The book provides an accessible overview of the psychology concepts of Alfred Adler – a psychologist from the 19th century. The two authors wanted to make ‘Adlerian’ psychology more accessible and is written as a dialogue through a conversation between a youth and a philosopher. There is a plethora of enlightening points but here are a few that we discussed in the podcast:
There is no such thing as trauma. This is quite a controversial point but in Adlerian philosophy there is no such thing as trauma – cause and effect relationships about past life events don’t exist. In Adler’s words, ‘no experience is in itself a cause of our success or failure, we do not suffer from the shock of our experience 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’. In essence, the self is determined not by our experiences but by the meaning that we give them. This philosophy sits in stark contrast to some of the contemporary discussion around issues of trauma but the point that is being made is that we have agency in how we react to events in our lives including trauma.
Our emotions don’t happen as a result of things, we have emotions in order to serve our own goals. Emotions are manufactured because we choose to experience those emotions. Once again, this framing is opposite to that which we hear more generally. On a recent Invisibilia podcast, there was a discussion around recent research that suggested that there are only 4 internal emotions that we’re born with – pleasant, unpleasant, arousal and calmness – and other emotions and reactions are based on societal learning. Certain societies that don’t have words for these particular emotions don’t experience this emotion because they haven’t got the concept of it. It’s a very liberating thought – all of the positive/negative emotions that we feel in our lives are a result of societal conditioning and the story that we’re telling ourselves in order to manufacture that emotion of anger, loyalty or sadness. Hence if we want to change that, we can; it’s not hardwired into our brain.
Unhappiness is something that we choose for ourselves. When we’re unhappy we want our circumstances to be different to what they actually are. We are using our circumstances as a justification for our unhappiness.
“At some stage in your life you chose to be unhappy, it’s not because you were born into unhappy circumstances or ended up in an unhappy situation, it’s that you judged the state of being unhappy to be good for you”.
One of the points made in the self-help realm about negative emotions is to think about how someone else in that situation would feel given the exact same circumstances. If they would react in a different way, that shows that it’s not really the circumstances themselves that are making you unhappy – it’s how you’re choosing to react to them.
All problems are interpersonal relationship problems. Everything will eventually come down to a relationship issue. The invasion of tasks is the idea that we each have our own tasks and problems arise when people intrude on each other’s tasks. There is some nuance to this concept but every interpersonal relationship problem comes from either someone else intruding on a task that is ours or from us intruding on someone else’s task.
“All you can do with regard to your own life is to choose the best path that you believe in, on the other hand what kind of judgement to people pass on that choice that is the task of other people and it’s not a matter you can do anything about”.
“Remember the words of the grandmother – you’re the only one who’s worried about how you look – her remark drives right to the heart of the separation of tasks – 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”.
Viewing other people as your comrades. This is not a political point but is examining the idea that society has constructed a competitive mindset within people but acknowledging and embracing a sense of camaraderie with other people opens up a whole new way of living.
“It does not matter if one is trying to walk in front of others or walk behind them it is as if we are moving through a flat space that has no vertical axis. 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”.
“When one is trying to be oneself, competition will inevitably get in the way”.
Happiness is a feeling of contribution to something. Happiness is a nebulous concept and has been defined in various ways but if you feel that you are useful to something or someone else, then you are happy and the pursuit of that feeling of contribution is the pursuit of happiness.
Ultimately, the reasons that the book is called the Courage to be Disliked and the point that the authors are making is that, in order to be free, you need to have the courage to be disliked.
"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 int things of lightness”.
Invisibilia: "Emotion" — the podcast about emotions that Ali mentions
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