjoy their lifestyle very much. For example, someone who is isolated and complains about not having friends might sound like they want to change their lifestyle. But in reality, despite their talk people rarely take action to change their circumstances. Taking action requires courage and willingness to fail, which many people struggle with. So while we can take steps to improve our lifestyle, we often don’t.

We often isolate ourselves for fear of being rejected.

We are all aware of our own flaws. Our self-consciousness is natural, but sometimes it can be deeply damaging and isolate us from others.

Kishimi shares a story about a student struggling with self-hatred. He tells Kishimi that he understands why other students act distant and unfriendly toward him - he is not likable. He can list dozens of personal flaws. But Kishimi sees another problem with this student. It isn’t that he’s inherently unlikeable, it’s that he is coming across as arrogant and aloof because his fear of rejection separates him from his peers.

Instead of character flaws causing this student’s problems, his fear of rejection is causing him to isolate. He sees himself as unlikeable, so he comes across as unlikeable. In reality, if the student worked on his own self-esteem, he would soon find a community of friends. In this instance, the student has more control over his circumstances than he realizes.

Competition breeds unhappiness.

We live in a competitive world, but competition often leads to unhappiness. When we constantly compare ourselves with others and see ourselves as part of a binary, we are rarely happy, even we come out on top.

Kishimi cautions against seeing the world in terms of winners and losers. Winners, though supposedly in the better position, will constantly be fighting to maintain their position. Meanwhile, losers feel dejected and unmotivated. If we see the world as a competition with others over appearance, success, money, and other arbitrary measures, we will rarely end up happy.

The real root of the problem with competition is our fear of judgment. When we tell ourselves that others are judging us for being a “loser” - not skinny enough, or successful enough, for example -- we spend our lives consumed with what others think, and not our own happiness. If we can put aside those judgments and focus on ourselves, it is easier to find happiness.

Don’t act based on recognition or approval.

Our desire as people to be loved and accepted is natural but sometimes has troubling consequences. When we act based on the desire for approval, we sometimes do things that don’t align with our values and struggle to motivate ourselves.

The desire for approval often drives us to act. Sometimes, this means acting poorly to please others - you might say mean things about someone to fit in or go on a diet just to get the approval of your friends. Other times, it means that our motivations are misaligned; for example, you might start cooking dinner every night to please your partner, but if they don’t acknowledge or appreciate your hard work, you might stop making dinner because you don’t get the approval you want.

As kids, we are often taught to do things to get approval or recognition. We clean our rooms to please our mothers and achieve in sports to make our teammates proud. But if you only achieve things to seek approval, it can be impossible to motivate yourself as an adult. If there is no one to reward you for cleaning your house, why do it?

Similarly, we might make decisions based on how others want us to be. We might choose a career or a home in a place that pleases our parents, or our partners. Obviously this can cause problems if you don’t share the same desires.

If you decide to give yourself recognition and focus on your own desires, you will likely live a happier and more authentic life. But that means being okay with rejection or disappointment.

Recognize when you are trying to control others, and learn how to provide a different kind of support.

We often don’t think of ourselves as controlling people, but it can be hard to recognize when you are meddling in other people’s lives. This is especially true for parents or partners, who see their child or partner’s success as an extension of their own success.

One example of this comes from child psychology. It can seem like a good choice to intervene and apply stricter discipline to children to encourage them to work harder or focus on school. In fact, the opposite is true. The child will just feel forced into a certain set of behaviors or actions, and will not care about their work, or learn to motivate themselves. Instead, supporting your child through hardship and helping them find internal motivation can be more effective.

Remember that your loved ones are not appendages of your own self - they are their own people. It can be tempting to meddle and try to strong arm people into a certain way of living, but it almost never works. Instead, it can strain the relationship.

We are all part of a global community, where there’s no room for self-obsession.

According to Adler, community is central to life for humans. But that isn’t just our family or local communities. Adler advocated for thinking in terms of a global community, and finding your place in the scheme of the entire globe - humans, animals, plants, and minerals included.

When you start to think about your place in the global community, you often stop focusing on your ego or arbitrary successes and start thinking about the greater meaning for your life. Adler encourages people to stop thinking about what the world can provide them, and instead flipping it to focus on what they can provide the world.

Thinking in this way can reduce problems like self-obsession, where we become wrapped up in our own lives and goals and stop giving to others. Workaholics, for example, might throw all of themselves into their work because they are obsessed with personal success and want recognition from others. Similarly, self-deprecating people might focus on the fact that “nobody loves them,” when in fact they are focusing on their own experience and not taking others into consideration.

The more you can cultivate a global outlook and focus less on yourself as a victim or the center of the universe, the more meaningful your life can be.

The Main Take-away

Basing their advice on Adlerian psychology, Kishimi and Koga discuss the importance of living in the present, and focusing on your own ability to change your life and your circumstances. We often live as if our fate is fixed, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. You may have to risk rejection or fear, but you have the ability to change your outlook and your choices, no matter your circumstances or the events of your past.

About the Author

Ichiro Kishimi is a Japanese Adlerian psychologist and the Director of the Japanese Society for Adlerian Psychology.

Fumitake Koga is a professional writer. He worked alongside Kishimi to write The Courage to be Disliked and The Courage to be Happy.

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