Last time I was in Melbourne I bought two great books: one about the joys of minimalism which I brought home and promptly lost in the precarious piles of books and magazines that is our kitchen table. The other was about The Courage to be Disliked – a dialogue between philosopher and student that unpacks Adlerian psychology and gently guides us to move beyond our perceived limits.
Written by Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga it challenges our instincts of seeking approval and chasing recognition. It challenges us to choose a life for ourselves – rather than one shaped by the actions and views of others. It asks us “who’s life are we living” and at what cost. It encourages us to give up being liked as an end goal and see what we are really seeking.
As a professional and ex-government bureaucrat, there are probably a few people out there who do not like me – people I have said No to, people I have refused jobs and opportunities, people who have disagreed with me and the organisations I have represent. There are probably a few who are downright angry at me – and a few that probably do not remember my name but do recall not getting what they wanted. So, I have grown to be kind of comfortable with being disliked – as long as that dislike is in a contained and distant place.
What I am not as comfortable with is the ability to be disliked in the moment: the ability to face someone’s anger and disappointment head on; to accept the projections of other experiences of rejection being thrown in my face; to carry the emotional burden of frustration that the world does not always go the way they want.
The adult part accepts that there will inevitably be conflict somewhere in my working life – and I need to toughen up and deal with it as professionally as possible. My training as a coach has also had a steady practice in being non-judgemental of ‘difficult’ emotions. I can now sit with someone in sadness and grief, and honour their ability to manage that state. But when the yelling starts – I still run for cover.
The parent part of used to take on others aggression as somehow my fault, and start to soothe everyone down with apologies and promises of better things to come. This often left me compromised and powerless, a people-pleaser not a great “relationship manager”.
Nowadays the parent gets a bit fed up with that – and at the first sign that someone is trying to manipulate me – it is a swift reminder that it’s my house, my rules – and don’t come back unless you have thought about it missus. (I must admit I like this parent sometimes!)
But the child part just feels bewildered and scared when someone starts yelling or not listening or imposing their view. She feels uncomfortable because she does not feel safe anymore and wants to run away and hide. Not being liked can become not being accepted, wanted or safe to a child – and that is a scary place to be.
And if I ignore this child part she won’t let up – late night ruminations, ranting to loved ones and being consumed by an issue that has long past - are all signs that inner security has yet to be restored. It takes quiet and understanding and listening to soothe this child, and bring myself back to equilibrium.
So, it does take courage to be disliked. To face conflict with an adult’s understanding of both yourself and others. To accept emotional “spillage” as part of the process and to be confident in drawing your boundaries of acceptable and non-acceptable behaviours.
Unfortunately, we are more likely to be taught to appease or deflect conflict, to ignore or avoid it. We may have been taught to go “toe to toe” in any battle and never give up until the last person was down. To fight, flight or fade in the face of being disliked.
But if we have courage – the heart-centred approach – to being disliked as a moment in time – then we can be with a conflict in a more objective, satisfying and adult way. By choosing not to respond to the dislike, but instead stay curious and listening no matter how hard, we will find a better way.