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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Counselling in Wokingham – Pandora’s Lie Detector

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

I saw a newspaper article this week about a couple who tried out a lie detector kit. Is that something you’d want to do with your partner?

pandora2I suppose the first question is whether such equipment is reliable – and I find it difficult to see how it can be, not 100% reliable. The equipment only needs to be wrong once – only needs to be theoretically fallible – for it to be worthless. The lie detector’s benefit – its selling point – is that it offers certainty. Rather than being unsure – is my partner telling me the truth or not? – we might turn to a lie detector to give us a definite answer. But in reality all we can do is add one uncertainty onto another. The question “Are my partner’s answers reliable?” remains, alongside the new question “Is the lie detector reliable?”

But leaving aside the question of whether the machinery is reliable, let’s assume for the sake of argument that it is. It’s completely reliable. If it says your partner is lying, they are lying. Now, would you choose to use it? And what questions would you ask your partner?

If you are in a relationship where you trust your partner and feel secure with them, it seems to me that in using a lie detector you would be choosing not to trust your partner. Without the lie detector, you are happy, you believe your partner is honest with you, you feel secure. If you choose to use the lie detector, you have moved into a state of mind where you are unsure – you are opening up the possibility that your partner might be lying – you are already doubting them, even before you have hooked them up to the equipment. Why would you choose to do that?

I describe this as a choice – the choice not to trust your partner – but what if the doubt is already there? Suppose there are things that you don’t entirely trust your partner about?   Then the lie detector might be a good thing – it might give you certainty rather than doubt, trust rather than distrust. It seems to me that this is part of an answer, but it needs to be approached with caution.

pandora1Pandora, according to Greek legend, had a box that contained all the ills of human life – a box which she disobediently opened. If there is a Pandora’s Box in your relationship, it may be best to open it and deal with what’s inside – the certainty may be better than the uncertainty – and you may even find that the box is empty, that there are no secrets within, that your suspicions are unfounded.

The trouble is, I think, that each Pandora’s Box tends to contain another box, and that in turn contains another, like an infinite series of Russian dolls. The questions never end on their own, they only end when you decide you’ve opened enough of these damn boxes. You may feel the need to open some of the boxes, and that may helpful and constructive, but at some stage you have to decide to stop.

pandora3But back to the lie detector – which questions would you ask your partner? What do you really want to know the truth about? I think the clever answer is that you should only ask the questions that you really want to know the answers to, whatever those answers might be. Trusting someone else is, I think, a choice, even if it doesn’t feel like one.

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Counselling in Wokingham – Connections

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

We are strange and wonderful creatures, and the mixture of mind and body, of thoughts and feelings, of beliefs and behaviours is an infinitely complex one. As individuals it seems to me that we are fighting a continuous battle for balance – between our desire for independence and our desire to belong – between our need for freedom and our need for security – between our quest for excitement and our love of routine – and many other conflicting needs. These mixtures and the need for balance exist in different proportions for each of us, so that our battles are all different, and sometimes are at odds with others – our partner’s mix may be very different to our own, for example, so that it may be very difficult for their needs to be met as well as ours. Not to mention the children and what they want….

connections2As if all this isn’t complex enough, I think that there are many differences between individuals in how their internal connections work, in how things are linked together. Take, for example, love and sex. If we go back, say, 100 years, love and sex were very closely linked by our society. “No sex before marriage” was a widely-accepted moral stance and the phrase “living in sin” was used to describe couples who were unmarried. So the idea that sex and love were linked together (and marriage was in there too) was very strong. Going back fifty years, this link became much weaker – the idea of casual sex become much more acceptable – the idea of living together before getting married has now, I think, become very much the norm. For us as individuals, the link between sex and love may be pretty much non-existent – in one person’s mind, the two things may have nothing to do with each other, whereas for others, the link may still be very strong. The idea of having sex with someone without first having deep feelings for them is alarming – unsafe – for many people.

connections1This is just one example of how we link things together differently, and there are many more. Laughter and acceptance, for instance – some people feel that if they make others laugh, that means they are liked, accepted, special in some way. This may originate in childhood (the class clown) and continue into adulthood (the life and soul of the party) and I suppose that professional comedians get a huge high when a joke gets the right reaction and a wall of laughter hits them from the audience.

There are connections everywhere for us: for you, are silence and conflict connected?, does a hug make you feel safer?, does winning a game make you feel more worthwhile? It is as if things are clustered together in our minds – for some people the ideas love and sex may sit next to each other, for others they may be on opposite ends of some sort of “ideas map”

Because these connections are complicated and different for all of us – and because we are not necessarily aware of our own connections, let alone other people’s – it is very easy to jump to wrong conclusions, for example:-

  • The fact that we’ve stopped having sex means you’ve stopped loving me
  • The fact that we are sitting in silence means that you’re angry with me
  • The fact that you beat me at chess means you’re a better person than I am
  • The fact that I bought you a drink means we are friends

connections3Whether these conclusions are right are not depends not on our own connections, but on other people’s connections. In the absence of other information, we tend to assume that everyone is the same – the same as us – which is, of course, very far from the truth. To make relationships – whether personal or professional – work well, we need to build our understanding of our own connections, challenge our assumption that they are universal, and foster respect for the connections of others.

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Counselling in Wokingham – The Bite

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

Why is it not acceptable to bite other people?

bite1Well, of course, all acts of violence towards someone else are not OK. Even accidentally stepping on another person’s toe warrants an apology – and deliberate acts of violence are seen as unacceptable; they are illegal, pretty much throughout the world, I imagine.

But biting someone seems to be worse than other forms of violence, doesn’t it? On the football field players push each other, use their elbows, kick, even sometimes slap or punch their opponents but these acts all seem more acceptable – or less unacceptable – than biting. Why is this?

bite2Historically, violence has been a way of settling disputes. Knights of old would duel with swords, and more recently than that, guns were used in duels. Fist fights too, have been a way of airing and perhaps (on a good day) even settling a grievance. I am sure that there are many other examples from other cultures – and examples that continue to this day. It seems that some forms of violence are honourable – used by “gentlemen”. There were rules about duels, of course, codes of conduct that made them “fair” and today some of these “gentlemanly” forms of violence have become formalised to make them into sports – boxing, fencing, wrestling and many other martial arts – and these sports each have their own boundaries about what is within the rules and what is outside them.

I remember a rugby playing client of mine –a prop I think – telling me a bit about what goes on inside a rugby scrum. He said that there is an understanding between the rival front row forwards about what is allowed and what is not. This is a sort of “gentleman’s agreement” which acknowledges it is permissible to break the laws of the game in various ways under the cover of the scrum – but that certain acts of violence (including biting) are not acceptable, are outside the understood code of conduct.

So, why is biting so unacceptable? I think there are a couple of different factors here. The first is that animals bite. They bite to kill, they bite to defend themselves, they eat other animals. They do not fight with swords or follow the Queensberry rules – it is no holds barred, kill or be killed violence. So biting is uncivilized and barbaric, and of course as intelligent human beings we are above that, aren’t we?

Another point about biting is that it draws blood. Scratching, likewise, is not “fighting fair”, and I think this is because these acts of violence break through the skin, they invade the victim in a way that pushing, or punching or kicking do not. Hitting the surface of someone’s body is less unacceptable than breaking the skin, which seems to be an invasion of the other person’s territory, an intrusion that makes the violence a big step worse – internal rather than external violence.

Have we got this out of proportion? I wonder if the football authorities, in imposing a heavy ban on Suarez, are tacitly acknowledging that some forms of violence are OK. I wonder whether they are, by comparison, being too lenient on other offenders who deliberately break the laws of the game and intentionally try to hurt their opponents.

bite3Outside sport, too, we need to beware of allowing our boundaries to shift. Acts of violence against others are not OK, whether they be biting and scratching or pushing and punching. “I only pushed you” is a denial, a justification of an unacceptable act, which, I would argue, is no better or worse than biting your opponent at football.

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Counselling in Wokingham – The World Cup

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

Once every four years it comes around and there’s football fever, at least for some. For those of us gripped by an interest in the football there is hope for great things from our national team, which may perhaps be mixed with a tinge of realism or even cynicism, as we prepare ourselves for the usual disappointment.

worldcup1There can be a sense of camaraderie about supporting a football club – whether local or national – that can be really important for people. The hopes we carry for our team bind us together with other people on a journey we are taking together, towards a common destination. For the team themselves this is an adventure they experience first hand, for real. Supporters travel with the team in spirit, able to join in the adventure by following the matches and surrounding stories on TV and through the press.

Many people are bound to a football club for life and it seems to provide them with a purpose, a reason for being, as well as heroes and role models. The parallel with religion has often been made and it seems to be a good one.   Like church-goers, football supporters gather together at set times, joining in an experience with people who share the same beliefs. And supporting a football team can for some provide a sense of purpose and direction in the same way religion can for others. Both football supporters and religious observers need faith– a faith that their way is the right way, and faithfulness to their chosen cause. The choice of which football team – or which religion – is a very personal one and the bond we feel with our team – or our god – can be incredibly deep and important.

worldcup2These feelings are central to many of us and it is not just through football or religion that we might gain them. To take just one example, many people watch soap operas on the TV and for the ardent follower I think the reasons are parallel to the football supporter. The Coronation Street fan can get the same sense of being on a journey, of being part of something bigger than themselves, of being part of a wider community, of having purpose and direction that the football supporter or the church-goer may get from their chosen activity.

As I write this I am wondering how people might react. If you are religious, you may see following a football team or watching a soap opera as much less important activities – that they are trivial compared to your belief in god and your faith. On the other hand, the football supporter may see religion as a load of mumbo-jumbo, or condemn soap operas as fantasy.

When we have a passionate belief in something – or a love for something, we can look at others and see their beliefs as inferior, as being less than our own. We may even see a conflict between their beliefs and ours and feel threatened by them – what if they are right and we are wrong? History is littered – and so is the present day – with religious wars. Violence between fans of rival football teams is not uncommon and has even seemed to be part of the culture for certain teams at certain times. I am not sure that war has ever broken out between lovers of Coronation Street and East Enders but I imagine there can be rivalry and animosity between them.

worldcup3In our passion for what we believe in, we can lose perspective. We can see others as rivals when in fact they are just doing the same things as us, albeit with a different focus. Love of our football team can become hatred of our local rivals. Pride in our national team can become a xenophobic attitude to other nations. Religious zeal can breed terrorism, nationalism can breed Nazism.

Love, faith and belief are powerful emotions, but we have personal choices about how we channel those emotions – religion or football – Italy or England – Manchester United or Manchester City – Coronation Street or East Enders. The emotions are the same but if we fail to respect the choices other people make there is a danger that the power of our emotions can become a negative force. Love without respect is a dangerous thing…

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Counselling in Wokingham – Going Backwards

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

If I’m driving along the motorway I sometimes find myself stuck behind a lorry going slowly uphill, with a stream of cars overtaking us. There’s nothing I can do but sit and wait for a gap in the traffic, so that I can pull out and travel more at the speed I’d like to. When I’m in this situation it can feel as if I’m going backwards. I suppose this is because I am behind where I would be if I had not got stuck – it’s as if there is a second, imaginary version of myself that is ahead of the real me.

backwards1While it feels as if I’m going backwards, I’m not really. I haven’t actually selected reverse gear, which would be quite inadvisable and slightly hazardous on a motorway. I am still travelling forwards, getting nearer to my destination, and I will eventually get there – just marginally later than if I hadn’t got stuck behind that lorry.

This illusion – the feeling that you are going backwards – is something that people can experience in all sorts of different situations. For example, people who are trying to give up smoking, or deal with some other addiction, quite often have a relapse. It’s rare that someone can decide to give up and then carry it through successfully at the first try. It is much more common that people will try to give up multiple times, but their resolution will fail, sometimes quite quickly, at other times after a much longer period of abstinence.

backwards2When the addict relapses there can be a terrible feeling of failure – that it’s all been a waste of time and effort – that they are a weak person – that others will be disappointed in them. Typically an addict will deal with such feelings by having a smoke, or a drink – by indulging in whatever their particular addiction is, to give themselves a little boost. And so they feel more of a failure and they are back into a cycle of addiction.

It can be helpful to adopt a mind-set more like that of the motorway driver. “I am not going backwards, I am going forwards, but not as fast as I’d hoped”. Thinking of it like this can be much more positive. “I’ve tried to give up; I’ve relapsed. I am going to get there and by thinking about why I’ve relapsed I can make that less likely to happen the next time I decide to give up.” In other words, we look at the ups and downs as times when we are going faster or slower, rather than as times when we’re going forwards or backwards – and we look at them as opportunities to learn and improve how we try to give up.

I think this same sort of experience can happen in all sorts of settings – not just in the case of an addict. If you are trying to learn a new skill, for example, there will be times when you seem to be worse than you were yesterday at playing the piano, or driving, or doing your job. It can be the same, too, for people who have attended counselling.

backwards3Counselling is about change, and when people finish a course of counselling they have, in general, made changes in their lives – or feel ready and able to do that. But sometimes the changes may not stick, or the planned changes may not happen as hoped. And then, like the addict, you can feel that it was all a waste of time, that you’ve gone backwards. For some people, this can make it difficult to return to counselling – to admit to your counsellor that you’ve “failed”. But of course it can be very helpful to return. You haven’t failed – you’re not going backwards – your arrival has just been delayed a little.

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Counselling in Wokingham – More on the Wizard

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

I finished my blog last week by thinking about the Wizard of Oz. It’s a while since I watched the movie but as I recall the Wizard is frightening character, never seen, but with a loud booming voice of authority. It is Toto the dog, I think, who exposes the wizard as an insignificant little man who is just putting on a show – a fake.

The Wizard himself, then, is not frightening – it is peoples’ idea of the Wizard that frightens them. They hear the loud voice, they are taken in by the pretence, and their imagination does the rest – he becomes a fearsome figure that they cannot approach. Once the truth becomes apparent, the Wizard immediately loses his power.

oz1It is often like this with our personal fears. I remember that, as a child, I was scared of moths. I was afraid that one would fly into my eye, and hated having a moth in my bedroom at night. Now, a moth had never flown into my eye then, and never has since. Indeed I have never heard of a moth flying into anyone’s eye and I’m really not at all sure how that could ever happen. The occurrence I feared wasn’t real, the danger existed in my imagination, not in fact.

oz3Often we avoid our fears. If we are scared of flying, we travel overland – if we are scared of confrontation, we agree to things we’d rather not agree to – if we fear being alone, we build a busy social life. This avoidance reduces the amount of exposure we have to frightening or difficult situations, but at the same time it makes those things all the more scary. The Wizard of Oz’s power grew because he was never seen in person, and facts were replaced by stories, by mythology about him. Our fears are the same, the less experience them the more their power grows. We can become afraid of the fear, rather than of the moth – afraid of the shadow, rather than the dog.  Once we face up to our fears, they start to become less daunting.

oz2In the example of the Wizard of Oz, he lost his power immediately once he was seen.   It’s not necessarily quite that simple when it comes to our personal fears – it can take time to work through them, to gain control over them. The starting point is to recognise and to be able to talk about them. They like to hide away in dark corners of our minds, they don’t like being brought out into the open, and when we start to do that, by talking about them, they will kick and scream like a difficult child. They will have a tantrum to try to create panic in us – to regain their power – and it may be that we can only confront them for short periods at first. This will become easier the more we do it.

We can’t necessarily get rid of our fears – I still don’t much like moths – but the more we talk about them, the more we understand them, and the more we gain control of them. We can learn to manage our fears if we are prepared to confront them and take the power away from them.

We’re off to see the wizard!

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