Contempt as a Defense (Mine)

Last week, I decided to withdraw from my contract with New Harbinger for the publication of my book on defense mechanisms. If you’ve read my earlier post where I discussed what this book deal meant to me, you’ll understand this was a very difficult and painful decision. The editorial committee had been enthusiastic about the first four chapters I sent them, offering useful suggestions that helped me improve the flow and clarify my message. When I received their comments for the next batch, it didn’t take long for me to realize that I couldn’t make the changes they were asking for. They wanted me to refocus the book, eliminate the broader social perspective and turn it into a self-help book like the other titles they publish. I have declined to do so and will return the small advance I received.

Watching myself react to their comments, I could see my familiar old defense mechanisms at work. I thought it might be useful to describe that experience. One of the points I often stress on this website, about what it means to be “after psychotherapy,” is that your old issues and ways of coping with them (your defenses) don’t disappear; you learn to recognize them as they come up, hopefully “disarm” them and find different ways of responding. So here’s a faithful (and somewhat embarrassing) account of my process. Be nice.

My first reaction on reading their comments was indignation of the narcissistic variety. How dare they not recognize the brilliance of these chapters?! What set me off was their letter’s opening: “These chapters substantially miss the mark.” One of the rules in my writer’s group is that you always begin your response to a reading with praise, by identifying what works and what you like about it first, hopefully defusing any automatic defensive reactions to the critique that follows. It was the way the first letter from New Harbinger had begun, in response to the early part of my book: “These chapters are very strong.” I readily accepted their first set of suggestions but grew indignant in response to the second.

I’ve been living inside of me for too long now not to know when I’m getting my grandiose back up. Within minutes, I was smiling at myself. I went back through their notes and identified a few useful points, but I still felt certain that I wouldn’t be able to give them what they wanted. Mostly, I felt scornful, full of contempt for the way they wanted to dumb my writing down, fit me into a box. After all, they publish quite a few books with The Gift of … in the title. Many other publications in the New Narbinger library profess to teach you how to “overcome” this or that disorder or bad feeling. In a way, NH stands for everything I oppose in my profession: the simplistic CBT approach, the sentimentalization of human psychology, the failure to address unconscious material. In my thoughts, I sneered at them for being such mindless drones, an assembly-line publisher that keeps releasing the same book over and over.

Even if there was some truth to my complaints, the degree of contempt bothered me. In my view, contempt usually functions as a defense against shame; rather than “running with” my defenses, hopping on board the contempt-and-indignation train of thought, I made myself quiet down and wonder whether I might be feeling shame. Eventually, I realized that, in fact, I was. If I hadn’t brought quiet to my mind, I might never have “heard” it; but there it was, an unmistakeable feeling of shame. I had failed. Yes, I know — I didn’t really fail; I could have argued with myself that I had absolutely no reason to feel shame. Nonetheless, the shame was there and it was quite real.

It has nothing to do with actual failure; this kind of shame is the lasting residue of a troubled childhood, coming from a dysfunctional family of origin. It’s not reasonable, and you can’t argue it away. It simply is. Especially when I derive narcissistic gratification from something — e.g., the great pride I felt in being able to say I had sold my book — the loss of that achievement can throw me back on the residual shame that will always be with me. It no longer feels toxic or unbearable. I recognize it when it comes up, try not to defend against it in my typical ways, and eventually it will pass.

I stopped thinking of the editorial staff as a bunch of morons. New Harbinger is a business. The editors who work there understand their market extremely well; they know what their target audience wants and what kind of book will sell, much better than I do. In the final analysis, I think it was simply a bad fit. I don’t write for their audience, nor would those readers be much interested in my perspective. I have a lot to say and I’m confident in its value, but it wouldn’t appeal to the New Harbinger reader.

Indignation has passed. Scorn and contempt have passed. The shame has largely faded. Now I just feel sad. It’s a big loss.

At the same time, I feel liberated. Now I don’t have to adapt myself to the New Harbinger format; I can simply write the book exactly the way I want to write it — just as I say exactly what I want to say here on my very own website.

I’ll self-publish my book in the fall. Maybe my Amazon numbers will be high enough to garner interest from another publisher, but it will be my book then, already in print, written exactly to my standards. That feels really good and helps with the sense of loss.

By Joseph Burgo

Joe is the author and the owner of, one of the leading online mental health resources on the internet. Be sure to connect with him on Google+ and Linkedin.


  1. BRAVO! Thank You for putting all that into words. I will eagerly await your book as you intended.

    1. I think one of the reasons why I wrote about it is because I feel the need for some encouragement. Thanks!

      1. I think we will all be rewarded because you decided to slow down & take the braver route. I think the insight gained will be more valuable to you and all of us. This is exciting when someone makes a stand for themselves! We all get better quality as a result … not some watered-down, fast-food version.

  2. This was a really helpful post, thanks for your courage to share the way you worked through your reactions. Your writing is always very intimate and instantly relate-able for me, I’m glad you are going to write the book you want to write!

    Thanks again,

  3. As always, your willingness to be transparent in your writing creates a special intimacy with me/us, your readers. I appreciate your walking us all the way through your process. I resonated with your continuing to feel the big loss, while at the same time recognizing the liberation. Too often I feel compelled to move on without acknowledging the complexity of the feeling. I’ll try to keep an eye out for the hidden shame the next time I feel indignant–probably won’t have to wait too long!

  4. I too, am feeling inspired to watch out for the indignation, the “how dare they”, etc., and once I’ve idetified it, to quiet myself and listen.

    Thank you for sharing this! It’s vulnerable of you to do so, but you are right, it was useful and helpful! It helped me, in that as you were describing the reactons, I felt/thought, “Oh, I do that too, here’s what I can do about it when that happens.”

    And good for you, standing up for yourself even though it sounded very hard.

    1. This simple idea is what I want to get across. We don’t “triumph” over anything; we don’t permanently “resolve” certain issues. We come to know ourselves and our typical reactions so we can recognize them and hopefully do something different: Oh, I’m doing that defensive thing again, like I usually do; now how I can I respond differently? That to me represents authentic change, rather than the idealized kind.

  5. Good job.

    I think most people wait too long to walk away when the fit isn’t right, blaming the problem on themselves when it’s really just a problem of bad fit. I think this is exacerbated because few are willing to take responsibility for the impasse. For example, this publisher didn’t say, “Joe, you’re a good writer, but we now see this house isn’t the right fit for this book, let’s see how we can all ease out gracefully.” Instead, they blamed you, it seems. You, in contrast, looked within first.

    Best of luck with the manuscript. Self-publishing is always an option, but there are also other industry publishers that could well be interested.

    1. In all fairness to the publisher, they wanted to continue working with me, but they were very clear that it had to be on their terms. They didn’t blame me per se; I saw what they wanted and said ‘no’.

      I had a lot of ambivalence about this contract from the beginning. My personal journey has been to find my own way and build my audience directly, rather than having someone give me their stamp of approval. If I were to approach a different publisher, they would also want me to revise it as they saw fit. What’s best for me now is to self-publish. Then, if my numbers or strong, a mainstream publisher might be interested in the book as written.


  6. I’ve had thoughts in response to so many of your recent posts but haven’t made the time to write them before the comment-discussion seemed to run its course and a new post was up. But I’ve appreciated so much of what you’ve been writing. Now I’m compelled to respond to this post, because I can so imagine and understand what you’ve just gone through Publishing is such a tough business these days, as you well know, and it is really too bad that the editors couldn’t manage a more collaborative approach to working with you.

    Meanwhile, many of us who read your work appreciate the textured way you approach and convey your sensibility — like this point today about self-knowledge vs. “triumphing over.” I do believe you’ll find an audience for your book.

    1. I hope you’re right. Unfortunately, the “textured way” I approach my subject (as you so nicely put it) was just what they objected to.

  7. Sorry about what happened. Your honesty blows me away!
    I look forward to reading your posts on a regular basis. My thoughts as I read your post was that you are very noble to turn down such a lucrative book deal [I would not be so noble]–you stuck to your beliefs and I admire you for that. I have read the NH books and enjoy them–especially the ACT ones. However, I also enjoy your posts immensely. I have read a lot of peer reviewed articles; scholarly texts etc.—I find your ideas to be original and very though provoking. I look forward to ordering your book about defense mechanisms on Amazon.

    1. I’m hopeful that when the time comes, many people who read this blog will buy the book like you. It will be interesting to see how much of an audience I have. I know I get a lot of comments but it’s hard to know the actual size of the readership.

  8. I’m sorry it didn’t work out, but I think your instincts are dead on. Your audience is probably not the typical self-help market. Do you have an agent? You may yet be able to find a publisher who is interested in your book exactly as you intended it. Your credentials and the size of your following should be of interest to them. If not, self publish! You appear to have a loyal following. At the very least, be assured that what you are putting out is exceptionally helpful to many of us who have had psychotherapy and understand where you are coming from.

    1. As I said in reply to a prior comment, I think the best route for me now is to self-publish. It’s not uncommon these days for a self-published book to do well enough that a mainstream publisher picks it up. That’s my hope.

  9. Your post increased my awareness of the dynamics of my own shame. And it sounds like you just might be writing a book that is worth reading – defencemechanisms are to be understood in a social/environmental and probably a historical context also – to me that is almost self-evident. I will buy a copy.

    1. Thank you, thank you, thank you! One of the joys in writing this book has been describing all the ways a psychodynamic understanding of defense mechanisms has been incorporated into our culture, how references to projection, repression, denial, etc. show up in movies, TV shows, everyday conversation, all over the place. As I went on, I realized I was writing something “larger” than what they had in mind but I couldn’t quite restrain my enthusiasm in the way I needed to do.

  10. So sorry to hear about this development. Don’t hurry the book though just so you can self-publish. If one publisher was interested then another one might be too.

  11. Joesph! Can only echo what the others have said. Best of luck with your book. It can only be good if it is half as good, concise and clearly stated as your articles here on your website. Write it for yourself, let that enthusiasm in, enjoy the process and wait for that success coming around the corner.

    By the way, Joseph, don’t be HARD on yourself! Human reactions are just that – human reactions.

    As KLinIdaho says: We’ll all get better quality as a result. Look forward to the book.


  12. brave to say no be honest and risk loss and shame arising
    brave to talk so honestly
    respect and gratitude,
    really heart bolstering for others like me to believe we can step up too

  13. Delighted to hear your voice in the field of therapy. I’m helping a friend write a book & it’s terrifying at times!!! Juggling a busy practice, having a family & slogging it out on the computer is exhilarating & exhausting….and humbling….I’m only as good as I am now…
    Thank you for sharing. Blessings with your work.

  14. I’m awaiting your book badly as I really want to hear about Defense Mechanisms and your viewpoints. I’m also curious if there are other books on defense mechanisms as my aim in career is to become a self-conscious emotion researcher. The self-conscious emotions are an integral part in the defense mechanism process, so I’ll be very happy to see your and a few others viewpoints. Could you include a chapter or two on others viewpoints?

    I’m also curious as to you definition of contempt. Many have defined contempt as a ‘basic’ emotion, but it is heavily controversial since the expression is asymmetrical. Also, it requires self-evaluation and that usually indicates self-conscious involvement. How would you define contempt? I have of course my own feelings over contempt, but I’m curious of yours?

    I’m also curious as to the content in your book?

    1. Ben,

      The book has three sections. The first three chapters introduce the reader to the unconscious mind, how defense mechanisms ward off pain, and the sorts of experience that we human beings must confront and often find difficult to bear. The long middle section includes chapters about individual defense mechanisms, what they are, how they show up in people around us, and how to recognize them in ourselves. The final section might be thought of as an extended version of this post — a description of how to work with one’s defense mechanisms and learn to “disarm” them. Each chapter includes exercises to help the reader identify his or her defense mechanisms and eventually respond differently. It is not a scholarly work. It’s meant for the lay reader and so it won’t include the usual literature review you find in academic writing.

      As for contempt, I’m not up on the debate as to whether it’s basic or not. I know that disgust is considered basic but that feels quite physiological in nature. Here’s a definition from the internet that pretty much coincides with my view: “The feeling that a person or a thing is beneath consideration, worthless, or deserving scorn.” It usually involves involves a strong feeling of superiority. That doesn’t sound basic in the way that disgust or shame does, at least not to me.

  15. Thank you for your honesty and clarity. I’ve read your blog for a few months now. There are so many topics I understand more clearly due to your writing. This is an invaluable resourse and I feel your book will be also. I look forward to reading it. Thank you!

    1. I’m hoping that it will be a resource for people who may not be able to afford psychotherapy but could really benefit from learning about psychodynamic ideas. Many thanks.

  16. Somehow this is one of the most moving posts so far. IMO it’s probably your most powerful statement on the idea that therapy is never truly over.

    1. My own therapist used to say that our work together would be over when I was able to carry it on alone, by myself, because (as you say) it is never truly over.

  17. Excellent to hear that you are not eliminating the broader perspective. The reduction to individualism can be very damaging I think – it so often leads to moralising and blaming the victim.

    Looking forward to reading your book.

  18. Dear Dr. Burgo,

    This post was absolutely awesome. Primarily because it resonated with a very core part of my shame. I’m feeling incredibly bad as I type this comment right now because of a perceived rejection, and my mind is automatically trying to console my inner child with rationalizations, but to no avail.

    And then I read your line … “I recognize it when it comes up, try not to defend against it in my typical ways, and eventually it will pass.” … and I realized that every time I felt this way, I tried to invoke one of my defenses. By this has put a lot into perspective now.

    I’m not happy about the fact that there’s nothing I can do about this “residual shame”, but at the very least I have learned something important about myself today.

    Thanks & Regards,

    1. I understand that this is not the “answer” any of us wants to hear — that we just have to cope with residual shame from time to time — but I believe it’s the truth.

  19. The most important part of this post is your description of how you processed emotions “post therapy.” It gives me confidence that I can get there and deal with issues on my own.

    1. That’s very good to hear because I agree that it’s the most important part. Thanks.

  20. Thank you Joseph for this typically honest and direct account of an experience I know pretty well myself – I’m a writer by profession. I’m really looking forward to reading your book. Your dealing with this problem sounds so – well – ‘authentic’ is the only word I can think of, and I’m sure that will now be reflected even more strongly in the book you write.

    1. As a writer by profession, you must have to deal with a lot of criticism (some of it not very thoughtful, informed or helpful), so I’m sure you know just what I’m talking about.

  21. I needed to hear the self-publishing “defense” today, because it is the choice that gives writers and authors more freedom. Your story is perfect as a green light for those of us who are already on the self publication track. Made my day!!

  22. I had my latest book of original poems, as opposed to translations, turned down by my publisher last year. on the grounds that my two previous books had not sold. He didn’t comment on the poems or poem cycle which had taken me ten years to write.
    First shock or the numb absence of feeling that comes over me when faced with something I can’t cope with immediately. Second, anger at the publishing house’s inability to market me (no evidence that they hadn’t done so. Third, grandiose fantasies of eventual triumph with another publisher. Fourth, I finally got round to sending it elsewhere with the feeling “You win some, you lose some.” Took me nine months to get through that.

    1. James,

      This is an all-too-familiar story these days, isn’t it? Your publisher does nothing to promote your book then drops you because your numbers aren’t good enough. It seems they want you not only to write the book, but to advertise and promote it via social media. What exactly is it that they bring to the table other than getting it into bookstores for six weeks, if you’re lucky?

      I have a friend with four novels in print. The third did rather the well, the fourth not as well. When he submitted his proposal for the next book, the publisher rejected it with a list of criticisms, then added: “Of course, if your last book had done better, we’d feel differently.” So are they valid criticisms, or merely the justification of a commercial decision?

      Publishing is a business, of course. But the way the big houses operate now is a pretty poor business plan. Buy a book for $100K, do nothing to promote it then berate the author for failure. Huh?

  23. This is a very timely post for me as I am currently sitting at work fuming over a lukewarm response by colleagues to an idea I suggested that I thought was brilliant. I have been sending emails all morning trying to justify its brilliance – not very gracious, and I need to realize that there’s a big loss under all this because the strategies/ priorities of my colleagues and managers are not mine, and yet they call the shots. Basically, I do think I have to leave my job as you left your book contract, to maintain my integrity and my own values which just don’t fit in here, try as I might to persuade others to adopt them because I’d rather keep my employment. I observe this same conflict happening a lot in others with their bosses too, it is hard to disentangle what is shame at play (I know there is some shame for me because I feel, to use the PTSD slang, ‘triggered’, by the work difficulties) but also what is righteous outrage at others being less ethical (there must be an element of this?)

    1. Interesting that you should bring this up as I’ve been thinking this morning about those cases where contempt is justified, not merely defensive, and moral outrage the appropriate response. I remember in my training that I always resisted the expectation that we should “understand and accept” everything, and once we did, then we wouldn’t feel emotions like contempt or outrage. I do not want to write those feelings out of my character.

      1. I think I’ll try to focus on that kind of discernment. Nearly everyone I know well say that the key aspect of my character is that I help people transform, and I feel this to be true. I’ve had to do an overwhelming amount of transforming myself (to heal) and I can share the enthusiasm to do that. Unfortunately, I often end up in situations where those around me favour stability/ not rocking the boat/ not changing to change and this leads to frustration, time and again. It’s only very recently that I am beginning to see my ‘power’ to help others transform as a strength, as something valuable, and to see where I might more appropriately channel this in the outside world rather than having constant battles with people who find real change wearying/ threatening/ undesirable etc (though they’d surely protest the contrary…) I’m not exactly a revolutionary, but I do need outlets for my belief in/ practice of changing things for the better…

    1. Thank you, Peggy.

      For those readers, who don’t know my friend Peggy Payne, she’s a superb novelist (Revelation, Sister India), a classmate from the Thursday afternoon writer’s group, and the author of a fine blog. Check it out:

  24. Isn’t it normal to feel moral outrage at times? Nor is it abnormal IMO to feel upset because one’s book isn’t what the publishers want.
    And I can probably safely say that there is not one famous author who did not receive maybe dozens of rejection slips from publishers who thought the work not suitable. Yet when those authors shot to fame via a more intuitive or insightful publisher, thereby making a lot of money for all concerned, the rejecting publishers must have been kicking their own shins.
    But there it is. These setbacks are part of life. Some days you get the bear, some days the bear gets you.

    Joseph, maybe I am misunderstanding something, but surely it is not narcissistic to feel delight when one has a success? I would be turning cartwheels if I sold a book. It would be the worst of false modesty to do otherwise.

    You could be right about publishers seeming a bit mindless. They will publish rubbish if that rubbish sells. Look at the chick-lit market! Heh heh. Now how about that for a bit of contempt.

    Good question:

    “So are they valid criticisms, or merely the justification of a commercial decision?”


    1. I think that narcissism has gotten a bad rap, largely because of the way it’s discussed in the media now. There is such a thing as normal or healthy narcissism — the basis for genuine self-esteem and pride in one’s accomplishments. I felt a healthy narcissistic sense of gratification when I sold my book, which I could put into everyday language and simply say I felt good about myself.

      I try not to take refuge in “they’ll be kicking themselves” fantasies. It feelings like a grandiose kind of triumph … which is not to say that, if and when the time comes, I won’t be gloating!

    1. Trust me — when that day comes, I will make a big, happy and proud announcement here on my website!

  25. Congrats!!! for staying on course and true to yourself. I for one, will be happy to purchase “The Gift of … ” when it becomes available in the standard you chose to write it. As always, your insight and transparency are refreshing. Write-on!

    1. Actually, my book won’t have “The Gift of …” in the title. There’s already enough books with a name like that! But thanks so much for your support.

  26. So, this is where you’ve been.

    Writing is an art, it is like painting a picture. Art is an expression of your self and when someone else messess with it it is like they are trying to change a piece of who you are.

    I understand completely why you would not want to further this writing venture with them.

    1. More and more, this book feels like my statement about how I work, how I think about human beings, what matters to us and how we protect ourselves from pain we can’t bear. I felt increasingly trapped by the self-help format they wanted. Thanks.

  27. Great post. I just want to add one thing:

    What set me off was their letter’s opening: “These chapters substantially miss the mark.”

    I think even if they followed the rules of your writing group and prefaced that with a positive statement, it would still be a terrible criticism on their part. How could they tell you some chapters you wrote “substantially missed the mark” like it’s some objective truth. It may have missed the mark THEY wanted, but it didn’t miss YOUR mark. It sounds like a minor nitpick, but I hate when people represent their own standards or preferences as universal, objective ones and then make it seem like you made a “mistake”. I know it’s nitpicky, but I’d much rather they just say “it doesn’t align with our vision and intent” than to just make a blanket value statement like “substantially missed the mark.”

    1. Funny you say that because when I wrote back to them I said that it was no surprise I had missed their mark because I wasn’t aiming for it. (That was when I was still feeling scornful.) I don’t think I understood, entering into the contract, how specific their idea was for what a self-help book should be.

  28. I understand, Joseph. The word narcissism on its own, without the qualifier. Healthy narcissism is good. Pathological narcissism, no.

    aaaahh, a little fantasy now and then is delightful. We’d be less than human if we didn’t have a little gloat now and then.


  29. Thank you for your altruism.
    Your courage is impressive.
    The sharing like you do helps me with my issues.
    Your mention of accepting shame as part of the process is an eye opener for me.
    I’m looking forward to your book!
    Thanks again, Peggy

    1. Thank you, Peggy. I’m feeling a little overwhelmed by all the supportive comments.

  30. I felt sad for you that your deal was not what you had hoped it would be but grateful for you sharing the demonstration of what listening to your self really feels like. Not just the gritiness of defenses but also the knowing of what is right for you. I can feel your gitiness now in your determination and look foward to reading your book. Thankyou for continuing to give so openly of yourself to this blog.

    1. I am nothing if nothing determined. All these kind and supportive comments have only bolstered my resolve.

  31. Joe,

    You said that your pride in being able to say you sold your book was narcisstic. Why? I think that’s a reasonable thing to feel proud about.

    1. I think there is such a thing as healthy narcissism, as opposed to the pathological kind. The healthy kind has to do with pride in oneself and one’s accomplishments, and a feeling of pleasure when they are acknowledged by others. That’s a good thing, yes?

  32. I forget how many rejections Stephen King got for his books, but it was astounding! I’ve been reading everything you have been writing since I found this site and feel comforted that there is at least someone out there who is so insightful, modest, realistic and brilliant. I look forward to your book in October. In fact, I just put it into my phone calendar for October! Kudos to you!

    1. Many thanks, Lynn. I admire Stephen King’s perseverance but I’m tired of being rejected. I just want to do it my way now, without needing anyone’s approval … other than the people who read me here and appreciate what I have to say.

  33. Joseph,
    thank you again for this post (for all the reasons mentioned by above comments)… if only i had read this 20 years ago, so as to understand the crippling shame and defences which led to me abandoning an academic career!
    i too look forward to reading your book…

    1. It sounds like there’s a long story there, about abandoning your academic career. I hope it’s not too painful a regret. Thanks for your comment, Anna.

  34. In this article you use your personal experience to show us how to deal with our own perceived adversity. You felt the feelings but rather than allowing them to dictate your reaction you corrected your perception and from a more objective position you made a decision. Brilliantly written and it serves as a very useful practical guide to us all. You walk the talk and that is why you are so popular! Thank you.

    1. Thanks so much. This and the other comments are making me feel much better about my decision.

  35. Know that your book is going to get as far as Lesotho; where psychotherapy seems to be non-existent, and where parents seem like they can do no wrong! Complain about your upbringing and the parents involved and people get to be so uncomfortable, even those who claim to be in the counseling profession (those I have tried talking to anyway) … and that has a way of making the already felt shame worse, leaving one feeling invalidated, wrong and with absolutely no support.

    I have been reading your blog since a week after you posted the article on narcissistic mother…interestingly I came across that article when I googled “post narcissistic mother”, because I had gotten to the point where I was tired of spending time reading only about how my narcissistic and borderline mother has affected me. Having read about it for 2 years and affected for 33 years before I could be aware of the problem, I wanted to read something to get me beyond her effect on my life; and your posts/articles and the comments of some of your readers have proved to be that something. I cannot wait to order your book from Amazon!

    1. Lesotho — I’m bowled over! It’s especially good to hear that what I write is helpful to someone who lives in a place where “psychotherapy seems to be non-existent.” I’m hoping that my book will be helpful to exactly those people who don’t have access to or can’t afford ongoing therapy.

  36. Dear Dr. Burgo, from your description of New Harbingers books, they obviously won’t see your book published – you’d put them out of business! They supply the addictive self-help-books that give you a few weeks of fleeting inspiration to change your life and yourself and be happy 4ever – before the high is gone and you need another hit/book/life recipe. ( I admit to having bought and half-read about a dozen myself, but none since I discovered your blog. Your brilliant posts, which, unlike the self-help-genre, can be read over and over again, have helped me let go of my hopes for a quick fix).

    1. Christina, thanks so much. Now I’m beginning to feel anxious about writing a book good enough to deserve all the positive comments I’ve received, such as yours, but I’m going to do my best.

  37. Jospeh,
    I join all the others above in congratulating you on a brilliant post! You have helped me immeasurably in identifying the role shame has played in my life, cuasing me to make many poor choices.
    I can’t wait to buy the book.

    1. When I look back on my early life, thinking about some of the decisions I made that were shame-driven … if only I’d understood then what I understand now. Thanks, Louise.

  38. I am sorry that your childhood was such that you have this shame that never really goes away. What is there to be embarrassed about, shame feels so bad, better be sad or mad than this legacy. I am so glad it is not unbearable anymore, personally it’s hard for me to imagine that it ever could be so, but I guess it happens.

    I am looking forward to your book. Thank you for this post.

  39. Wow. Many posts here echoing my sentiments as well. I loved your honesty and transparency about something that truly carried a lot of importance for you. I learn a lot here. Count me in as someone who wants to read your book. I’ve been working on myself for quite some time dealing with issues and recognizing my own patterns. I also have the challenge of dealing with someone in my life who has more defense mechanisms than I can count. I look forward to it.

    1. There’ll be an extra copy of the book for that “someone” in your life will all those defense mechanisms!

  40. Shame:

    “It has nothing to do with actual failure; this kind of shame is the lasting residue of a troubled childhood, coming from a dysfunctional family of origin. It’s not reasonable, and you can’t argue it away. It simply is. Especially when I derive narcissistic gratification from something ”

    Brilliant. I look forward to your book.

  41. Hey Doctor Joe,

    HB are missing out on something good and your readers will be gifted with a work of authenticity and no doubt piercing insight. The way you describe your interior world Joe is exquisite, courageous and truly inspiring to me. Indeed the way you illustrated in your post about what it means to … how do I say it… be in ‘after pychotherapy’, yes, it’s one thing to be in psychotherapy but another to utilize the experience after the sessions have ceased – .now thats where the rubber hits the road. To not swerve back into the groove and let those old defenses run the show is something I continue to strive towards. Thanks once again. Please continue to write. Go you good thing!

    Aunty Leroy

  42. Thank you for your honesty and for sharing about your experience with disappointment and loss over the book deal. I’ve been reading your blog for a month or so now and find it extremely compelling and helpful. I was curious as I read your latest entry, if I was a part of the New Harbinger audience, as I would definitely consider myself a part of your audience. I plan to continue reading your blog and am very interested in reading your book. I checked the New Harbinger website to see what they had published. In fact, I have read several books under their Buddhist psychology/mindfulness section which I have checked out from my local library. I don’t know if this makes me a “New Harbinger reader”, perhaps it does. At any rate, I wanted to offer that I am interested in your writing and have also read books by that same publisher.
    I look forward to reading your book when it is released. It sounds like it will be an excellent resource for anyone who wishes to delve deeper into the pathology of defense mechanisms or who is on the path to psychological healing.

  43. I’m very much looking forward to reading this book. I had to take a psych class for my master’s degree in Chinese medicine, and it was CBT-based. I also had a bad therapy experience in which the therapist saw fit to unnecessarily beat me over the head with a shame stick. I could say that both were learning experiences, but in the negative sense. Now I know what NOT to do. I can’t afford to take on the shame/contempt of others, nor fall for a quick-fix. I’m sitting down and writing out my goals for my future practice, and determining what may be holding me back in regards to feeling/knowing that I can earn respect in my field, AND make a decent living, and do it in such a way that I don’t have to compromise myself, or listen to that voice in my head that would have me feel shame, (and it’s companion, contempt) even though I know my “stuff” is going to come up. Respect for myself and my clients and peers and mentors. Isn’t respect for oneself and others the opposite of shame and contempt?

    I read through some of your responses to the comments, and nowhere did I see that feelings of contempt or shame are driven by “irrational thoughts” (Really? Does CBT have the market cornered on “rational” thoughts? ) or that these feelings or thoughts are invalid. I’m tired of the general message in therapeutic and self-help circles that all “negativity” needs to be “erased”, and I can see how this approach could easily backfire. For me, it takes the form of resentment and guilt.

    It seems as if your book would help those who are interested in developing not only personal relationships, but business relationships as well, and address the underlying issues that one might have that would hinder success. Knowing the story behind the publishing of the book also helps- if you can do it, maybe I can, too.


  44. Wow.. Honest, succinct & a true reflection of your ‘story’. Alas, the story is not really you, it’s your filter from childhood. We sometimes feel that we have been judged for not being ‘good enough’ but what if we got it wrong and it was more of a ‘we were judged because of our magnificence?’ I’ve learned that we either operate from Love or Fear, there is nothing in between. maybe you didn’t have the pleasure of conscious parenting. Tis a very rare thing…

  45. I’m looking forward to buying it as soon as you publish. Don’t forget to do a Kindle version!

  46. Classic writers’ dilemma: write my own story, or sell my story. They’re both valid – both important – objectives. It’s possible to do both, although as you know it balances differently for each work published. So important for us readers, and for you its writer, for your book to be the way you want it to be. And so important for you to be able to SELL it. I hope the self-publishing route finds the right balance for you of these objectives. Will be glad to hear about how the process unfolds, to file away for my own purposes 🙂 And because I find your journey inspiring.

    1. These days, it actually IS possible to do both. A common story is the self-published author who gets “noticed” and picked up by the mainstream publishers. Do it your way, get it into print and THEN sell it to a big house.

  47. Love your honesty. I haven’t read through all of the comments so this may have been brought up already…have you really allowed yourself to feel the immense postive impact that your posts have on your followers? Even though they are not bound in a book, your posts seem to help so many people. The comments to your posts speak volumes. Perhaps really breathing in the posivity and scope of this impact may offset some of the sadness related to the loss of the book deal?

    1. It’s hard for me to gauge the extent of that impact. The comments to this post have been enormously helpful to me in that regard. When someone posts a comment and I reply, then I do have a sense that I’m making a difference. But the majority of people visit the site and don’t comment. I have no idea how many silent readers are out there, and what they take away from the site. It’s why I’m always grateful when someone like you takes the time to let me know they appreciate what I’m doing. Thanks!

      1. Hi Joe, I’m one of your normally “silent” readers. I wanted to take this opportunity to let you know your posts have helped me immensely. I’m not in a position to have my own therapist, and reading your posts has changed my life. You have such a frank, accessible writing style. When I first started reading, I was pretty seared by some of your posts on narcissism and shame. You exposed some of my toxic behavioral habits to me. I have been reading since December, and my mental chatter has already quieted. It has been a challenging few months since discovering your site, but I have grown so much since you have… illuminated myself to me (I don’t know how else to say it). I feel optimistic about my psychological future because I found your site. I still want to get a personal therapist–maybe you via Skype!–but in the meantime you and your writing has helped me very much. Thanks.

        1. I wanted to add that because I now understand my toxic behavioral habits and their source in shame, whenever I find myself repeating toxic behavior I can identify it in the moment. You’ve helped me gain the ability to draw back, breathe, and analyze why I am mentally attacking myself. When I find the source (usually shame), I can reassess the situation more constructively–in the moment! This newfound ability has helped stop self-bashing sessions many, many times now. It’s also helped me professionally now that I can navigate conflict and tense situations more successfully. But living with fewer and fewer self-abusive thoughts has been so strengthening and illuminating. Thank you so much for that.

          1. A number of readers have told me they find the site valuable, but no one has ever described exactly how they find the things they’ve learned useful on an ongoing basis. The fact that you’re able to access your shame is especially good to hear — not that I want you to feel shame, of course! I’m just glad you’re taking the ideas and actually going deeper with them. Thanks so much for letting me know!

  48. You are very welcome but I don’t think that I can let you off the hook that easily. One thing that I have learned in my years of psychotherapy is to “check the data”. There is data right on your website. 6469 people like AfterPsychotherapy on Facebook. I started to count the comments to your postings but I gave up because there are so many. Ballpark average -25 per post? It is not a statistically sound measurement but it is a good indicator that you are impacting many folks:)

    1. As we say in our family, when someone pays you a compliment or gives you praise, sometimes you should just say “thank you” and nothing more. So thanks!

  49. I am one of those silent readers. At this point I have read most of your site. So many of your articles could be a case study of me. I have chosen not to comment until now.

    A little background, I am also a 20 year trauma and incest survivor from the time I was 3 years old. That being the past, today I am a successful business woman, who refused to be silent anymore, who needed to reclaim all of her life and chose to do it through the journey of psychotherapy.

    7 weeks ago the floodgates came crashing open, and it had been a long time in coming. And, all the repressed memories, and emotions for about the last 20 years came back and I had a total re-birthing experience. When the floodgates came crashing open, never once, not once, did my therapist leave me in a place of despair, abandonment,panic, overwhelm, etc, etc, not once, she answered more emails in 7 weeks then in 11 years of working together, on her days off and over weekend(I live almost 2/12 hours from her office, so only actually see her for 2 hours every week).
    It was an incredible commitment and gift to me, that I am just now realizing the immense magnitude of.

    I found your site because I was a tad disconcerned, alarmed, that I could actually need someone this much, about how attached I had become to my therapist during this particular difficult time at the moment, and I just couldn’t accept that she could possibly “love” or care about me. Your article on “Attachment Theory and the Healing Psychotherapy Relationship” was very significant in helping my intellectual brain understand that of course how could she not, we have been working together for almost 11 years. And of course realizing that all the emotions where coming from the past and old defense mechanisms. We of course did talk about it in her office, later that week. As there is at this point no taboo subject or emotion, just my own comfort level of continuing to be vulnerable and let someone else truly see me.

    It has been a relationship built by both of us over a very long time. I do truly know her. She made a commitment to me long ago, before I even understood the commitment I had made to myself. I am very blessed, and grateful to the therapist I am working with, I would not be able to reclaim my life and actually live it without her support and guidance.

    Reading your site last week, made me realize just how fortunate I am. It also showed me that I am not alone and my responses are pretty much textbook “normal.” So yes, Dr. Joe you have silent readers, and yes it makes a difference, and the words you write are honest, filled with integrity and have great value. And, sometime, even if we know it’s true, we need to hear if from other people.

    1. Yes, I do need to hear it now and then; I’ve very grateful that you broke your silence and let me know!

  50. Contempt As A Defense (Mine, Not Yours)
    Since you brought up contempt…I was just thinking…
    So my therapist told me that he felt contempt and disgust from me towards him.
    I didn’t consciously feel any, but when I went home I started to write about my therapist.
    All this rage, contempt and disgust came out in my writing.
    When I read it it was obvious that all those feelings were actually meant for the rage-aholic, child-molesting biological ‘father’ I was held captive by for 17 years.
    My brain has transferred them all onto my therapist.
    Sorry therapist.
    I feel shame in relation to my therapist (I feel inferior to him in general) and I assume that shame is from the shame the child molester made me feel.
    My therapist says I don’t want him to care about or like me, and I “work hard at that.”
    He says I “don’t allow it” (for him to like me.)
    It’s true, I have so much shame I don’t think he COULD like me or care about me, then I’m enraged that he doesn’t.
    I punish him for that by criticizing him for not remembering stuff from my sessions, any fault I can find, basically.
    I’m stuck in this, and he probably doesn’t know what to do either.
    Any thoughts, suggestions, comments, compliments?
    Thank you.

    1. Ah, compliments! I respect your honesty in admitting all these feelings. My only advice is to keep talking to your therapist. All these feelings need to be brought into the transference where you can understand them better and develop some new feelings in the context of that relationship.

  51. i’m also a silent reader who discovered you a few days ago. while i’m still not sure what diagnoses my sister actually has, it’s a mood disorder for sure – she flies off the handle at almost everything and breaks things. i didn’t realize behind all that was intense shame – but now i know it must be; it makes so much sense giver our (and in particular her) childhood…thanks, i know you will have many readers when your book does come out.

    1. Does it help you to have more empathy for her rages, knowing that she’s driven by shame?

  52. Can you feel contempt without shame or narcissism? My contempt is more like righteous indignation, a sense of “How dare you? I would never do that to you.” I have felt it for:
    – An ex-husband who, outweighing me by sixty pounds, knocked me to the floor once during a heated verbal battle before I left and divorced him.
    – An ex-boyfriend who linguistically isolated me for three hours among his French-speaking friends fully aware of how I felt but persisting in chatting away in French.
    – Another ex-boyfriend who accused me of something awful, dumped me, discovered I was not responsible, never retracted the accusation, and took up with one of my friends.

    1. In those cases, I can see contempt as a response to feeling helpless and profoundly hurt. That doesn’t seem to involve shame or narcissism, but can be a kind of defense in a self-protective way.

      1. I agree. Thank you. I think it’s also important that the hurt was due to having a trust (of good care by a partner) violated. Perhaps my eyes were wide shut before these events, but not afterward.

  53. How happy I was to discover your website! I’m seeing a counselor, but find myself trying more not to offend HIM than taking care of my unfinished business of shame. It seems as if he isn’t really doing much or paying enough attention; last session ended with me feeling more upset than when it started.
    He is gentle and kind, but maybe I need someone more assertive or deep. He says shame issues are very hard to deal with, but then it seems as if he isn’t even trying to deal with them. For example, this last session was about a sister who is very difficult to cope with. I’d decided before the session that the problem was she was immature (54 years old) and irresponsible and was trying to get me to tell a cousin off for her. The real problem was, I’ve been afraid of her—I’m 69 years old. I chose a book called MOTHER FACTOR to read after this session, and came to recognize that she was behaving very much like my original abuser–my mother, being paranoid and insulting and refusing to take responsibility for her own part in the situation, and that was why I’ve always been afraid to be honest with her. Mother would persecute, insult, gossip and undermine all her 11 children to each other, creating havoc, and now this sister was doing the same. I think my counselor should have helped me sort that out, but he did not. Do I need to find a different counselor? He says I’m insightful and intelligent, but what is HE? Kind and too impressed with me, or not as knowledgeable as he needs to be in order to guide me? He says shame issues are very difficult to deal with, but they are my problem, and what I NEED to deal with. I don’t want to hurt his feelings, but I don’t want to waste his time or mine either. Do you have any advice for me?

    1. If you don’t feel you’re being understood and getting “value for your money,” so to speak, then you might need to look elsewhere. But first, I would tell him exactly how you feel — in other words, the content of this comment you posted. You can gauge from his response whether to continue. If he’s defensive or dismisses you, time to move on. If he hears what you’re saying and tries to work with it, or has some unexpected insight into why you are reacting the way you do, then keep working with him. It’s possible that this is a transference issue, but you won’t know until you explore it more deeply with him.

  54. I started reading your posts three days ago. Much has resonated with me and I found myself wondering whether you had written a book on anything. I’ll look forward to your self-published work in the fall.

    I do want to thank you for your very candid, considered, and engaging writing. I’m finding it to be profoundly touching and helpful.

    1. Hi Emilie. Thanks for the kind words. The book coming out in the fall will be my first … other than the content of this website, which must contain at least a book’s worth of material at this point.

  55. Today I stumbled on your web site for the first time after Googling “healing from shame.” The question in my mind at the time was whether toxic shame can ever really be eradicated. I see from your posts that you don’t believe it ever goes away and I have to say I’m inclined to agree. Deep down I knew this from the outset, but suppose a small part of me was looking for a magic bullet. Isn’t that always the way when we’re in the thick of something ugly? When we wish we could hand our lives over to someone and have them give it back when it’s all fixed?

    Like everyone else here, I find myself in a predicament. And as others have said, your perspective is so very refreshing in the sea of gobbled y gook self-help options.

    I can tell you right now that I’ve already bookmarked this page. I should also mention that I am not in the habit of participating in online discussions, so that’s saying something too. There is nothing I can say that hasn’t already been said about your life affirming advice. And so, I turn to you for your perspective on my dilemma.

    It’s a long journey that has brought me to this place in time and, although it’s been many years since I have successfully practised the methods you describe for tolerating toxic shame, I find myself now feeling ashamed of a mistake I unwittingly made that has brought me back to the source of the original shame. I’ll try to explain as briefly as possible.

    The original source of toxic shame is my mother. (My father was a lovely and loving man who didn’t know how to deal with her anymore than we did, so basically just tried not to aggravate the situation – the same way the rest of us did.) It was a childhood of neglect and being made to feel ugly, stupid – even guilty to be alive. What kind of a mother looks at an eight-year-old child and says, “I never wanted any of you”? (A bad one, obviously.) It was a situation in which we, the children, were put in the role of looking after the mother. It was chaotic (yelling, screaming), physically abusive (I developed good reflexes dodging things she’d throw and learned to withstand being hungry while others took the lion’s share of the food), and emotionally abusive (as above). Very much like living in a mine field, with nowhere to go, no one to trust, and no one who cared . You never knew what to expect or when to expect it. For a while, I tried to gain her approval, make her happy, have her accept me. But I gave that up at a very early age. Essentially, I gave up on having a family. She did – and continues to – pit child against child, gossip about each of us, I could go on and on. In general, to this very day, she just seems to work at making each of us feel as miserable as possible and is resentful when we are not. She has her favourites, of course, those being my brother (the first born) and my oldest sister. They can do no wrong. Mind you, that’s only because they spend their lives running in small circles trying to please her – which anyone can see simply can’t be done. Although, their running in small circles seems to satisfy some need.

    In any case, it was a lousy childhood from which I plotted to escape from as early as age 12. I watched how my other sister had done it, which was unsuccessfully, and I learned from her mistakes. When I was 16, I successfully ran away from home (imagine – no one even looked for me).

    Over time, my older sister sought me out made contact and I was somehow brought back into the fold.

    By the time I was 17, I had hooked up with a male version of my mother, had my first child when I was 18, the second when I was 25. I was 27 when I took my boys and left that ugly situation. This was also when I began the work of identifying my shame and learning to manage it.

    Eventually, at the age of 32, I actually moved across the country, convinced that I needed the physical distance to get a foothold on this new way of seeing and being. I needed a new environment. And it worked to an extent. It wasn’t easy. The pattern of being emotionally and psychologically abused naturally surfaced in other areas of my life until I chose to correct them and avoid repeating them for my entire life. My journey included psychological counselling from a wonderful therapist whose voice still guides my way. (And for some reason I’m tearing up as I write that.) Now, 25 years later as I prepare for retirement, I have moved back across the country closer to my city of origin where it is more affordable and I have been able to buy a house. Here’s where it gets sticky.

    When I first bought the house, my aged mother expressed concern that my brother and oldest sister might put her in a home because she was doing things like leaving taps running or food on the stove when she went out. I told her not to worry about it, that if that day ever came, she could come live with me. Why did I even say that? Actually, I know why I said it. I was trying to right a wrong that I felt guilty for involving my father wanting to come live with me – me saying no – him dying four months later. For 34 years I have regretted that decision. But back to my mother. I think I felt strong enough in myself that I wouldn’t fall back into the patterns of my family of origin. And I haven’t, but find that not falling in line also comes with a price.

    So somehow, I don’t even recall how it happened, she was suddenly moving in with me. This is the mistake I am ashamed of. I should have said no, that wasn’t the arrangement, but I can’t even remember if there was a time in the conversation when it would have been the time to say so. On the upside, at least I had the presence of mind to insist that she not give up her apartment, reasoning that the living arrangement might not work out. As such, she goes back and forth as it suits her purpose (read to see her `real children who can do no wrong`). This past winter she stayed away for four months, for example, saying every three weeks that she`d be coming back, waiting till the last minute to change her mind and extend it a bit. (Visions of uncertainty dancing in my head – again.)

    So here we are, coming up on two years of living together, me never knowing when she`ll be here, her expecting to be treated like a guest when she is her. And I am as miserable as she’d like me to be.

    It seems clear to me that I need to end this arrangement – fast. The problem is that I don’t know how to do that. I don’t feel angry at her, but the experience has awakened a lot of hurtful memories that I’m surprised to find are alive and well. Intellectually, I know that these experiences inform who I am – who I have become. I know I am strong, capable, confident, intelligent and all sorts of good things. But my mind goes blank when I tried to imagine when to have the conversation, or how to begin it. I`m smart enough to know that she will turn her back on me, or walk away, or start a fight over this. And I’d like to handle this from a place of self-respect.

    So, this is my story. I apologize for having gone on at length, but felt I needed to capture some of the context. If you have any insight/wisdom you would like to share on this, I would be most grateful.

    About your book loss, and for what it’s worth, I don’t see it as a loss. Thinking like yours most definitely does not belong there. I’d say you dodged a bullet.

    1. That is quite a story. I’m not sure what to tell you since you already know what you need to do. It might help to think about what ties you to her. I suspect that, as well as you understand her, there’s a very old (or young) part of you that still clings to the hope that she will turn out to be a mother who can actually care for her. Asking her to move out, with the rupture you envision, would be the death of all hope. You’d have to mourn — and I mean really mourn — the fact that you will never have a mother who loves you. Never. That’s a hard reality to accept.

      1. It is quite a story, isn’t it? Some days I can hardly believe it’s mine.
        Your suggestion to think about ties is an approach I hadn’t considered but now, as I think about it, it rings true that I may still harbour hope, but not for love. I recognize she isn’t capable of loving anyone; it’s nothing to do with me personally. And that’s a shame for her as well.
        But I may have hoped for acceptance. I think this may be nearer to the truth. I will think on this.
        Thank you for pointing out the trail head.

  56. Fortunately for yourself you can seemingly detach yourself from the experiences of shame since you recognize it and moreover realize that as an experience it will be transient anyway.
    However, in my own case, a long term ongoing practice of self-inquiry has virtually abolished shame at its source so that it seldom if ever arises. This is because the power of ego centered toxic thought itself has diminished substantially.

  57. Wow. Just. Wow. It’s so rare to read something so… authentic. Be sure to compile a listing of folks to notify that your book is done, and be sure to put my email on the list.

  58. Uummhhh!!! You have no idea how you help this “silent reader”. I am blessed with wonderful, supportive and truly authentic family and friends in my life and the other day and many incidents’ before, when I so need an ear and comfort, I can never talk to anyone. Thank you for posting these conversations and your wonderful insights. I am learning things about myself and loved ones.

  59. Dr Burgo

    I am recently coming to grips with some narcissitic traits I have, and that they are negatively contributing to my personal relationships.

    Reading your words, and in particularly seeing you identify WHY you are doing specifically behaving that way, really helps me recognize similar behaviors in myself.

    I didn’t have the typical childhood story I’m hearing from many others here. My parents were loving, but perhaps put too much emphasis on achievement, and not enough on just enjoying life. Second, I was bullied and teased pretty intensely in middle school. Perhaps those two influences created my feelings of shame?

    Regardless, I think it has been enlightening to see things from your perspective. I hope that I can get to where you are now, and cut back on some of the behaviors that I do that drive people away, like focusing on faults and mentally discrediting those who don’t like me. I have a wife and kids who mean the world to me, and I want to be better for them–both a better example, and a better person to be around.

    I will keep coming back. Thank you for your bravery and help.

    1. Maybe the kind of shame you’re dealing with is less the kind I discuss in my most recent post and more the kind that Bradshaw talks about, where there are a lot of implied shaming messages for not measuring up to achievement. I think the defenses against that kind of shame may be the same but it’s of a less pervasive nature than with basic shame.

  60. While reading this I was imagining a little boy who just drew some scribbles on a peice of paper, folded it over the best he could and proud of his creation he crawled over to mom to show her his book. Then mom says: I’m too occupied for your stupid drawings.
    The kid now feels like he has failed, like his best efforts are useless and even a bother to other people. I can’t help but to imagine this kid leaving the room with tears in his eyes to cry in another room next to his teddy bear, probably because he doesn’t want to bother his mom anymore in fear of more shaming.
    However, if the kid had shown his book to his sister and she said it was terrible, he wouldn’t of cared half as much. Mommy is like the ultimate knower of truth. I think when we grow up we then project these mommy figures onto the publisher company, as if they knew 100% what makes a good book. I think we still long for the honest admiration of our parents and project the parent figure onto people who have power over us.
    If we could just “project” the parent figure into ourselves we could be the judges of our work. Sort of like creating an imaginative all-good parent onto ourselves to judge our efforts in an honest yet motivating way. Sort of like what people do with God.

    I want to make it clear that I’m not trying to imply your book is a “scribble on a peice of paper” but rather that it’s as important to you as the kid’s book is to him.

    1. Approval from the publisher was certainly very important to me, but since I wrote this post, I feel as if I’ve moved on and done just what you suggest — turned to myself as the ultimate authority for what makes my book good.

  61. What a blessing to find your website! I have been reading silently for about a week and sharing your blogs with my friends. I am a graduate counseling student in my internship–towards the end–and subscribe to a psychodynamic approach. Your insights have helped me personally and professionally. I applaud your integrity and look forward to reading YOUR book. Your discussions on shame and contempt have been very helpful. It seems that when I have a question, I can usually find the answer here. I am working on the connection in my own life between shame and anxiety. Thanks so much for all you’ve provided so far! Mindy

    1. Mindy,

      Sorry for the delay in getting back to you — I was on break this past week. Thanks so much for taking the time to let me know your reaction to the site, and thanks also for sharing it with your fellow interns. I’m in the process of proofing the galleys for the book and it should be available in early October.

  62. Contempt as a response to shame….good insight. I am feeling intense contempt right now for my NMother, and think I recognize that this emotion helps me feel “strong,” while shame or sadness feels “weak”or victim-related. At least with anger/contempt, I feel some power and command/control rather than abject helplessness, disappointment, fear. It makes sense to me that anger/scorn etc. often are masking more difficult feelings.

  63. This is one of the bravest things I’ve ever read on the internet, which heaven knows is FULL of people pouring scorn on other people and their actions, opinions, and so on.

    I most truly salute you sir!

  64. What is great about your writing is how you were able to walk your reader through the cause and effects of your circumstance. You told us what the ral life issue was, and therafter you gave us a clear view of what you were thinking, how come you were thinking that way , what your reactions were and how you came to resolve them in a healthy manner. I was really impressed with your statement that
    “One of the points I often stress on this website, about what it means to be “after psychotherapy,” is that your old issues and ways of coping with them (your defenses) don’t disappear; you learn to recognize them as they come up, hopefully “disarm” them and find different ways of responding.”

    You are right! I really, really appreciate that you said the above.

  65. I happened to find your site while searching for information on defense mechanisms….I’ll be taking the NCE exam in a week and am cramming! Anyway, I’m very excited to have found the site not for the silly exam but for your wonderfully clarifying approach, which I sense already will be a big help to me in my personal work, as well as with clients. Here I just want to share two other psych blogs I like whose point of view you might also appreciate. One you can find by googling David Bedrick, author of a new book “Talking Back to Dr. Phil”; he also is a critic of mainstream psychotherapy and especially interested in finding the peculiar strengths hidden in our “pathologies”. The other is Rodger Garrett, a psychologist in Loma Linda who writes brilliantly and from an extraordinary depth of experience about everything from Krishnamurti to the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis to Julian Jaynes. His blog is called Sigh.Ko.Blah.Grr. Enjoy! And hope to write again once I’ve had a chance to read more on your site.

    1. Thanks for drawing our attention to those blogs. I know about but have not yet read “Talking Back to Dr. Phil.” I’ll check out Rodger Garrett.

  66. I applaud you for your decision, and I don’t blame you for your decision. Any creative work is the culmination of blood, sweat and tears, and it is a reminder that what we give to the world has value. I have been a clinician a few years less than you, and I see that my work and the results have value. Had I been fortunate enough to finish a book and give it to a publisher, I would have never forgiven myself if I agreed to what those folks wanted to do to my manuscript. It doesn’t sound like they wanted to change the book, it sounds like they were changing your “voice”. Seems like you made the right decision.

    As Dr. King has said, there is a reward for integrity in the face of hardship.

    Thanks for the post..


    I am a therapist myself and after 15 yrs practice -and many yrs of therapy- I am just now truly coming to terms with my personal relationship with narcissism: my own AND my father’s severe unrecognized personality disorder … … …

  68. Right on! I say absolute narcissim is an excuse and discourages individuals with the diagnoses condemning them to a fantasy life in their head. The way you gained persepective, step back take a look, and see what’s real. Whenever I find myself stuck or having a mental explosion I can’t cope with I sit down with pen and paper, take a couple breathes, wait, relax, wait again and let the question come to me. I write it down and repeat the process for the answer. It’s fairly simple. Through discovering this Method of understanding myself I learned the hardest part was hearing the question. I also found this exercise to be intriguing and like I was peering into a script or a daytime drama rather than having to spend time defending my position. From there I could decide what next if anything.

  69. I discovered your blog around Christmas, and have I have been steadily reading my way through your posts since then. So forgive my comments on some of your older posts, such as this, but many of the posts seem to demand a response. Your writing is wonderfully clear, grounded and richly detailed. I particularly appreciate and respond to your willingness to critique your own behaviour. I have often thought that people became therapists (or gurus or spiritual leaders of any kind) so as to have psychological upper hand in their dealings with others or to cement the idea of their own perfection. You are clearly not in this class.

    I work in publishing so I am very interested in this post. I was intrigued by the response of your publisher to your work. I have made a ton of my own mistakes when dealing with authors, but I am fairly certain I have never sent a response to a manuscript as acerbic as the one you describe.

    That said, I once had an author blog in a way I found confronting about the editing process. She wrote that she went into a downward spiral when she first received the edit because it triggered all her issues to do with authority. Authors transfer to their editors and publishers in a way that is similar to what happens in therapy. I often feel as though I have been given the role of someone’s teacher, mother or high-school coach. And, yes, sometimes – often – I feel like their therapist.

    This post reminded me of the need to stay open and curious. Publishers often fall into a trap of working to a formula; the more successful we are with a particular formula, the harder it is to recognise the potential value of different sorts of material. We are always saying ‘This could be the next 7 Habits of Highly Successful People’ or ‘This is the new Eat Pray Love’. This is why we encourage or, in the case of New Harbinger, insist on conformity. I have been guilty of this, but have also had the wonderful experience of taking a punt on something that is genuinely fresh and seeing it work.

    I think you have had a lucky break. I have read your book and I love it for the fact that it does not offer simplistic solutions or make easy promises. I am in therapy. My therapist has a similar approach to yours – although less rigorous. I am using your book as a sort of theoretical underpinning for the work that is happening in the room. Interestingly, I haven’t told him this yet. I suspect I am trying to spare his feelings or maybe I want to avoid being told that I am using my extracurricular research as a way of trying to control the process! Which is probably true.

    Thanks again for your blog.

    1. I appreciate your comment. I think the response I received was probably a bit less acerbic than I made it sound, and no doubt my own problems with authority got in the way. But it has become incredibly clear to me that I made the right decision, as my most recent post should show. I was told by New Harbinger that I could expect to sell 5-7K books per year and I sold almost that much by self-publishing. But the profit per book is of course much higher. I made $1000 less on the advance for the sale of foreign rights to China alone than New Harbinger offered me for World rights.

      Was it a lucky break or the result of hard work, promoting myself, hiring a publicist, writing for other publications, etc.? I think in truth (besides the fact that it’s a good book), I found my place in the Amazon universe: the good reviews and all those “people who liked this book also bought” interconnections continually brings new eyes to my product page and has produced fairly consistent sales, month after month.

  70. Just want to thank you for your courage, honesty and insight. I awoke from a dream last night where I was shown I had contempt and that it was a key to a relationship issue I had. My first reaction was to feel shame and in reading what you wrote plus a couple helpful comments from others, I realize this is probably a very common problem and I am off to learn more now.

  71. Thank you. So refreshing and meaningful to get this first person account of dealing with contempt. I have been struggling with this for awhile. Doing my own internal explorations. But really wanted to see how others were writing about this. Most appear simplistic and well, shaming! ( Here comes MY contempt! haha!) It helped me to hear your experience and process and how you were able to listen to and own what was happening each step of the way through your manuscript critique experience. Helps me be more accepting of and to show a little more tenderness toward this “ugly” ( –Duckling, I hope) demon I wrestle with. Thank you for helping me turn it into more of a dance. Good luck with your books. I will be curious to take a look at them.

  72. Wow, thank you for this. I’ve been wondering why I feel such contempt for my boyfriend. It’s made no sense to me. I’ve also been listening to Brené brown and her work on shame and vulnerability. I had not yet made the connection of contempt as a defense against shame. I have done a lot of inner-work in my life and lately I’ve been thinking, “really? This? Again? Contempt? Shame? Challenged sense of self worth? I thought I already dealt with all of this.”

    I love the acceptance that shame from a broken childhood doesn’t go away, but we can recognize it (or the defenses against it!)and diffuse it. Thank you, again. I’ve been working on peace in my heart and trusting myself more. This tid-bit is one more powerful awareness for my toolbox. Now I know it is a defense against shame. NOW I can see it for what it really is.

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