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The Courage to Be Disliked: The Japanese Phenomenon That Shows You How to Change Your Life and Achieve Real Happiness

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“Marie Kondo, but for your brain.” — HelloGiggles

“Compelling from front to back. Highly recommend.” —Marc Andreessen

Reading this book could change your life.

The Courage to Be Disliked , already an enormous bestseller in Asia with more than 3.5 million copies sold, demonstrates how to unlock the power within yourself to be the person you truly want to be.

Is happiness something you choose for yourself? The Courage to Be Disliked presents a simple and straightforward answer. Using the theories of Alfred Adler, one of the three giants of nineteenth-century psychology alongside Freud and Jung, this book follows an illuminating dialogue between a philosopher and a young man. Over the course of five conversations, the philosopher helps his student to understand how each of us is able to determine the direction of our own life, free from the shackles of past traumas and the expectations of others.

Rich in wisdom, The Courage to Be Disliked will guide you through the concepts of self-forgiveness, self-care, and mind decluttering. It is a deeply liberating way of thinking, allowing you to develop the courage to change and ignore the limitations that you might be placing on yourself. This plainspoken and profoundly moving book unlocks the power within you to find lasting happiness and be the person you truly want to be. Millions have already benefited from its teachings, now you can too.

Atria Books
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Authors’ Note



Deny Trauma

The Unknown Third Giant

Why People Can Change

Trauma Does Not Exist

People Fabricate Anger

How to Live Without Being Controlled by the Past

Socrates and Adler

Are You Okay Just As You Are?

Unhappiness Is Something You Choose for Yourself

People Always Choose Not to Change

Your Life Is Decided Here and Now


All Problems Are Interpersonal Relationship Problems

Why You Dislike Yourself

All Problems Are Interpersonal Relationship Problems

Feelings of Inferiority Are Subjective Assumptions

An Inferiority Complex Is an Excuse

Braggarts Have Feelings of Inferiority

Life Is Not a Competition

You’re the Only One Worrying About Your Appearance

From Power Struggle to Revenge

Admitting Fault Is Not Defeat

Overcoming the Tasks That Face You in Life

Red String and Rigid Chains

Don’t Fall for the “Life-Lie”

From the Psychology of Possession to the Psychology of Practice


Discard Other People’s Tasks

Deny the Desire for Recognition

Do Not Live to Satisfy the Expectations of Others

How to Separate Tasks

Discard Other People’s Tasks

How to Rid Yourself of Interpersonal Relationship Problems

Cut the Gordian Knot

Desire for Recognition Makes You Unfree

What Real Freedom Is

You Hold the Cards to Interpersonal Relationships


Where the Center of the World Is

Individual Psychology and Holism

The Goal of Interpersonal Relationships Is a Feeling of Community

Why Am I Only Interested In Myself?

You ; Are Not the Center of the World

Listen to the Voice of a Larger Community

Do Not Rebuke or Praise

The Encouragement Approach

How to Feel You Have Value

Exist in the Present

People Cannot Make Proper Use of Self


To Live in Earnest in the Here and Now

Excessive Self-Consciousness Stifles the Self

Not Self-Affirmation—Self-Acceptance

The Difference Between Trust and Confidence

The Essence of Work Is a Contribution to the Common Good

Young People Walk Ahead of Adults

Workaholism Is a Life-Lie

You Can Be Happy Now

Two Paths Traveled by Those Wanting to Be “Special Beings”

The Courage to Be Normal

Life Is a Series of Moments

Live Like You’re Dancing

Shine a Light on the Here and Now

The Greatest Life-Lie

Give Meaning to Seemingly Meaningless Life


About the Authors

Authors’ Note

Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, and Alfred Adler are all giants in the world of psychology. This book is a distillation of Adler’s philosophical and psychological ideas and teachings, taking the form of a narrative dialogue between a philosopher and a young man.

Adlerian psychology enjoys a broad base of support in Europe and the United States, and presents simple and straightforward answers to the philosophical question: How can one be happy? Adlerian psychology might hold the key. Reading this book could change your life. Now, let us accompany the young man and venture beyond the “door.”

On the outskirts of the thousand-year-old city lived a philosopher who taught that the world was simple and that happiness was within the reach of every man, instantly. A young man who was dissatisfied with life went to visit this philosopher to get to the heart of the matter. This youth found the world a chaotic mass of contradictions and, in his anxious eyes, any notion of happiness was completely absurd.


YOUTH: I want to ask you once again; you do believe that the world is, in all ways, a simple place?

PHILOSOPHER: Yes, this world is astonishingly simple and life itself is, too.

YOUTH: So, is this your idealistic argument or is it a workable theory? What I mean is, are you saying that any issues you or I face in life are simple too?

PHILOSOPHER: Yes, of course.

YOUTH: Alright then, but let me explain why I have come to visit you today. Firstly, I want to debate this with you until I am satisfied, and then, if possible, I want to get you to retract this theory.


YOUTH: Because I have heard all about your reputation. The word is that there is an eccentric philosopher living here whose teachings and arguments are hard to ignore, namely, that people can change, that the world is simple and that everyone can be happy. That is the sort of thing I have heard, but I find that view totally unacceptable, so I wanted to confirm things for myself. If I find anything you say completely off, I will point it out and then correct you . . . But will you find that annoying?

PHILOSOPHER: No, I would welcome the opportunity. I have been hoping to hear from a young person just like you and to learn as much as possible from what you can tell me.

YOUTH: Thanks. I do not intend to dismiss you out of hand. I will take your views into consideration and then look at the possibilities that present themselves. ‘The world is simple and life is simple, too’—if there is anything in this thesis that might contain truth, it would be life from a child’s point of view. 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.

PHILOSOPHER: I see. That is an interesting view.

YOUTH: That’s not all. Once grown up, the child will get entangled in all kinds of complicated relationships with people and have all kinds of responsibilities thrust upon him. That is how life will be, both at work and at home, and in any role he assumes in public life. It goes without saying that he will become aware of the various issues in society that he couldn’t understand as a child, including discrimination, war, and inequality, and he will not be able to ignore them. Am I wrong?

PHILOSOPHER: It sounds fine to me. Please continue.

YOUTH: Well, if we were still living at a time when religion held sway, salvation might be an option because the teachings of the divine were everything to us. All we had to do was obey them and consequently have little to think about. But religion has lost its power and now there is no real belief in God. With nothing to rely on, everyone is filled with anxiety and doubt. Everyone is living for themselves. That is how society is today, so please tell me—given these realities and in the light of what I have said—can you still say the world is simple?

PHILOSOPHER: There is no change in what I say. The world is simple and life is simple, too.

YOUTH: How? Anyone can see that it’s a chaotic mass of contradictions.

PHILOSOPHER: That is not because the world is complicated. It’s because you are making the world complicated.

YOUTH: I am?

PHILOSOPHER: 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.

YOUTH: How can that be? You and I are living in the same country, in the same time, and we are seeing the same things—aren’t we?

PHILOSOPHER: You look rather young to me, but have you ever drunk well water that has just been drawn?

YOUTH: Well water? Um, it was a long time ago, but there was a well at my grandmother’s house in the countryside. I remember enjoying the fresh, cold water drawn from that well on a hot summer’s day.

PHILOSOPHER: You may know this, but well water stays at pretty much the same temperature all year round, at about sixty degrees. That is an objective number—it stays the same to everyone who measures it. But when you drink the water in the summer it seems cool and when you drink the same water in the winter it seems warm. Even though it’s the same water, at the same sixty degrees according to the thermometer, the way it seems depends on whether it’s summer or winter.

YOUTH: So, it’s an illusion caused by the change in the environment.

PHILOSOPHER: No, it’s not an illusion. You see, to you, in that moment, the coolness or warmth of the well water is an undeniable fact. That’s what it means to live in your subjective world. There is no escape from your own subjectivity. At present, the world seems complicated and mysterious to you, but if you change, the world will appear more simple. The issue is not about how the world is, but about how you are.

YOUTH: How I am?

PHILOSOPHER: Right . . . 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?

YOUTH: Courage?

PHILOSOPHER: Yes, it’s a matter of courage.

YOUTH: Well, alright. There are tons of objections I would like to raise, but I get the feeling it would be better to go into them later. I would like to confirm that you are saying ‘people can change’, right?

PHILOSOPHER: Of course people can change. They can also find happiness.

YOUTH: Everyone, without exception?

PHILOSOPHER: No exceptions whatsoever.

YOUTH: Ha-ha! Now you’re talking big! This is getting interesting. I’m going to start arguing with you immediately.

PHILOSOPHER: I am not going to run away or hide anything. Let’s take our time debating this. So, your position is ‘people cannot change?’

YOUTH: That’s right, they can’t change. Actually, I am suffering myself because of not being able to change.

PHILOSOPHER: And at the same time, you wish you could.

YOUTH: Of course. If I could change, if I could start life all over again, I would gladly fall to my knees before you. But it could turn out that you’ll be down on your knees before me.

PHILOSOPHER: You remind me of myself during my own student days, when I was a hot-blooded young man searching for the truth, traipsing about, calling on philosophers . . .

YOUTH: Yes. I am searching for the truth. The truth about life.

PHILOSOPHER: I have never felt the need to take in disciples and have never done so. However, since becoming a student of Greek philosophy and then coming into contact with another philosophy, I have been waiting for a long time for a visit from a young person like you.

YOUTH: Another philosophy? What would that be?

PHILOSOPHER: My study is just over there. Go into it. It’s going to be a long night. I will go and make some hot coffee.


Deny Trauma

The young man entered the study and sat slouched in a chair. Why was he so determined to reject the philosopher’s theories? His reasons were abundantly clear. He lacked self-confidence and, ever since childhood, this had been compounded by deep-seated feelings of inferiority with regard to his personal and academic backgrounds, as well as his physical appearance. Perhaps, as a result, he tended to be excessively self-conscious when people looked at him. Mostly, he seemed incapable of truly appreciating other people’s happiness and was constantly pitying himself. To him, the philosopher’s claims were nothing more than the stuff of fantasy.

The Unknown Third Giant

YOUTH: A moment ago, you used the words “another philosophy,” but I’ve heard that your specialty is in Greek philosophy.

PHILOSOPHER: Yes, Greek philosophy has been central to my life ever since I was a teenager. The great intellectual figures: Socrates, Plato, Aristotle. I am translating a work by Plato at the moment, and I expect to spend the rest of my life studying classical Greek thought.

YOUTH: Well, then what is this “other philosophy”?

PHILOSOPHER: It is a completely new school of psychology that was established by the Austrian psychiatrist Alfred Adler at the beginning of the twentieth century. It is generally referred to as Adlerian psychology.

YOUTH: Huh. I never would have imagined that a specialist in Greek philosophy would be interested in psychology.

PHILOSOPHER: I’m not very familiar with paths taken by other schools of psychology. However, I think it is fair to say that Adlerian psychology is clearly in line with Greek philosophy, and that it is a proper field of study.

YOUTH: I have a passing knowledge of the psychology of Freud and Jung. A fascinating field.

PHILOSOPHER: Yes, Freud and Jung are both renowned. Adler was one of the original core members of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society, which was led by Freud. His ideas were counter to Freud’s, and he split from the group and proposed an “individual psychology” based on his own original theories.

YOUTH: Individual psychology? Another odd term. So Adler was a disciple of Freud’s?

PHILOSOPHER: No, he was not. That misconception is common; we must dispel it. For one thing, Adler and Freud were relatively close in age, and the relationship they formed as researchers was founded upon equal footing. In this respect, Adler was very different from Jung, who revered Freud as a father figure. Though psychology primarily tends to be associated with Freud and Jung, Adler is recognized throughout the rest of the world, along with Freud and Jung, as one of the three giants in this field.

YOUTH: I see. I should have studied it more.

PHILOSOPHER: I suppose it’s only natural you haven’t heard of Adler. As he himself said, “There might come a time when one will not remember my name; one might even have forgotten that our school ever existed.” Then he went on to say that it didn’t matter. The implication being that if his school were forgotten, it would be because his ideas had outgrown the bounds of a single area of scholarship, and become commonplace, and a feeling shared by everyone. For example, Dale Carnegie, who wrote the international bestsellers How to Win Friends and Influence People and How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, referred to Adler as “a great psychologist who devoted his life to researching humans and their latent abilities.” The influence of Adler’s thinking is clearly present throughout his writings. And in Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, much of the content closely resembles Adler’s ideas. In other words, rather than being a strict area of scholarship, Adlerian psychology is accepted as a realization, a culmination of truths and of human understanding. Yet Adler’s ideas are said to have been a hundred years ahead of their time, and even today we have not managed to fully comprehend them. That is how truly groundbreaking they were.

YOUTH: So your theories are developed not from Greek philosophy initially but from the viewpoint of Adlerian psychology?

PHILOSOPHER: Yes, that’s right.

YOUTH: Okay. There’s one more thing I’d like to ask about your basic stance. Are you a philosopher? Or are you a psychologist?

PHILOSOPHER: I am a philosopher, a person who lives philosophy. And, for me, Adlerian psychology is a form of thought that is in line with Greek philosophy, and that is philosophy.

YOUTH: All right, then. Let’s get started.

Why People Can Change

YOUTH: First, let’s plan the points of discussion. You say people can change. Then you take it a step further, saying that everyone can find happiness.

PHILOSOPHER: Yes, everyone, without exception.

YOUTH: Let’s save the discussion about happiness for later and address change first. Everyone wishes they could change. I know I do, and I’m sure anyone you might stop and ask on the street would agree. But why does everyone feel they want to change? There’s only one answer: because they cannot change. If it were easy for people to change, they wouldn’t spend so much time wishing they could. No matter how much they wish it, people cannot change. And that’s why there are always so many people getting taken in by new religions and dubious self-help seminars and any preaching on how everyone can change. Am I wrong?

PHILOSOPHER: Well, in response, I’d ask why you are so adamant that people can’t change.

YOUTH: Here’s why. I have a friend, a guy, who has shut himself in his room for several years. He wishes he could go out and even thinks he’d like to have a job, if possible. So he wants to change the way he is. I say this as his friend, but I assure you he is a very serious person who could be of great use to society. Except that he’s afraid to leave his room. If he takes even a single step outside, he suffers palpitations, and his arms and legs shake. It’s a kind of neurosis or panic, I suppose. He wants to change, but he can’t.

PHILOSOPHER: What do you think the reason is that he can’t go out?

YOUTH: I’m not really sure. It could be because of his relationship with his parents, or because he was bullied at school or work. He might have experienced a kind of trauma from something like that. But then, it could be the opposite—maybe he was too pampered as a child and can’t face reality. I just don’t know, and I can’t pry into his past or his family situation.

PHILOSOPHER: So you are saying there were incidents in your friend’s past that became the cause of trauma, or something similar, and as a result he can’t go out anymore?

YOUTH: Of course. Before an effect, there’s a cause. There is nothing mysterious about that.

PHILOSOPHER: Then perhaps the cause of his not being able to go out anymore lies in the home environment during his childhood. He was abused by his parents and reached adulthood without ever feeling love. That’s why he’s afraid of interacting with people and why he can’t go out. It’s feasible, isn’t it?

YOUTH: Yes, it’s entirely feasible. I’d imagine that would be really challenging.

PHILOSOPHER: And then you say, “Before an effect, there’s a cause.” Or, in other words, who I am now (the effect) is determined by occurrences in the past (the causes). Do I understand correctly?

YOUTH: You do.

PHILOSOPHER: So if the here and now of everyone in the world is due to their past incidents, according to you, wouldn’t things turn out very strangely? Don’t you see? Everyone who has grown up abused by his or her parents would have to suffer the same effects as your friend and become a recluse, or the whole idea just doesn’t hold water. That is, if the past actually determines the present, and the causes control the effects.

YOUTH: What, exactly, are you getting at?

PHILOSOPHER: If we focus only on past causes and try to explain things solely through cause and effect, we end up with “determinism.” Because what this says is that our present and our future have already been decided by past occurrences, and are unalterable. Am I wrong?

YOUTH: So you’re saying that the past doesn’t matter?

PHILOSOPHER: Yes, that is the standpoint of Adlerian psychology.

YOUTH: I see. The points of conflict seem a bit clearer. But look, if we go by your version, wouldn’t that ultimately mean that there’s no reason my friend can’t go out anymore? Because you’re saying that past incidents don’t matter. I’m sorry, but that’s completely out of the question. There has to be some reason behind his seclusion. There has to be, or there’d be no explanation!

PHILOSOPHER: Indeed, there would be no explanation. So in Adlerian psychology, we do not think about past “causes” but rather about present “goals.”

YOUTH: Present goals?

PHILOSOPHER: Your friend is insecure, so he can’t go out. Think about it the other way around. He doesn’t want to go out, so he’s creating a state of anxiety.


PHILOSOPHER: Think about it this way. Your friend had the goal of not going out beforehand, and he’s been manufacturing a state of anxiety and fear as a means to achieve that goal. In Adlerian psychology, this is called “teleology.”

YOUTH: You’re joking! My friend has imagined his anxiety and fear? So would you go so far as saying that my friend is just pretending to be sick?

PHILOSOPHER: He is not pretending to be sick. The anxiety and fear your friend is feeling are real. On occasion, he might also suffer from migraines and violent stomach cramps. However, these too are symptoms that he has created in order to achieve the goal of not going out.

YOUTH: That’s not true! No way! That’s too depressing!

PHILOSOPHER: No. This is the difference between etiology (the study of causation) and teleology (the study of the purpose of a given phenomenon, rather than its cause). Everything you have been telling me is based in etiology. As long as we stay in etiology, we will not take a single step forward.

Trauma Does Not Exist

YOUTH: If you are going to state things so forcibly, I’d like a thorough explanation. To begin with, what is the difference you refer to between etiology and teleology?

PHILOSOPHER: Suppose you’ve got a cold with a high fever, and you go to see the doctor. Then, suppose the doctor says the reason for your sickness is that yesterday, when you went out, you weren’t dressed properly, and that’s why you caught a cold. Now, would you be satisfied with that?

YOUTH: Of course I wouldn’t. It wouldn’t matter to me what the reason was—the way I was dressed or because it was raining or whatever. It’s the symptoms, the fact that I’m suffering with a high fever now that would matter to me. If he’s a doctor, I’d need him to treat me by prescribing medicine, giving shots, or taking whatever specialized measures are necessary.

PHILOSOPHER: Yet those who take an etiological stance, including most counselors and psychiatrists, would argue that what you were suffering from stemmed from such-and-such cause in the past, and would then end up just consoling you by saying, “So you see, it’s not your fault.” The argument concerning so-called traumas is typical of etiology.

YOUTH: Wait a minute! Are you denying the existence of trauma altogether?

PHILOSOPHER: Yes, I am. Adamantly.

YOUTH: What! Aren’t you, or I guess I should say Adler, an authority on psychology?

PHILOSOPHER: In Adlerian psychology, trauma is definitively denied. This was a very new and revolutionary point. Certainly, the Freudian view of trauma is fascinating. Freud’s idea is that a person’s psychic wounds (traumas) cause his or her present unhappiness. When you treat a person’s life as a vast narrative, there is an easily understandable causality and sense of dramatic development that creates strong impressions and is extremely attractive. But Adler, in denial of the trauma argument, states the following: “No experience is in itself a cause of our success or failure. We do not suffer from the shock of our experiences—the so-called trauma—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.”

YOUTH: So we make of them whatever suits our purposes?

PHILOSOPHER: Exactly. Focus on the point Adler is making here when he refers to the self being determined not by our experiences themselves, but by the meaning we give them. He is not saying that the experience of a horrible calamity or abuse during childhood or other such incidents have no influence on forming a personality; their influences are strong. But the important thing is that nothing is actually determined by those influences. We determine our own lives according to the meaning we give to those past experiences. Your life is not something that someone gives you, but something you choose yourself, and you are the one who decides how you live.

YOUTH: Okay, so you’re saying that my friend has shut himself in his room because he actually chooses to live this way? This is serious. Believe me, it is not what he wants. If anything, it’s something he was forced to choose because of circumstances. He had no choice other than to become who he is now.

PHILOSOPHER: No. Even supposing that your friend actually thinks, I can’t fit into society because I was abused by my parents, it’s still because it is his goal to think that way.

YOUTH: What sort of goal is that?

PHILOSOPHER: The immediate thing would probably be the goal of “not going out.” He is creating anxiety and fear as his reasons to stay inside.

YOUTH: But why doesn’t he want to go out? That’s where the problem resides.

PHILOSOPHER: Well, think of it from the parents’ view. How would you feel if your child were shut up in a room?

YOUTH: I’d be worried, of course. I’d want to help him return to society, I’d want him to be well, and I’d wonder if I’d raised him improperly. I’m sure I would be seriously concerned and try in every way imaginable to help him back to a normal existence.

PHILOSOPHER: That is where the problem is.

YOUTH: Where?

PHILOSOPHER: If I stay in my room all the time, without ever going out, my parents will worry. I can get all of my parents’ attention focused on me. They’ll be extremely careful around me and always handle me with kid gloves. On the other hand, if I take even one step out of the house, I’ll just become part of a faceless mass whom no one pays attention to. I’ll be surrounded by people I don’t know and just end up average, or less than average. And no one will take special care of me any longer . . . Such stories about reclusive people are not uncommon.

YOUTH: In that case, following your line of reasoning, my friend has accomplished his goal and is satisfied with his current situation?

PHILOSOPHER: I doubt he’s satisfied, and I’m sure he’s not happy either. But there is no doubt that he is also taking action in line with his goal. This is not something that is unique to your friend. Every one of us is living in line with some goal. That is what teleology tells us.

YOUTH: No way. I reject that as completely unacceptable. Look, my friend is—

PHILOSOPHER: Listen, this discussion won’t go anywhere if we just keep talking about your friend. It will turn into a trial in absentia, and that would be hopeless. Let’s use another example.

YOUTH: Well, how about this one? It’s my own story about something I experienced yesterday.

PHILOSOPHER: Oh? I’m all ears.

People Fabricate Anger

YOUTH: Yesterday afternoon, I was reading a book in a coffee shop when a waiter passed by and spilled coffee on my jacket. I’d just bought it and it’s my nicest piece of clothing. I couldn’t help it, I just blew my top. I yelled at him at the top of my lungs. I’m not normally the type of person who speaks loudly in public places. But yesterday, the shop was ringing with the sound of my shouting because I flew into a rage and forgot what I was doing. So how about that? Is there any room for a goal to be involved here? No matter how you look at it, isn’t this behavior that originates from a cause?

PHILOSOPHER: So you were stimulated by the emotion of anger and ended up shouting. Though you are normally mild-mannered, you couldn’t resist being angry. It was an unavoidable occurrence, and you couldn’t do anything about it. Is that what you are saying?

YOUTH: Yes, because it happened so suddenly. The words just came out of my mouth before I had time to think.

PHILOSOPHER: Then suppose you happened to have had a knife on you yesterday, and when you blew up you got carried away and stabbed him. Would you still be able to justify that by saying, “It was an unavoidable occurrence, and I couldn’t do anything about it”?

YOUTH: That . . . Come on, that’s an extreme argument!

PHILOSOPHER: It is not an extreme argument. If we proceed with your reasoning, any offense committed in anger can be blamed on anger and will no longer be the responsibility of the person because, essentially, you are saying that people cannot control their emotions.

YOUTH: Well, how do you explain my anger, then?

PHILOSOPHER: That’s easy. You did not fly into a rage and then start shouting. It is solely that you got angry so that you could shout. In other words, in order to fulfill the goal of shouting, you created the emotion of anger.

YOUTH: What do you mean?

PHILOSOPHER: The goal of shouting came before anything else. That is to say, by shouting, you wanted to make the waiter submit to you and listen to what you had to say. As a means to do that, you fabricated the emotion of anger.

YOUTH: I fabricated it? You’ve got to be joking!

PHILOSOPHER: Then why did you raise your voice?

YOUTH: As I said before, I blew my top. I was deeply frustrated.

PHILOSOPHER: No. You could have explained matters without raising your voice, and the waiter would most likely have given you a sincere apology, wiped your jacket with a clean cloth, and taken other appropriate measures. He might have even arranged for it to be dry-cleaned. And somewhere in your mind, you were anticipating that he might do these things but, even so, you shouted. The procedure of explaining things in normal words felt like too much trouble, and you tried to get out of that and make this unresisting person submit to you. The tool you used to do this was the emotion of anger.

YOUTH: No way. You can’t fool me. I manufactured anger in order to make him submit to me? I swear to you, there wasn’t even a second to think of such a thing. I didn’t think it over and then get angry. Anger is a more impulsive emotion.

PHILOSOPHER: That’s right, anger is an instantaneous emotion. Now listen, I have a story. One day, a mother and daughter were quarreling loudly. Then, suddenly, the telephone rang. “Hello?” The mother picked up the receiver hurriedly, her voice still thick with anger. The caller was her daughter’s homeroom teacher. As soon as the mother realized who was phoning, the tone of her voice changed and she became very polite. Then, for the next five minutes or so, she carried on a conversation in her best telephone voice. Once she hung up, in a moment, her expression changed again and she went straight back to yelling at her daughter.

YOUTH: Well, that’s not a particularly unusual story.

PHILOSOPHER: Don’t you see? In a word, anger is a tool that can be taken out as needed. It can be put away the moment the phone rings, and pulled out again after one hangs up. The mother isn’t yelling in anger she cannot control. She is simply using the anger to overpower her daughter with a loud voice and thereby assert her opinions.

YOUTH: So anger is a means to achieve a goal?

PHILOSOPHER: That is what teleology says.

YOUTH: Ah, I see now. Under that gentle-looking mask you wear, you’re terribly nihilistic! Whether we’re talking about anger or my reclusive friend, all your insights are stuffed with feelings of distrust for human beings!

How to Live Without Being Controlled by the Past

PHILOSOPHER: How am I being nihilistic?

YOUTH: Think about it. Simply put, you deny human emotion. You say that emotions are nothing more than tools, that they’re just the means for achieving goals. But listen. If you deny emotion, you’re upholding a view that tries to deny our humanity, too. Because it’s our emotions, and the fact that we are swayed by all sorts of feelings, that make us human. If emotions are denied, humans will be nothing more than poor excuses for machines. If that isn’t nihilism, then what is?

PHILOSOPHER: I am not denying that emotion exists. Everyone has emotions. That goes without saying. But if you are going to tell me that people are beings who can’t resist emotion, I’d argue against that. Adlerian psychology is a form of thought, a philosophy that is diametrically opposed to nihilism. We are not controlled by emotion. In this sense, while it shows that people are not controlled by emotion, additionally it shows that we are not controlled by the past.

YOUTH: So people are not controlled either by emotion or the past?

PHILOSOPHER: Okay, for example, suppose there is someone whose parents had divorced in his past. Isn’t this something objective, the same as the well water that is always sixty degrees? But then, does that divorce feel cold or does it feel warm? So this is a “now” thing, a subjective thing. Regardless of what may have happened in the past, it is the meaning that is attributed to it that determines the way someone’s present will be.

YOUTH: The question isn’t “What happened?” but “How was it resolved?”

PHILOSOPHER: Exactly. We can’t go back to the past in a time machine. We can’t turn back the hands of time. If you end up staying in etiology, you will be bound by the past and never be able to find happiness.

YOUTH: That’s right! We can’t change the past, and that’s precisely why life is so hard.

PHILOSOPHER: Life isn’t just hard. If the past determined everything and couldn’t be changed, we who are living today would no longer be able to take effective steps forward in our lives. What would happen as a result? We would end up with the kind of nihilism and pessimism that loses hope in the world and gives up on life. The Freudian etiology that is typified by the trauma argument is determinism in a different form, and it is the road to nihilism. Are you going to accept values like that?

YOUTH: I don’t want to accept them, but the past is so powerful.

PHILOSOPHER: Think of the possibilities. If one assumes that people are beings who can change, a set of values based on etiology becomes untenable, and one is compelled to take the position of teleology as a matter of course.

YOUTH: So you are saying that one should always take the “people can change” premise?

PHILOSOPHER: Of course. And please understand, it is Freudian etiology that denies our free will and treats humans like machines.

The young man paused and glanced around the philosopher’s study. Floor-to-ceiling bookshelves filled the walls, and on a small wooden desk lay a fountain pen and what appeared to be a partially written manuscript. “People are not driven by past causes but move toward goals that they themselves set”—that was the philosopher’s claim. The teleology he espoused was an idea that overturned at the root the causality of respectable psychology, and the young man found that impossible to accept. So from which standpoint should he start to argue it? The youth took a deep breath.

Socrates and Adler

YOUTH: All right. Let me tell you about another friend of mine, a man named Y. He’s the kind of person who has always had a bright personality and talks easily to anyone. He’s like a sunflower—everyone loves him, and people smile whenever he’s around. In contrast, I am someone who has never had an easy time socially and who’s kind of warped in various ways. Now, you are claiming that people can change through Adler’s teleology?

PHILOSOPHER: Yes. You and I and everyone can change.

YOUTH: Then, do you think I could become someone like Y? From the bottom of my heart, I really wish I could be like him.

PHILOSOPHER: At this point, I’d have to say that’s totally out of the question.

YOUTH: Aha! Now you’re showing your true colors! So are you going to retract your theory?

PHILOSOPHER: No, I am not. Unfortunately, you have almost no understanding of Adlerian psychology yet. The first step to change is knowing.

YOUTH: So if I can understand just something about Adlerian psychology, can I become a person like Y?

PHILOSOPHER: Why are you rushing for answers? You should arrive at answers on your own, not rely upon what you get from someone else. Answers from others are nothing more than stopgap measures; they’re of no value. Take Socrates, who left not one book actually written by himself. He spent his days having public debates with the citizens of Athens, especially the young, and it was his disciple, Plato, who put his philosophy into writing for future generations. Adler, too, showed little interest in literary activities, preferring to engage in personal dialogue at cafés in Vienna, and hold small discussion groups. He was definitely not an armchair intellectual.

YOUTH: So Socrates and Adler both conveyed their ideas by dialogue?

PHILOSOPHER: That’s right. All your doubts will be dispelled through this dialogue. And you will begin to change. Not by my words, but by your own doing. I do not want to take away that valuable process of arriving at answers through dialogue.

YOUTH: So are we going to try and reenact the kind of dialogue that Socrates and Adler carried out? In this little study?

PHILOSOPHER: Isn’t that good enough for you?

YOUTH: That’s what I’m hoping to find out! So let’s take it as far as we can, until either you retract your theory or I bow before you.

Are You Okay Just As You Are?

PHILOSOPHER: Okay, let’s go back to your query. So you’d like to be a more upbeat person, like Y?

YOUTH: But you just rejected that and said it was out of the question. Well, I guess that’s just how it is. I was just saying that to give you a hard time—I know myself well enough. I could never be someone like that.


YOUTH: It’s obvious. Because we have different personalities, or I guess you could say dispositions.


YOUTH: You, for instance, live surrounded by all these books. You read a new book and gain new knowledge. Basically, you keep accumulating knowledge. The more you read, the more your knowledge increases. You find new concepts of value, and it seems to you that they change you. Look, I hate to break it to you, but no matter how much knowledge you gain, your disposition or personality isn’t going to basically change. If your base gets skewed, all you’ve learned will be useless. Yes, all the knowledge you’ve acquired will come crashing down around you, and then the next thing you know, you’ll be back to where you started! And the same goes for Adler’s ideas. No matter how many facts I may try to accumulate about him, they’re not going to have any effect on my personality. Knowledge just gets piled up as knowledge, until sooner or later it’s discarded.

PHILOSOPHER: Then let me ask you this. Why do you think you want to be like Y? I guess you just want to be a different person, whether it’s Y or someone else. But what is the goal of that?

YOUTH: You’re talking about goals again? As I said earlier, it’s just that I admire him and I think I’d be happier if I were like him.

PHILOSOPHER: You think you’d be happier if you were like him. Which means that you are not happy now, right?

YOUTH: What?

PHILOSOPHER: Right now, you are unable to feel really happy. This is because you have not learned to love yourself. And to try to love yourself, you are wishing to be reborn as a different person. You’re hoping to become like Y and throw away who you are now. Correct?

YOUTH: Yes, I guess that’s right! Let’s face it: I hate myself! I, the one who’s doing this playing around with old-fashioned philosophical discourse, and who just can’t help doing this sort of thing—yes, I really hate myself.

PHILOSOPHER: That’s all right. If you were to ask around for people who say they like themselves, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who’d puff up his or her chest with pride and say, “Yes, I like myself.”

YOUTH: How about you? Do you like yourself?

PHILOSOPHER: At the very least, I do not think I would like to be a different person and I accept who I am.

YOUTH: You accept who you are?

PHILOSOPHER: Look, no matter how much you want to be Y, you cannot be reborn as him. You are not Y. It’s okay for you to be you. However, I am not saying it’s fine to be “just as you are.” If you are unable to really feel happy, then it’s clear that things aren’t right just as they are. You’ve got to put one foot in front of the other, and not stop.

YOUTH: That’s a harsh way of putting it, but I get your point. It’s clear that I’m not right just the way I am. I’ve got to move forward.

PHILOSOPHER: To quote Adler again: “The important thing is not what one is born with but what use one makes of that equipment.” You want to be Y or someone else because you are utterly focused on what you were born with. Instead, you’ve got to focus on what you can make of your equipment.

Unhappiness Is Something You Choose for Yourself

YOUTH: No way. That’s unreasonable.

PHILOSOPHER: Why is it unreasonable?

YOUTH: Why? Some people are born into affluent circumstances with parents who are nice, and others are born poor with bad parents. Because that’s how the world is. And I don’t really want to get into this sort of subject, but things aren’t equal in the world and differences between race, nationality, and ethnicity remain as deep as ever. It’s only natural to focus on what you were born with. All your talk is just academic theory—you’re ignoring the real world!

PHILOSOPHER: It is you who is ignoring reality. Does fixating on what you are born with change the reality? We are not replaceable machines. It is not replacement we need but renewal.

YOUTH: To me, replacement and renewal are one and the same. You’re avoiding the main point. Look, there is such a thing as unhappiness from birth. Please acknowledge that, first of all.

PHILOSOPHER: I will not acknowledge that.


PHILOSOPHER: For one thing, right now you are unable to feel real happiness. You find living hard, and even wish you could be reborn as a different person. But you are unhappy now because you yourself chose being unhappy. Not because you were born under an unlucky star.

YOUTH: I chose to be unhappy? How can I possibly accept that?

PHILOSOPHER: There’s nothing extraordinary about it. It’s been repeated ever since the classical Greek era. Have you heard the saying “No one desires evil”? It’s a proposition generally known as a Socratic paradox.

YOUTH: There’s no shortage of people who desire evil, is there? Of course, there are plenty of thieves and murderers, and don’t forget all the politicians and officials with their shady deals. It’s probably harder to find a truly good, upright person who does not desire evil.

PHILOSOPHER: Without question, there is no shortage of behavior that is evil. But no one, not even the most hardened criminal, becomes involved in crime purely out of a desire to engage in evil acts. Every criminal has an internal justification for getting involved in crime. A dispute over money leads someone to engage in murder, for instance. To the perpetrator, it is something for which there is a justification and which can be restated as an accomplishment of “good.” Of course, this is not good in a moral sense, but good in the sense of being “of benefit to oneself.”

YOUTH: Of benefit to oneself?

PHILOSOPHER: The Greek word for “good” (agathon) does not have a moral meaning. It just means “beneficial.” Conversely, the word for “evil” (kakon) means “not beneficial.” Our world is rife with injustices and misdeeds of all kinds, yet there is not one person who desires evil in the purest sense of the word, that is to say something “not beneficial.”

YOUTH: What does this have to do with me?

PHILOSOPHER: At some stage in your life, you chose “being unhappy.” It is not because you were born into unhappy circumstances or ended up in an unhappy situation. It’s that you judged “being unhappy” to be good for you.

YOUTH: Why? What for?

PHILOSOPHER: How do you justify this? Why did you choose to be unhappy? I have no way of knowing the specific answer or details. Perhaps it will become clearer as we debate this.

YOUTH: You are really trying to make a fool of me. You think this passes for philosophy? I do not accept this at all.

In spite of himself, the young man got up and glared at the philosopher. I chose an unhappy life? Because it was good for me? What an absurd argument! Why is he going to such lengths to ridicule me? What did I do wrong? I’ll dismantle his argument, no matter what it takes. I’ll make him kneel before me. The young man’s face flushed with excitement.

People Always Choose Not to Change

PHILOSOPHER: Sit down. As things stand, it’s only natural that our views clash. I will now give a simple explanation as to the manner in which humans are understood in Adlerian psychology.

YOUTH: Okay, but please be brief.

PHILOSOPHER: Earlier you said that any person’s disposition or personality cannot be changed. In Adlerian psychology, we describe personality and disposition with the word “lifestyle.”

YOUTH: Lifestyle?

PHILOSOPHER: Yes. Lifestyle is the tendencies of thought and action in life.

YOUTH: Tendencies of thought and action?

PHILOSOPHER: How one sees the world. And how one sees oneself. Think of lifestyle as a concept bringing together these ways of finding meaning. In a narrow sense, lifestyle could be defined as someone’s personality; taken more broadly, it is a word that encompasses the worldview of that person and his or her outlook on life.

YOUTH: A person’s view of the world?

PHILOSOPHER: Say there’s someone who worries about himself and says, “I am a pessimist.” One could rephrase that to instead say, “I have a pessimistic view of the world.” You could consider that the issue is not personality but rather the view of the world. It seems that the word “personality” is nuanced and suggests being unchangeable. But if we’re talking about a view of the world, well, then, that should be possible to alter.

YOUTH: Hmm. This is kind of confusing. When you speak of a lifestyle, do you mean a way of living?

PHILOSOPHER: Yes, you could put it that way. To be a little more accurate, it is the way one’s life should be. You probably think of disposition or personality as something with which you are endowed, without any connection to your will. In Adlerian psychology, however, lifestyle is thought of as something that you choose for yourself.

YOUTH: That you choose for yourself?

PHILOSOPHER: Yes, exactly. You choose your lifestyle.

YOUTH: So not only did I choose to be unhappy, but I even went so far as to choose this warped personality, too?

PHILOSOPHER: Absolutely.

YOUTH: Ha! Now you’re really pushing it. When I became aware, I already had this personality. I certainly don’t have any recollection of having chosen it. But it’s the same for you, isn’t it? Being able to choose one’s own personality at will . . . Now that sounds like you’re talking about robots, not people.

PHILOSOPHER: Of course, you did not consciously choose “this kind of self.” Your first choice was probably unconscious, combined with external factors you have referred to—that is, race, nationality, culture, and home environment. These certainly had a significant influence on that choice. Nevertheless, it is you who chose “this kind of self.”

YOUTH: I don’t get what you’re saying. How on earth could I have chosen it?

PHILOSOPHER: Adlerian psychology’s view is that it happens around the age of ten.

YOUTH: Well, for argument’s sake—and now I’m really going out on a limb—say that when I was ten, I unconsciously made this choice of lifestyle or whatever. Would that even matter? You can call it personality or disposition or lifestyle, but, regardless, I had already become “this kind of self.” The state of things doesn’t change at all.

PHILOSOPHER: That is not true. If your lifestyle is not something that you were naturally born with, but something you chose yourself, then it must be possible to choose it over again.

YOUTH: Now you’re saying I can choose it all over?

PHILOSOPHER: Maybe you haven’t been aware of your lifestyle until now, and maybe you haven’t been aware of the concept of lifestyle either. Of course, no one can choose his or her own birth. Being born in this country, in this era, and with these parents are things you did not choose. And all these things have a great deal of influence. You’ll probably face disappointment and start looking at other people and feeling, I wish I’d been born in their circumstances. But you can’t let it end there. The issue is not the past, but here, in the present. And now you’ve learned about lifestyle. But what you do with it from here on is your responsibility. Whether you go on choosing the lifestyle you’ve had up till now, or you choose a new lifestyle altogether, it’s entirely up to you.

YOUTH: Then how do I choose again? You’re telling me, “You chose that lifestyle yourself, so go ahead and select a new one instantly,” but there’s no way I can just change on the spot!

PHILOSOPHER: Yes, you can. People can change at any time, regardless of the environments they are in. You are unable to change only because you are making the decision not to.

YOUTH: What do you mean, exactly?

PHILOSOPHER: People are constantly selecting their lifestyles. Right now, while we are having this tête-à-tête, we are selecting ours. You describe yourself as an unhappy person. You say that you want to change right this minute. You even claim that you want to be reborn as a different person. After all that, then why are you still unable to change? It is because you are making the persistent decision not to change your lifestyle.

YOUTH: No, don’t you see that’s completely illogical? I do want to change; that is my sincere wish. So how could I be making the decision not to?

PHILOSOPHER: Although there are some small inconveniences and limitations, you probably think that the lifestyle you have now is the most practical one, and that it’s easier to leave things as they are. If you stay just like this, experience enables you to respond properly to events as they occur, while guessing the results of one’s actions. You could say it’s like driving your old, familiar car. It might rattle a bit, but one can take that into account and maneuver easily. On the other hand, if one chooses a new lifestyle, no one can predict what might happen to the new self, or have any idea how to deal with events as they arise. It will be hard to see ahead to the future, and life will be filled with anxiety. A more painful and unhappy life might lie ahead. Simply put, people have various complaints about things, but it’s easier and more secure to be just the way one is.

YOUTH: One wants to change, but changing is scary?

PHILOSOPHER: When we try to change our lifestyles, we put our great courage to the test. There is the anxiety generated by changing, and the disappointment attendant to not changing. I am sure you have selected the latter.

YOUTH: Wait . . . Just now, you used the word “courage.”

PHILOSOPHER: Yes. Adlerian psychology is a psychology of courage. Your unhappiness cannot be blamed on your past or your environment. And it isn’t that you lack competence. You just lack courage. One might say you are lacking in the courage to be happy.

Your Life Is Decided Here and Now

YOUTH: The courage to be happy, huh?

PHILOSOPHER: Do you need further explanation?

YOUTH: No, hold on. This is getting confusing. First, you tell me that the world is a simple place. That it seems complicated only because of me, and that my subjective view is making it that way. And also, that life seems complicated just because I make it complicated, all of which is what makes it difficult for me to live happily. Then you say that one should take the stance of teleology, as opposed to Freudian etiology—that one must not search for causes in one’s past, and should deny trauma. You say that people act to achieve some goal or other, instead of being creatures who are driven by causes in their past. Right?


YOUTH: Furthermore, as the major premise of teleology, you say that people can change. That people are always selecting their own lifestyles.

PHILOSOPHER: That is correct.

YOUTH: So I am unable to change because I myself keep repeatedly making the decision not to change. I don’t have enough courage to choose a new lifestyle. In other words, I do not have enough courage to be happy, and that’s why I’m unhappy. Have I got anything wrong?

PHILOSOPHER: No, you haven’t.

YOUTH: Okay, in that case, my question is, What are the real measures I should take? What do I need to do to change my life? You haven’t explained all that yet.

PHILOSOPHER: You are right. What you should do now is make a decision to stop your current lifestyle. For instance, earlier you said, “If only I could be someone like Y, I’d be happy.” As long as you live that way, in the realm of the possibility of “If only such and such were the case,” you will never be able to change. Because saying “If only I could be like Y” is an excuse to yourself for not changing.

YOUTH: An excuse not to change?

PHILOSOPHER: Yes. I have a young friend who dreams of becoming a novelist, but he never seems to be able to complete his work. According to him, his job keeps him too busy, and he can never find enough time to write novels, and that’s why he can’t complete work and enter it for writing awards. But is that the real reason? No! It’s actually that he wants to leave the possibility of “I can do it if I try” open, by not committing to anything. He doesn’t want to expose his work to criticism, and he certainly doesn’t want to face the reality that he might produce an inferior piece of writing and face rejection. He wants to live inside that realm of possibilities, where he can say that he could do it if he only had the time, or that he could write if he just had the proper environment, and that he really does have the talent for it. In another five or ten years, he will probably start using other excuses like “I’m not young anymore” or “I’ve got a family to think about now.”

YOUTH: I can relate all too well to how he must feel.

PHILOSOPHER: He should just enter his writing for an award, and if he gets rejected, so be it. If he did, he might grow, or discover that he should pursue something different. Either way, he would be able to move on. That is what changing your current lifestyle is about. He won’t get anywhere by not submitting anything.

YOUTH: But maybe his dreams will be shattered.

PHILOSOPHER: Well, I wonder. Having simple tasks—things that should be done—while continually coming up with various reasons why one can’t do them sounds like a hard way to live, doesn’t it? So in the case of my friend who dreams of becoming a novelist, it is clearly the “I,” or the “self,” that is making life complicated and too difficult to live happily.

YOUTH: But . . . That’s harsh. Your philosophy is too tough!

PHILOSOPHER: Indeed, it is strong medicine.

YOUTH: Strong medicine! Yes, I agree.

PHILOSOPHER: But if you change your lifestyle—the way of giving meaning to the world and yourself—then both your way of interacting with the world and your behavior will have to change as well. Do not forget this point: One will have to change. You, just as you are, have to choose your lifestyle. It might seem hard, but it is really quite simple.

YOUTH: According to you, there’s no such thing as trauma, and environment doesn’t matter either. It’s all just baggage, and my unhappiness is my own fault, right? I’m starting to feel I’m being criticized for everything I’ve ever been and done!

PHILOSOPHER: No, you are not being criticized. Rather, as Adler’s teleology tells us, “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.” That you, living in the here and now, are the one who determines your own life.

YOUTH: My life is determined at this exact point?

PHILOSOPHER: Yes, because the past does not exist.

YOUTH: All right. Well, I don’t agree with your theories one hundred percent. There are many points I’m not convinced about and that I would argue against. At the same time, your theories are worth further consideration, and I’m definitely interested in learning more about Adlerian psychology. I think I’ve had enough for tonight, but I hope you won’t mind if I come again next week. If I don’t take a break, I think my head might burst.

PHILOSOPHER: I’m sure you need some time on your own to think things over. I am always here, so you can visit whenever you like. I enjoyed it. Thank you. Let’s talk again.

YOUTH: Great! One last thing, if I may. Our discussion today was long and got pretty intense, and I guess I spoke rather rudely. For that, I would like to apologize.

PHILOSOPHER: Don’t worry about it. You should read Plato’s dialogues. The conduct and language of the disciples of Socrates are surprisingly loose. That’s the way a dialogue is supposed to be.


All Problems Are Interpersonal Relationship Problems

The young man was as good as his word. Exactly one week later, he returned to the philosopher’s study. Truth be told, he’d felt the urge to rush back there only two or three days after his first visit. He had turned things over in his mind very carefully, and his doubts had turned to certainty. In short, teleology, the attributing of the purpose of a given phenomenon, rather than its cause, was a sophistry, and the existence of trauma was beyond question. People cannot simply forget the past, and neither can they become free from it.

Today, the young man decided, he’d thoroughly dismantle this eccentric philosopher’s theories and settle matters once and for all.

Why You Dislike Yourself

YOUTH: So after last time, I calmed myself down, focused, and thought things over. And yet, I’ve got to say, I still can’t agree with your theories.

PHILOSOPHER: Oh? What do you find questionable about them?

YOUTH: Well, for instance, the other day I admitted that I dislike myself. No matter what I do, I can’t find anything but shortcomings, and I can see no reason why I’d start liking myself. But of course I still want to. You explain everything as having to do with goals, but what kind of goal could I have here? I mean, what kind of advantage could there be in my not liking myself? I can’t imagine there’d be a single thing to gain from it.

PHILOSOPHER: I see. You feel that you don’t have any strong points, that you’ve got nothing but shortcomings. Whatever the facts might be, that’s how you feel. In other words, your self-esteem is extremely low. So the questions here, then, are why do you feel so wretched? And, why do you view yourself with such low esteem?

YOUTH: Because that’s a fact—I really don’t have any strong points.

PHILOSOPHER: You’re wrong. You notice only your shortcomings because you’ve resolved to not start liking yourself. In order to not like yourself, you don’t see your strong points and focus only on your shortcomings. First, understand this point.

YOUTH: I have resolved to not start liking myself?

PHILOSOPHER: That’s right. To you, not liking yourself is a virtue.

YOUTH: Why? What for?

PHILOSOPHER: Perhaps this is something you should think about yourself. What sort of shortcomings do you think you have?

YOUTH: I’m sure you have already noticed. First of all, there’s my personality. I don’t have any self-confidence, and I’m always pessimistic about everything. And I guess I’m too self-conscious, because I worry about what other people see, and then, I live with a constant distrust of other people. I can never act naturally; there’s always something theatrical about what I say and do. And it’s not just my personality—there’s nothing to like about my face or my body, either.

PHILOSOPHER: When you go about listing your shortcomings like that, what kind of mood does it put you in?

YOUTH: Wow, that’s nasty! An unpleasant mood, naturally. I’m sure that no one would want to get involved with a guy as warped as me. If there were anyone this wretched and bothersome in my vicinity, I’d keep my distance, too.

PHILOSOPHER: I see. Well, that settles it, then.

YOUTH: What do you mean?

PHILOSOPHER: It might be hard to understand from your own example, so I’ll use another. I use this study for simple counseling sessions. It must have been quite a few years ago, but there was a female student who came by. She sat right where you are sitting now, in the same chair. Well, her concern was her fear of blushing. She told me that she was always turning red whenever she was out in public, and that she would do anything to rid herself of this. So I asked her, “Well, if you can cure it, what will you want to do then?” And she said that there was a man she wanted. She secretly had feelings for him but wasn’t ready to divulge them. Once her fear of blushing was cured, she’d confess her desire to be with him.

YOUTH: Huh! All right, it sounds like the typical thing a female student would seek counseling for. In order for her to confess her feelings for him, first she had to cure her blushing problem.

PHILOSOPHER: But is that really the whole case? I have a different opinion. Why did she get this fear of blushing? And why hadn’t it gotten better? Because she needed that symptom of blushing.

YOUTH: What are you saying exactly? She was asking you to cure it, wasn’t she?

PHILOSOPHER: What do you think was the scariest thing to her, the thing she wanted to avoid most of all? It was that the man would reject her, of course. The fact that her unrequited love would negate everything for her, the very existence and possibility of “I.” This aspect is deeply present in adolescent unrequited love. But as long as she has a fear of blushing, she can go on thinking, I can’t be with him because I have this fear of blushing. It could end without her ever working up the courage to confess her feelings to him, and she could convince herself that he would reject her anyway. And finally, she can live in the possibility that If only my fear of blushing had gotten better, I could have . . .

YOUTH: Okay, so she fabricated that fear of blushing as an excuse for her own inability to confess her feelings. Or maybe as a kind of insurance for when he rejected her.

PHILOSOPHER: Yes, you could put it that way.

YOUTH: Okay, that is an interesting interpretation. But if that were really the case, wouldn’t it be impossible to do anything to help her? Since she simultaneously needs that fear of blushing and is suffering because of it, there’d be no end to her troubles.

PHILOSOPHER: Well, this is what I told her: “Fear of blushing is easy to cure.” She asked, “Really?” I went on: “But I will not cure it.” She pressed me “Why?” I explained, “Look, it’s thanks to your fear of blushing that you can accept your dissatisfaction with yourself and the world around you, and with a life that isn’t going well. It’s thanks to your fear of blushing, and it’s caused by it.” She asked, “How could it be . . . ?” I went on: “If I did cure it, and nothing in your situation changed at all, what would you do? You’d probably come here again and say, ‘Give me back my fear of blushing.’ And that would be beyond my abilities.”


PHILOSOPHER: Her story certainly isn’t unusual. Students preparing for their exams think, If I pass, life will be rosy. Company workers think, If I get transferred, everything will go well. But even when those wishes are fulfilled, in many cases nothing about their situations changes at all.

YOUTH: Indeed.

PHILOSOPHER: When a client shows up requesting a cure from fear of blushing, the counselor must not cure the symptoms. Then recovery is likely to be even more difficult. That is the Adlerian psychology way of thinking about this kind of thing.

YOUTH: So what specifically do you do, then? Do you ask what they’re worried about and then just leave it be?

PHILOSOPHER: She didn’t have confidence in herself. She was very afraid that things being what they were, he’d reject her even if she did confess to him. And if that happened, she’d lose even more confidence and get hurt. That’s why she created the symptom of the fear of blushing. What I can do is to get the person first to accept “myself now,” and then regardless of the outcome have the courage to step forward. In Adlerian psychology, this kind of approach is called “encouragement.”

YOUTH: Encouragement?

PHILOSOPHER: Yes. I’ll explain systematically what it consists of once our discussion has progressed a little further. We’re not at that stage yet.

YOUTH: That works for me. In the meantime, I’ll keep the word “encouragement” in mind. So whatever happened to her?

PHILOSOPHER: Apparently, she had the chance to join a group of friends and spend time with the man, and in the end it was he who confessed his desire to be with her. Of course, she never dropped by this study again after that. I don’t know what became of her fear of blushing. But she probably didn’t need it any longer.

YOUTH: Yes, she clearly didn’t have any use for it anymore.

PHILOSOPHER: That’s right. Now, keeping this student’s story in mind, let’s think about your problems. You say that, at present, you notice only your shortcomings, and it’s unlikely that you’ll ever come to like yourself. And then you said, “I’m sure that no one would want to get involved with a guy as warped as me.” I’m sure you understand this already. Why do you dislike yourself? Why do you focus only on your shortcomings, and why have you decided to not start liking yourself? It’s because you are overly afraid of being disliked by other people and getting hurt in your interpersonal relationships.

YOUTH: What do you mean by that?

PHILOSOPHER: Just like the young woman with the fear of blushing, who was afraid of being rejected by the man, you are afraid of being negated by other people. You’re afraid of being treated disparagingly, being refused, and sustaining deep mental wounds. You think that instead of getting entangled in such situations, it would be better if you just didn’t have relations with anyone in the first place. In other words, your goal is to not get hurt in your relationships with other people.

YOUTH: Huh . . .

PHILOSOPHER: Now, how can that goal be realized? The answer is easy. Just find your shortcomings, start disliking yourself, and become someone who doesn’t enter into interpersonal relationships. That way, if you can shut yourself into your own shell, you won’t have to interact with anyone, and you’ll even have a justification ready whenever other people snub you. That it’s because of your shortcomings that you get snubbed, and if things weren’t this way, you too could be loved.

YOUTH: Ha-ha! Well, you’ve really put me in my place now.

PHILOSOPHER: Don’t be evasive. Being “the way I am” with all these shortcomings is, for you, a precious virtue. In other words, something that’s to your benefit.

YOUTH: Ouch, that hurts. What a sadist; you’re diabolical! Okay, yes, it’s true: I am afraid. I don’t want to get hurt in interpersonal relationships. I’m terrified of being snubbed for who I am. It’s hard to admit it, but you are right.

PHILOSOPHER: Admitting is a good attitude. But don’t forget, it’s basically impossible to not get hurt in your relations with other people. When you enter into interpersonal relationships, it is inevitable that to a greater or lesser extent you will get hurt, and you will hurt someone, too. Adler says, “To get rid of one’s problems, all one can do is live in the universe all alone.” But one can’t do such a thing.

All Problems Are Interpersonal Relationship Problems

YOUTH: Wait a minute! I’m supposed to just let that one slip by? “To get rid of one’s problems, all one can do is live in the universe all alone”? What do you mean by that? If you lived all alone, wouldn’t you be horribly lonely?

PHILOSOPHER: Oh, 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.”

YOUTH: If you were really alone, that is, if you existed completely alone in the universe, you wouldn’t be an individual and you wouldn’t feel lonely, either?

PHILOSOPHER: I suppose the very concept of loneliness wouldn’t even come up. You wouldn’t need language, and there’d be no use for logic or common sense, either. But such a thing is impossible. Even if you lived on an uninhabited island, you would think about someone far across the ocean. Even if you spend your nights alone, you strain your ears to hear the sound of someone’s breath. As long as there is someone out there somewhere, you will be haunted by loneliness.

YOUTH: But then you could just rephrase that as, “If one could live in the universe all alone, one’s problems would go away,” couldn’t you?

PHILOSOPHER: In theory, yes. As Adler goes so far as to assert, “All problems are interpersonal relationship problems.”

YOUTH: Can you say that again?

PHILOSOPHER: 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. If all interpersonal relationships were gone from this world, which is to say if one were alone in the universe and all other people were gone, all manner of problems would disappear.

YOUTH: That’s a lie! It’s nothing more than academic sophistry.

PHILOSOPHER: Of course, we cannot do without interpersonal relationships. A human being’s existence, in its very essence, assumes the existence of other human beings. Living completely separate from others is, in principle, impossible. As you are indicating, the premise “If one could live all alone in the universe” is unsound.

YOUTH: That’s not the issue I am talking about. Sure, interpersonal relationships are probably a big problem. That much I acknowledge. But to say that everything comes down to interpersonal relationship problems, now that’s really an extreme position. What about the worry of being cut off from interpersonal relationships, the kind of problems that an individual agonizes over as an individual, problems directed to oneself? Do you deny all that?

PHILOSOPHER: There is no such thing as worry that is completely defined by the individual; so-called internal worry does not exist. Whatever the worry that may arise, the shadows of other people are always present.

YOUTH: But still, you’re a philosopher. Human beings have loftier, greater problems than things like interpersonal relationships. What is happiness? What is freedom? And what is the meaning of life? Aren’t these the themes that philosophers have been investigating ever since the ancient Greeks? And you’re saying, So what? Interpersonal relationships are everything? It seems kind of pedestrian to me. It’s hard to believe that a philosopher would say such things.

PHILOSOPHER: Well, then, it seems there’s a need to explain things a bit more concretely.

YOUTH: Yes, please do! If you’re going to tell me that you’re a philosopher, then you’ve got to really explain things, or else this makes no sense.

PHILOSOPHER: You were so afraid of interpersonal relationships that you came to dislike yourself. You’ve avoided interpersonal relationships by disliking yourself.

These assertions shook the youth to his very core. The words had an undeniable truth that seemed to pierce his heart. Even so, he had to find a clear rebuttal to the statement that all the problems that people experience are interpersonal relationship problems. Adler was trivializing people’s issues. The problems I’m suffering from aren’t so mundane!

Feelings of Inferiority Are Subjective Assumptions

PHILOSOPHER: Let’s look at interpersonal relationships from a slightly different perspective. Are you familiar with the term “feeling of inferiority”?

YOUTH: What a silly question. As you can surely tell from our discussion up to now, I’m just a huge blob of feelings of inferiority.

PHILOSOPHER: What are those feelings, specifically?

YOUTH: Well, for instance, if I see something in a newspaper about a person around my age, someone who’s really successful, I’m always overcome with these feelings of inferiority. If someone else who’s lived the same amount of time I have is so successful, then what on earth am I doing with myself? Or when I see a friend who seems happy, before I even feel like celebrating with him, I’m filled with envy and frustration. Of course, this pimple-covered face doesn’t help matters, and I’ve got strong feelings of inferiority when it comes to my education and occupation. And then there’s my income and social standing. I guess I’m just completely riddled with feelings of inferiority.

PHILOSOPHER: I see. Incidentally, Adler is thought to be the first to use the term “feeling of inferiority” in the kind of context in which it is spoken of today.

YOUTH: Huh, I didn’t know that.

PHILOSOPHER: In Adler’s native German, the word is Minderwertigkeitsgefühl, which means a feeling (Gefühl) of having less (minder) worth (Wert). So “feeling of inferiority” has to do with one’s value judgment of oneself.

YOUTH: Value judgment?

PHILOSOPHER: It’s the feeling that one has no worth, or that one is worth only so much.

YOUTH: Ah, that’s a feeling I know well. That’s me in a nutshell. Not a day goes by without me tormenting myself that there’s no point in being alive.

PHILOSOPHER: Well, then, let’s have a look at my own feelings of inferiority. When you first met me, what was your impression? In terms of physical characteristics.

YOUTH: Um, well . . .

PHILOSOPHER: There’s no need to hold back. Be direct.

YOUTH: All right, I guess you were smaller than I’d imagined.

PHILOSOPHER: Thank you. I am 61 inches tall. Adler was apparently around the same height. There was a time—until I was right around your age, actually—when I was concerned about my height. I was sure that things would be different if I were of average height, eight or even just four inches taller. As if a more enjoyable life were waiting for me. I talked to a friend about it when I was having these feelings, and he said it was “a bunch of nonsense” and simply dismissed it.

YOUTH: That’s horrible! Some friend.

PHILOSOPHER: And then he said, “What would you do if you got taller? You know, you’ve got a gift for getting people to relax.” With a man who’s big and strong, it’s true, it does seem he can end up intimidating people just because of his size. With someone small like me, on the other hand, people let go of their wariness. So it made me realize that having a small build was a desirable thing both to me and to those around me. In other words, there was a transformation of values. I’m not worried about my height anymore.

YOUTH: Okay, but that’s—

PHILOSOPHER: Wait until I am finished. The important thing here is that my height of 61 inches wasn’t inferior.

YOUTH: It wasn’t inferior?

PHILOSOPHER: It was not, in fact, lacking in or lesser than something. Sure, my 61 inches is less than the average height, and an objectively measured number. At first glance, one might think it inferior. But the issue is really what sort of meaning I attribute to that height, what sort of value I give it.

YOUTH: What does that mean?

PHILOSOPHER: My feelings about my height were all subjective feelings of inferiority, which arose entirely through my comparing myself to others. That is to say, in my interpersonal relationships. Because if there hadn’t been anyone with whom to compare myself, I wouldn’t have had any occasion to think I was short. Right now, you too are suffering from various feelings of inferiority. But please understand that what you are feeling is not an objective inferiority but a subjective feeling of inferiority. Even with an issue like height, it’s all reduced to its subjectivity.

YOUTH: In other words, the feelings of inferiority we’re suffering from are subjective interpretations rather than objective facts?

PHILOSOPHER: Exactly. Seeing it from my friend’s point of view that I get people to relax or that I don’t intimidate them—such aspects can become strong points. Of course, this is a subjective interpretation. You could even say it’s an arbitrary assumption. However, there is one good thing about subjectivity: It allows you to make your own choice. Precisely because I am leaving it to subjectivity, the choice to view my height as either an advantage or disadvantage is left open to me.

YOUTH: The argument that you can choose a new lifestyle?

PHILOSOPHER: That’s right. We cannot alter objective facts. But subjective interpretations can be altered as much as one likes. And we are inhabitants of a subjective world. We talked about this at the very beginning, right?

YOUTH: Yes; the well water that’s sixty degrees.

PHILOSOPHER: Now, remember the German word for a feeling of inferiority, Minderwertigkeitsgefühl. As I mentioned a moment ago, “feeling of inferiority” is a term that has to do with one’s value judgment of oneself. So what on earth could this value be? Okay, take diamonds, for instance, which are traded at a high value. Or currency. We find particular values for these things and say that one carat is this much, that prices are such and such. But if you change your point of view, a diamond is nothing but a little stone.

YOUTH: Well, intellectually it is.

PHILOSOPHER: In other words, value is something that’s based on a social context. The value given to a one-dollar bill is not an objectively attributed value, though that might be a commonsense approach. If one considers its actual cost as printed material, the value is nowhere near a dollar. If I were the only person in this world and no one else existed, I’d probably be putting those one-dollar bills in my fireplace in wintertime. Maybe I’d be using them to blow my nose. Following exactly the same logic, there should have been no reason at all for me to worry about my height.

YOUTH: If you were the only person in this world and no one else existed?

PHILOSOPHER: Yes. The problem of value in the end brings us back to interpersonal relationships again.

YOUTH: So this connects to what you were saying about all problems being interpersonal relationship problems?

PHILOSOPHER: Yes, that’s correct.

An Inferiority Complex Is an Excuse

YOUTH: But can you say for sure that feelings of inferiority are really a problem of interpersonal relationships? Even the kind of person who is regarded socially as a success, who doesn’t need to debase himself in relationships with other people, still has some feelings of inferiority? Even the businessman who amasses enormous wealth, the peerless beauty who is the envy of all, and the Olympic gold medalist—every one of them would be plagued by feelings of inferiority. Well, that’s how it seems to me. How should I think about this?

PHILOSOPHER: Adler recognizes that feelings of inferiority are something everyone has. There’s nothing bad about feelings of inferiority themselves.

YOUTH: So why do people have them in the first place?

PHILOSOPHER: It’s probably necessary to understand this in a certain order. First of all, people enter this world as helpless beings. And people have the universal desire to escape from that helpless state. Adler called this the “pursuit of superiority.”

YOUTH: Pursuit of superiority?

PHILOSOPHER: This is something you could think of as simply “hoping to improve” or “pursuing an ideal state.” For instance, a toddler learns to steady himself on both legs. He has the universal desire to learn language and to improve. And all the advancements of science throughout human history are due to this “pursuit of superiority,” too.

YOUTH: Okay. And then?

PHILOSOPHER: The counterpart of this is the feeling of inferiority. Everyone is in this “condition of wanting to improve” that is the pursuit of superiority. One holds up various ideals or goals and heads toward them. However, on not being able to reach one’s ideals, one harbors a sense of being lesser. For instance, there are chefs who, the more inspired and accomplished they become, are forever beset with the sort of feeling of inferiority that makes them say to themselves, I’m still not good enough, or I’ve got to bring my cooking to the next level, and that sort of thing.

YOUTH: That’s true.

PHILOSOPHER: Adler is saying that the pursuit of superiority and the feeling of inferiority are not diseases but stimulants to normal, healthy striving and growth. If it is not used in the wrong way, the feeling of inferiority, too, can promote striving and growth.

YOUTH: The feeling of inferiority is a kind of launch pad?

PHILOSOPHER: That’s right. One tries to get rid of one’s feeling of inferiority and keep moving forward. One’s never satisfied with one’s present situation—even if it’s just a single step, one wants to make progress. One wants to be happier. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the state of this kind of feeling of inferiority. There are, however, people who lose the courage to take a single step forward, who cannot accept the fact that the situation can be changed by making realistic efforts. People who, before even doing anything, simply give up and say things like “I’m not good enough anyway” or “Even if I tried, I wouldn’t stand a chance.”

YOUTH: Well, that’s true. There’s no doubt about it—if the feeling of inferiority is strong, most people will become negative and say, “I’m not good enough anyway.” Because that’s what a feeling of inferiority is.

PHILOSOPHER: No, that’s not a feeling of inferiority—that’s an inferiority complex.

YOUTH: A complex? That’s what the feeling of inferiority is, isn’t it?

PHILOSOPHER: Be careful. The way the word “complex” is used today, it seems to have the same meaning as “feeling of inferiority.” You hear people saying, “I’ve got a complex about my eyelids,” or “He’s got a complex about his education,” that sort of thing. This is an utter misuse of the term. At base, “complex” refers to an abnormal mental state made up of a complicated group of emotions and ideas, and has nothing to do with the feeling of inferiority. For instance, there’s Freud’s Oedipus complex, which is used in the context of discussing the abnormal attraction of the child to the opposite-sex parent.

YOUTH: Yes. The nuances of abnormality are especially strong when it comes to the mother complex and the father complex.

PHILOSOPHER: For the same reason, then, it’s crucial to not mix up “feeling of inferiority” and “inferiority complex,” and to think about them as clearly separate.

YOUTH: Concretely, how are they different?

PHILOSOPHER: There is nothing particularly wrong with the feeling of inferiority itself. You understand this point now, right? As Adler says, the feeling of inferiority can be a trigger for striving and growth. For instance, if one had a feeling of inferiority with regard to one’s education, and resolved to oneself, I’m not well educated, so I’ll just have to try harder than anyone else, that would be a desirable direction. The inferiority complex, on the other hand, refers to a condition of having begun to use one’s feeling of inferiority as a kind of excuse. So one thinks to oneself, I’m not well educated, so I can’t succeed, or I’m not good-looking, so I can’t get married. When someone is insisting on the logic of “A is the situation, so B cannot be done” in such a way in everyday life, that is not something that fits in the feeling of inferiority category. It is an inferiority complex.

YOUTH: No, it’s a legitimate causal relationship. If you’re not well educated, it takes away your chances of getting work or making it in the world. You’re regarded as low on the social scale, and you can’t succeed. That’s not an excuse at all. It’s just a cold hard fact, isn’t it?

PHILOSOPHER: No, you are wrong.

YOUTH: How? Where am I wrong?

PHILOSOPHER: What you are calling a causal relationship is something that Adler explains as “apparent cause and effect.” That is to say, you convince yourself that there is some serious causal relationship where there is none whatsoever. The other day, someone told me, “The reason I can’t get married easily is that my parents got divorced when I was a child.” From the viewpoint of Freudian etiology (the attributing of causes), the parents’ divorce was a great trauma, which connects in a clear causal relationship with one’s views on marriage. Adler, however, with his stance of teleology (the attributing of purpose), rejects such arguments as “apparent cause and effect.”

YOUTH: But even so, the reality is that having a good education makes it easier to be successful in society. I had thought you were wise to the ways of the world.

PHILOSOPHER: The real issue is how one confronts that reality. If what you are thinking is, I’m not well educated, so I can’t succeed, then instead of I can’t succeed, you should think, I don’t want to succeed.

YOUTH: I don’t want to succeed? What kind of reasoning is that?

PHILOSOPHER: It’s simply that it’s scary to take even one step forward; also, that you don’t want to make realistic efforts. You don’t want to change so much that you’d be willing to sacrifice the pleasures you enjoy now—for instance, the time you spend playing and engaged in hobbies. In other words, you’re not equipped with the courage to change your lifestyle. It’s easier with things just as they are now, even if you have some complaints or limitations.

Braggarts Have Feelings of Inferiority

YOUTH: Maybe so, but . . .

PHILOSOPHER: Further, you harbor an inferiority complex about education and think, I’m not well educated, so I can’t succeed. Put the other way around, the reasoning can be, If only I were well educated, I could be really successful.

YOUTH: Hmm, true.

PHILOSOPHER: This is the other aspect of the inferiority complex. Those who manifest their inferiority complexes in words or attitudes, who say that “A is the situation, so B cannot be done,” are implying that if only it were not for A, they’d be capable and have value.

YOUTH: If only it weren’t for this, I could do it, too.

PHILOSOPHER: Yes. As Adler points out, no one is capable of putting up with having feelings of inferiority for a long period of time. Feelings of inferiority are something that everyone has, but staying in that condition is too heavy to endure forever.

YOUTH: Huh? This is getting pretty confusing.

PHILOSOPHER: Okay, let’s go over things one at a time. The condition of having a feeling of inferiority is a condition of feeling some sort of lack in oneself in the present situation. So then, the question is—

YOUTH: How do you fill in the part that’s missing, right?

PHILOSOPHER: Exactly. How to compensate for the part that is lacking. The healthiest way is to try to compensate through striving and growth. For instance, it could be by applying oneself to one’s studies, engaging in constant training, or being diligent in one’s work. However, people who aren’t equipped with that courage end up stepping into an inferiority complex. Again, it’s thinking, I’m not well educated, so I can’t succeed. And it’s implying your capability by saying, “If only I were well educated, I could be really successful.” That “the real me,” which just happens to be obscured right now by the matter of education, is superior.

YOUTH: No, that doesn’t make sense—the second thing you’re saying is beyond a feeling of inferiority. That’s really more bravado than anything else, isn’t it?

PHILOSOPHER: Indeed. The inferiority complex can also develop into another special mental state.

YOUTH: And what is that?

PHILOSOPHER: I doubt you have heard much about it. It’s the “superiority complex.”

YOUTH: Superiority complex?

PHILOSOPHER: One is suffering from strong feelings of inferiority, and, on top of that, one doesn’t have the courage to compensate through healthy modes of striving and growth. That being said, one can’t tolerate the inferiority complex of thinking, A is the situation, so B cannot be done. One can’t accept “one’s incapable self.” At that point, the person thinks of trying to compensate in some other fashion and looks for an easier way out.

YOUTH: What way is that?

PHILOSOPHER: It’s to act as if one is indeed superior and to indulge in a fabricated feeling of superiority.

YOUTH: A fabricated feeling of superiority?

PHILOSOPHER: A familiar example would be “giving authority.”

YOUTH: What does that mean?

PHILOSOPHER: One makes a show of being on good terms with a powerful person (broadly speaking—it could be anyone from the leader of your school class to a famous celebrity). And by doing that, one lets it be known that one is special. Behaviors like misrepresenting one’s work experience or excessive allegiance to particular brands of clothing are forms of giving authority, and probably also have aspects of the superiority complex. In each case, it isn’t that the “I” is actually superior or special. It is only that one is making the “I” look superior by linking it to authority. In short, it’s a fabricated feeling of superiority.

YOUTH: And at the base of that, there is an intense feeling of inferiority?

PHILOSOPHER: Of course. I don’t know much about fashion, but I think it’s advisable to think of people who wear rings with rubies and emeralds on all their fingers as having issues with feelings of inferiority, rather than issues of aesthetic sensibility. In other words, they have signs of a superiority complex.

YOUTH: Right.

PHILOSOPHER: But those who make themselves look bigger on borrowed power are essentially living according to other people’s value systems—they are living other people’s lives. This is a point that must be emphasized.

YOUTH: So, a superiority complex. That’s a very interesting psychology. Can you give me a different example?

PHILOSOPHER: There’s the kind of person who likes to boast about his achievements. Someone who clings to his past glory and is always recounting memories of the time when his light shone brightest. Maybe you know some people like this. All such people can be said to have superiority complexes.

YOUTH: The kind of man who boasts about his achievements? Yes, it is an arrogant attitude, but he can boast because he actually is superior. You can’t call that a fabricated feeling of superiority.

PHILOSOPHER: Ah, but you are wrong. Those who go so far as to boast about things out loud actually have no confidence in themselves. As Adler clearly indicates, “The one who boasts does so only out of a feeling of inferiority.”

YOUTH: You’re saying that boasting is an inverted feeling of inferiority?

PHILOSOPHER: That’s right. If one really has confidence in oneself, one doesn’t feel the need to boast. It’s because one’s feeling of inferiority is strong that one boasts. One feels the need to flaunt one’s superiority all the more. There’s the fear that if one doesn’t do that, not a single person will accept one “the way I am.” This is a full-blown superiority complex.

YOUTH: So though one would think from the sound of the words that inferiority complex and superiority complex were polar opposites, in actuality they border on each other?

PHILOSOPHER: Yes, they are clearly connected. Now, there is one last example I’d like to give, a complex example that deals with boasting. It is a pattern leading to a particular feeling of superiority that manifests due to the feeling of inferiority itself becoming intensified. Concretely speaking, it’s bragging about one’s own misfortune.

YOUTH: Bragging about one’s own misfortune?

PHILOSOPHER: The person who assumes a boasting manner when talking about his upbringing and the like, the various misfortunes that have rained down upon him. If someone should try to comfort this person, or suggest some change be made, he’ll refuse the helping hand by saying, “You don’t understand how I feel.”

YOUTH: Well, there are people like that, but . . .

PHILOSOPHER: Such people try to make themselves “special” by way of their experience of misfortune, and with the single fact of their misfortune try to place themselves above others. Take the fact that I am short, for instance. Let’s say that kind-hearted people come up to me and say, “It’s nothing to worry about,” or “Such things have nothing to do with human values.” Now, if I were to reject them and say, “You think you know what short people go through, huh?” no one would say a thing to me anymore. I’m sure that everyone around me would start treating me just as if I were a boil about to burst and would handle me very carefully—or, I should say, circumspectly.

YOUTH: Absolutely true.

PHILOSOPHER: By doing that, my position becomes superior to other people’s, and I can become special. Quite a few people try to be “special” by adopting this kind of attitude when they are sick or injured, or suffering the mental anguish of heartbreak.

YOUTH: So they reveal their feeling of inferiority and use it to their advantage?

PHILOSOPHER: Yes. They use their misfortune to their advantage and try to control the other party with it. By declaring how unfortunate they are and how much they have suffered, they are trying to worry the people around them (their family and friends, for example), and to restrict their speech and behavior, and control them. The people I was talking about at the very beginning, who shut themselves up in their rooms, frequently indulge in feelings of superiority and use misfortune to their advantage. So much so that Adler himself pointed out, “In our culture weakness can be quite strong and powerful.”

YOUTH: So weakness is powerful?

PHILOSOPHER: Adler says, “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.

YOUTH: I’ve never encountered that viewpoint.

PHILOSOPHER: Of course, the words of the person who has been hurt—“You don’t understand how I feel”—are likely to contain a certain degree of truth. Completely understanding the feelings of the person who is suffering is something that no one is capable of. But as long as one continues to use one’s misfortune to one’s advantage in order to be “special,” one will always need that misfortune.

The youth and philosopher had now covered a series of discussion topics: the feeling of inferiority, the inferiority complex, and the superiority complex. Psychology keywords though they clearly were, the truths they contained differed greatly from the youth’s imagined meanings. Still, something didn’t feel right to him, somehow. What is it about all this that I’m having a hard time accepting? Well, it must be the introductory part, the premise, that is giving me doubts. The youth calmly opened his mouth to speak.

Life Is Not a Competition

YOUTH: But I guess I still don’t really get it.

PHILOSOPHER: Okay, ask me anything you like.

YOUTH: Adler recognizes that the pursuit of superiority—one’s trying to be a more superior being—is a universal desire, doesn’t he? On the other hand, he’s striking a note of warning with regard to excessive feelings of inferiority and superiority. It’d be easy to understand if he could renounce the pursuit of superiority—then I could accept it. What are we supposed to do?

PHILOSOPHER: Think about it this way. When we refer to the pursuit of superiority, there’s a tendency to think of it as the desire to try to be superior to other people; to climb higher, even if it means kicking others down—you know, the image of ascending a stairway and pushing people out of the way to get to the top. Adler does not uphold such attitudes, of course. Rather, he’s saying that on the same level playing field, there are people who are moving forward, and there are people who are moving forward behind them. Keep that image in mind. Though the distance covered and the speed of walking differ, everyone is walking equally in the same flat place. The pursuit of superiority is the mind-set of taking a single step forward on one’s own feet, not the mind-set of competition of the sort that necessitates aiming to be greater than other people.

YOUTH: So life is not a competition?

PHILOSOPHER: That’s right. It’s enough to just keep moving in a forward direction, without competing with anyone. And, of course, there is no need to compare oneself with others.

YOUTH: No, that’s impossible. We’ll always compare ourselves to other people, no matter what. That’s exactly where our feeling of inferiority comes from, isn’t it?

PHILOSOPHER: A healthy feeling of inferiority is not something that comes from comparing oneself to others; it comes from one’s comparison with one’s ideal self.

YOUTH: But . . .

PHILOSOPHER: Look, all of us are different. Gender, age, knowledge, experience, appearance—no two of us are exactly the same. Let’s acknowledge in a positive manner the fact that other people are different from us. And that we are not the same, but we are equal.

YOUTH: We are not the same, but we are equal?

PHILOSOPHER: That’s right. Everyone is different. Don’t mix up that difference with good and bad, and superior and inferior. Whatever differences we may have, we are all equal.

YOUTH: No distinction of rank for people. Idealistically speaking, I suppose so. But aren’t we trying to have an honest discussion about reality now? Would you really say, for instance, that I, an adult, and a child who is still struggling with his arithmetic are equal?

PHILOSOPHER: In terms of the amount of knowledge and experience, and then the amount of responsibility that can be taken, there are bound to be differences. The child might not be able to tie his shoes properly, or figure out complicated mathematical equations, or be able to take the same degree of responsibility as an adult when problems arise. However, such things shouldn’t have anything to do with human values. My answer is the same. Human beings are all equal, but not the same.

YOUTH: Then are you saying that a child should be treated like a full-grown adult?

PHILOSOPHER: No. Instead of treating the child like an adult, or like a child, one must treat him or her like a human being. One interacts with the child with sincerity, as another human being just like oneself.

YOUTH: Let’s change the question. All people are equal. They’re on the same level playing field. But actually, there’s a disparity here, isn’t there? Those who move forward are superior, and those who pursue them from behind are inferior. So we end up at the problem of superior and inferior, don’t we?

PHILOSOPHER: No, we do not. 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.

YOUTH: Have you become free from all forms of competition?

PHILOSOPHER: Of course. I do not think about gaining status or honor, and I live my life as an outsider philosopher without any connection whatsoever to worldly competition.

YOUTH: Does that mean you dropped out of competition? That you somehow accepted defeat?

PHILOSOPHER: No. I withdrew from places that are preoccupied with winning and losing. When one is trying to be oneself, competition will inevitably get in the way.

YOUTH: No way! That’s a tired-out old man’s argument. Young folks like me have to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps amid the tension of competition. It’s because I don’t have a rival running alongside me that I can’t outdo myself. What’s wrong with thinking of interpersonal relationships as competitive?

PHILOSOPHER: If that rival was someone you could call a comrade, it’s possible that it would lead to self-improvement. But in many cases, a competitor will not be your comrade.

YOUTH: Meaning what, exactly?

You’re the Only One Worrying About Your Appearance

PHILOSOPHER: Let’s tie up the loose ends. At the outset, you expressed dissatisfaction with Adler’s definition that all problems are interpersonal relationship problems, right? That was the basis for our discussion on feelings of inferiority.

YOUTH: Yes, that’s correct. The subject of feelings of inferiority was too intense, and I was on the verge of forgetting that point. Why did you bring up the subject in the first place?

PHILOSOPHER: It is connected with the subject of competition. Please remember that. If there is competition at the core of a person’s interpersonal relationships, he will not be able to escape interpersonal relationship problems or escape misfortune.

YOUTH: Why not?

PHILOSOPHER: Because at the end of a competition, there are winners and losers.

YOUTH: It’s perfectly fine to have winners and losers!

PHILOSOPHER: Give some thought to it, then, if it were you, specifically, who had a consciousness of being in competition with the people around you. In your relations with them, you would have no choice but to be conscious of victory or defeat. Mr. A got into this famous university, Mr. B found work at that big company, and Mr. C has hooked up with such a nice-looking woman—and you’ll compare yourself to them and think, This is all I’ve got.

YOUTH: Ha-ha. That’s pretty specific.

PHILOSOPHER: When one is conscious of competition and victory and defeat, it is inevitable that feelings of inferiority will arise. Because one is constantly comparing oneself to others and thinking, I beat that person or I lost to that person. The inferiority complex and the superiority complex are extensions of that. Now, what kind of being do you think the other person is to you, at that point?

YOUTH: I don’t know—a rival, I guess?

PHILOSOPHER: No, not a mere rival. Before you know it, you start to see each and every person, everyone in the whole world, as your enemy.

YOUTH: My enemy?

PHILOSOPHER: You start to think that people are always looking down on you and treating you with scorn, that they’re all enemies who must never be underestimated, who lie in wait for any opening and attack at the drop of a hat. In short, that the world is a terrifying place.

YOUTH: Enemies who must never be underestimated . . . That’s who I’m in competition with?

PHILOSOPHER: This is what is so terrifying about competition. Even if you’re not a loser, even if you’re s