Counselling in Wokingham – The Ultimate Challenge

Paul Cockayne – 07791 970406paulcockayne3@gmail.com

Welcome to my counselling blog. You can find more information about me by clicking one of the links at the top of this page

challenge2We all have inner worlds – thoughts and feelings that we don’t necessarily show to the outside world. This is just as well – if we shared everything with everybody, goodness knows what would happen. We might say things that would shock, offend or frighten others, or that for various reasons might be inappropriate and damage our relationships with friends or colleagues. We might also shock ourselves – we are not always fully aware of our own thoughts or feelings, and may unconsciously be suppressing things we are ashamed of or don’t think are “right”.

So, we filter what we say, and of course we reveal different things to different people. We are unlikely to do any soul-baring to a new work-colleague – we might confide to our doctor about medical matters but not other things – we might feel comfortable talking to our mum about some things and to our dad about others. If you have a counsellor, they are hopefully someone you can talk to about almost anything – because they have no vested interest, they will not judge you, you do not know them except in that special, professional capacity.

challenge3And what of your partner? The assumption tends to be that your partner is the person you can share everything with – that you know all about them, and they about you. Of course, it’s never quite like that – we can never know someone else completely – indeed, we can never know ourselves completely. And sometimes that assumption – that you can (should?) share everything with your partner is much too much of a generalisation, I think. Some relationships – or some people in relationships – are just not like that. For some people, their privacy is very important, they do not feel safe letting their defences down, they need to keep some things secret. And some people don’t want to hear their partner’s private thoughts and feelings – they maybe don’t feel comfortable with that, they maybe like a bit more emotional separation.

Nevertheless, there is something about a mutual sharing of private thoughts that leads to a sense of great intimacy. Particularly this is true of sexual fantasies, which are often accompanied by feelings of guilt. Being able to share these with someone who will respect them, and even make them into reality, requires enormous trust – and when trust is invested and repaid, it leads to a feeling of hugs security.

This feels a bit like allowing a guest into your private room – a place where nobody has been before. There are precious and delicate things in your room, things that are special to you, and this makes you very vulnerable. Will your guest admire your treasured possessions, cherish them as you do, or will they think they are silly, laugh at them, mock you for valuing them?

challenge1There are many tests to be passed to make a relationship successful. It is like a computer game where you pass through many, increasingly difficult levels before you meet the ultimate challenge, the big boss, the most powerful opponent – except, of course that there is no final level in a relationship – you never stop playing the game.

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Counselling in Wokingham – The Little Dutch Boy

Paul Cockayne – 07791 970406paulcockayne3@gmail.com

Welcome to my counselling blog. You can find more information about me by clicking one of the links at the top of this page

When I was at Junior School, I remember our teacher telling us the story of the little Dutch boy who, on his way to school, spotted water leaking through a small hole in a dyke. Knowing that, left alone, the hole would grow larger and the village would soon be flooded, he stuck is finger in the dyke and stayed there until help came.

dyke1The story carries all sorts of messages – about small problems becoming out of hand if left – about small actions having big effects – but I think at the age of 8 these rather passed me by, and I remember thinking what a lucky boy he was, being given the chance to be a hero just by sitting for a while with his finger stuck in a hole.

Thinking about the story now, I wonder how the boy knew that this small leak would lead to the village being flooded, and whether he wouldn’t have been better off running to the village to tell someone about it rather than sitting there waiting for someone to pass by.

The boy made assumptions, I suppose, and made what seemed to him a sensible decision based on those assumptions. And so he put himself into the role of a stopgap, and made himself stay there until someone relived him of that duty.

dyke2We can easily end up behaving like the Dutch boy, but unfortunately sometimes we are left far too long with our hole in the dyke – nobody comes to relieve us of that duty, and nobody proclaims us a hero. So we can end up just feeling stuck, unappreciated, and resentful of our position.

As an example, I remember counselling a woman a few years ago. She was angry because she spent far too much of her time running around after her mother, doing her shopping, cleaning and cooking for her, while her brother and sister did nothing. She wanted some help, she wanted a break, but felt that she couldn’t stop because her mother expected it, and couldn’t cope on her own, and her brother and sister were useless.

So, like the little Dutch boy, she had seen a problem, found a solution, but now was stuck with her role as carer for her mother, waiting for someone to rescue her. She had become a victim rather than a heroine.

So we looked at her assumptions – that her mother couldn’t cope – that her siblings wouldn’t step up and help – and we looked at where these assumptions came from and questioned their validity. And we looked at other reasons for keeping her finger in the dam – the hope of being declared a heroine – the question of what she might do if she didn’t spend so much time caring for her mum.

dyke3This is one example, but I think it’s easy to find ourselves getting stuck into patterns of behaviour that we’re not comfortable with

  • I don’t want to be so strict with the kids but I have to because you are so soft
  • I don’t want to keep such a tight rein on our finances but I have to because you can’t be trusted with money
  • I don’t want to have to clean up the kitchen every night but I have to because you’ll never get around to it

You may have been stuck for years – decades – with your finger in that dyke. But what would really happen if you removed it and went for help? Would the village flood, would the world fall apart, as you fear it might? Or might someone come to your rescue?

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Counselling in Wokingham – Rambling

Paul Cockayne – 07791 970406paulcockayne3@gmail.com

Welcome to my counselling blog. You can find more information about me by clicking one of the links at the top of this page

Sometimes, when I sit down to write this blog, I have a clear idea about what I’m going to write about. On other occasions, like today, I have no real idea about where it is going to go.

It doesn’t matter, of course, because I am not committed to publishing this, and indeed can alter it as many times as I like before putting anything live. Nobody but me will know if I write nonsense and then delete it. I run no risk in sitting down to write in an unplanned way, I can ramble at will.

rambling1When our actions have no significant consequences it is easier to take risks, to experiment, to make mistakes. But we are doing things for a reason and we can end up being disappointed if we fail to meet whatever objective we might (perhaps subconsciously) set ourselves. If we are playing a computer game like “Candy Crush”, or trying to solve a Sudoku, it makes no real difference if we finish the level we are on, or complete the puzzle, or if we do not, but we can end up feeling frustrated or even angry if we fail. We can be harsh judges on ourselves – sometimes we can set ourselves impossibly high standards.

If our actions affect other people, the stakes tend to be higher, and so we are less likely to take a risk. Most of us need to work for a living, and so think carefully about leaving a job, generally ensuring that we have alternative employment before handing in our notice. This is not true of everyone, of course. Some people will make impulsive decisions and pick up the pieces later. They are perhaps more optimistic in outlook, believing that things will turn out for the best. More pessimistic souls might hang on in there, continuing with what they do for fear of a disaster if they change things.

rambling2Before embarking on a journey, some people take great care to plan their route. Going back a couple of weeks I blogged about maps and mentioned my father’s collection of road maps. Before a journey the relevant maps would be laid out on the living room floor and the route would be marked in pencil. My father liked to know exactly where he was going and how he was going to get there. Others, I am sure, would have been content to jump in the car and rely on road signs, on asking passers by, or just on muddling through.

Unfortunately for the planners among us, there are no detailed maps to help us with most of the decisions we face in life. I have worked with quite a few clients who find this quite disabling. They may be quite clear about where they want to go, but be completely frozen by the difficulty of knowing how to get there. What will be the ripple effect of their actions? How will others be affected? What will people think and say about them? What if they get it wrong? Their desire to plan things out in detail and think about all possible outcomes leaves them frozen – and they can remain stuck in a situation which is good for nobody, for fear that things will be worse if they make a change.

rambling3Risks, I think, tend to grow the more we think about them, and they can grow out of all proportion to reality. I remember a client who was unable to tell his partner about their financial difficulties because he knew she’d be upset. The worse things got, the more impossible it became for him to break the news, but then, of course, she was a lot more upset when she eventually found out than if he’d told her in the first place. Often, I think we underestimate other people’s ability to cope with bad news, feeling “They won’t be able to cope with it, whereas I can so it’s best not to tell them”.

I have rambled in an unplanned way to some sort of point – that taking risks is not as risky at it feels. There is nothing wrong with rambling, with exploring, with trial and error as a way of making most decisions. And if one reader has got something out of this blog, the risk was worth it, I think.

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Counselling in Wokingham – Storm at Sea!

Paul Cockayne – 07791 970406paulcockayne3@gmail.com

Welcome to my counselling blog. You can find more information about me by clicking one of the links at the top of this page

There’s something magical and mysterious about the sea. Calm and clear at times, at others it can turn stormy and attack with ferocious power. For seafaring people, there is the constant possibility of danger – they need always to be vigilant and, when the seas are tempestuous, to devote all their energy into survival. “All hands to the pumps” is the saying, when all that matters is keeping the boat afloat.

storm1A client of mine was recently saying that for years he had felt like a fisherman in a stormy sea – powerless to stop the storm, just trying to get through it without his boat capsizing. Some bad decisions and a series of unfortunate events, had meant that he had been constantly battling with financial problems, health problems, and family problems.   All his efforts had gone into keeping things going – he was the only one keeping the ship afloat – without him it would sink. All he could do was to live day by day, coping with what came up, hoping that it would get better.

storm2While he talked about being under huge stress for a long period, also said that there were some very positive feelings that came from this experience, and these reminded me of Hemingway’s “The Old Man And The Sea”. He felt strong, powerful, and highly competent. He was surviving, and he was doing it on his own. He felt important, and noble – he was saving others who could not save themselves, and if, ultimately, he were to win the battle against all life’s vicissitudes, he would be a hero.

And he did win through. When he came to see me, things had settled down for him. He had a steady job and so financially, he was comparatively secure. His partner had emerged from a long period of depression and was rebuilding her life. His children were coming through their tempestuous teens, finding some direction, and talking about leaving home.

The trouble was now, as he said, that though he’d survived the storms, he felt as if he’d been washed up on a desert island. There was nothing for him to do. Things were much calmer, he was much safer, his family were OK, but he’d spent so long keeping the ship afloat that he didn’t know what to do instead. He had suspended his own life to cope with a series of ongoing crises and now he found himself wondering what the next problem would be, rather than being able to relax and enjoy himself.

storm3He talked about feeling like a volcano about to erupt. In coping for all those years he had suppressed his own feelings and now there was a lot of anger starting to come to the surface. He had not felt able to share his feelings with his partner for fear of driving her deeper into depression – and so he had kept everything inside, and all the feelings were mixed up – he wasn’t sure who he was angry with, or what he was angry about – “loads of things” – “everybody” – “the world”.

He realised too that his relationship had changed out of all recognition – his ship, as he said, was barely afloat. He had become his partner’s carer, and she had become someone who he didn’t confide in – he didn’t trust her to be able to hold his feelings. And so, he realised, they had to start again – to repair the ship together – to get to know and trust each other again.

They had survived the tempest, but now they had to escape from the desert island.

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Counselling in Wokingham – Cartography

Paul Cockayne – 07791 970406 – paulcockayne3@gmail.com

Welcome to my counselling blog. You can find more information about me by clicking one of the links at the top of this page

When I think of maps I tend to think first of Ordnance Survey road maps – my father used to have an impressive collection of these, which he used for route planning. They were reference items, they contained useful information, they told us the truth about the world.

Those maps no longer tell the truth of course, because, some decades later, thousands new roads have been built. But in fact they never really told the truth – or at least not the whole truth, because not everything was on them – I could not have used them to help me find a coffee shop, or a dentist, for example.

cartography1Maps of the world, because of their scale, have even less detail on them, and cartographers have to make all sorts of choies about what to include or omit from maps. And traditionally, the UK sits in the centre of the map, at the top, which is not at all appropriate for people living elsewhere in the world. And why is North always at the top? Why not South? Or why not put East or West at the top and the poles at each side?

cartography2I remember, after a snowfall, looking at the tracks my cat had made across the garden. There weren’t footprints everywhere, but there were clearly defined routes that it took for specific purposes. It would be interesting to draw a cat’s map of it’s world – it would presumably focus on good places to sit, hunt and urinate – and unsafe places with dogs or cat-haters who threw buckets of water.

And what would our own, personal maps look like? Suppose we drew a map showing not the places we know but the things that are important to us? Who would be on that map? How much space would they occupy? Would they be in the middle of the map or nearer to the edge? Would there be people there who are no longer alive? What place would your work and your hobbies take, and how big would they be? What about your spiritual side, would that be there?   Alcohol? TV? Facebook? Sex? And you, yourself, would you be sitting large in the middle of the map or would you be squeezed into a corner?

cartography3I think we all have such maps in our minds, even if we are not really conscious of them, and we use them to help us make decisions minute by minute. Some people seem to have more than one map – people who have affairs sometimes talk about “living two lives” and it seems that they have two maps, which they flip between, like turning the pages of an atlas. In the same way, some people get very absorbed in their work or their hobbies and at these times other aspects of their lives seem to stop existing. Other people seem to hold huge maps, with everything on them, and this can be exhausting – there’s so much to think about, so many different priorities.

Our maps, as I said, are often held unconsciously – and parts of them may have been written and given to us by other people.  However, by making them conscious we can give ourselves the ability to change them – they are, after all, our own personal maps and we can put what we want on them.  If I want to move my in-laws to a far corner of the map, I can do. If I want to give priority to my physical fitness I can draw it large in the centre of the map. We can take control of our maps, we can draw our own picture of what is important, we can decide what features and what does not.  We can decide what our lives will look like and what we will do with them.

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Counselling in Wokingham – Are you thinking what I think you’re thinking?

Paul Cockayne – 07791 970406paulcockayne3@gmail.com

Welcome to my counselling blog. You can find more information about me by clicking one of the links at the top of this page

How can I make you understand? How can I make you happy? How can I make you love me? These are the sorts of questions people can find themselves asking when an important relationship isn’t working – maybe a relationship with a parent, a close friend or a lover.

thinking1It can feel as if there has to be a way – a formula – that will result in this important person seeing you – feeling about you – the way you want. So you try to work it out. Suppose I help more about the house? Suppose I buy flowers? Suppose I tell funny stories? Or cook a great meal? Or help them live out their sexual fantasies? You can rack your brains looking for the answers and this can become a sort of game, a puzzle you are trying to solve. It can even become a mental obsession.

Rather than trying to figure this out on your own, you can of course take a more direct approach and ask the other person what they need from you. What do I need to say? What must I do? What sort of person do you want me to be? This approach can, unfortunately, put the other person under a lot of pressure. Is this like a business arrangement? If you wash up every day, do they promise to love you?   If you make them laugh, will they be happy forever? Of course, people can’t make promises like that, but they can feel very pressured by these situations, and feel obliged to make you promises that ultimately they cannot be sure of keeping.

thinking2The difficulty here, it seems to me, is that you are trying to make someone else think or feel a certain way as a result of the things you do or say. And then, because they feel like that, you expect that they will behave in a certain way – they will be understanding, or loving, or caring. In other words, you are trying to construct a chain of logic that will lead to a situation in which the other person acts in a certain way. You are trying to be the person you think they want you to be. It is a tortuous way of thinking – and a way of thinking that can become a mental torture.

I remember working with a couple who were like this – and I remember the man asking his partner these questions. The answer she kept giving was that she wanted him to be himself – to be honest with himself – to be happy with himself. “I can’t love you if you don’t love yourself”, was what she said. This was really difficult for him, because he had spent so much time and energy trying to be who she wanted him to be, that he’d rather forgotten who we was, who he wanted to be. He had become someone who only saw himself through her eyes, who judged himself on her reactions.

He found it difficult, but he did find ways to change his thinking. We talked about his life before he met his partner – what he liked to do and what made him feel good about himself. We talked about what he believed in and what was important to him. We talked about what he wanted in the future. And he found that actually, things became much simpler. He concentrated on doing what he thought was right, rather than doing what he thought his partner thought was right.

 

It’s simpler to write down, simpler to understand, and simpler to thinking3live like that.

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Counselling in Wokingham – Holding on to Those We Love

Paul Cockayne – 07791 970406paulcockayne3@gmail.com

Welcome to my counselling blog. You can find more information about me by clicking one of the links at the top of this page

Ashya King got me thinking. It’s been big news, certainly in the UK, the story of a 5-year-old with a brain tumour who was taken from hospital by his parents. It got me thinking about the decisions we make for others, and to what extent we are entitled to make those decisions for them.

holdinginside1When a child is conceived, it has no voice, it exists inside its mother and can only communicate its needs indirectly. The urge expectant mothers might feel to eat banana pizza or other unusual food combinations is, presumably, satisfying a need for their unborn child, expressed indirectly to its mother.

When a baby is born, its umbilical cord is cut, but its connection to its mother remains incredibly strong. Immediately after birth, a baby starts to develop communication skills (usually quite loud ones) but these are limited – babies cry if they’re not happy but it is down to the mother’s instinct – or down to guesswork – to find out why the baby is unhappy and to do something about it.

holdinginside2As babies grow older, they develop the ability to express their needs in a much more articulate way, but as parents or carers we still make a lot of decisions for them. It is unlikely that a toddler would choose a healthy diet, for example, and so we need to override their desire to eat sweets all the time and encourage them to eat vegetables. We tell them when to go to bed, what they can watch on TV, and so on.

In the transition towards adulthood, young people typically feel that their parents or carers are not giving them enough freedom. Most young people want to make more of their own decisions, while most carers feel the need to protect their children to stop them making mistakes – often to stop them making the same mistakes that they themselves made as young adults.

I have a picture here of parents holding their children inside them. Before birth a mother does this physically – after birth, parents tend to continue to hold their children inside them emotionally – thinking about their needs, trying to work out what is best for their child. The problem can that some parents find it difficult to release this internal version of their child – “mother knows best” – “it’s for your own good” – and so sometimes parents make decisions that others – including their child – feel are not in the child’s best interests.

This pattern can, taken to extremes, become abusive. To believe that I know what is best for my adult offspring is to put the voice of my internal version of them ahead of their own voice. What I think they think is more important than what they think. Their actions only matter in so far as they affect me. This mind-set, I think, fails to recognise and respect others as individuals.

This same mind-set can be seen in abusive adult relationships. Some people seem to regard their partners only as a part of themselves. My partner’s role is only to make me feel better. I know what is best for you. You have no right to an independent existence or to independent thought. You only exist through me.

holdinginside3Letting go of an internalised version of someone can be really tough – it is a part of ourselves, and a very important part at that. But letting the internalised version go is so much better than losing the real thing.

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