Approachable Adler
The Courage to Be Disliked

Approachable Adler

Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga, who are followers of Adlerian psychology and best-selling authors, present Adler’s principles in the form of an accessible fable.

Ichiro Kishimi is a certified counselor and consultant for the Japanese Society of Adlerian psychology. Fumitake Koga, his co-author and also a devotee of Adlerian psychology, is a best-selling author. Here, they discuss psychologist Alfred Adler – a contemporary of Freud and Jung – through a dialogue between a young man and an older philosopher. This meaningful work has sold more than 3.5 million copies in Asia.

Western readers are likely to regard it as a Socratic exchange. Eastern readers, and those familiar with Eastern thought, will recognize it as a classic Confucian conversation in which an elder person schools a younger person in the correct ways of being or thinking without ever stating directly what behavior this requires. The youth must, to a degree, figure things out for himself or herself.

Kishimi and Koga emphasize Adler’s teaching that you are responsible for your own choices: to be happy or unhappy, to make your life simple or complicated, or to admit fault or let something go. Through that prism, the authors explore happiness and self-love; their philosophical and psychological journey turns out to be accessible, entertaining and even enlightening.

“Deny Trauma”

The authors present Adlerian psychology and philosophy as a search to answer the question: How can you be happy? According to Adler, humans are unhappy when they dislike themselves, and they feel their greatest happiness when they contribute to society and other people. Kishimi and Koga assert that the trap of wanting recognition for your contributions keeps you from feeling free.

The authors summarize the philosopher’s position as: The world is simple and only becomes complicated because you make it so. The philosopher tells the youth not to rely on past events or “determinism” – the view that causes lead to outcomes. Kishimi and Koga explain that Adlerian psychology asserts that the past doesn’t matter.

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.Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga

You, the authors plainly state, are responsible for your choices. Trauma doesn’t exist. People use anger to justify their choices in order to avoid taking responsibility for their actions. Kishimi and Koga break down the Adlerian view that trauma becomes a way to achieve a goal.

“Interpersonal Relationship Problems”

Kishimi and Koga point out that in Adlerian psychology, all problems stem from interpersonal relationships, which people examine through the lens of feeling inferior. You may not like yourself, and thus you suffer feelings of inferiority.

We can repeat it as many times as you like: All problems are interpersonal relationship problems. This is a concept that runs to the very root of Adlerian psychology. Ichiro Kisihimi and Fumitake Koga

But dealing with inferiority, the philosopher insists, is unsustainable over time. Kishimi and Koga say you either make changes to improve your life or you make excuses for not changing. People who catalog their misfortunes are seeking sympathy and aiming to cement their “I’m special” status to receive comfort.

Other People’s Tasks

Kishimi and Koga depict the youth telling the philosopher that he feels interpersonal relationships boil down to needing recognition from others. But, the authors note, Adlerian psychology denies recognition from others. No one should seek praise. The philosopher tells the student that if you live according to the expectations of other people, you live the life they want, not the life you want.

Discard other people’s tasks. That is the first step toward lightening the load and making life simpler.Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga

The authors advise you to dispose of chores and duties that belong to other people. When you take on their tasks, you cause problems in your relationships. The philosopher instructs the youth to move from self-attachment to focusing on the welfare of other people.

“Vertical” and “Horizontal”

Adlerian psychology, Kishimi and Koga say, encourages neither praising nor rebuking in interpersonal relationships. Both praise and chastisement are more common in “vertical relationships,” in which one person has power over another, such as a parent over a child. The authors advise you to seek “horizontal relationships,” in which both parties are “equal but not the same.”

The authors repeatedly emphasize that to live a life of freedom you must live in the here and now. They remind you that this starts with self-acceptance, which is not self-affirmation. Self-acceptance comes when you have the courage to make changes in your life. 

Kishimi and Koga stress that Adlerian psychology encourages living life as a series of moments. They cite the philosopher: Live your life as if you’re dancing.

Tough, Sound Advice

Just as self-acceptance is not self-affirmation, this collection of wise, hard-nosed guidance is not self-help. It’s a remarkably accessible explication of the principles of one of the most influential 20th-century thinkers, whose approach springs from common sense and a certain toughness. The authors do not dilute Adler’s lack of sympathy, yet they bring forth the value of his philosophy, so almost anyone can apply it to his or her life – an admirable accomplishment and a compelling read. If, at times, the Socratic dialogue model proves tedious, perseverance shortly will bring you to another memorable gem of a thought.

Ancillaries to this rich and illuminating work include Kishimi’s The Courage to Be Happy and James Clear’s Atomic Habits.

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