Book Notes: The Courage to be Disliked

The Courage to be Disliked, by Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga

[Disclaimer:  This is not meant to be a book summary or book review. This is just stuff in the book that I found personally valuable or interesting at the time of reading. Most of these “notes” are actually highlights, i.e. directly copied lines from the book, but some notes are personal adaptations or added personal insights.]

Some of the themes of this book (and of Adlerian psychology):

Interpersonal relationships:

All (non-physical) “problems” are interpersonal relationship problems.

Feeling of Community:

A “community feeling” is fundamental to psychological well-being. (It’s essentially a feeling of broad belonging or deep connectedness.)


Always see others as comrades (unless they have definitively proven to be enemies, foes, or malicious competitors). When you view others as comrades (or potential comrades), you feel secure, confident, and connected.


Adler claims happiness is the “feeling of contribution”. If one can genuinely say, “I contribute to others”, he or she can be happy.

Horizontal relationships:

Desired, healthy relationships – ones that are equitable and non-competitive – wherein no power struggle occurs.

(As opposed to “vertical relationships” which are hierarchical and should be avoided. Vertical relationships are based on traditional dynamics wherein each person assumes a higher or lower position, or where both people remain indirectly competitive and engage in an ongoing “power struggle.”)

Separation of Tasks / Non-intervention:

All people must act independently. No one grows without engaging their own tasks. Directly intervening or over-accommodating others can be as much a disservice as completely ignoring others or refusing to help out at all.

– PHILOSOPHER: In Adlerian psychology , we do not think about past “causes” but rather about present “goals” … Your friend is insecure, so he can’t go out. Think about it the other way around:  He doesn’t want to go out (but doesn’t realize it), so he’s creating a state of anxiety.


PHILOSOPHER: Think about it this way. Your friend had the (unconscious) goal of not going out beforehand, and he’s been manufacturing a state of anxiety and fear as a means to achieve that goal. … The psychological symptoms are created in order to achieve the underlying goal. In Adlerian psychology, this is called “teleology”.

– Etiology is the study of causation. Teleology is the study of the purpose of a given phenomenon, rather than its cause. As long as we stay in etiology, we will not take a single step forward.

– The argument concerning so-called traumas is typical of etiology.

YOUTH: Are you denying the existence of trauma altogether?

PHILOSOPHER: Yes, I am. Adamantly.

– Psychologist Alfred 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.”

– Focus on the point Adler is making here when he refers to the self being determined not by our experiences themselves, but by the meaning we give them:

He is not saying that the experience of a horrible calamity or abuse during childhood or other such incidents have no influence on forming a personality; their influences are strong. But the important thing is that nothing is actually (definitely) determined by those influences. We determine our own lives according to the meaning we give to those past experiences. Your life is not something that someone gives you, but something you choose yourself, and you are the one who decides how you live.

– Every one of us is living in line with some goal. That is what teleology tells us.

– YOUTH: So anger is a means to achieve a goal?

PHILOSOPHER: That is what teleology says.

(The purpose/function of Anger is an attempt to gain or regain a sense of power, attention, or control.)

– YOUTH: The question isn’t “What happened?” but “How was it resolved?”

PHILOSOPHER: Exactly. We can’t go back to the past in a time machine. We can’t turn back the hands of time. If you end up staying in etiology, you will be bound by the past and never be able to find happiness.

(Don’t re-live past experience over and over again – you will remain confused and forced to dwell. Instead resolve the meaning you’ve assigned it, and resolve to move forward.

– YOUTH: So you are saying that one should always take the “people can change” premise?

PHILOSOPHER: Of course. And please understand, it is Freudian etiology that denies our free will and treats humans like machines.

– “People are not driven by past causes but move toward goals that they themselves set.”

– PHILOSOPHER: 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 X, or someone else, because you are utterly focused on overcoming inborn or past limitations – limitations, rather real or perceived, that are fundamentally unchangeable. Instead, you’ve got to focus on what you can make of your equipment.

– PHILOSOPHER: Adlerian psychology’s view is that we unconsciously choose our “kind of self” around the age of ten. … Despite this being in the past, it is not inborn. … If your lifestyle is not something that you were naturally born with, but something you chose yourself, then it must be possible to choose it over again.

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.

You are unable to change only because you are making the decision not to.

You are making the persistent decision not to change your lifestyle.

– PHILOSOPHER: Adlerian psychology is a psychology of courage. Your unhappiness cannot be blamed on your past or your environment. And it isn’t that you lack competence. You just lack courage. One might say you are lacking in the courage to be happy.

– PHILOSOPHER: If you get rejected, so be it. If you try, you might grow, or discover that you should pursue something different. Either way, you will be able to move on. That is what changing your current lifestyle is about. You won’t get anywhere by not pursuing anything.

– PHILOSOPHER: If you change your lifestyle — the way of giving meaning to the world and yourself — then both your way of interacting with the world and your behavior will have to change as well.

– PHILOSOPHER: You notice only your shortcomings because you’ve resolved to not start liking yourself. You perceive liking yourself is not a good thing. In order to not like yourself, you don’t see your strong points and focus only on your shortcomings. … To you, not liking yourself is a virtue.

– PHILOSOPHER: 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.

– PHILOSOPHER: Don’t forget it’s basically impossible to not get hurt in your relations with other people. When you enter into interpersonal relationships, it is inevitable that to a greater or lesser extent you will get hurt, and you will hurt someone, too. Adler says, “To get rid of one’s problems, all one can do is live in the universe all alone.” But one can’t do such a thing.

– Adler goes so far as to assert: All Problems Are Interpersonal Relationship Problems…

If all interpersonal relationships were gone from this world, which is to say if one were alone in the universe and all other people were gone, all manner of problems would disappear.

But of course, we cannot do without interpersonal relationships. A human being’s existence, in its very essence, assumes the existence of other human beings. Living completely separate from others is, in principle, impossible.

– PHILOSOPHER: There is no such thing as worry that is completely defined by the individual; so-called internal worry does not exist. Whatever the worry that may arise, the shadows of other people are always present.

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

– PHILOSOPHER: My feelings about my short height were all subjective feelings of inferiority, which arose entirely through my comparing myself to others. That is to say, in my interpersonal relationships. Because if there hadn’t been anyone with whom to compare myself, I wouldn’t have had any occasion to think I was short.

Right now, you too are suffering from various feelings of inferiority. But please understand that what you are feeling is not an objective inferiority but a subjective feeling of inferiority.

There is one good thing about subjectivity: It allows you to make your own choice. Precisely because I am leaving it to subjectivity, the choice to view my height as either an advantage or disadvantage is left open to me.

– PHILOSOPHER: Value is something that’s based on a social context. The value given to a one-dollar bill is not an objectively attributed value, though that might be a commonsense approach. If one considers its actual cost as printed material, the value is nowhere near a dollar. If I were the only person in this world and no one else existed, I’d probably be putting those one-dollar bills in my fireplace in wintertime. Maybe I’d be using them to blow my nose. Following exactly the same logic, there should have been no reason at all for me to worry about my height.

YOUTH: If you were the only person in this world and no one else existed?

PHILOSOPHER: Yes. The problem of value in the end brings us back to interpersonal relationships.

– PHILOSOPHER: Everyone naturally experience inferiority, more or less. First of all, people enter this world as helpless beings. And people have the universal desire to escape from that helpless state. Adler called this the “pursuit of superiority.”

The counterpart of this is the feeling of inferiority. Everyone is in this “condition of wanting to improve” that is the pursuit of superiority. One holds up various ideals or goals and heads toward them. However, on not being able to reach one’s ideals, one harbors a sense of being lesser.

– Adler notes of “apparent” cause and effect. You convince yourself that there is some serious causal relationship where there is none whatsoever. From the viewpoint of Freudian etiology (the attributing of causes), the parents’ divorce [or whatever] was a great trauma, which connects in a clear causal relationship with one’s views on marriage. Adler, however, with his stance of teleology (the attributing of purpose), rejects such arguments as “apparent cause and effect.”

– PHILOSOPHER: The inferiority complex can also develop into another special mental state: (its inverse) the superior complex… when one is suffering from strong feelings of inferiority, and, on top of that, one doesn’t have the courage to compensate through healthy modes of striving and growth. One can’t tolerate the inferiority complex way of thinking, and one can’t accept “one’s incapable self.” At that point, the person thinks of trying to compensate in some other fashion and looks for an easier way out … acting as if one is indeed superior and to indulge in a fabricated feeling of superiority.

People who wear rings with rubies and emeralds on all their fingers likely have issues with feelings of inferiority, rather than issues of aesthetic sensibility. In other words, they have signs of a superiority complex.

– As Adler clearly indicates, “The one who boasts does so only out of a feeling of inferiority.”

– It’s because one’s deeper 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.” This is a full-blown superiority complex.

– Completely understanding the feelings of the person who is suffering is something that no one is capable of. But…

As long as one continues to use one’s misfortune to one’s advantage in order to be “special,” one will always need that misfortune.

– Life Is Not a Competition

We do not walk in order to compete with someone. It is in trying to progress past who one is now that there is value.

– PHILOSOPHER: A healthy feeling of inferiority is not something that comes from comparing oneself to others; it comes from one’s comparison with one’s [best] self.

– You can compete without having a connection to worldly competition. Where there is a preoccupation with winning and losing, there warrants withdraw from these places.

Please remember: If there is competition at the core of a person’s interpersonal relationships, he will not be able to escape interpersonal relationship problems or escape misfortune.

– PHILOSOPHER: The reason so many people don’t really feel happy while they’re building up their success in the eyes of society is that they are living in competition. Because to them, the world is a perilous place that is overflowing with potential enemies.

– You’re the Only One Worrying About Your Appearance:

Do other people actually look at you so much? Are they really watching you around the clock and lying in wait for the perfect moment to attack your flaws, faults, & shortcomings? No.

– The people of the world aren’t paying attention to me. Even if I were to go walking on my hands down the street, they’d take little notice.

Once one is released from the schema of competition, the need to triumph over someone disappears. One is also released from the fear that says, Maybe I will lose. And one becomes able to celebrate interpersonal happiness with all one’s heart.

– PHILOSOPHER: Now we come to the important part.

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.

– PHILOSOPHER: 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.

– PHILOSOPHER: The first thing that I want you to understand here is the fact that anger is a form of communication, and that communication is nevertheless possible without using anger. We can convey our thoughts and intentions and be accepted without any need for anger. If you learn to understand this experientially, the anger emotion will stop appearing all on its own.

– PHILOSOPHER: 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.

How to appropriately disengage the power struggle (how to shift back into neutral)? First, gain awareness around — realize it’s becoming power struggle when you start feeling defensive about your approach and your point of view. As soon as you start to feel like, “Ok, clearly you’re not understanding where I’m coming from” and/or “Ok, clearly you are being irrational as your position clearly has no basis”, know that those feelings are direct indicators of a looming shift from substantive problem-solving to interpersonal relationship conflict, aka power struggle.

As you gain awareness around those defensive and critical feelings during a discussion, you’ll be prompting yourself to downshift your own defensive and critical tone, and you can then choose to disengage defensive and comments and instead re-engage the matter at hand, or respectfully end the conversation altogether.

– PHILOSOPHER: Because of one’s mind-set of not wanting to lose, one is unable to admit one’s mistake, the result being that one ends up choosing the wrong path. Admitting mistakes, conveying words of apology, and stepping down from power struggles—none of these things is defeat. The pursuit of superiority is not something that is carried out through competition with other people.

– PHILOSOPHER: It’s only when we take away the lenses of competition and winning and losing that we can begin to correct and change ourselves.

– PHILOSOPHER: Why do you see other people as enemies, and why can’t you think of them as your comrades? It is because you have lost your courage and you are running away from your own “life tasks.”

– PHILOSOPHER: 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.

– PHILOSOPHER: The interpersonal relationships that a single individual has no choice but to confront when attempting to live as a social being—these are the life tasks. They are indeed tasks in the sense that one has no choice but to confront them.

– Work itself is usually not what’s disagreeable, i.e. the tasks remain reasonable & doable. What is disagreeable is potentially being criticized or rebuked by others through the work, getting labeled as having low ability or being incompetent or unsuited to the work, and hurting the dignity of one’s irreplaceable self. In other words, everything is an interpersonal relationship issue.

– It is fundamentally impossible for a person to live life completely alone, and it is only in social contexts that the person becomes an “individual.” That is why in Adlerian psychology, self-reliance as an individual AND cooperation within society are put forth as overarching objectives.

– YOUTH: So I am making up flaws in other people just so that I can avoid my life tasks, and further more, so I can avoid interpersonal relationships? And I am running away by thinking of other people as my enemies?

PHILOSOPHER: That’s right. Adler called the state of coming up with all manner of pretexts in order to avoid the life tasks the “life-lie.”

– PHILOSOPHER: 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.

– Adlerian psychology is a “psychology of courage.”

PHILOSOPHER: I will add to that by saying that Adlerian psychology is not a “psychology of possession” but a “psychology of use.”

– PHILOSOPHER: We humans are not so fragile as to simply be at the mercy of etiological (cause-and-effect) traumas. From the standpoint of teleology, we choose our lives and our lifestyles ourselves. We have the power to do that.

– PHILOSOPHER: There is no need to be recognized by others. Actually, one must not seek recognition. This point cannot be overstated.

– Adler was very critical of education by reward and punishment. It leads to mistaken lifestyles in which people think, If no one is going to praise me, I won’t take appropriate action and If no one is going to punish me, I’ll engage in inappropriate actions, too.

People suffer mostly because they are trying to meet the expectations of others in some way or another, whether they realize it or not.

– Discard Other People’s Tasks

– When one is confronted with the task of studying or working, for instance, in Adlerian psychology we consider it from the perspective of “Whose task is this?”

– Separating Tasks: how does one go about separating one’s own tasks from others’ tasks?

One does not intrude on other people’s tasks. That’s all.

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.

– Many tasks enforced by parents as “for your own good”, are actually ultimately for the parents’ good. And it is because the child senses this deception that he rebels.

– PHILOSOPHER: One has to pay attention. Adlerian psychology does not recommend the noninterference approach. Noninterference is the attitude of not knowing, and not even being interested in knowing what the child is doing. Instead, it is by knowing what the child is doing that one protects him. If it’s studying that is the issue, one tells the child that that is his task, and one lets him know that one is ready to assist him whenever he has the urge to study. But one must not intrude on the child’s task. When no requests are being made, it does not do to meddle in things.

– PHILOSOPHER: In Adlerian psychology counseling, for instance, we do not think of the client’s changing or not changing as the task of the counselor…

As a result of having received counseling, what kind of resolution does the client make? To change his lifestyle, or not. This is the client’s task, and the counselor cannot intervene.

Naturally, one gives all the assistance one possibly can surrounding tasks, especially if someone directly inquires. But beyond that, one doesn’t intrude. Remember the old saying, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” Please think of counseling and all other assistance provided to other people in Adlerian psychology as having that kind of stance. Forcing change (or even suggesting it) while ignoring the person’s intentions will only lead to an intense reaction.

NOTE: To utilize this concept [Separation of Tasks], try to notice when conditions are not actually dire and/or when potential outcomes are not actually significant. Further, become aware of your tendency to intrude — to impose your presence and to influence the situation to suit your own expectations or validate your insights — and disengage this tendency as much as possible. Remind yourself that it’s not your task, that the conditions and potential consequences aren’t really that bad, and that you’re simply attempting to impose your own ideals upon someone which in reality will not really serve them at all and will likely have no actual positive effect on you in the long run.

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.

Other peoples’ emotions are their own tasks. You cannot, and should not, take another person’s emotion to task. You can listen to them, you can help them, you can even empathize with them, but you cannot take their emotion as your task. It is ultimately their emotion to deal with.

You shouldn’t go out of your way to relieve someone of a negative emotion like anger or disapproval when directed at you, particularly if it occurs as a result of an expectation they’ve set for you as opposed to an expectation you’ve set for yourself.

Moreover, in such case (when someone is angry or otherwise upset with you), it really technically is not your problem and thus there is no need for you to worry about their emotional state. You can help them if possible and if appropriate, i.e. if they act out toward you or directly address you. But to worry about how they feel about you, and to react to them with worry, assumes the task of dealing with their emotion, and this is unproductive for them and unnecessarily hard on you.

– PHILOSOPHER: 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 judgment do other people pass on that choice? That is the task of other people, and is not a matter you can do anything about.

You can take a judgment or potential judgment into consideration, but you should not allow it to become more than a quick, reason-based consideration in your mind — you should not allow it to fester, and you ultimately should not base your final decision on another’s judgment. This is the path to authentic happiness. Otherwise, if you obsess or preoccupy yourself with another’s judgment, you’ll remain on a path of social-conditional contentment at best (and only if you actually fulfill those judgments).

– PHILOSOPHER: Why are you worried about how other people are looking at you, anyway? Adlerian psychology says you haven’t done the separation of tasks yet. You assume that even things that should be other people’s tasks are your own. What other people think when they see your face — that is the task of other people and is not something you have any control over.

Peoples’ thinking about you is on them. Period. No matter what, you cannot think about you for them, for better or worse: you cannot think for them “He has crappy hair” or “She has really nice hair”. Other people absolutely have the task of thinking that. So as an approach, you might as well leave it fully up to them to do whatever thinking it is they will do, because that task simply can never be on you no matter how hard you might try to assume it.

– PHILOSOPHER: The unreasonable emotions are tasks for your boss to deal with himself. There is no need to cozy up to him, or to yield to him to the point of bowing down. You should think, What I should do is face my own tasks in my own life without lying.

– PHILOSOPHER: We are all suffering in interpersonal relationships. It might be the relationship with one’s parents or one’s elder brother, and it might be the interpersonal relationships at one’s workplace. You were saying that you wanted some specific steps. This is what I propose:

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.

– PHILOSOPHER: There are certainly situations in which it would be easier to intervene in the tasks of another person without doing any separation of tasks — for instance, in a child-raising situation, when a child is having a hard time tying his shoes:

For the busy mother, it is certainly faster to tie the child’s shoes than to wait for him to do it himself. But that is an intervention, and it is taking the child’s task away from him. And as a result of repeating that intervention, the child will cease to learn anything, and will lose the courage to face his life tasks. As Adler says, “Children who have not been taught to confront challenges will try to avoid all challenges.”

– PHILOSOPHER: Of course, the stress of continual lying [faking] has all kinds of consequences. Please grasp this point.

– PHILOSOPHER: 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.

– PHILOSOPHER: What I am saying is, don’t be afraid of being disliked.

I am not telling you to go so far as to live in such a way that you will be disliked, and I am not saying engage in wrongdoing.

Please do not misunderstand that.

– PHILOSOPHER: One neither prepares to be self-righteous nor becomes defiant. One just separates tasks.

In other words, one simply pays attention to carrying out his or her own necessary actions (tasks), regardless of how they may be interpreted by others.

– PHILOSOPHER: The courage to be happy also includes the courage to be disliked. When you have gained that courage, your interpersonal relationships will all at once change into things of lightness.

– PHILOSOPHER: 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.

When one is tied to the desire for recognition, the interpersonal relationship cards will always stay in the hands of other people.

Important Practice:

Separating one’s tasks and lightening the load of one’s interpersonal relations

– The goal of interpersonal relations is a “community feeling”.

– PHILOSOPHER: When we see other people as 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.”

– PHILOSOPHER: When Adler refers to community, he goes beyond the household, school, workplace, and local society, and treats it as all-inclusive, covering not only nations and all of humanity but also the entire axis of time from the past to the future—and he includes plants and animals and even inanimate objects.

– PHILOSOPHER: The fact that there are people who do not think well of you is proof that you are living in freedom.

A way of living in which one is constantly troubled by how one is seen by others is a self-centered lifestyle in which one’s sole concern is with the “I.”

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

– PHILOSOPHER: You belong to the community of earth and to the community of the universe.

You also belong to a smaller community yet beyond the one you see in your immediate vicinity. For example, the country or local society in which you live. And you are contributing in some way within that community.

Remember you are always part of a community (multiple communities, actually).

– PHILOSOPHER: A principle of action that I would like you to commit to memory:

When we run into difficulties in our interpersonal relations (e.g. at work or in social circles), 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 a larger community.” (Or of a different, more personally relevant, and more supportive community beyond your current environment.)

– Vertical Relationship: evidenced by praising or seeking praise.

Adlerian psychology refutes all manner of vertical relationships and proposes that all interpersonal relationships be horizontal relationships. In a sense, this point may be regarded as a fundamental principle of Adlerian psychology.

Intervention of tasks, which commonly occurs in vertical relationships, involves intruding, directing, or manipulating to serve one’s own goals.

Assistance in tasks, which occurs in horizontal relationships, involves helping someone reach a resolution on their own.

– In a horizontal relationship, one neither praises or rebukes. (At least not with any frequency and intensity.)

In Adlerian psychology, this non-praising and non-rebuking assistance in the horizontal relationship is referred to as encouragement. Judgment is what occurs in vertical relationships. Encouragement involves non-judgment.

– In Adler’s view: “It’s only when a person is able to feel that he has worth that he can possess courage.”

PHILOSOPHER: It’s quite simple. 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. (And subsequently establish and sustain genuine courage.)

– To experience self-worth, one must feel, “I am of use to someone.”

Instead of feeling judged by another person as “good,” it’s being able to feel, “I can make contributions to other people” that matters. It is at that point that, at last, we can have a true sense of our own worth.

– PHILOSOPHER: If you consider things at the level of being, we are of use to others and have worth just by being here. That is an indisputable fact.

BUT, one must fully realize this as fact (rather than have some vague sense of the idea) in order to experience a genuine sense of contribution and worth in their being. One must remain fully aware of this, otherwise over time “just being” is not likely to carry any real sense of worth, in which case one would not adequately develop a “sense of contribution” or a “feeling of community” and thus (according to Adler) could not truly be happy.

– Horizontal relationship = equal/equitable relationship. It’s a relationship where there is no assumed hierarchy. It’s essentially when you relate to someone on the same level – particularly as you communicate with them – not as someone of higher or lower value or capability, but of equal value and capability.

– Hierarchical (vertical) relationships are built on hierarchy and are supported by hierarchy.

Once the hierarchy waivers, no real substance remains and the relationship fades. That is, if dependence or deference of the “lower” person in the hierarchy subsides, AND/OR if the “higher” person in the hierarchy decides he or she no longer wants dependence or deference from the lower person, then there’s no real motivation to uphold the relationship.

But in horizontal relationships, those built on equity, mutual respect and encouragement, any perceived status of each other does not matter, and there’s enough interpersonal substance to allow the relationship to persist regardless of any real or perceived changes in relational position or social status.

– Adlerian psychology considers psychology in terms of interpersonal relationships.

The final goal of interpersonal relationships is a “community feeling“.

– PHILOSOPHER: It’s about community feeling, after all. Concretely speaking, it’s making the switch from attachment to self (self-interest) to concern for others (social interest) and gaining a sense of community feeling. Three things are needed at this point: “self-acceptance,” “confidence in others,” and “contribution to others.”

– Genuine Self-Acceptance is not just accepting all instances of your own incompetency or inadequacy and deciding accordingly that no further effort is necessary or worthwhile.

Genuine Self-Acceptance is not merely becoming okay with your own excuses.

Genuine Self-Acceptance is about truly and honestly examining your own capabilities across situations and across time, and acting from your most honest beliefs and best judgments about yourself.

Genuine Self-Acceptance is about trusting your honest self-assessment – it is trusting your “fully examined self”. It is acknowledging and accepting your own unique life process along with the fact that you cannot change history nor can you control outcomes. It is “fully realizing your individuality” and subsequently determining it as worthy of self-support just based on its realization.

– PHILOSOPHER: Accept what is irreplaceable. Accept “this me” just as it is. And have the courage to change what one can change. That is self-acceptance.

(Self-acceptance = Courage from realized uniqueness)


We do not lack ability. We just lack courage. It all comes down to courage.

– Having general confidence in others (until proven otherwise) is in line with the idea of comrades & enemies: It is helpful and appropriate to view all people as comrades instead of enemies unless you have direct reason to believe otherwise.

A sense of comradeship, as opposed to competition, should always be the psychological default, especially in the context of approaching everyday activities in civilized society.

ALSO: See yourself as a comrade.

Encourage your current self from the point of view of a comrade.

Look at your former self as an old comrade — a comrade you don’t associate with anymore or fully approve of necessarily, but a comrade no less — rather than an enemy or foe of your current or future self. You do not need to defend OR defeat your past self. Rather, consider your past self as just another comrade who had his ups and downs and is ultimately no longer in the picture.

Look at your future self as a comrade as well — as a close, encouraging comrade whom you’re excited to become someday as opposed to a discouraging enemy who’s judging your current self and that you will someday have to contend with or answer to.

– PHILOSOPHER: 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.

– YOUTH: The courage to overcome the fear of being taken advantage of — where does it come from?

PHILOSOPHER: It comes from self-acceptance. If one can simply accept oneself as one is, and ascertain what one can do and what one cannot, one becomes able to understand that “taking advantage” is the other person’s task, and getting to the core goal of general “confidence in others” becomes less difficult.

– We are aspiring to see others as comrades.

Seeing other people as one’s comrades connects to finding refuge in the community one belongs to. Then one gains the sense of belonging, that “it’s okay to be here.”

To feel, “It’s okay to be here”, one must see others as comrades.

People who generally perceive others as enemies (or foes or competitors) have not realized their general confidence in others and have not attained genuine self-acceptance.

– PHILOSOPHER: Contribution to others, rather than being about getting rid of the “I” and being of service to someone, is actually something one does in order to be truly aware of the worth of the “I.”

– Self-acceptance: accepting one’s irreplaceable “this me” just as it is. Confidence in others: placing unconditional confidence at the base of one’s interpersonal relations rather than seeding doubt.

Instead of thinking about what others can do for me, I want to think about, and put into practice, what I can do for other people. Just by having that feeling of contribution, the reality right in front of me will take on a completely different hue.

– PHILOSOPHER: How do I have a feeling of contribution when I do all the dishes and receive no thanks? I have it because I think of my family members as comrades.

The two objectives for behavior: to be self-reliant and to live in harmony with society.

The two objectives for the psychology that supports these behaviors: the consciousness that I have the ability, and the consciousness that people are my comrades.

– The objective of life (per Adlerian psychology) is establishing a true “community feeling”.

– Do not be dependent on vertical relationships or be afraid of being disliked, and just make your way forward freely.

– Workaholism is a “Life Lie”

Workaholics are simply trying to avoid their personal and social responsibilities by using work as an excuse. One ought to concern oneself with domains across life. Adler does not recognize ways of living in which certain aspects are unusually dominant.

– Do not engage in “vertical” interpersonal competition! If you engage, you lose in the end. Not, “you lose the battle”, because that doesn’t matter, as winning battles isn’t your goal. If you engage the power struggle, you lose your own capability to flourish in relationships, and ultimately you lose your capability of fully developing your psychological and functional well-being.

Even one power struggle is too many. When you vie for influence or position with someone, you are simply wasting time and energy.

Your reaction to a verbal attacker — your defensive insecurity in response to their offensive insecurity — only reinforces the false power struggle of the meaningless vertical relationship, and it sustains (or escalates) tensions between both parties AND among all surrounding parties, and is likely to inhibit the development of self-acceptance, comradeship, and contribution in yourself and others, and ultimately make everything worse for everyone.

The power struggle is never to be engaged. You must remember that power struggles, while they seem as if they’re unavoidable, and even perhaps an opportunity to win a battle and gain position, they are never productive in the long term. If you think that respect and understanding and peace are only gained by going thru a series of power struggles, you will suffer, and so will the other person and any other people involved.

And you will never grow. By vying for respect and understanding and peace in the form of interpersonal power struggles, you will never be able to fully develop self-respect/self-acceptance, self-understanding/self-awareness, and inner peace. You must develop these intrapersonally and interpersonally by employing the comrade approach, by genuinely contributing how you see fit (not how others see fit), and by only engaging horizontal relationships.

– PHILOSOPHER: Does one accept oneself on the level of acts, or on the level of being? This is truly a question that relates to the courage to be happy.

It should be obvious, assuming this is true, that it doesn’t mean you don’t ever have to make acts of contribution. You do have to contribute, and you should want to. The point here is not arguing for extreme just-being, nor is the earlier point about the importance of contribution arguing for ‘extreme’ contribution, as in we must strive to eventually make constant acts of contribution to feel value and ultimately to realize the feeling of community.

The point is that one can and should recognize their own being AS a contribution (or a potential contribution) AND one should also value making acts of contribution.

– PHILOSOPHER: 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.

– PHILOSOPHER: All we need is the subjective sense that “I am of use to someone,” or in other words, a feeling of contribution. It is someone else’s task to determine if you have actually made a contribution.

YOUTH: So you are saying that the reason I am not happy is that I don’t have a feeling of contribution?

PHILOSOPHER: That is correct.

– PHILOSOPHER: If one really has a feeling of contribution, one will no longer have any need for recognition from others. Because one will already have the real awareness that “I am of use to someone,” without needing to go out of one’s way to be acknowledged by others. In other words, a person who is obsessed with the desire for recognition does not have any genuine community feeling yet, and has not managed to engage in self-acceptance, confidence in others, or contribution to others.

– YOUTH: So if one just has (genuine) community feeling, the desire for recognition will disappear?

PHILOSOPHER: Yes, it will disappear. There is no need for recognition from others if you really feel connection that includes feeling “I am of use to someone”.

The philosopher arrives at the following conclusion: Happiness is the feeling of contribution.

– PHILOSOPHER: Life is a series of moments and neither past nor future exists.

You are trying to give yourself a way out by focusing on the past or future. But if you are living earnestly in the here and now you will not be concerned with such things.

A focus on the here and now is not hedonistic. It is simply going about what one can do now, earnestly and conscientiously.

Important Note:

There’s a big difference between the hedonistic interpretation of “living in the moment” and the pragmatic interpretation of living in the moment, and the difference is not exactly intuitive.

The stereotypical hedonistic perspective values pleasure above all, and it traditionally involves actively seeking out the best available pleasure in every moment.

The pragmatic point of view values concentration on present experience, which is believed to establish and develop appreciation and joy for experience itself, rather than accepting the traditional idea that achieving a goal or desired outcome is necessary for happiness. It involves focusing your attention on and engaging your present experience (the here and now), which is the goal in itself, not a means to some definite end.

– PHILOSOPHER: One must not get too serious. Please do not confuse being earnest with being too serious.

But do not take ‘not being too serious’ as an excuse to be reckless or imbecilic. ‘Not being too serious’ should transpire simply as a ‘lightness of being’.

– PHILOSOPHER: The greatest life-lie of all is to not live here and now. It is looking at the past or the future thinking there’s a mold you must fit into, or a definite story you must uphold or act out.

There is no mold, and there is no story that defines your life. Any mold you think you fit, or story that you think defines you, for better or worse, is an illusion perpetuated by ego.

Any mold or story of your past or future will change in time, and it will not be the basis of meaning in your life.

Meaning is not made by fitting a mold or living a particular story. If a mold or story feels as though it gives your life meaning, that sense of meaning will surely not last.

There are only moments to live. Meaning is made by consciously embracing the moments.

Fearlessly shine a bright spotlight on the here and now.

– Adler says, “Whatever meaning life has must be assigned to it by the individual.”

It is perfectly suitable – and recommended – to assign the following general meaning to one’s life:

“People are my comrades, and the world is a wonderful place.”

This view makes life meaningful. No one can claim that people are certainly and objectively not comrades or that the world is certainly and objectively not a wonderful place. If an individual decides to see others as his comrades (or as potential comrades) and that his life in general is wonderful, and if he truly feels that this perspective he holds gives his life meaning, then his life is meaningful.

– PHILOSOPHER: Adler says there’s a “guiding star” which serves as a grand compass pointing to freedom…

As long as we do not lose sight of this compass and keep moving in the direction it points, we will be happy.

The “guiding star” is: CONTRIBUTION TO OTHERS


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. When you genuinely contribute to others, whether your disliked or not doesn’t matter, and you can live free.

– PHILOSOPHER: No matter how hard I try, I will never arrive at a satisfactory explanation as to why I am here and now…

I am here and now only as a result of having danced the moments – that is the only way to explain it.

When you have danced the here and now in earnest and to the fullest, that is when the meaning of life will become clear to you.