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Adlerian Psycology: my highlights from The Courage to be Disliked

Updated: Jun 11, 2021

I highly recommend this book to everyone. This book is similar to those 'standard' psychology in the sense that it's about helping you live a 'happier' life. However, this is not your 'standard' psychology book or any book for that matter. It's unique structure and novel (and sometimes controversial) ideas make this a great read. I've listed a bunch of my highlights and bits I find interesting.

Children do not have any obvious duties, like paying taxes or going to work. They are protected by their parents and society, and can spend days free from care. They can imagine a future that goes on forever and do whatever they want. They don’t have to see grim reality—they are blindfolded. So, to them the world must have a simple form. However, as a child matures to adulthood the world reveals its true nature. Very shortly, the child will know how things really are and what he is really allowed to do. His opinion will alter and all he will see is impossibility. His romantic view will end and be replaced by cruel realism.

That is not because the world is complicated. It’s because you are making the world complicated. None of us live in an objective world, but instead in a subjective world that we ourselves have given meaning to. The world you see is different from the one I see, and it’s impossible to share your world with anyone else.

The issue is not about how the world is, but about how you are.

It’s as if you see the world through dark glasses, so naturally everything seems dark. But if that is the case, instead of lamenting about the world’s darkness, you could just remove the glasses. Perhaps the world will appear terribly bright to you then and you will involuntarily shut your eyes. Maybe you’ll want the glasses back on, but can you even take them off in the first place? Can you look directly at the world? Do you have the courage?

anger is a tool that can be taken out as needed.

‘No matter what has occurred in your life up to this point, it should have no bearing at all on how you live from now on.’

‘To get rid of one’s problems, all one can do is live in the universe all alone.’


but being alone isn’t what makes you feel lonely. Loneliness is having other people and society and community around you, and having a deep sense of being excluded from them. To feel lonely, we need other people. That is to say, it is only in social contexts that a person becomes an ‘individual’.

‘In fact, if we were to ask ourselves who is the strongest person in our culture, the logical answer would be the baby. The baby rules and cannot be dominated.’ The baby rules over the adults with his weakness. And it is because of this weakness that no one can control him.

instead of treating the child like an adult, or like a child, one must treat them like a human being. One interacts with the child with sincerity, as another human being just like oneself.

there are two objectives for behaviour: to be self-reliant and to live in harmony with society. Then, the objectives for the psychology that supports these behaviours are the consciousness that I have the ability and the consciousness that people are my comrades.

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.

When one seeks recognition from others, and concerns oneself only with how one is judged by others, in the end, one is living other people’s lives.

We need to think with the perspective of ‘whose task is this?’ and continually separate one’s own tasks from other people’s tasks.

In general, all interpersonal relationship troubles are caused by intruding on other people’s tasks, or having one’s own tasks intruded on.

There is a simple way to tell whose task it is. Think, Who ultimately is going to receive the end result brought about by the choice that is made? When the child has made the choice of not studying, ultimately, the end result of that decision—not being able to keep up in class or to get into the preferred school, for instance—does not have to be received by the parents. Clearly, it is the child who has to receive it. In other words, studying is the child’s task.

It’s true that one often hears parents today using the phrase, ‘It’s for your own good.’ But they are clearly doing so in order to fulfil their own goals, which could be their appearance in the eyes of society, their need to put on airs, or their desire for control, for example. In other words, it is not ‘for your own good’, but for the parents’. And it is because the child senses this deception that he rebels.

‘You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.’

intervening in other people’s tasks and taking on other people’s tasks turns one’s life into something heavy and full of hardship.

You think, I’ve got that boss, so I can’t work. This is complete aetiology. But it’s really, I don’t want to work, so I’ll create an awful boss, or I don’t want to acknowledge my incapable self, so I’ll create an awful boss.

That person didn’t do anything for me; That person let me down; That person isn’t my comrade anymore. He’s my enemy. People who hold the belief that they are the centre of the world always end up losing their comrades before long.

When one person praises another, the goal is ‘to manipulate someone who has less ability than you’. It is not done out of gratitude or respect.

Being praised essentially means that one is receiving judgement from another person as ‘good’. happiness is the feeling of contribution. That is the definition of happiness.

What is the meaning of life? What are people living for? When someone posed these questions to Adler, this was his answer: ‘Life in general has no meaning.’

If I change, the world will change. No one else will change the world for me …

With religion, philosophy and science, too, the point of departure is the same. Where do we come from? Where are we? And how should we live? Religion, philosophy and science all start from these questions.

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