Book Review: The Courage to Be Disliked

Alfred Adler quotes

The only normal people are the ones you don’t know very well.

Alfred Adler

Do you have the courage to be disliked? Or do you catch yourself people-pleasing most of the time? What is the true motive behind your actions?

The Courage to Be Disliked presents us with some of the ideas of Alfred Adler, a twentieth-century psychologist whose perspective remains controversial to this day.

About Alfred Adler

Alfred Adler was born in Austria, in 1870. He studied Medicine, Psychology and Philosophy, before dedicating himself to the field of Psychiatry.

Alfred Adler and Sigmund Freud worked together at some point. However, they parted ways later on. Adler thought Freud was hyper-focused on sexuality and he had some different ideas about human psychology.

Isidoricaaa7, CC BY-SA 4.0

Although his work is known in Europe and in the United States, Adlerian Psychology has remained distant from the spotlight. Some believe we are not even yet ready for his ideas.

The Courage to Be Disliked

Book The Courage to Be Disliked - How to free yourself, change your life and achieve real happiness by Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga

The book The Courage to Be Disliked has been the first point of contact with Alfred Adler contribution to Psychology for many people. I had it on my booklist for some time. The title got me intrigued.

More recently, I thought it was a good time to give it a go. Since making a conscious effort to reduce people-pleasing in my own life, I’ve been more aware of it. And also more annoyed by it. A great deal of people-pleasing has to do with wanting to be liked – or at least not making others angry.

The Courage to Be Disliked was written to showcase Adler’s ideas in a dialogue format between a young man and a philosopher. This is known as Socratic dialogue, a genre inspired by Plato’s dialogues in which Socrates tries to answer questions on the meaning of life through conversation.

In a sequence of conversations described in the book, we learn about Adler’s ideas about living an authentic life. His ideas sound so controversial and different that we often find the young man on an intellectual and emotional rollercoaster.

Deny Trauma

The first controversial idea presented in the book is that there is no such thing as trauma. According to Alfred Adler, people suffer not as a result of what happened to them but of the story they tell themselves about what happened. 

This thought implies we have control or responsibility for the meaning we give to what we experience. It is up to us to review and decide what story we tell ourselves and how we let that story impact how we think, feel and behave in the present.

Inferiority and Superiority Feelings

Another key idea is that “all problems are interpersonal relationship problems”. In Adler’s view, we only become an individual when we find ourselves in a social context. It’s that context that can make feelings of inferiority or superiority surface.

These feelings are a function of how we judge ourselves in terms of value. We feel inferior when we perceive or believe we have little to no worth. This perception arises only in comparison to others. That’s why Adler believed all problems stem from interpersonal relationships.

To reduce suffering, it would be wise to change how we perceive reality. It can be liberating when we understand that our feelings of inferiority are a result of our own interpretation, which is subjective in nature and shaped by social comparison.

Paired with the idea that no single being is perfect, we can come to terms with feelings of inferiority. We ought not to eliminate them but to accept them and use them to move forward.

Seeking Recognition

A third idea I would like to highlight here is that seeking recognition and being liked by everyone else takes away freedom from us. We limit the way we live. We spend most of our time thinking or worrying about what other people will think or feel. We avoid moving on with life on our own terms. 

In Adlerian Psychology, people engage in these behaviours just for the sake of being liked and accepted. People say or do what they think will create a positive response in others rather than saying or doing what they really think or feel.

To lead an authentic life, you can’t expect or hope that you will be liked by everyone. Eventually, it takes a toll on your well-being because you are not free. Instead, you are a slave to populism. You appear to be someone you are not to appeal to and appease people.

The irony is that at the same time you try so hard to be liked and accepted by all, you are also buying a ticket to future loneliness and emptiness. The more you stay with this strategy, the more you lose people’s trust and respect in the long run. 


Alfred Adler beliefs are somewhat controversial and intriguing. To find out more about Adlerian Psychology, I’d then strongly recommend reading the book The Courage to be Disliked. I personally benefited from learning about these different views.

It does not mean I agree with them all but they surely have contributed to expanding my horizons on people’s psychology and on my own journey toward greater happiness and well-being.

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Book The Courage to Be Disliked - How to free yourself, change your life and achieve real happiness by Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga