Trauma does not exist.
Controversial, right? Well, it’s the premise of a recent book I read based on the concepts of Adlerian psychology: The Courage to Be Disliked by Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga.
I kept seeing this book pop up as a recommendation by people like Ali Abdaal and Aperture, so I figured I’d give it a try. In this review, I will spell out why people will likely hate this book, what makes it so controversial, and why I absolutely loved it.
If you’re interested, check out the book The Courage to Be Disliked: How to Free Yourself, Change your Life and Achieve Real Happiness here (affiliate link).
The Courage to Be Disliked Book Summary
The entire premise of this book is that it is essentially a Socratic conversation between an older philosopher and a younger man who comes to him ready to fight. The young man is dissatisfied with life, frustrated with his circumstances, and feels like the world is entirely unfair. The older man adheres to Adlerian psychology and is ready to (verbally) throw down with the young man, neither of whom is ever named throughout the book.
This book covers a lot. A big part of the book discusses the idea of trauma and the fact that trauma, according to Adlerian psychology, does not exist. Other topics include the idea that all problems are interpersonal relationship problems, and what other people think of us is none of our business. Many roots of unhappiness come back to the concept of ego, caring what people think, and comparing ourselves to others.
Much of The Courage to Be Disliked relates to the idea that our past is the narrative that we use to justify our choices in the present. In fact, many of our choices and even emotions are exactly what we want in the moment (even things like anger and sadness) and we create narratives around our emotions and trauma to justify the emotions and actions we choose. We don’t change because we build up this idea of our own victimhood based on what we think of as trauma. Like I said, pretty controversial stuff.
The Courage to be Disliked & Trauma
Probably the part of the book that stood out to me the most, and will likely stand out to most people, is the approach to trauma and our past. As somebody who identifies as having experienced trauma in the past, the idea that trauma doet exist and it is a form of predeterminism rubbed me the wrong way… at first. The authors make a compelling case for this concept, however, and I found myself won over to the idea that trauma, at least in the way that we understand it in the West, is not completely real and does not have the power to shape our lives like we think it does.
What does this mean? Well, the author gives an example of a man who is essentially an agoraphobic shut-in. He is too afraid to leave his house and get a job, so he lives with his parents and feels like a loser. The book posits that he isn’t experiencing agoraphobia because of trauma, but that the agoraphobia and trauma are his justification to remain inactive in his own life. He can claim that his mental health is preventing him from moving forward, or is it that he doesn’t want to move forward, and his mental health is just a very convenient excuse?
I’ve been thinking about this a lot in my own life. We all create mental structures around this sort of identity we want to have, but can’t for some reason or another. I want to be somebody who exercises. I want to be somebody who has a clean house. I want to be somebody that takes risks and does cool and brave things. But for some reason or another, I don’t do those things, and I create mental structures for myself that preclude me from taking responsibility for the things that I’m not doing.
Frankly, it’s a little bit of a kick in the gut. The Courage to Be Disliked is a pretty damn compelling antidote to the “blame anybody but yourself” mindset of the modern world. It seems like in our current culture of victimhood, it’s perfectly fine and totally valid to live a life of mediocrity, as long as you have enough victimhood points to justify it.
While I disagree that all trauma is invalid and genuinely believe that there are things like PTSD from war and other serious abuses, I think that we have completely stripped the concept of trauma of all meaning to the point of being effectively worthless.
Why The Courage to Be Disliked is so controversial
After finishing The Courage to Be Disliked, like when I finish most books, I went through and perused the ratings and reviews, and one of the most common themes that I saw was that this book is “victim blaming.” I understand what reviewers saying. The book (and Adlerian psychology) does put the absolute complete responsibility for a persons happiness directly on the person. This is very easy to say when you have not had a life of mistreatment and trauma. I would be lying if I didn’t say I had an issue with that part at first.
However, the book makes the clear point that not everybody who experiences trauma and abuse are defined by it. If trauma really held the power that people give it, almost everybody would be completely immobilized by fear and past experiences. But that’s not the case. Many people who have experienced horrific atrocities go on to live full, happy, complete lives.
When we excuse away our choices because of our past, we bring the past into the present and let it control us. It’s pre-deterministic, and completely disempowers people from their own personal agency. At a certain point, we let our trauma continue to justify our inaction and ruin our lives if we don’t make the conscious decision to move past it. And what a waste of a precious life.
I will say one negative thing about this book, which is that I really did not like the writing style. I found the young man to be pretty obnoxious and the general back-and-forth between the two characters to feel quite awkward. It could’ve been partly the translation, as this was originally written in Japanese, but regardless, I did not particularly like the whiny young man and their obnoxious conversational tone.
That being said though, I think that the conversational approach to the content in The Courage to Be Disliked did a great job of addressing and counterbalancing the controversial topic and how the reader likely feels. The author knew that the majority of readers would take umbrage with the approach to trauma and Adlerian psychology, so the reader is reflected in the young man’s perspective.
What is the meaning of The Courage to Be Disliked?
The Courage to Be Disliked essentially means that, to live happily and make your way in life, you have to be okay with not everybody liking you. In fact, not being liked takes a decent amount of strength and courage that most people don’t have. It’s far easier, more convenient to simply blame everybody else for your problems and never take personal responsibility. Trust me, I did it for a long time.
the courage to be disliked means that you are opting out of taking on the responsibility of making other people happy. In choosing not to engage with other people’s happiness, you are free to do what you want and make the choices you want and live the life you want to live. In the same way that you are responsible for your own happiness, other people are responsible for their happiness, and ultimately how they choose to live is not your problem.
Is The Courage to Be Disliked worth reading?
I’d say The Courage to Be Disliked is worth reading. It’s a challenging but accessible look at the narratives we tell ourselves that keep us stuck in unhealthy, unfulfilling lives. I have and will continue to recommend it to the people in my life who want to shake themselves out of mediocrity and excuse-making. I do personally believe my life has already benefited from this book and will continue. to as I reflect more on the concepts and ideas presented.
I hope you enjoyed this The Courage to Be Disliked summary. What are your thoughts on Adlerian psychology and the book in general? Share below!