Giving to Get

Just before the holiday break, I put up a post which I took down several hours later after some long-time readers contacted me “off-line” and took issue with what I’d written. W., one of them, has several times pointed out to me that readers often give back on the site and I can benefit from their experience as well as vice versa. This is one of those occasions.

G. was upset about the “demand for gratitude” in that post — gratitude that would translate into a purchase of my book. Demand may be overstating it but there was certainly an expectation that gratitude would be the result of the work I’ve done on this website; hurt and disappointment when it didn’t materialize to the degree I’d expected. G.’s message immediately pulled me up and got me to thinking again about generosity and altruism. Almost two years ago, I discussed this subject in this early post. If you haven’t read it before, take a look: it will help you understand what I’m writing today. The conclusion I drew is that truly selfless generosity doesn’t exist; the person who gives always derives some reward.

G.’s remark made me see more clearly that I’d been giving generously of my time and experience on this website, not because I’m an altruistic person but because I enjoy all sorts of benefits as a result. I feel good about myself as a writer and a clinician, first of all. I’m proud I have something to say and can say it in ways that resonate with many people. This makes me feel good about myself. But I’d also been giving with the not-entirely-unconscious goal of building up a store of goodwill and gratitude that would come back to me in the form of book sales once Why Do I Do That? was released. In other words, I was giving to get.

Consciously (the part I acknowledged in this recent post), I knew I was trying to build an audience in the hope that one day those readers would buy the books I’d publish. That seems like a fairly straight-forward transaction: if a reader recognizes the quality of my writing, he or she may believe that my book will also hold value and decide to buy it. The thornier part — the unconscious bit that got me into trouble — had to do with being “overly generous,” as it were. These last two years, I’ve tried to answer almost every comment, given free advice to people who sent me emails, spent hours on the phone, without charge, trying to help people understand their treatment options — with the unconscious expectation (I now realize) that I would get something important back for it: gratitude. I generously gave to others, hoping to meet my own needs in the process — my longing to have a successful book launch.

Another reader with a background in economics reminded me that site visitors no doubt visit different blogs where other books are on offer or support requests are made; in light of limited disposable income, those visitors have to weigh the desire to buy competing products or support different websites: purchasing Why Do I Do That? is but one of many ways they might spend their money or show support. In other words, it has nothing to do with gratitude. It’s a rational, economic choice and there’s nothing disrespectful or hurtful intended when someone decides he’d like to spend his money for something other than my book. As an avid proponent of free market principles, I found this reader’s comment particularly clarifying. It helped me get some emotional distance from my disappointment and think more clearly.

Apart from the fact that “giving to get” strikes me as an unhealthy way to operate, this experience has made me realize that I need to give less of myself when I’m doing it for the wrong reasons. I hope this doesn’t come across as vengeful, as in: Fine! If you won’t buy my book then I’m not going to give you anything! Over this long holiday weekend, I realized how tired I am. The amount of time involved in maintaining the website keeps growing; because traffic has increased so much, it’s no longer possible for me to keep up in the same way I’ve been doing these last two years. More important, for my own good, I need to focus directly on getting what I need, rather than giving to others in the hope that it will come back to me in the way I want. As a result, I’ve made several small changes to the site.

I’ve kept the “sticky” post that asks visitors to show their support by purchasing my book, but otherwise, I’ve eliminated the pointed reminders about how to demonstrate gratitude. Rather than nudging you toward a book purchase if you ask for my advice or guidance, I’ve simply decided that I can no longer answer specific requests. On my contact page, rather than inviting readers to send me an email asking for free advice — I was receiving and answering such emails almost every day — I will now charge for the service like my colleague Bennett Pologe, whose website has been around much longer than mine.

In my practice, I never expect or feel entitled to gratitude for what I give, for one simple reason: my needs are being taken care of up front in the form of my fee; as a result, I’m able to devote myself to understanding and giving to my clients. I don’t feel resentful or hurt if they attack me. I don’t expect them to thank me or worry about what I want in return. It strikes me that I need to operate my website in a similar fashion. Professional Joe (as Reader W. calls him) — the one who renders opinions and answers questions as an authority — he needs to be paid when someone asks for specific advice. Egalitarian Joe, who uses his personal experience to illustrate something important and engages his readers more as peers — he gets fed by writing and interacting in just that way.

In other words, from here on out, I’ll focus less on dispensing advice and giving of myself via comment replies or emails and more on what feeds me directly. I love writing posts that involve readers in a reciprocal dialog; this interaction contains its own reward.. Answering questions as an authority and continuing to give as I do in my practice feels increasingly like a chore. I’ve been rendering that service with the unconscious expectation that it would generate gratitude in the form of book purchases — what I really wanted. That now seems like an unhealthy transaction.

Many thanks to W., G. and S. for taking the time to help me work through one of my own issues.

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. May I share something about my late maternal grandfather whom I’m named for.

    He came to Los Angeles with his parents and siblings right after WWI, and after Hollywood High and USC became a successful lawyer specializing in civil and corporate cases; he was eventually appointed to the Superior Court of LA.

    Throughout his long career he would be approached at social events by friends and acquaintances and get pumped for free legal advice while he was trying to enjoy his martini and hors d’oeuvres. He finally put his foot down something like this, according to family lore: “Bob, I don’t come by your contracting firm every other week, angling for a free addition to my home. Why are you asking my to give away my professional services if you won’t?”

    1. Thanks, Steve … although in fairness to site visitors, I have more or less put myself forward as offering free advice. No surprise then that they ask for it.

  2. Sounds very sensible. Goodwill wouldn’t make me buy someone’s book. I buy a book because I think it will help me or interest me. I would not buy a book because an author suggested I did if I asked his advice about something. What would I be paying for then? That kind of thing makes no sense to me. I wouldn’t mind though if I asked an author a specific question and they referred me to a book of theirs which dealt with that question.

  3. It occurs to me that you may be undervaluing your work by trying to build up goodwill so that people will purchase your book. I’m an artist and if people buy my work because they like me rather than because they like the work itself, I don’t feel good at all. I have a lot of personal charm (might not come across online) and it has allowed me in my work to get things I probably wouldn’t have had without it. It had never made me feel satisfied when that’s happened.

    1. Yes, I’m coming to agree with you. Some kind of “helping you out” purchase might boost initial sales but what is of greater value is the slow growth of my book’s reputation that will lead to purchases based on a perception of value.

  4. Hi, Joe:

    I have a similar problem in being self-employed. I am a gardener/landscaper. I give advice all the time. I will be working on a property and a neighbour will stop by to ask me questions for free. What is difficult for me is showing up on a person’s property to give a quote. In landscaping it is impossible to give a quote without designing it first. Which takes hours and hours. People often don’t expect to pay for a quote because others do it for free. I now charge for my time, although it’s not nearly enough to cover the time and thought that goes into every design.
    One time a person said to me – “Other people aren’t charging for their quote” My reply was that “I’m not responsible for what other’s do in their business.”
    But still, I do many things for free. I often get calls about problems people are having with their ponds (we build and maintain these too) my daughter gets upset with me when I give answers to people over the phone without charging them. However, I don’t have time to run out to talk to someone when it can be easily solved over the phone, but more importantly, I hope – like you, that they will think of me, or refer me to their friends for future landscape work. I don’t expect it to happen – but I hope that it will and then I let it go at that.
    Plus this also makes me feel good that I am knowledgeable enough to be able to help someone out.
    Many people can’t afford my services, but that doesn’t mean I can’t help them out with ideas that they can do on their own. The thanks and gratitude that I get back is heartfelt and I know this because I can hear it in their voice and see it in their eyes.
    In certain situations it is also just the right thing to do. Sometimes I think the universe pairs me up with people who need someone honest and caring to look out for them and their property and who will also appreciate what I do. Sometimes that is worth more than money to me to know that I have helped someone if only in a small way.
    I always say that I have the best customers – because they are the ones who appreciate what we do and the service we provide. Anyone who does not align with this is quickly “fired” as a customer – even if they mean a whole lot of much needed income. I don’t need to show up to a property to work with knots in my stomach or wondering if they are going to pay me for my work.
    So, yes, your replys to comments are very much valued, even if we don’t pay for it, even if you can’t hear it in our voices or see the sentiment in our eyes. I think this is an important aspect of why people return – because you do validate them with a response. And I know, for me, that is hugely important. I don’t think I ask for advice – I could be wrong. I just want to know that someone is hearing me, that someone can say – I hear your pain. (You understand what I’m saying I hope – from past emails) And I don’t think that I can clearly express how grateful I am that you are there – It helped me get through a very dark and difficult time and I know that I didn’t expect you to have an answer – I just needed someone to listen.
    I realize that you have to cut back – it will be an adjustment period for many of us.
    Anyway – Thanks for listening 🙂

    1. Sheila,

      I will cut back, but not in my replies to comments like yours. Not only are you expressing appreciation, but you give back to me by sharing your own experience with the same issue. This is the kind of interaction with readers that I enjoy most, and that repays the effort I put into writing. These kind of interactions are their own reward. Thanks!

  5. Hi Joseph.
    I think this is a good decision. Hopefully, it won’t drive people away. Truth, it’s actually something to appreciate—your revealing honesty about your decision is courageous in my eyes, and the fact that you really do not have to do what you don’t enjoy doing sounds right to me. In general, that attitude of fair exchange—a kind of healthy selfishness—is something I’d really like to be able to incorporate more in my own life too. What’s scaring is that it might piss some people off and disappoint then, which in turn—in my case—might lead to feeling guilt or anxious about possible consequences. But it’s still a healthy attitude. Good for you!

    1. I like that expression, “healthy selfishness.” I don’t think there’s anything wrong with considering your own needs. Especially when you’re in a “helping profession,” it’s an important thing to do. I guess there will be people who’ll object if you or I decide to take care of ourselves first, but there will be others who will respect that decision.

      1. In my ethics class (I am getting a PsyD) it’s called “acting in one’s own self-interest.” Self-interest has a different connotation that selfish. You have made a decision that supports your beliefs, goals, values and time; but not at the expense of someone else. I enjoyed your post. Thank you.

  6. I’m one of those who benefitted from your free advice, in you answers to my comments.
    Actually it did not occur to me thay you expected gratitude, expecially expressed with money, because I also have a blog (on a totally unrelate subject and another language) and I give a lot of free info and advice, but I’ve always been aware of doing it to promote myself as an expert in that field, to expand my readership and public interest in the subject and I plan to use it to advertise the book I’m writing. In short, I’ve always been feeling like a shopkeeper who gives away free samples. I don’t expect gratitude, I only hope people will find out they like the product enough to buy it. If they won’t I will be disappointed, but not with people, with my marketing strategy.
    I thought you felt the same way, didn’t realize you had some unconscious expectations.
    I bought your book because thanks to your blog I found out you write very interesting and useful stuff, in a brilliant and clear way. It was an economical decision and it proved to be a good one: the book and the online discussion are actually very helpful to me. So I feel gratitude, the same kind I feel for many authors, whose books gave me enormous value and personal growth. But it’s not the kind of gratitude I like to express with money. The money is just for the paper and ink, or the pixels on my Kindle and the time you spent writing. The gratitude is for who you are.

    1. I like the way you characterize it — “like a shopkeeper who gives away free samples.” That is pretty much what I do, and the way you think it about it makes more sense than the way I was (unconsciously) viewing the transaction.

  7. You weren’t joking about Bennett Pologe. I followed the link and looked on his page. He charges $20 for a question that is 200 characters long or requests for a short email. I bought your book, read through it, got insight and I’m allowed to participate in a forum for less that. I quite grateful that you take the time out to respond to my questions and concerns. Thank you.

    1. I’ve exchanged a couple of emails with Bennett on another topic but not on this issue. His website has been around for nearly 15 years, I believe, and I wonder if he finally got burned out on answering everyone’s emails. That’s my fantasy.

  8. If you find working with clients the less enjoyable aspect of your week, is it a good idea to engage in a one off advise exchange even for a fee? You would still be overworked, and the client would still need a regular therapist to contextualize and explore whatever you could offer them in a single response. What would happen if you just didn’t do it? You’d have more time and energy to enrich the blog in a reciprocal manner, you could even widen the parameters to include your thoughts on your love of writing and music, which I’m sure would also solicit some rewarding responses. And the more dynamic you show yourself here, the more dynamic people will respond which I’m sure will help you feel that you’re ‘away from the office’.

    1. I didn’t say that working with clients was the “less enjoyable aspect” of my week. I love my work. I love writing the blog. What I enjoy less is interacting with readers who want advice, or who ask for my professional opinion.

      1. Anyhow, I have a surprise for you early in the new year.
        The words ‘book review’ and ‘national magazine’ should give it away. More on the details at a later date.

        1. Just read all of the comments hitherto posted which now stands at 52. (I know, procrastinating when I should be working). Funny how, whatever side someone comes down on, no one gets to the heart of the matter. The true problem is that we live in a world in which our social relations are perverted by the necessity of having to sell a product or service to someone else. It’s not real, but like Santa Claus, when two or more people believe in it, it confers a concrete objectivity onto a subjective ideology. Ok, I’m red right through, and other social formations would bring it it’s own problems, but not this one.

    1. Do I really need to answer this question, Evan? I get all sorts of emotional rewards from my work — and they mean a lot to me — but what I need is to earn a living, to receive payment for service rendered.

      1. Only because of this sentence, “In my practice, I never expect or feel entitled to gratitude for what I give, for one simple reason: my needs are being taken care of up front in the form of my fee; . . . “.

        This implied to me that the fee took care of feelings of gratitude and your expectations.

        I also wonder whether earning a fee is your only need.

        I suspect exploring this would lead us far and wide.

        1. Now I see what you mean. Yes, I have other needs that are met by my practice, but they’re of a different order. I know you and I have different views about the psychotherapy relationship, but for me, my primary need is to earn a living, while the primary need of my clients is of an emotional nature. I don’t look to my clients to gratify my emotional needs, even if I do derive a lot of satisfaction as part of the work.

  9. Dear Dr. Burgo,
    I have wondered, ever since I started visiting this site, when you have found time to sleep! I am one who has benefited from your experience and advice and truthfully felt slightly guilty and weird about it at the same time. I am glad you have clarified your position. I am a pediatric medical provider, and know from everyday experience, how people (albeit somewhat unconsciously), basically outright ask for free care. “Can you just take a quick look at his sister’s ears too? She’s been fussy for a couple of days.” People have a hard time thinking of getting health care for their children as a business. I often equate it with someone going into a grocery store and asking for a bag of potato chips for their younger child too but only paying for the one for their older child! (after all…it’s my child!) No one would ever think of that. And no grocery store on earth would operate that way. But in health care, mental and physical, it is hard to think of actually paying for the service. So I totally understand. And I am glad you are taking care of yourself. And I’m getting lots out of your book. And I am probably going to survive if you don’t comment on what I write. Probably…..

    1. I will always reply to thoughtful comments like yours! It bears no resemblance to the friend you describe who wants your medical opinion for free. You’re sharing your own experience of the issue I’m confronting and that helps me a lot as I try to comes to terms with my limitations.

  10. I learned a long time ago that giving myself away was a sure path to exhaustion and resentment, so these days I only work when I get paid. I like writing about therapy but I don’t answer questions from readers about their issues and problems. I am glad to see you have drives at this same point. I think you will enjoy it all a lot more. Have fun!

    1. Thanks, Cheryl. This is one of those realizations that makes me wonder why I didn’t see it earlier. It really helps to hear from other professionals who have come to the same conclusion.

  11. i think it’s very easy to give too much of yourself without realizing you are doing so.

    I’m one of those readers that have asked for your opinion in an email I was really surprised that you took the time to respond and so promptly and felt that you gave the question thoughtful consideration. I was really touched by this kindness that you showed.
    not long after this I saw that you were promoting your book. I felt a little guilty that I didn’t want to purchase it just now, depression makes me a bad reader at the moment. I also don’t like to feel pressured to purchase anything.

    I can understand your desire to promote your work your paid work,but I personally would hate to think that people purchased from me out of obligation rather than need or desire. Your book will sell to those that desire and need it, theses sales will fill your heart with warmth and gratitude, the sales made with under gilt or strong sales presure will never do that even if it fills your pocket with coin:)

    warm regards

    1. Lilly,

      I think you’re absolutely right. A sale made under pressure or guilt means a lot less than one based on a genuine perception of value.

  12. I get it.
    I just came across this and read it twice. I feel that you have been generous of your time and expertise in an above and beyond expectation way. I think that you set the expectation bar high yourself because, even though you did set out to build an audience which later would serve you well in your other aspirations, you are a kind and consientious human being, highly tuned to the psych or your readers. I do believe you love your blog and work, however I think that it could easily feel as though you are being taken for grant.
    In my world the Real Estate agent sends a client to a Lawyer and the Lawyer will guide work back. A Dr. Will see a friends friend or answer a question. The problem arises when the deeds are nor reciprocated or when laypeople don’t know boundaries,(the q’s at parties). Too much work. I got the message that the book was the favour returned. However many people want the cabinet maker to build an amazing kitchen for a hamburger on their week end off.

    1. I want to continue giving and being as generous as I can — I mostly find it a rewarding experience, so it “pays me back” — but possibly expect a little less of myself, as you’re suggesting.

  13. Hi Jo

    I intend buying your book, once I stop buying all the books that keep being recommended by other books! It’s nothing personal, it’s just life. I’m currently working for free with parents and how they parent and their repeating behaviour patterns as well as delivering solid parenting tools that can be used in their homes. I find this enormously rewarding, I tend to think the financial rewards will come without having to push, if my intentions are pure. I’m generally learning in my own life, that I can’t push a stream up hill, I sincerely think that if I’m absolutely passionate and sincere about my ‘intentions’ to the world, I will naturally get back what I deserve and vice versa. That’s probably very unpsycotherapeutic, but then I’m a trainee.
    I think your site is great and you seem to have some great knowledge that you’re happy to share. You’ve probably made a huge difference to a lot of people, and for that I’m very grateful.

    1. Hi Michele,

      As time goes on, I’m coming to believe that something will come back to me — something more than even the substantial amount that I’ve already received, from readers and site visitors like you who share their own experience. Rather than a strong release, what I’m seeing is a slow-and-steady amount of book sales. I believe this will continue and possibly grow over time, but I’m beginning to feel it’s enough.

  14. Hi there, long time lurker, first time commenter.

    (Found your site after searching for Toxic Shame info, from “The Rawness” blog and John Bradshaw book)

    I run a personal development blog and I have found out a nice balance between freely giving and maintaining my needs.

    Anything that goes on the blog is broadcasting. Is something that might benefit a large number of persons from here till the end of the internets. Thus, I’ll keep writing lots of blog posts, keeping in mind to write about themes that would benefit a majority of my audience.

    Anything that is one-on-one, or is intended for a smaller audience (such as a coaching session, a phone consultation, a workshop for treating a specificic problem – say quitting smoking, or toxic shame), means delivering a very specific value to a specific audience in a specific moment of time. It’s mainly non-broadcastable and non-infinitely replicable, and thus I expect to get paid.

    1. Thanks, Miguel. I’m coming to a very similar conclusion. It’s helpful to hear how other professionals are resolving this issue.

  15. I want to start by saying I bought a Kindle edition of your book, not as a way of giving back to you but because in reading your blog I find your point of view resonates with my own in my work with patients. I value how clearly you describe the psychological processes I understand intuitively but often have more difficulty explaining concisely. I hope to be able to reference the book when I want to explain psychological defenses to others. The release of your book coincided with my immersion in a distance learning course which requires hours of reading and audio/video, and even though I knew I am not able to read it right now, I bought it on the release date because it was important to you to have a successful book launch.
    Addressing the economic point of view, I think all of us in the helping professions like to think of ourselves as altruistic givers, in part because the financial reward never comes close to the hours we devote to our work, and because our earning power is limited by our time, and most of us do not charge for every minute of our working day. I think it leaves us vulnerable to hoping for those little gestures that show we are valued and appreciated for the work we do and to feeling disappointment when others fail to deliver.
    Last year, inspired by the book 29 Days Of Giving, I spent a month giving a gift a day. About half of those gifts I gave to people in my life who I care about, but the other half I gave to random strangers on the street, often homeless people I would not likely meet up with again, from whom I would expect nothing in return. Giving those gifts turned out to be much more gratifying in the end because it freed me from expectation and the ensuing disappointment.
    The last thing that comes to mind is the unique nature of the cyber community. Only in recent years have we been able to reach so wide an audience with a few keystrokes, yet we may put ourselves out there and get no response. For me it is a little reminiscent of the junior high playground growing up, where groups of kids gathered while the outliers tried with little success to join the conversation, often saying something to which no one responded. I have found this to be true on other blogs, in online forums, and on Facebook. One of the things I appreciate most about responding to your posts is that you take the time to read the comments and respond to them.

    1. Thank you, Jayne. As you say, it’s a fact of our professional lives that so much of what we do we do without direct compensation. I like to think that it comes back in one form or another and I still believe that it does, even if it isn’t exactly what I want when I want it! I intend to keep responding to thoughtful comments like yours, from regular site visitors, but perhaps cut back on the time I spend with people who just “drop in.”

  16. I love your posts and bought your book because of the thoughtful ,insightful perspective on these important issues. As for providing advice by phone on specific personal issues , I believe it ought to be for a fee . It just makes sense.

  17. The strength of this blog, in addition to the insights about psychological concepts you share, is your willingness to be honest with your readers. It’s refreshing, and it allows us to be human in return. In the post that had to be removed, you showed a rare moment when you were not being honest, even with yourself. It was uncomfortable to read–even though I felt your pain and frustration. I applaud your readers who let you know how you were coming across. True friends do this for us. And I applaud your willingness to look at yourself to see what was really going on, and to make a course correction. You have modeled for your readers the path to psychological growth, and the way caring therapists and very frank friends can help us learn about ourselves. Keep up the good work. We DO appreciate it. I look forward to reading your book.

    1. When I first started this blog, what I wanted to do was to model, to some degree, what it means to keep growing “after psychotherapy.” Nobody is ever finished. If we’re open, there are all sorts of opportunities to grow. Thanks, Elaine.

  18. We dont buy stuff because of gratitude. We buy – we pay for – the stuff we want when we cannot get it for free first.

    You can request donations in the name of gratitude.

    Requesting that people buy your book out of gratitude – that they give you the validation you seek as an author, in exchange of the free advice you give on your blog – only degrades your book.

    There are many ways to promote your book and your work. Im sure it’s a terrific book, since your blog is also terrific. And the way you examine your own issues, even on this blog post, is also terrific. Almost scaring. Though, if you want to promote the book, launch it. Create hype around it. Get good reviews. Make a dedicated site for it with a forum or find a twist. Make it appear in Oprah, get press, radio interviews, get a famous athlete or actor or CEO preach about it. Sell it. Make it a business.

    So, put the value of the book where it’s due: on the book. And in you as the author by extension.

    1. I’m working to promote the book in many of the ways you suggested. If you know how to get it on Oprah, please let me know!

    2. I don’t think requesting gratitude in the form of money in any way degrades what you do. You obviously spend so much time writing and replying. It’s more a reflection of our culture.

      I just spend close to 2 months in an ashram in India, where everything was totally based on donations. And it was a working model – what was provided by the ashram was generous, what was given was generous, without peer pressure applied. Here “by donation” usually doesn’t work without pressure or guilt. That’s just reality. I honestly wish it was different. I feel gratitude because you’re trying your best to honestly say how things are. Not much BS or positive white-washing. Yes, you want money. Pretty human, and there shouldn’t be shame about it.

  19. I have greatly benefited and enjoyed reading your blog! I have also benefited from free personal advice, tho I felt I should & wanted to pay for it. I thot it was maybe another one of those boundary issues in your profession that you didnt charge me… I wondered how you manage to make the time to be so generous as I assumed there are many like me. So, I’m glad you have come to this conclusion now! Yes, you need to be compensated for your time, period. Frankly, I would now feel more at ease approaching you with a personal question. Also, in my opinion there is nothing wrong in promoting one’s work. Yes, its the work itself that in the long run carries itself but adverising is a simple economic strategy. I didn’t feel you demanded that I buy your book in return for … I was glad to buy it & buying it on a certain day if that helps your launching was not much to ask. Anyway, my gratitude to u for your many hours of generous giving, be it to benefit you or not, it has benefited me & why not you as well. Hope you rest, enjoy the “success” of your book, know that your work and advice have made a difference to others & be compensated 🙂

    1. Well thank you very much! I don’t think there’s anything wrong with asking for support, either; it was more the aggrieved tone of disappointment that was the problem (in the post I took down).

  20. I’m an attorney, and I am forever getting people coming up to me and saying, “I have a quick question . . .” I finally came up with a semi-snappy response of, “Well, the quick answer is, ‘It depends.'” I think it’s the nature of the beast that when what you have to sell is primarily your time, knowledge and expertise, that people have trouble seeing the problem with asking you for information for free.

    I am glad, for what it’s worth, that I did not see the “demand for gratitude” post because I react really badly to those kinds of demands, having grown up with a borderline mother. Hits all kinds of triggers for me. I really enjoy your blog and have your book on my ‘wish list’ for Christmas, but would have been angered at a ‘demand’ that I buy it or ask someone to buy just because I like reading this blog. So, good job taking responsibility for your own stuff!

    1. We all have our unresolved issues. One of mine showed through in that post I took down; I like to think you would’ve eventually forgiven me for it.

      1. No doubt I would have. I value the wisdom and insights you share on here, and don’t expect anyone to be perfect. I very much appreciate the time and effort you put into this blog.

  21. I’m glad you’re charging for your time. While you are friendly, you’re not a friend. You’re a professional. For those of us in digital business, it’s understood that having a blog is part of a business platform, and it takes time to develop. A book is also part of that enterprise – people will naturally gravitate to an indie book purchase, but like some organic methods, it’s usually slow. Hope you’re not too discouraged by the trickling of purchases. Keep on keepin’ on, and definitely encourage your followers to share the book and put it in the hands of influencers and reviewers.

    1. Thanks, Andi. Actually, I’m not at all discouraged by the “trickling of purchases.” My disappointment resulted from the lack of early response from my readers, but I feel like I’m over that now and enjoying the daily sales. I like to think that the book has “legs.”

  22. I’ve often wondered how you don’t become burnt out, given the work you do on this website, making videos, and what I assume is a full-time psychotherapy practice. Not to mention your family and just other things in life. I appreciate the time you’ve taken to reply to my (often lengthy) responses and questions. So, I totally understand you stepping back from all of it for the sake of your own health.

    I can see how some people might view your promotional efforts to sell your book to be self-aggrandizing or just too much. However, I assume that this is something you have labored on for a long time – and probably agonized over more than once.

    I also know the nature of the publishing industry. I work in higher ed, and at least in higher ed land, I know that the pressures and expectations and restrictions on authors from publishers is really absurd. Basically, academics hold very few cards when it comes to getting books published. Publishers know this and use it to their advantage, and they make the entire process pretty unpleasant to say the least. I don’t think most people know this. So as far as I’m concerned, your promotion of your book reflects your pride in what it took to get it done, in the face of what may have been a lot of crap from your publisher.

    I haven’t yet purchased your book, but I plan on buying the Kindle version over Christmas, not out of gratitude, but simply because you have demonstrated that you are a skilled therapist and a good writer.

    1. And that is as it should be. Thanks for your words of support, and yes, I’ve had a fair amount of “crap” from publishers. The NH people weren’t so bad; they just wanted to fit me into their CBT box and I just couldn’t do it.

  23. Dear Dr. Burgo,

    I found your site through “Movies and Mental Health” and I find it very helpful, particularly your willingness to use examples from your own reactions to various comments and situations. I just wanted to let you know that I did buy your book partly to support your work…when you think about the cost of a movie today vs. the cost of the Kindle edition of your book, it’s quite a bargain! Your son was right about blogging as I never would have found you otherwise, nor would I have found your book — many of the bookstores in my neighborhood have closed in the past few years, so there is no chance to browse and your website provides that opportunity.
    The other reason that I bought the book is that it helps! I’ve already made some observations based on the book…it’s funny how we do think celebrities, as an example, lead “care-free” lives, and I tended to think that people who have beauty and fortune don’t struggle with life in the way that the rest of us do. But we all struggle with various character issues and we rarely see the inner struggles of others.

    Thank you for your work.

    1. And thank you for taking the time to let me know. I’m glad you’re finding WDIDT helpful. This is what I’m learning to focus upon — that people will buy and appreciate the book because it has value, not because they’re grateful.

  24. Dr. Joe, I’ve been reading your blog for awhile now, though I don’t write on it very much. I understand NOW, from these exchanges I’ve been watching, that you were expecting a quid pro quo when your book came out, though I had not understood that before. Perhaps stating that up front at the beginning would have been a better way to do it? I think you have the perfect right, and a duty, to charge for your services, as does every professional. It’s good for the professional (obviously) and also for the consumer, because in my experience people tend to value more what they have had to pay for. And like you said, traffic has increased dramatically over the last two years, and keeping up with it would be a nightmare. I think this change is a good one for you to make, and it’s time. Good for you!

    1. I think if I had been more fully conscious of exactly what I expected, it would have been much better for me to state it up front … or reconsider that expectation, as I’m doing now.

  25. Dear Joe,

    I have been reading your columns but I don’t usually post. I have never asked or been given any advice. I will probably stop reading at this point because I don’t have time to purchase and read your book. It seems to me if you post things on the Internet it’s because you are interested in sharing them. I have done the same things myself but in different ways–done too much work, expect a lot of gratitude, and then feel resentment/anger when it is not sufficiently forthcoming and I don’t feel appreciated enough. This is not “giving” – it’s just painful.

    1. Please don’t stop reading just because you’re not going to buy the book! The whole point of this last post was to withdraw that pointed quid-pro-quo element: I give/you feel grateful. I do enjoy sharing my perspective on the internet and I intend to keep doing so. What I’m going to do less of is answering the many requests for my professional advice or opinion. Enough people will buy my book because they expect it to be of value, not because I’m writing this blog for free.

  26. I think there’s a common philosophical error in the “no such thing as true altruism” position.
    It is a result of regarding an individual as being distinct from the community that s/he belongs to rather than as the social animal which we all are. Consequently, we end up in a quandary which has no sensible answer, “How can I as an individual do something for others, which isn’t selfish in some degree?” There’s no sensible answer if you confuse the egoistic sense of “selfish” where a person does things exclusively for their own benefit with self-consciousness where a person is aware of the consequences of their actions including possible rewards and satisfactions for themselves. If you chuck out destructive moral teaching which imposes an impossible an asocial “unselfish” ideal on one’s actions (and this is one of the West’s diseases which has profound consequences for psychological health) then come to understand that the “selfishness” of one’s actions is irrelevant to the communal nature of one’s actions. We act because of our relationships with other people and because of what we expect from other people. Some philosophies struggle over the relationship of the individual and society and end up like Sartre maintaining that “Hell is other people” with the individual struggling in vain in a web of social connection. Actually for a healthy person “Heaven is other people” and we don’t struggle, we learn to swim because the water there is lovely. We are not particles colliding with one another with random results, we are social beings even when we are neurotic or psychotic and I would argue that neurosis and psychosis occur when at some visceral level an individual starts perceiving itself and living as an isolated individual opposed to the community. Our actions are social and include rewards and satisfactions for the givers and takers and that’s not “selfishness” it’s being human.
    Now I’m off to skype my daughter and grin at my 15-month granddaughter and when she grins back and says “Dedo”, the Slovak word for grandpa, I’m going to feel so good. But I think you’ll forgive my “selfishness.”

    1. Thanks for that, James. I agree about the “destructive moral teaching” and the impossible ideal of unselfishness. What you say makes a lot of sense to me — that because we’re by nature social and inter-connected beings, true selflessness is an impossibility.

  27. I’m a long time reader, and to be honest I always found it amazing that you responded to every comment (and not just with an acknowledgement, but an actual response). I can definitely see why you’re burned out at this point.

    Personally, I wouldn’t have felt okay about emailing you (or any of the other therapists whose blogs I read) with personal questions since that would almost feel like taking advantage of your kindness in my opinion. I know technically that it would be your job to set those boundaries but I wouldn’t have felt right doing it. I’m glad you’ve decided to step back from that because it’s obviously extremely time-consuming.

    I’ve got your book on my wishlist and I will purchase it when I’m able but unfortunately my finances are too tight to buy it immediately. I am happy to support you, both because I’ve appreciated/enjoyed your blog and you are obviously a skilled writer, and because I think it’ll be a good read and I’m interested to hear what you have to say (especially in book format instead of relatively short blog posts)!

    Thank you for sharing so much of your knowledge here – I have appreciated it!

    1. I am hearing this more clearly now, from a number of people — that there are many other ways of feeling and expressing appreciation than buying my book.

  28. It’s interesting, the concept you have of your blog and the concept that readers have of it. I always thought you were just wanting to share “insights from 30+ years in the profession”. To be, instead, trying to build up a readership for your book does seem a bit counter-intuitive. I am sure there are many, like me, who read a lot of blogs, but who wouldn’t be spending money on psychological books. I have read a few ‘self-help’ books in the past few years, but always from libraries. I can afford to buy maybe 5 books per year, and, if I think, those books in the past year have been on daily living issues such as cooking and child-rearing. It’s nothing to do with not valuing your insights, such as those shared on this blog, or of not being grateful, but rather to do with economic priorities. And, by the way, if I am grateful, it’s for the human interaction on this site, between you and the posters, above all.

    1. Anna — regarding the “counter-intuitive” part — it might interest you to learn that in publishing today, having your own blog as a “platform” to promote and sell your book is considered mandatory by most publishers. They EXPECT you to develop your own audience through blogging because these days, they’re unwilling to spend much on advertising.

  29. Dear Dr. Burgo,
    Well, I bought your book, and I’m working my way through it rather slowly (and rereading alot, too), and it’s really a very very good book, and corresponds precisely I think to your goals.

    I read two major blogs daily (one in the social sciences, one in finance/economics), and their posters respond, but only very selectively. None of the commenters is expecting a response from the poster – most of the discussion is between commenters, who both support and snark at one another. I too was quite struck at the frequency and thoughtfulness of your responses and I actually learned from this post that you were answering email queries, etc. Yikes!

    As a free-lance scholarly translator, I do alot of free work (er, probably too much). But I’ve rationalized (! DM!) this because I’m starting a second career late in life and trying to build a reputation, because I anticipate that a client I help out with “just a few paragraphs” or “a little editing of their own translation” will turn to me at some unspecified point in the future – and my clients know this as well. I’ve been unemployed alot the past year for reasons having to do with the economic downfall of the place where I live, and have done major jobs gratis – but this is also “reputation-building”, and keeps the skills I need alive. If I could only figure out a way to get paid for something or other … !

    1. I sympathize! I think I’ve also been “reputation-building” … and successfully, I feel. It may not have come back to me in precisely the way I expected, just when I was hoping for it, but I believe that the “giving” I do here will eventually come back to me. I hope it will for you, too.

  30. I have a cloth scroll from the Dalai Lama that essentially says that it’s not a bad thing to be selfish – it’s more that we need to be selfish in a wise way.

    1. Nicely said. I don’t believe that being selfish is a bad thing, although it has certainly gotten a bad rap. What comes to mind is the message that flight attendants give just before you take off, about what to do in the case the cabin de-pressurizes: put your own mask on first before attending to your child. You can’t give to other people if you don’t take care of your own needs first.

      1. The Dalai Lama I think was referring to the Buddhist concept of dependent origination, meaning that it is impossible to determine true causality for anything internal, that we are extremely interconnected with everything. So being wise means recognizing this, taking care of one’s self and others together and planting as many “good seeds” as possible everywhere. It’s ultimately selfish to do this if you see the big picture, and if you do it from the right place.

        Too often we don’t find a balance; we place priority on either ourselves (as a narcissistic) or on others (as a caregiver), whereas the ideal is to find a perfect balance in the moment. As you said, you cannot truly help others when you disregard yourself; it ends up creating suffering for everyone. It’s easy to believe you’ll be rewarded in the future for selfless acts, but I now see that any time there’s unkindness to self it creates little scars, even if we think we’re helping others. Often we don’t know what “help” is – that’s what’s so confusing around borderline personalities.

  31. In a past life, I was a litigator. Friends and family often started conversations with comments like ‘So, this thing happened to me the other day…’ and ‘Hey, can I ask your advice about my boss…’ etc etc. I was young and not very conscious of my own needs and would answer politely, research dutifully, and respond accordingly. On the outside, I looked brilliant. Inside, I was dying. Truly. I started intensely disliking those people, including family members. Their needs became not only a practical time (and money) suck for me, but a potential malpractice suit, the final nail in the I’m-exhausted coffin, and (in my not completely healthy mind) proof of how absolutely self-centered so many of them were (ie How dare they not recognize I just got home from a 12 hour day of DOING THIS!?!). I started to become bitter. And then I left practice. The causation was not people asked for free help and therefore I left…but it certainly played a part.

    Since that time, I started therapy and my therapist was quick to point out my absolute lack of boundaries in pretty much every aspect of my life. Her wisdom informed that as long as I kept saying yes people would continue assuming I was fine with their requests. So, together we have slowly (but not even remotely completely) removed the guilt from saying no and developed the voice and belief system required to manufacture that word consistently. To the extent you do that here, I applaud you and thank you for leading by example.

    1. Thanks, Izzy. So I’m wondering if you felt able to return to practice, having resolved this issue of boundaries, or whether you’ve moved on to some other endeavor ???

      1. No, I didn’t return; I now work with/teach kids. Before I even started therapy, I recognized that the law generally wasn’t a career that was allowing me to live within my values (namely, a life that didn’t revolve around money. but did revolve around experience, enjoyment, and a more simple security). As it turned out, leaving law became the very first (significant) time in my life I made a decision to go against what everyone else – particularly my parents (who thoroughly enjoyed both the free advice and the recognition my degree afforded them) – wanted for me. And boy did I hear it from everyone! I eventually wandered into therapy when all that noise became too much and when I realized I was having a hard time leaving similarly ‘difficult’ personal relationships that were negatively impacting my life too.

  32. Thank you so much for posting this. You’ve gotten quite a bit of feedback so far, and my feelings resonate with much of it.

    However, I wanted to mention that I am very appreciative of this post for yet another reason. You were able to relay a decision to set a limit in a clear, gentle, caring way. You took ownership for what was yours and helped your readers understand the reasons for your decision.

    Setting limits/boundaries is something I am working on, and it’s been very difficult for me. Witnessing your honest and genuine approach is very helpful.

    It continues to amaze me how one’s actions can result in valuable gains in the most innocuous of ways.

    1. As painful as the response to that first post was, I feel it has overall been a very positive experience for me. As you say, you never know where the “valuable gains” will come along.

  33. Dr.Burgo, I not only fully support the changes and see them as reflecting healthy practices for anyone, I want to say: how you’ve gone through this process & shared it with all of us is a gift. Thank you for your authenticity.

    1. I’m glad you see it that way, Sue. It wasn’t the easiest of processes to through, I admit, but I feel better being candid about it.

  34. Fascinating topic! As much as I prefer to apply a philosophical framework to such a dilemma, and without doubt there’s a wealth of ethical theories to bury oneself in, I am forced to look at it concretely. By way of example, I am an editor by trade. I think by nature as well. I see what is wrong with every writing, what can be improved upon in every landscape (I do garden design as well), and what flavor is missing or should be omitted in every meal (I’ve been a professional cook at some point as well). Editing, redacting, revising, and polishing are activities I’m compelled to do and doing so makes me feel alive and present. I do it unasked often, and when people are grateful for it, I feel even more alive. When grateful people then ask me to do more, I expect to be paid, or at least referred to a paying customer. When they do not, I feel used and like a failure at some level. I’ve come to realize that for me, my gift/curse (the latter because seeing what’s wrong with everything is a pain in others butts and has to be consciously filtered at all times) is a commodity and when I give it, I need to be grateful to the people who want it. It’s when I don’t feel grateful that I signal back to myself that I’ve given poorly. Thats the emotional aspect. The financial aspect is that when i give and dont receive back in due course, i’ve been a poor marketer. A tremendous advantage in business is knowing who and when to give to….I suspect few of us are dialed in that tightly to that as well as possessing an innate talent to market in the first place! Give, but don’t give to the point of emotional and financial poverty.

    1. I think that’s good advice. I’m learning to know when to draw the line, and when the giving in itself gives something back to me, if that makes sense. I’m doing less of the other kind of responding.

  35. Thank you for continuing to share your process, and also normalizing wanting, as opposed to just giving. This feels real and am glad that you continue to lean this way. I have lost interest in other writers in the past when they become formulaic or move into what I might call “icon” status, meeting others expectations rather than staying with what I first appreciated about them–their idiosyncratic voice.

    1. Thanks. It’s the ongoing exploration in a “non-icon” status way that keeps this blog interesting for me.

  36. This makes so much sense, Joe. I appreciate your self awareness and willingness to share those insights with your readers. It’s part of what keeps me reading your blog.

    Of course, over time, when you give and give and give you can begin to feel resentful when you don’t get anything back. I don’t think any of us plan to give to get…but we all do it in various ways. It’s not always a monetary “getting,” but relationally too.

    As a therapist, the fee is so important to the work. It’s really the only thing that keeps the relationship even.

    It’s important to understand our motivations for “giving,” and be comfortable about what we’re getting (or not getting) in return.

    On a smaller scale, I found myself really resenting the work of Thanksgiving this year…and realized I DID expect to get something in return…and was disappointed when I didn’t.

    1. I’ve heard from a number of friends that this post really resonated for them. I think many of us “give to get” without ever quite realizing that we expect it.

  37. Hi Dr. Burgo,

    I am new here so I have neither built up any good will myself nor felt as though I have received anything (yet) that requires expressing gratitude. I do enjoy an honest exchange so I want you to know that, although you don’t know me well, my comments are coming only from my point of view and how I have perceived all of the above in my limited time here.

    Before I go into my comments, however, I would like to explain where I am coming from. I have neither asked for free advice nor been in the professional position yet that involved marketing myself or giving free advice. I bought the book and am participating in the discussion group.
    I am a professional coming out of retirement after staying at home raising my children.

    Upon arrival, I picked up on the pressure to buy the book as well as a sense of disappointment. Being new, I had no idea what it was about and wondered how it all tied into the discussion group. All of this has brought up interesting questions to me about:
    -what we get out of giving;
    -how we actually feel about what we are offering for free;
    -what we expect from other people when we give;
    -what we can learn from the getting the response we wanted;
    On the flip side:
    -how we feel when someone gives something to US that appears to be free;
    – if it turns out that, in fact, it was not free, what happens when the other person feels let down.
    – can we allow ourselves to accept something free from someone without feeling as though there is a debt that is owed.

    Enough about all of the interesting questions. It’s time to make it a little more personal. I am in the position actually of having already paid for a service that has not yet been completely received as we are not even half-way through the book. I am left wondering how you will feel about continuing to engage in the discussion group as now it might feel like more of an obligation that you have to fulfill. What expectations on my part might be reasonable? How often can I expect you to reply to the discussion group, are follow up questions a part of the contract, so to speak, and so on and so forth.

  38. Hi again,

    Aside from the questions about giving and receiving, the whole exchange is interesting from an object relations and mentalizing point of view, i.e., how we go from being two-dimensional people to multi-dimensional people. In this particular instance, there was a two-dimensional quality to it in that the here the energy was coming directly from a feeling (unconscious or semi-conscious) as opposed to being generated after being processed. It seems as though now you have a new and perhaps more meaningful template that you can use in the future which is how we break free from the past, I imagine.

  39. Hi, i have been following this website for quite a while and have enjoyed the interaction, i have never asked for specific advice but have made comments and have appreciated (though not expected)your comments.

    I havent bought your book and i was a little surprised at suddenly being inferred to that gratitude and support for the site would mean i would buy it,
    it did put me off a little, cos it wasnt said up front, it was like something was offered then along the road there were suddenly strings attached,

    im not into reading at the minute as i have spent alot of time in my head so im avoiding that habit, but i may in the future,

    i would never expect you to reply to my comments, i am on other free websites where that doesnt happen except occasionally, it must be shattering trying to reply to every one.

    My ego might be hurt if you respond to others comments and not mine but i have to deal with that and its not your problem, i would rather you be true to your self and have some “healthy selfishness”

    i wish you well with your book and will check in on the site that i feel i have also given alot to by responding to others and sharing my experiences in growing, in the hope that it may help others feel understood, help them with their growth,

    you can feel useless when you are strugglingwith you mental health and i have felt useful by commenting on here which is my “reward” it just makes me feel good to share.

    i really appreciate this site, but i havent 2 coins to rub together at theminute, i dont spend money on alcohol or smoking, every mile i drive in petrol has to be worked out so i can get my stuff done without running out, so i cant buy a book i wont read yet,

    why dont you have a donate button on the front of your site, then its peoples choice, or you could do what Cygnus Review (the charity book people in England ) do and suggest a donation for the year for membership and see how that goes, they have built up quite a loyal following by doing that,

    its good to hear you acknowledging your stuff, it gives me faith in you and your site


    1. I think the “donate” button is a good idea. It will allow people who choose to support the site to give whatever they feel able to give, not what I ask for. Thanks.

  40. It seems to me that books are very cheap. I can buy a book for about the same cost as my travel to work every day (by public transport). The equivalent of less than ten minutes with my therapist (who I see twice a week). I will certainly recommend WDIDT to those who express to me any interest in self exploration.

    I think being clear about our motivations is a good thing. And I have also noticed that advice or consultation given for free is often ineffective. As others have said, people value what they pay for. The institution for which I work uses the “sliding scale” but it does not go down to zero, there is a minimum.

    1. Thanks, Mike. I’m glad that you see the value equation that way but not everyone does. Some people feel that the price of even one book is quite a lot, given the other demands upon their resources. I’m learning that this doesn’t mean they don’t appreciate what they find here.

  41. Dr. Burgo,

    I also can’t help but wonder about the people who have gotten free advice , bought the book and are participating in the discussion. Will you feel as though things are even now? If they have questions about the book and/or discussion, will they feel entitled to ask you about it now that they know how resentful you got or will they feel like a beggar waiting for the next piece of steak to be thrown their way?

    Okay, that being said, I’m going to not-so gracefully bow out now.

    1. I think you’re missing the point of the post. By acknowledging the unconscious expectation, it defused the resentment because I was able to see the transaction more clearly. Since you’re participating in the discussion, you may have noticed that I’m commenting extensively.

  42. “Okay, that being said, I’m going to not-so gracefully bow out now.”

    Famous last words. I know you have not asked for my advice or opinion but I’m doing some cleaning and keep thinking about the topic. Take the following for what it’s worth.

    The first thing I find a bit confusing is that there seems to be two levels of discourse going on here. You are conversing with other professionals, it seems, as well as laypeople and the conversations are getting intertwined. You are an authority and there is nothing narcissistic in recognizing that. You are inviting people to rely on you, to buy your book. How you say and phrase things carries an awful lot of weight – especially with people who have been struggling for a long time.

    Secondly ,and back to Nick, it was my experience that I envied my therapist because it revived the hopes and dreams I had for myself but felt unable to attain. I didn’t feel ashamed about it. Just sad and hopeless. However, as I have gotten stronger, I am starting to feel more hopeful that I can set goals for myself and reach them and then the envy subsided.

    My therapist and I have never talked about that envy or my idealization of him. I am fully aware that it happened but don’t see, in hindsight, that it was even necessary to talk about it. In addition, there is at least one psychologist who practices out of Boston and I can’t remember her name but she doesn’t believe in abreactive work at all. I don’t know if that’s what you might call the work you were doing with Nick. But maybe until there is enough of a positive base there, it’s just more of the same for him, more humiliation so to speak, if you venture into those waters? The whole interaction made me wonder what the enactment was for him and how his father interacted with him.

    Now, back to my own life.

  43. Hi Dr. Burgo,

    First of all, I want to thank you for your candid explanation of your thoughts and feelings surrounding your book and your blog. I just wanted to share my thoughts, so I don’t expect a reply.

    I have to admit that I was taken aback by your original expectations regarding comments and the purchase of your book. And, I’m going out on a gigantic limb here, but I had been planning on purchasing the book until I saw that and felt myself not wanting to purchase it just because of what was perceived as a demand (I know you said it was not – I just took it that way). I then questioned my motivations for buying it and knew that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy it and soak it in with a clear head if I thought I purchased it because I was fulfilling an expectation.

    I have been reading for a long time and have always valued your posts because they’re always chock full of insightful information. That’s the very reason I wanted to purchase your book in the first place, and it’s the reason I intend to sometime in the future. I wasn’t sure I wanted to continue reading, either, but just like the rest of us, you’re human – and the way you acknowledged that is why you’re such a great therapist and writer. Thanks for all you do.

    I just want to add that I was always amazed that you took so much time to reply to people, even if it was just a thank you. I don’t know about others, but that’s not something I expected when I first starting reading here.

    Take care,


    1. I can’t help making mistakes or acting on unconscious motivations, but hopefully I can learn from them. I don’t ever want to hold myself up as perfect. The main message of this blog is that growth is a never-ending process.

  44. Dr. Burgo,

    “I think you’re missing the point of the post. By acknowledging the unconscious expectation, it defused the resentment because I was able to see the transaction more clearly.”

    I am sorry if I did miss the point. I thought your resentment was towards the people who DIDN”T buy the book – not the people who did – who are the ones I was referring to. My apologies.

  45. Dr. Burgo wrote,

    “Since you’re participating in the discussion, you may have noticed that I’m commenting extensively.”

    You have been commenting extensively. In all honesty, though, I posted some pretty vulnerable stuff 2 days ago that has not yet been responded to and I did feel vulnerable AND disappointed – which is why I asked what reasonable expectations on my part might be. Will you only be responding on certain days of the week, so that if I am going to post something vulnerable, I’ll know when not to post it? Stuff like that.

    1. Hi Sarabi,

      Yes, I’ve realized I’m not able to respond to the discussion every day. It may take me a day or two to read all the comments and reply to them (or most of them); but I’m also hoping that interactions between the readers will be more valuable than what I have to say.

      I see it as my job to clarify and answer specific questions, not to provide online therapy. The book is really a course in self-discovery and I don’t see it as my role to reply as a therapist would do but rather to help you if you’re confused or unclear about something I’ve written.

  46. Dr. Burgo,

    Your blogpost about giving and receiving was refreshingly honest. IMO, it takes a strong person to discuss something like that so openly. Honestly, I also thought it was terrific that you withdrew the first post. It told me a lot about you.

    But even if I did miss the point, and even if you have it all sorted out for yourself now, there are people out there who did receive free advice from you, bought the book and are participating in the discussion group. Surely, the whole conversation had an effect on them if it affected me and I simply bought the book and haven’t asked for any free advice. “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” I’m sorry if I have offended you. I was simply trying to represent a different point of view.

    1. I guess I’m not sure what that point of view is, Sarabi. I feel as if you’re disappointed in some way, but I’m not sure why. Of course I don’t resent you or anyone else who bought the book — I’m grateful. But I also hope that the book itself is worth the price you paid. Having a discussion group to process the experience with others is a bonus, but isn’t the book itself what you bought?

  47. Dr. Burgo,

    I actually did the opposite. I bought the book so that I could participate in the discussion group. It could have been on almost any topic and I would have bought it because I think the interaction itself is greatly beneficial.

    As you know, Chapter 3 was very difficult and I took it seriously. I posted some very vulnerable material. You have not commented on it nor have any of the other posters. That’s okay. I’m sure they don’t know what to say as everyone else seems to not experience emotions with the intensity that I do.

    The problem for me with the other posters playing a larger role than you is that everyone has their own baggage. Everyone has gotten to a different point in their therapy or may not be in therapy at all. If we are talking about defense mechanisms and we have laypeople helping us sort things out, I personally, not meaning to offend the other participants here, think it would be more helpful if you helped us through the process.

    I have expected you to comment more than you have. And I do feel like I paid for something and I’m not quite getting my money’s worth. You were honest about your resentment and I’m being honest about mine. I am the consumer here. I’m disappointed that you are here tending to the blog before going there to tend to the discussion group. But that brings us back to the discussion on the blogpost, that you enjoy the blog whilst being in the role of dispensing advice is not particularly your favorite thing. And that’s what concerned me to begin with, the sense that the discussion group was more of a way for you to sell the book, as you yourself have admitted.

    However, now that I know how you view the discussion group, I can adjust my expectations and when and/or if I will even share vulnerable material. I think I will bow out of the discussion and just read the book on my own as this seems to have gotten off to a very bad start.

    1. Sarabi, it seems that you were expecting more than I can deliver. Expecting me to help each and everyone of you through the process of reading my book and engaging with the exercises is impossible. It is, after all, a self-help book. If you send your PayPal email address to me at, I will be happy to issue you a refund.

  48. Dr. Burgo,

    As I said above, I will be reading the book on my own so there is no need for a refund. I am truly sorry that this has taken such an awful turn. It wasn’t my intention. I suppose I came on board during a conversation that I was not a part of but affected me nonetheless. Good luck with your book and best wishes.

  49. I think it’s a good idea to charge a fee for answering questions. It makes me feel like a bum, asking for gratuities. If I pay, I feel I deserve your expertise. Sorry you are disappointed by your book sales, Dr. Burgo. But you’re in good company, with William Blake, Vincent Van Gogh, and many other artistes who are now household names (if that helps at all!)

    1. Thanks, Susannah. Poor VVG didn’t sell a single painting during his lifetime, as I understand it. I’m certainly doing far better than that!

  50. I did buy your book (Kindle edition) because I find your thoughts interesting. Same reason I read the blog 🙂

    I disagree though about altruism not really existing due to the giver feeling good about giving, and therefore that feeling itself being their compensation (is that a fair summary?).

    That seems very circular to me … by explaining everything, it explains nothing. At least, that’s my impression.

    Everything we do, we do in *some* sense because we want to. To say that because we wanted to, all acts become selfish acts, well, to me that just doesn’t impart any actual information.

    Altruism, in other words, is the act of wanting to do something without hope of reward. The wanting is just a mechanism, not a motive in itself.

    1. Greg, I don’t think I understand your last paragraph. I don’t believe that people ever want to give without hope of reward. The reward may not be obvious but it’s there if you look for it.

      1. I’m not sure I believe in true altruism either, but perhaps there is an innate difference between mutual reward and egocentric reward. When two people both receive equal joy in something, I tend to think of that as negating the selfishness, or positivizing (it’s a word today) the energy. One enjoys the joy of the other as much as their own….and that is as much true of the other. So where’s the imbalance in that? Of course there is no such thing as giving without getting. I don’t think there was ever meant to be such a standard. No, not even in (esp. not in, if truth be known) religion. Maybe it’s our perception of what pure altruism should be that falls short. I’m not sure that anyone can do something altruistic so much as tap into what is already altruism. It’s a state of being not a deed, imho.

  51. I think the misconception about “giving without getting” in western culture is a misunderstanding of Christainity.
    A pure human being can’t give without getting, even in the meost genesuos activity.
    I did social voluntary work and I got
    1) A better idea of myself
    2) An actual improvement of myself, in terms of social skills, organization skills etc.
    Only Jesus could give without taking, because, being God, he is already perfect and can not improve and he didn’t need anything, as the Universe is his. And, btw, I think his human part enjoied bein invited to banquets by people who wanted to listen to him…
    The true goal should not be “give for nothing” but “give something useful”. I don’t know if you ever met the kind of persons who “lives for others”, but the ufortunate “others” feel like victims of stalking.

  52. Hi Dr. Burgo,

    Please dont give a refund! How many times have you purchased a book, a meal, or seen a movie and had the opportunity to communicate directly with the creator about your unhappiness?! Ormthatnthey even cared?! I purchased your book because I hoped it would be as insightful and honest as you have been here, and I was not disappointed! But had I been disappointed….tough! The book would have gone in the heap of countless other books Ive purchased, or clothes I dont wear.

    Your “giving to get” comment is so timely for me. Having been displaced along with the rest of my neighborhood by Hurricane Sandy, I was so touched by the help and support of friends and family. However, I realized some of them began commenting on what they perceived as a lack of gratitude for their help. My family and I have been in shock, moved from our home, lost most of our belongings, cant process information, dont know what to do next…and I need to get on those thank-you notes so my benfactors feel thanked properly?! I realized they are helping me for their own benefit, not mine. I actually am using your book to try to help me through this difficult see how my defenses are rearing themselves. Trauma really brings them all out at once!

    Thank you, over and over again, for giving more of yourself than perhaps you should have. I actually feel I get a deeper sense of you in the book…and I, for one, am grateful to be able to tell you so.

    No need to respond…just sit back and feel good about it!


    1. But I WANT to respond to this one! And to thank you. How stressful it must be to go through what you’re experiencing with the aftermath of Sandy and then to feel that you’re not grateful enough. It sure doesn’t feel like true generosity when you’re supposed to “pay up” in the form of timely gratitude.

  53. New to the site so an interesting second post to read.

    Altruism itself is fitting and appropriate (One should feel good about helping someone). Giving and receiving is bi-directional. The main focus in defining an altruistic act is the intent involved. Once we start adding in specturms of altruism (e. g. pure altruism) then an altruistic act becomes an exercise of thought and theory.

    I agree with your friend about the economic choices readers face. Turning visitors into customers isn’t easy. Remember your a running a Social Enterprise. It seems the social aspect was focused upon more than the enterprising. Changing of this process doesn’t make you unaltruistic. Everything in life seeks balance and giving is no different. Clearly now you’re more consciously aware that selling “yourself” isn’t the best road taken to selling a product. Helping the product sell itself will give you a better degree of separation. Futhermore, it seems people may appreciate the value of a paid subscription in the long term (exclusivity, fair-trade between parties, cost vs. value dynamic).

    As an aspiring counseling psychologist I will undoubtedly buy your book, just not today (smiling).

    1. Well thanks and thanks … for adding your perspective and for the eventual book purchase. I wonder about the subscription service idea; I’ve toyed with it but I’m afraid that people will just stop reading because they’re used to getting it for free.

  54. How is this for an idea, and I say it because it’s something I’ve been considering myself: what about if you do a kickstarter for a book before writing it? Pitch the book on your kickstarter, establish a minimum amount of copies or dollar amount you wish to reach to justify the time and effort of writing the book, and that way people will have to put their money where their mouths are beforehand. You can have tons of blog popularity and commenters, but sometimes they are just free riders. You could use your blog posts to promote the kickstarter perhaps? You could maybe offer an incentive in that the faster the kickstarter total rises, the more that will positively affect blog post frequency? Of course everyone who donates the minimum gets a free book, but maybe those who donate higher amounts can also get extras? Is such a thing feasible? Has it been done?

    1. I’ll give that some thought, but actually, the more time goes by, the more I feel satisfied with the outcome. I keep selling books every day and I think that it may not have happened the way I expected, but it is good and satisfying.

  55. However all of this plays out I am glad that I found your blog which in turn led me to your book and the opportunity to participate in the discussion group. I didn’t realize that you answered so many personal emails in addition to the blog, your practice and everything else that goes along with everyday life. I can see how you could get burned out. I want you to know how appreciative I am of your honesty and the way you put your “stuff” out there. It is so refreshing and rare in the world today – at least in my world anyway. That’s what has kept me reading your blog. I love the content and style of your writing and look forward to upcoming books you write. But by all means take care of yourself.

    1. Thanks, Charlotte. And I am trying to work a little less hard. I realize that I start to feel guilty if I don’t approve comments and reply to them quickly enough, but I’m learning to live with that guilt.

  56. Good evening, Dr. Burgo
    I look forward to your posts on your website. Your approach to therapy is similar to that of my therapist and I value your perspective and for that reason I purchased your book, Kindle version. You are a professional and I was happy to support you through the purchase of your book. I do hope you continue your website free of charge, because it can become, and evidently has become a referral source. However, I also believe, since you are a professional, that if you give your time to consult with individuals who contact you for professional advice/opinions/perspectives/services, they should expect to compensate you at a competitive rate, just as they would any other professional. I was happy to purchase your book, though I have not had time to read it yet due to professional responsibilities. It is at the top of my list when I have a break in my schedule in just a couple of weeks. Thank you!

    1. Thanks, Patti. I intend to keep the site free, although I’m toying with other ways to “monetize” it.

  57. Hi. Found your site a few hours ago, and within minutes was ready to support your book (pdf plz), but couldn’t because, and unless it I missed it, the book doesn’t seem to be in the iTunes store yet, and iTunes or DRM-free eBooks are the only stores I personally support.

    Trust me, I’m intimately aware of the more bitter “tastes” of being in Apple’s store, but with their stratospherically large userbase right now (across iPhone+iPad+Mac), not being in their store is simply leaving good money on the table.


      1. Actuality, if there is a Kindle edition, iUsers can download the Kindle App on their iDevice, purchase the Kindle version of the book and will be able to read it. I’ve done it before and is planning to do it this way with Dr. Burgo’s book (just haven’t found time to do it yet :p ). It’s a very convenient way to purchase books online especially when I’m currently located in Asia.
        P.S., being a new reader of this site for only a couple of weeks, I was surprised by the amount of work you put in to maintain the site. I respect your decision Joe and appreciate your effort to share your insight and knowledge!

        1. Yes, I’ve heard that about the Kindle app for an iDevice. I think for the other reader, it was more an issue of wanting to support the iTunes platform.

  58. There is a reason why I liked your earlier posts a lot more than recent ones.
    The earlier ones gave the impression that you simply wanted to provide insights and food for thought regarding human psychology.
    The later posts however felt like they were written by a person quite preoccupied with his book, while not offering much by themselves.
    As a reader for almost a year, I started to visit here less frequently in recent months because of this.
    If your book is good, people will know and will buy it. Publicize it on social networking sites and whatnot, but don’t get too caught up in trying to promote it. Just keep the word going, and keep up the quality posts here. It is your thoughts about psychology, human behavior, and psychotherapy that will prompt people to buy your book, not posts about your book itself!

  59. Well, I am new to your site, but I find your sharing and years of experence that only experence can teach. As much as you would love to help everyone, I feel you have some balance to to expend yourself. I hate to say this but your time is very valuable , your knowledge.
    I have found in short time reading very insightfull for myself, and plan to continue
    You book will speak for itself! I plan on getting it, maybe the subscription would be a thought if your getting that busy.
    Thanks for your Time

    1. I’m trying to set better limits for myself and do a bit less, but I always have time to say thanks for such a nice comment.

  60. I can sympathize and empathize with some of the concerns that you raise. It’s always difficult when other people don’t meet your expectations, whatever those expectations may be. But one of the best therapists I know makes a point that you can only ever control your side of a conversation. I would hope that this site is a way for you to share your thinking; it is always provocative and well-reasoned, even if one might disagree or probe from time to time. It must be a good source of referrals, especially now that you’re practicing by Skype without regard to geography. And I can assure that in time, it will build an audience for your books. Like everything else good in life, like some kinds of psychotherapy, building a book audience takes time, and has to be done a little at a time. Once the audience is there for you, though, they will eagerly take everything you write. It’s work to build an audience with a personal commitment to you, whether you’re writing fiction or non-fiction. It is very much worth it, monetarily and otherwise.

    Thank you very much for all your blogging this year. I look forward to reading more.

    1. You’re absolutely right about it taking time and I’m feeling much better about that part of it. It’s kind of like “if you build it, they will come.” Just keep turning out quality content and eventually people take notice. That will be my New Year’s resolution!

  61. When I was in a hospital ED recently, I was comforted by a very giving nurse. After I told him I wanted to know exactly what procedures were to be done in advance so that I could take an anxiolytic, he came over to the bed and held my hand for a couple of minutes. He didn’t say a word. He just contained my fear and reassured me. He also graciously tucked in my covers every time I was transported to another room.

    He could have simply just done his job, but I believe he was “giving without getting”. Sure, we could argue that he was getting an ancillary reward, such as feeling good about himself, but that’s sort of analagous to saying most drivers are criminals because technically, if we let our car go 1 mile per hour over the speed limit, we broke the law. It’s more rare than common, but I have come across selfless giving from time to time throughout my life. I call it pure love.

    And isn’t a parent’s love selfless giving?

    I don’t think everyone has the capacity for it, but I do believe selfless giving exists. I always find myself in awe of such people when I am fortunate enough to experience it.

  62. Hmm.. is a parent’s love selfless giving. I say no. We always get something back. Whether it is the warmth of returned love or the disappointment of resentment for our decisions/words etc.
    With regards to altruism and its existence in pure form…Even an anonymous contribution gives us something back, if only the self-satisfaction of doing something nobody knows we did (or even the creation of mystery that is all our own doing). Makes me truly question altruism’s existence!

    With regard to this post, which i might have completely misunderstood (due to being up most of the night with a vomiting dog) I hope that your response to the offline comments is not also a strong defense mechanism at work due to the disappointment you must have felt regarding the reaction to you promoting your book and hoping to be ‘rewarded’ for your work here through purchases of the book.. This shift seems in such contrast to how you have seemed to feel about this blog and your work for so long. I know that i consider what you write to be an eye-opening and welcome adjunct to my own quest to understand and improve my life and relationships. I have not found only one therapist to have all answers and really appreciate your views – views I have not found elsewhere in one place. I find your questions (‘find your own way’) interesting and helpful. I hope that you choose to continue to share. And if i have totally misunderstood this post, i am so sorry – and happy actually that i misunderstood!
    Have a Happy New Year.

  63. From someone who has given of herself, freely to all who seek for my help. I take issue with people selling their wisdom. I believe in God and the Bible and God gives His wisdom freely to us, to share. He said that there’s no temptation that isn’t common to man and we are to comfort others in the way in which we were comforted. Too me this should be a free gift to others and we shouldn’t be concerned with payment. God provides all our needs and He’s certainly been faithful in this regard for myself. Having said that, let me just say that a man is worth his hire and you need to support yourself, for a living, therefore go ahead and charge a fee, but do it for the right reasons and not because some other doctor is doing it. Seek for the Holy Spirit’s guidance in the matter, who works in and through the Christian. He may want you to charge a fee or not, draw near to Him and He will draw near to you. I’ve read some of your articles now which I’ve found fruitful and full of a loving compassionate heart. I liked what you’ve said about loving one another in a doctor/client relationship. Takes me to scriptures that teach Love conquers all and I believe it does, when someone is able to accept the love shared. Unfortunately many people do not feel worthy to accept that love for whatever life experiences they’ve faced that has left them feeling unworthy. Anyway, thanks for your thought provoking articles!

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