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.

The best kinds of group

The Best Kinds of Group

The best kinds of group are ones where people who don’t get on have, out of necessity, to find a way of getting on. If they do, when they do, the results can be extraordinary.

Fragmentation worries me. Political parties splintering. Factions forming. Where’s the force to come together, and why would anyone bother to? For some people it is very easy to speak out differently.  Others are easily and cruelly exposed as different. And with this going on, many people are left unable to have their voices heard at all.

Freedom is not a right. I wish it were. Freedom will always be contested.

Lost in Music

Lost in Music

I visited the dentist with someone this morning. The dentist, a large and friendly Rumanian, a slightly shy bear, was playing Vivaldi: no words, not especially what I would listen to, but something about the music filled the room with a feeling of a very special, loving presence. One on the Side of life. No anaesthetic necessary. Pain sounded as if it had been the last thing on Vivaldi’s mind, and maybe he had intended it to be: Vivaldi was never a well man. Listening to his music it seemed to become one of the last on ours; and this was wonderful because I had been at the dentist because the person I was with had been very nervous of having a filling.

Then I went to a cafe for a coffee and nearly drowned in the open sluice of its sound-system: pouring into my ears, my brain, my body, my soul was the terrible liquid sound of macho self-pity, an earnest man singing about the various ways in which life had never gone right for him. I imagine it never will.  There’s sad music and there’s music that makes you sad, neither of which I could do without – but there’s also the kind of thing I finally left the cafe to avoid. Music that grabs you by the throat and drags you down. Angry music that suffocates and traps. Indignant music: hard luck stories that secretly wish hard luck on others, which see luck as a thing to be jealous of.

Be careful what you listen to. It may come true.