The desire for approval

You are all caught up in the need for approval. You live thinking about how you can be loved by other people, how you can be recognized by other people. – Ichiro Kishimi

Give and It Shall Be Given Unto You

Philosopher: It seems there are still some points that you find unconvincing.

Youth: Unfortunately, there are quite a few. As you so aptly put it, my students do look down on me, but they aren’t the only ones who do that. Almost nobody out there acknowledges that I have some worth, and they just ignore my existence. If they had regard for me and would listen to what I say, my attitude would probably change. And maybe it would even be possible to trust them. But the reality is different. Those guys think little of me, and they always have.

If there is one thing that can be done in such a situation, it is this: to have my worth acknowledged through my work. That is all. Trust and respect and such–all that comes later!

Philosopher: So, in other words, other people should have regard for you first, and then you become successful in your work in order to earn the respect of others?

Youth: That’s right.

Philosopher: I see. Well, think of it this way. Having unconditional trust in other people, having respect for them, is a “giving” behavior.

Youth: Giving?

Philosopher: Yes. It should be easy to understand if we use money as an example instead. Basically, it is people in a position of affluence who can engage in giving something to others. If one does not have enough saved up, one cannot engage in giving.

Youth: Okay, when it comes to money, that makes sense.

Philosopher: And now, you are seeking only to have something given to you, without having given anything, just like a beggar. It is not that you are poor financially, but that you are poor in spirit.

Youth: That is a disrespectful thing to say!!

Philosopher: We have to keep our hearts abundant and give what we have to others. We must not wait for respect from other people, but must ourselves have respect and trust in them. . . . We must not become poor-spirited.

Youth: An objective like that isn’t philosophy, and it isn’t psychology either!

Philosopher: (Laughs) Then let’s take it even further, and bring in a quote from the Bible. Are you familiar with the phrase “Ask and it shall be given to you”?

Youth: Yes, at least it’s a phrase I’ve heard on occasion.

Philosopher: Adler would probably put it like this: “Give, and it shall be given unto you.”

Youth: Wow!!

Philosopher: It is because of one’s giving that one receives. One must not wait to have anything given to one. One must not become a beggar of the spirit. . . . This is an extremely important viewpoint when considering one other interpersonal relationship, continuing from “work” and “friendship.”

Youth: That one other being . . .

Philosopher: At the beginning today, I said the following: Everything we are discussing may be summarized by “love.” There is no task that is stricter or more difficult, or more testing of courage, than the love that Adler speaks of. At the same time, however, the stairway to understanding Adler may be found by embarking on love. Actually, it is no exaggeration to say that that is the only way.

Youth: The stairway to understanding Adler . . .

Philosopher: Do you have the courage to climb it?

From an Art of Being Loved toward an Art of Loving

Philosopher: When thinking about the relationship between love and self-reliance, the task one cannot avoid addressing is that of the parent-child relationship. Newborns are incapable of living by their own power. It is due to the constant devotion of other people–principally their mothers–that they are eventually able to sustain themselves. We are alive here and now because we had the love of our mother or father, and because there was devotion.

Youth: That’s true. There was an unsurpassably beautiful, selfless love.

Philosopher: But if we change the viewpoint, the love here involves a very troublesome matter that cannot be completely settled with the beautiful bond between parent and child. No matter how much we reign supreme at the center of the world during childhood, we are dependent on our parents to stay alive. Our parents have power over the life of this “me,” and if we are abandoned by our parents, we will die. Children are intelligent enough to understand this. And at some point, they realize: It is because I am loved by my parents that I can go on living.

Youth: Undoubtedly.

Philosopher: And it is exactly at that point in time that children choose their own lifestyles. What kind of place is this world in which they live, what kind of people inhabit it, and what about the children themselves–what kind of people are they? They choose their attitude toward life of their own accord. Do you understand what this fact means?

Youth: No, I don’t.

Philosopher: When we choose our lifestyle, its objective can only be to find out “how I can be loved.” We all choose a “lifestyle for being loved” as a survival strategy that is directly linked to our lives.

Youth: A lifestyle for being loved?

Philosopher: Children are excellent observers. They think about the environment in which they have been placed and take the measure of the personalities and dispositions of their parents. If they have siblings, they surmise the positional relationships between them, take stock of their personalities, and consider which “me” will be loved; and on the basis of all these aspects, they choose their lifestyle. For example, at this point, there are children who choose the lifestyle of the “good child” who obeys his parents. And conversely, there are those who choose the lifestyle of the “bad child,” who opposes, rejects, and rebels against almost everything.

Youth: But why? If they turn into the “bad child,” they won’t stand a chance of being loved, will they?

Philosopher: This is a point that is frequently misunderstood. Children who cry, get angry, and shout in rebellion are not incapable of controlling their emotions. Actually, they control their emotions rather too well, and turn them into action. Because they have the intuition that unless they go that far, they will never gain their parents’ love and attention, and their very lives will be endangered.

Youth: So that’s a survival strategy too!

Philosopher: That’s right. A “lifestyle for being loved” is, in all respects, a self-centered lifestyle of garnering attention from others however possible, and searching out how one can stand, however possible, at the center of the world. But that’s not all. That “how I can be loved,” which is rooted in the survival strategies of your childhood, has probably become a criterion of the lifestyle you have now. 

Youth: What did you say!?

Philosopher: In the truest sense of the word, you still have not achieved self-reliance. You are still stuck in a lifestyle of being someone’s child. If you want to assist in your students’ self-reliance and hope to become a true educator, first you must be self-reliant yourself.

Youth: How can you make such assumptions!? I have entered the teaching profession and I live in that social circle. I have chosen my work of my own accord, I support myself on my own earnings, and I have never asked my parents for money or anything like that. I already am self-reliant!

Philosopher: But you do not love anyone yet.

Youth: Argh!!

Philosopher: Self-reliance is not an economic issue or a work issue. It is an attitude toward life, an issue of lifestyle. At some point, the time will come when you resolve to love someone. That will be when you achieve separation from your childhood lifestyle and achieve true self-reliance. Because it is through loving others that we at last become adults.

Youth: But I am self-reliant! I am not reliant on my parents anymore! Wanting to be loved by them never even crosses my mind! Instead of entering the profession my parents had hoped for, I worked for low pay at the university library, and now I am moving forward on the path of the educator.

Philosopher: You have one sibling, an older brother, am I right?

Youth: Yes. My brother is taking over the printing plant that our father runs.

Philosopher: It seems that following the same path as your family did not sit right with you. The important thing to you was “something different from everyone else.” If you went into the same line of work as your father and brother, you would not be able to garner attention and you would not be able to realize your own worth. But it goes beyond work. From early childhood onward, since your brother was older than you, no matter what you did he had more power and more experience, and you never had the slightest chance of winning. According to Adler, “In general, the youngest child chooses a path that differs completely from the other members of this family.”1

Youth: Then what about my brother? What sort of tendencies does he have?

Philosopher: For the first-born child, and also for the only child, the greatest privilege may be that one had a time in which one monopolized the parents’ love. Later-born children do not have the experience of monopolizing their parents. They always have a rival who is ahead of them, and in many cases, they are placed in competition relationships. Yet the first-born child who has monopolized the parents’ love will be forced to come down from that position on the birth of a brother or sister. The first-born child who does not cope with this setback satisfactorily will hope to someday regain that seat of power. Adler refers to this as being a “worshipper of the past” who creates a lifestyle that is conservative, and is pessimistic with regard to the future.

Youth: Then what about the second child? In my case, I am the second child, but also the last-born. What sorts of tendencies does the second child have?

Philosopher: Adler says that a typical second child is instantly recognizable. The second child always has a pacesetter running ahead of him. And at the heart of the second child there lies the feeling of “I want to catch up.” They want to catch up with their elder brother or sister. To catch up, they have to hurry. They are constantly pushing themselves, and planning how to catch up with, overtake, and even triumph over their elder brother or sister. Unlike the conservative first-born child who holds the rule of law in high regard, the second child wishes to overturn even the natural law of birth order. So, second children aim for revolution. Rather than trying to be at peace with the existing powers-that-be as first-born children do, they place worth on overthrowing the powers-that-be.

Youth: What about the only child?

Philosopher: It is true that the only child has no siblings who would become rivals, but in this situation, it is the parents who become the rivals. The child wants so much to have his mother’s love all to himself that he ends up seeing his father as a rival. He is in an environment that is conducive to the development of the so-called mother complex.

Youth: Oh, that’s a rather Freudian idea, isn’t it?

Philosopher: But the issue that Adler regarded as more problematic here is the situation of psychological anxiety in which the only child is placed.

Youth: Psychological anxiety?

Philosopher: First of all, the child is exposed to the anxiety of always having to look around him in the worry that a younger brother or sister will be born and that his position will be threatened. More than anything, he lives in fear of the birth of a new prince or a new princess. And beyond that, he needs to watch out for the cowardice of his parents.

Youth: The cowardice of his parents?

Philosopher: That’s right. There are couples who, on having one child, tell themselves that “economically speaking, and in terms of the amount of work it would require, there’s no way we can afford to raise any more children,” and refrain from having any more–regardless of their actual economic situation.

According to Adler, many such couples are cowardly in their lives, and pessimistic. Moreover, anxiety pervades the atmosphere in their homes, and they place an excessive amount of pressure on their only child and make him or her suffer. As having more than one child was the norm in Adler’s time, he laid more emphasis on this point.

Youth: So parents can’t just be devoted to loving their children, right?

Philosopher: Yes. Limitless love so often transforms into a tool for controlling the child. All parents must uphold the clear objective of self-reliance and go about building equal relationships with their children. 

Youth: And then, regardless of what sort of people their parents are the children can’t help but choose a “lifestyle for being loved.” 

Philosopher: That’s right. You are all caught up in the need for approval. You live thinking about how you can be loved by other people, how you can be recognized by other people. Even the path of the educator, which it would seem you chose yourself, may be a life of “the me that others want,” a life that has the objective of being recognized by others.

Generally speaking, we live controlled by a craving to be loved. We choose our lifestyle at a time when we can only crave to be loved by our parents, and we grow older and become adults still reinforcing that “lifestyle of being loved.”

To get away from dependency upon being loved, the only thing one can do is love. It is accomplished by loving. Not by waiting to be loved or waiting for that perfect mate, but loving of one’s own volition. That is the only way.

Kishimi, Ichiro and Koga, Fumitake (2019 English). The Courage to Be Happy: Discover the Power of Positive Psychology and Choose Happiness Every Day. New York: Simon & Schuster (pp. 233-242).

* * *

1 From Eckstein & Kaufman (2012):

“Siblings also may exert themselves to become different from one another, a process that has been termed sibling de-identification (Adler, 1928). De-identification refers to the tendency for siblings consciously or unconsciously to define themselves as different from one another in order to produce their own identities within the family and garner their share of parental love and attention. Through de-identification processes, siblings develop distinct attributes and engage in different activities and behaviors in order to establish their unique identities within the family. The more similar the siblings are, the more there is a tendency for de-identification.”

“Many of Adler’s childhood memories revolved around his own older brother:

I remember sitting on a beach bandaged up on account of rickets, with my healthy elder brother sitting opposite me. He could run, jump, and move about quite effortlessly, while for me, movement of any sort was a strain and an effort. Everyone went to great pains to help me and my mother and father did all that was in their power to do.

Adler felt his older brother was the favored one in the family.”

Eckstein, D., & Kaufman, J. A. (2012). “The role of birth order in personality: An enduring intellectual legacy of Alfred Adler.” Journal of Individual Psychology, 68(1), 60-74.

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