I’m sorry, there’s nobody there

I’m sorry, there’s nobody there

On Friday I rang my bank to ask about something and became stuck in a queue of other callers. As I waited a message kept repeating, and it ended with a mechanical-sounding woman’s voice telling me she was sorry for what was happening. ‘I’m sorry,’ she said, before mentioning something about what was going on. When my call was eventually answered I asked the man speaking to me who, exactly was sorry for what had happened to me.

‘We are,’ he said.

‘That’s not what your recorded voice says. She says ‘I’.’


‘She isn’t real, is she?’


‘So nobody’s sorry. Could you pass this on to your supervisor for me,  please? How alienating it is to be told someone’s sorry for something, when nobody is?’

‘I can transfer you to the complaints department.’

‘No. I’d need to wait. Can you tell them?’

‘I’m sorry, but I can’t.

‘That’s ok. You’re doing your best.’

Keeping Cool & Carrying On

Keeping Cool & Carrying On

Occasionally people feel that they have noticed something about you, and may try to interpret it. There might seem, for example, to be a high likelihood that something emotionally draining in a person’s life could adversely affect their decision making.

What I’ve noticed, however, is that when people are aware of what is happening to them and they talk about it with someone who’s disinterested in the situation, they’re more likely to make better decisions, or at least ones they are more aware of and happy with, than worse ones. What’s liable to happen is that those looking on become affected by that situation and displace their own worry or unease onto the person having a problem … they worry about themselves without realising it. The trust they lose in the person they are observing might assume the proportions of their own, unrealised lack of trust in themselves.

I went through something like this recently and people close to me told me I’d be OK, to just stick to the basic things, to get on with life and not get caught up in other people’s dramas. They were right, I think, apart from the fact I forgot to tell people I was all right. If I’d been more clear, and spoken a little about how I was dealing with things, life would with hindsight have been far more simple. Keeping cool involves, perhaps, rather more than I used to think watching Clint Eastwood roll into town with something by Ennio Morricone playing in the background. The times when I was deciding to let off some steam, for example (which weren’t exactly moments where I lost control; on the contrary they seemed to leave me feeling far more in control: I threw a towel out of a window and was delighted to see it get snagged in a rose bush).

As it was, the possibility that I was aware of what I was doing, which wasn’t popular, was not taken seriously. That was to a large extent my own fault. Curiously, because the group of people I was involved with all had good intentions things worked out ok. A basic level of trust prevailed. That’s worth thinking about: how much can you get to trust people at the start of a project? I’d felt from the beginning a level of respect for the others, and attached to that there seemed to be a certain kind of trust.

I remember playing a game of cricket about 30 years ago and  worrying about a person in my team going out to bat who was in the middle of a deep personal crisis. I asked one of the other players if the man going out to bat was ok. ‘He’ll be fine,’ I was told. ‘He rang me for a chat last night and he knows what’s what.’ I was dubious and started to imagine what it would be like taking strike to one of the fastest bowlers I’d seen all season with so much on my mind. How could this man, the man with so much to deal with, cope? How could he even play cricket. Wouldn’t it seem so insignificant and pointless. Didn’t he look a bit brisk on the way out to the crease; a little ‘head-down’?

That man scored 140 and I was out for a very scratchy 2. I think I was worrying about something. I was so angry: what a waste of my afternoon. Traveling to the other side of the county for something so pointless only to get out cheaply and have to spend the rest of the afternoon pacing the boundary.

In my twenties there were quite a few things like that.

More Notes on Boredom

More Notes on Boredom

When I’m bored there’s a struggle going on. There’s something doing something to me: the effect in me of the boring thing; and there’s me doing something to me, which is similar in some ways, but not the same. The boring thing I am experiencing does its best to get into me and disconnect me from myself, and I resist by trying to keep being be me; me doing something to me involves me trying not to become disconnected from myself, and then disconnecting … for reasons I shall try and explore here.

Boredom is a stultifying process: one involving deprivation of freedom, frustration, negation, and neutralization. It is like a kind of anaesthetic. A sedative against the pain of me being overwhelmed by the boring thing, and against me being or remaining me because in doing that I might cause myself trouble. If I am bored there is somewhere a belief that I must resist, but at the same time an understanding in myself that resistance would prove dangerous. If I stand up and am counted I will be somehow horribly discounted.

Boredom is a form of self-contradiction: snuffing yourself out at the same time as trying to resist a boring thing snuffing you out.  Boredom will very rarely happen if you remain in touch with yourself. But if you do that, and let’s think about some potentially boring things, you may find yourself out of a job or a class, or a marriage. Boredom. An angry nuisance: me and it, the boring thing. Who’s to win?

Boredom is likely to fall upon those who cannot both abide by rules and also decide to break them. Unthought servility and unbound aggression offer the ideal conditions for boredom (on both sides: in the person being bored and in the boring thing). It isn’t surprising to find addicts often become bored before they use. Addiction is always an inability to think of something, and then of something else – which is of course the best way to avoid boredom.

There will always be potentially boring situations, for all of us. There will be more for those who have trouble consistently feeling themselves. ‘I don’t feel myself today’ might even be the first sign of boredom.

No Surrender

No Surrender

‘No surrender’ is to completely surrender. Surrender is realising that escape is not an option. Surrender does not mean to give up. If you are trying to do something, maybe to stay clean from drugs, then using is not an option. It cannot be your escape. Surrender is to stay with what seems impossible, and not to do it alone.



I find the idea of evil unbearable. It can’t exist – at least for me it can’t exist (as I can’t bear to think about it) in the way it is usually thought of: an excruciating, malevolent force in the world; something governed over or let loose by a higher power; a dark force. But without it we quickly collapse into mitigation: psychology, aetiology, sociology. Contributing factors become causes and responsibility goes wandering. We need to think about evil, what it is that gives rise to what gets called evil, because all the reasons why will not stop what is called evil happening. Perhaps this thing, this force is unstoppable, but we’ll only know about that after it becomes thinkable (and not simply left to be the work of the devil.)


Like many other people I found the sight of Notre-Dame burning so terrible. Buildings like that will collapse, while cities like London continue to erect monstrosities like the ones dominating its skyline. Who cares? I walked along Waterloo Bridge the day afterwards to spend some time with the Extinction Rebellion protesters, who look as if they care.

Justice Without Strength

‘Justice without strength is powerless.’ Pascal, Pensées

I could draw a relationship between strength and control which might suggest Pascal knew something about the relationship between resentment and addiction. If someone feels that justice is being done, or has been done, addiction becomes less of a problem. No amount of strength will free them from their enslavement, only an ability to let go.

Narcissistic Partners

Narcissistic Partners

Narcissists tend to be attractive. If you fall for one, it’s understandable. Over the last few years I have worked with a number of people married to or caught in other relationships with narcissists, and a number of things are very clear. I thought I’d share them.

Whatever glorious, glittery, outlandish, sleek or well-mannered package your narcissist arrives in that person will be doing one thing for sure: answering a call in you for something you wrongly feel you can’t do without.

A hero, a dynamo, a clown, a magician … as a survival strategy (which is how I tend to look at narcissism: the narcissist on some level feels so overlooked that they have almost eliminated the trying reality of other people, in fact most kinds of otherness, from their life) narcissism is pretty (literally) potent. Certainly all highly attractive people are not narcissists – it’s perfectly possible to have a healthy relationship with your own and others’ narcissism  – but … many of them are.

People who become trapped in corrosive relationships with narcissists are themselves often highly desirable – to everyone apart from themselves. The partner of a narcissist usually needs waking up to their own appeal. Even if they see their own power of attraction, they will most likely have a blind or insensitive spot to a narcissist’s controlling force.  They may feel inclined to be with a narcissist as a way of feeling in control, or feeling safe.

Never underestimate a narcissist’s potential for duplicity. The thing that usually keeps our more self-centred behaviour at bay … shame … tends to be hard to locate in a narcissist.  You are, for all intents and purposes, part of them. An extension of them like a kind of fairground long-arm grab is to a child at a funfair, or a periscope to a submarine captain, or a pair of wheels to a sports car, or … I could go on. You are there for them to get by in life.

Most relationships involve a degree of this. All relationships are to some extent selfish, or they won’t work. Try staying with anything without in some way ending up holding on. But a relationship with a narcissist is like finding yourself in the grip of someone who is drowning and won’t let go. They look, however, as if they are gliding on the water’s surface like a swan.

Gaslighting. Narcissists specialise in forms of control that drive their partners to feel crazy. Partly this is because some of the control methods are likely to be fairly crazy (extreme forms of surveillance and dominance are not uncommon), and partly this is because the narcissist specialises in appearing reasonable. Watch out for what gets called ‘common sense’ or ‘rational behaviour’. Common sense usually incorporates a good deal of unacknowledged historical power-play, misogyny for instance. Rational behaviour can crush other’s behaviour on the grounds that emotional responses are irrational.

People who fall for narcissists often feel scared from the very start, but things happen that mask that fear. They are likely to tell small lies or hide things rather than face their partner’s strangely hostile, disappointed or irritated attitude. They may cover things up until a problem arises that in fact makes them look inept, weak or stupid. Narcissists need to have a place for weakness in their lives, and they usually, almost undetectably, cede that to their partners.

Narcissist feed off their partners. They draw on their organising, loving, and creative skills. A narcissist’s partner might feel tired, stretched, flat, listless or angry more often than feels normal.

If any of this rings true, the chances are you should be pressing the eject button on your relationship post haste.

The I-Can

The I-Can

1: Do all that you do as well as you can.

2: Do as little as you can.

3: Discover what can means.


Effects not Causes

Effects Not Causes

Someone reminded me the other day about the line that Jean Francoise Lyotard took. In fact she’d once found a t-shirt with it summarised on the front (I’d like to know what was on the back): effects not causes.

Psychotherapy becomes a peculiar thing when it is invested in looking for or at causes. It becomes far more speculative than it needs to be.  Whether or not we believe that something might be ‘unconscious’, hopefully we might agree that if something is unconscious it can’t be pointed at.