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Book Review: Why do I do that by Joseph Burgo

Updated: Jun 9, 2021

This book is about trying to understand the psychological defence mechanisms that we all deploy and how they can shape our lives in very hidden ways.

The defences are based on Psychodynamic Psychotherapy concepts and this book is written as a way into understanding oneself when one might feel that some of the strategies that we might have deployed in the past are no longing serving us that well.

Firstly, we all have defences. They help us get through our lives. Employing the defence of denial to a degree, in the face of the pain of this Covid-19 pandemic, might serve some of us well. However, when defences get too deeply entrenched that they might then block us from accessing some difficult emotions and the problems that might ensue as a result e.g. completely denying the existence of Covid-19, they may not serve us too well.

If we overuse a defence or it’s too deeply rooted, then we are trying to block out some form of pain which has an emotional component. And as so many of us know, that emotion needs to go somewhere, and when it’s not directed/addressed it may be destructive, frustrating or shaming.

This book tries to help you understand some of your own basic psychological concerns and the defences that you might then deploy. It then has a series of exercises that you can explore to help you understand yourself better and maybe start to heal some of the wounds that kickstarted the use of that defence.

As a group these were some of the main things we found with the book:

1. Recognising that we all have the capability for all emotions. It was quite profound for many of us to realise that within us all we have the capability for love and hate, anger, guilt, shame etc, and it was very grounding to realise that it is ok to have those emotions and that we all have them, e.g. mothers can love and also hate their children, and that is normal.

2. Recognising that thinking (intellectualisation) can be a defence. As many of us are psychologists or coaches and we work in business, we often use thinking as a defence for ourselves and we also see it a lot in our clients.

3. It’s a good way of trying to not just understand yourself but also those around you. If you are having difficulty with someone, then this book can also be used to help you think a bit more deeply about why a person may be responding in a certain way. This insight can then lead to maybe seeing them in a different light and working with them in a different frame too.

4. It can be a good starter for a conversation. One of us noticed that their teenage son was having a bit of difficulty. They used the psychological concerns exercise as an opener for starting a conversation, which led them to discuss the different defences that each of them uses and how they play out. It didn’t resolve everything (it’s not what you would expect) but it opened the way for a deeper and stronger conversation.

5. The exercises are good but…what is interesting is that as learning professionals and all with an interest in trying to learn and be better, we did not complete the exercises. One person completed one of them. And so, it highlights that this is hard; deeper reflection probably needs someone else to guide and support, which points towards working with a therapist.

6. This book will not heal you. It is a starter to help individuals think about themselves more deeply. Psychotherapists have a mantra which is that if wounds were caused in a relationship with others, then they can only be resolved in a relationship with another, i.e. you need therapy.

Would we recommend the book?

We think this book is written in such a way that it is quite intellectual and so it would work well for those in business or professional roles to start the process of understanding themselves. As we have said before, it’s maybe an opener or an introduction to the process of change, but it is not going to solve or heal. That will require therapy. However, as a precursor this is a good place to start.


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