Everyday Evils: A psychoanalytic view of evil and morality

Coline Covington
Publisher Rutledge - 2016
Price - £31.99

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Everyday Evils takes a psychoanalytic look at the evils committed by "ordinary" people in different contexts – from the Nazi concentration camps, to Stockholm Syndrome, to the atrocities publicized by Islamic State– and presents new perspectives on how such evil deeds come about as well as the extreme ways in which we deny the existence of evil. 

Concepts of group behaviour, morality, trauma, and forgiveness are reconsidered within a multi-disciplinary framework. The psychodynamics of dissociation, and the capacity to witness evil acts while participating in them, raise questions about the origin of morality, and about the role of the observing ego in maintaining psychic equilibrium. Coline Covington examines how we demonize the "other" and how violent actions become normalized within communities, such as during the Rwandan genocide and Polish pogroms. The recent attraction of the millenarian theocracy of the Islamic State also highlights our fascination with violence and death. Covington emphasizes that evil comes about through a variety of causes and is highly contextual. It is our capacity to acknowledge the evils we live with, witness and commit that is vital to how we manage and respond to violence within ourselves and others and in mitigating our innate destructiveness. In conclusion, the book addresses how individuals and societies come to terms with evil, along with the problematic concept of forgiveness and the restoration of good.

Everyday Evils blends psychoanalytic concepts together with the disciplines of sociology, history, anthropology and philosophy, studies of violence and theology in order to develop a richer, deeper and more comprehensive understanding of evil. Intending to make the unthinkable thinkable, this book will appeal to scholars from across those disciplines, as well as psychoanalysts, psychotherapists and anyone who has ever asked the question: "How could anyone do something like that?"

A Personal Note on Evil

My interest in evil goes back to when I was a small child and wanted to understand why people did horrible things to each other. Growing up in the sixties in the heart of New York City, where I attended a girls’ school with a predominantly Jewish student body, I was aware of the Holocaust and the devastation it had caused amongst my friends’ families. Because of my southern background, I heard stories from my parents about the extreme cruelty towards American blacks and the importance of civil liberties. I also remember the paranoid vestiges of the cold war, scurrying under our desks at school as the air raid sirens blared during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and most vividly the moment when I heard about Kennedy’s assassination. Although the sixties gave birth in the US to the peace movement and protests against the Vietnam War, it was against a backdrop of violence and fear.

The sixties was also a time in the US when views about mental illness were changing radically. The anti-psychiatry movement led by R.D. Laing and David Cooper in the UK and Thomas Szasz and Harold Searles in the US, along with the work of the sociologist, Irving Goffman, for the first time highlighted the importance of environmental factors on behaviour and states of mind. Within this perspective, much of mental illness – and to some extent criminal behaviour - was attributed to psycho-social dynamics. Madness and badness could be understood as responses to dysfunctional social systems, whether in the family or the community.

As a teenager, I was inspired by these thinkers. At the same time I discovered Freud. This was a profound experience, like discovering outer space, but it was inner space instead, just as mysterious and rich in its offerings. I knew at this point that I wanted to become a psychoanalyst but I also needed some life experience and time to grow up. My passion for justice and interest in madness and criminality led me to get a Masters in criminology after I graduated from university and then to work for the next ten years designing and implementing systems for local authorities across England and Wales to keep kids out of prison and out of the courts. During this time I also worked in a delinquency project in Hammersmith that led me some years later to set up the first victim-offender mediation scheme in the UK with the Metropolitan Police Juvenile Bureau. I witnessed a great deal of delinquent behaviour, of madness and occasionally violence. I was also aware of some criminal behaviour that was neither bad nor mad, but was calculatingly sadistic – what might be called psychopathic or evil. The prison system is familiar with such people; these people rarely show up in the consulting room but their victims do.

While individual psychopathy can be terrifying, what is even more frightening is when groups of ordinary people commit atrocities or witness them without intervening. This is hardest to imagine because it could be you or me. Working with patients, many of whom have been touched by evil in different ways, has also inevitably confronted me with the need to understand evil – not only in others but in myself - and the questions that it raises: what do we mean by evil, how is it different from destructiveness, why does it happen, under what circumstances does it happen, and is it possible to recover from or to forgive?

This book is my attempt to answer these questions.


“The capacity for evil lies within us all.”

The Herald Scotland, 27 November 2016



Sabina Spielrein: Forgotten Pioneer of Psychoanalysis, Revised Edition

Edited by Coline Covington and Barbara Wharton
Publisher Routledge – 2015
Pages – 328 pages.
Price - £19.99.

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Sabina Spielrein is perhaps best known for her love affair with her doctor, Carl Gustav Jung. She met Jung when she was admitted to Burghölzli Clinic in Zürich in 1904 as a young woman of 19, where Jung diagnosed the highly intelligent woman as hysteric. Their intense relationship gave rise to some of the most important ideas within psychoanalysis and analytical psychology today, notably the death instinct.

Sabina Spielrein: Forgotten Pioneer of Psychoanalysis is an invaluable collection of papers that attempt to answer why Spielrein's story and work have remained in the dark for so long. The distinguished editors draw together Jung's hospital records of his treatment of Spielrein, commentaries on her relationship with Jung, extracts from Spielrein's diary, Jung's letters to Spielrein, and short theoretical pieces from her groundbreaking paper on the development of language "The origin of the child's words Papa and Mama", to shed new light on one of the first women psychoanalysts' life and work.

Illustrated by historical documents that have never before been published in English book form,Sabina Spielrein: Forgotten Pioneer of Psychoanalysis encourages and facilitates further historical research into, and development of the ideas we've inherited from Sabina Spielrein's treatment, writing and relationships. This book will be of great interest to psychoanalysts, analytical psychologists, psychotherapists, historians, students and all those interested in the history of psychoanalysis and psychoanalytic ideas.



Shrinking the News: Headline Stories on the Couch

Coline Covington.
Publisher - Karnac Books - Paperback.
Price: Price £9.44.

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This new book by psychoanalyst Dr Coline Covington, is the perfect gift for those who enjoy eye-opening answers to the fascinating questions about headline stories and the people behind them. Click here to order now.

Why, for instance, would an American vote for Sarah Palin? Why would a well-educated Bishop deny the holocaust? What impulses lead bankers to be reckless, girls to glory in promiscuity, and what does Julian Assange's fight for justice have to do with his mother?.

Coline Covington is the indispensable guide to what lies behind these major news items – and more. Funny, quirky, and insightful, each short article is a gem!.

This is the ideal gift for those who don't necessarily watch soaps, want soap or like being soft-soaped.

Terrorism and War : Unconscious Dynamics of Political Violence


Author: Covington, Coline et al (Eds).
Co Author(s): Williams, Paul (Ed); Arundale, Jean (Ed); Knox, Jean (Ed).
Published: 2002 Karnac Books - 435 pages.
Catalogue No: 16924.
ISBN: 9781855759428.
ISBN 10: 185575942X.
Category: Psychoanalysis.
Price: £38.35.

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Following the attacks of September 11, one of the resounding questions asked was 'What would make anyone do such a thing?'.

The psychological mentality of the suicidal terrorist left a gaping hole in people's understanding. This essential volume represents a much-needed effort to collate and examine some of the material already at our disposal as an encouragement to serious thought on this question and other related questions.

Recent Papers

Populism and the Danger of Illusion

Contemporary Psychoanalysis: April 2018.

A Tragic Inheritance: The Irresolvable Conflict for Children of Perpetrators

British Journal of Psychotherapy: Vol 34, Issue 1, pp.114-131, February 2018.



Newspaper articles

Torture for revenge makes us no better than our enemies

Torture report highlights underlying sadistic revenge inflicted in the process of interrogations.
Column last updated at 08:22 on Friday 12 December 2014.

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Why would there be so many paedophiles in Westminster?

Why would there be so many paedophiles in Westminster?
Column last updated at 10:08 on Monday 24 November 2014.

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Oscar Pistorius no longer on the run: an analyst's view

He has spent most of his life challenging his limits: prison gives him the chance to be vulnerable at last.
Column last updated at 09:43 on Tuesday 21 October 2014.

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Why cannibalism was a turn-on for Dale Bolinger and ‘Eva’

Analyst’s view: was he identifying with his mother, hoping to seduce his prey into total submission?
Column last updated at 11:47 on Tuesday 22 July 2014.

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Penalty shoot-outs: why are English footballers so anxious?

An analyst’s view from the penalty spot: is it fear of success – not failure – that inhibits our boys?
Column last updated at 15:47 on Monday 16 June 2014.

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Is Oscar Pistorius anxious or just angry? An analyst's view

This 'prince of the physical world' does not easily fit the description of an anxiety-ridden GAD sufferer.
Column last updated at 09:25 on Wednesday 14 May 2014.

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Joanne Dennehy: what makes a female serial killer tick

She was only interested in killing men – but why? A psychoanalyst examines Dennehy's behaviour.
Column last updated at 15:02 on Monday 10 February 2014.

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Kim Jong-un's killing spree: what is he really afraid of?

As the death toll rises, so does Kim’s paranoia: our analyst's take on a ruthless young man, idolised by his mother.
Column last updated at 12:51 on Wednesday 29 January 2014.

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