Courage To Be Disliked: A Review


Courage to be disliked is a book that explains Adlerian psychology. It does so in the form of a dialog, between a student and a master. Here are the various ideas I got from reading the book:

Etiology vs Teleology

Etiology is when someone focuses on the past, and uses past experiences and events to explain what has currently happened. The text is heavily against this, since it provides an easy way out of various problems that occur in life. The book however emphasizes on teleology, which is where one focuses on the now, and tries to find out why various things have happened. A good example of this is when one goes to the doctor, who doesn't try to figure out what past event caused some disease, but rather focusses on the current symptoms and treating the current ailment.

The biggest problem with etiology however, is that it can lead to self determinism. This is where one believes that how their life progresses has already been determined by events in the past, and that nothing can change this.

Teleology also provides a new insight into various events and reactions. For example, people tend to blame some reactions on their anger, as though it was a separate entity from themselves. However, anger is a tool that can be used to achieve some goal. A good example of this is when a mother is angrily scolding their child. If the mother receives a phone call, she'll put the anger away and calmly receive the call. Afterwards, she becomes angry again and continues to scold the child. This shows that the mother is using anger as a tool against her child.

Teleology also provides a means of understanding why changing one's lifestyle seems difficult. People tend to remain in their lifestyle because it's comfortable and easy to predict. Lifestyles may also provide good explanations for some decisions one has made. For example, someone who dreams of becoming a novelist yet their job keeps them too busy. A teleological explanation of why the novelist doesn't quit would be that s/he is using the job (instead of quiting and focussing on the novel) because he is actually afraid of criticism of his novel or that s/he may produce inferior writing. Later on in their lives, they will use the reason of old age for this too.

Weakness and Strength

Key emotions that tend to help people become better are the feeling of inferiority and the pursuit of superiority. They help support one's striving for growth. However, when these feelings become a hindrance, they develop into complexes. The inferiority complex occurs when one uses their feelings of inferiority as an excuse in life. For example, one can claim that they cannot be successful because they are uneducated, and therefore won't try to overcome this obstacle. The superiority complex is whereby one has the feeling of inferiority but doesn't have the strength to strive for growth. They compensate for this by associating with people or things they feel are superior e.g. some brands of clothes or some celebrities.

Weakness can make one strong and powerful. For example, the baby can control the parents because it is weak. Some people tend to cling to their weaknesses so as to get some hold of people. If someone tries to help them overcome their weakness, they use the fact that the other party cannot possible understand their feelings as a deterrent. However, in doing so, they become slaves to their weaknesses and end up unable to survive without this.

Going through life as though it is a competition is another form of weakness. This is because if competition is at the core of one's interpersonal relationships, one will start viewing people as enemies who must not be underestimated. This makes the world a scary place to live in.

Also when having a discussion with someone, the moment it becomes a power struggle, one should step down. This is because the conversation has derailed from that of providing information/opinion to that of winner and losers. Also, avoid criticizing the other party just because you think you're right, otherwise the conversation will degenerate into a power struggle.

Life Tasks

Another interesting concept introduced in the book is that of tasks. An individual has three main classifications of tasks:

  • Task of friendship
  • Task of work
  • Task of love

Separation of tasks is whereby one decides to what point one's own tasks go, and from which point the tasks become another person's. Once this is done, one should do their own tasks to the best of their ability, and only lend a hand to others when needed. However, one should be careful not to encroach on another person's territory. To help with this, one needs a good way of figuring out ownership of a task. An indication of this is who will eventually benefit if the task is done.

In interpersonal relationships, it is the individual's task to believe in the other party. How the other party behaves with regard to said belief is not the individual's task. So if the other party takes advantage of you, that is still their task. If one feels the relationship is becoming problematic, it should be severed (which is the individual's task).

It is also one's task to live one's life the best way one believe in. The judgement passed by people about one's life is not one's task. This therefore means one is free to do as one pleases. In fact, freedom can be defined as being disliked by other people. This is because being disliked by others is proof that one is living life as one would please, not trying to satisfy others.

Furthermore, if a task is beyond one's capability, one needs to accept this and move forward in doing what one can do (self acceptance) thus one avoids lying to oneself. This is counter to self affirmation, where one uses phrases like 'I can do it', when something is cleary beyond one's ability. A good example for this is in exams, where if someone fails they will either say 'I was unlucky this time' (self affirmation) or accept what they got and try to improve for the next exam (self acceptance).

People try to be special because they cannot accept their normal selves. They therefore equate being normal with being incapabale. However, with self acceptance, once accepts their ordinary selves. One should then have the courage to be normal.

The problem with aiming to be special (having lofty goals) is that one views life like climbing a mountain, where if they do not reach the peak, they have not reached their "real life". This means they are not living in the present. The greatest life lie of all is in fact to not live here and now. A better alternative is to view life as a series of moments, without a destination. This way, one ends up living their "real life" every day, every hour and every minute.

"Life in general has no meaning. Whatever meaning life has must be assigned to it by the individual."