Counselling in Wokingham – Untangling Wool

Paul Cockayne – 07791

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

Counselling can take all sorts of forms, long term or short term, structured or unstructured, logical or creative. The form it takes will depend both on the style of the counsellor and the needs of the client, although in my view the needs of the client should have by far the bigger influence.

tangle1Sometimes progress can be slow, and when I am working with some clients it feels as if we are trying to untangle a horribly ravelled ball of wool. Clients arriving at counselling sometimes have their thoughts and feelings very jumbled up – they don’t know what’s important to them, they don’t know how they got to this point, they have no idea how to end the mental torture they might be feeling.

If you can find an end, in among the tangle, you can start to thread it through the mess and create a nicely-wound ball of wool as you go. It takes time and patience, and the size of the ball can start to be a problem as you try to push or pull it through the tangle, but persevere, and you will get there in the end.

tangle3But what if you can’t find an end? What if the wool is so tightly-packed, the mess is so dense, that there’s no end – or perhaps I should say beginning – in sight? This is how I often find it in counselling. There is no obvious starting point – the first thing clients say to me is often “I don’t know where to start”. Do you start with the first thing that happened? Or the most recent? Or the thing that is causing you most pain today?

With the densely-packed mass of wool, you just have to start somewhere. You find a piece that you can get some sort of a grip on and pull gently – you wiggle it, you tease it. It will, hopefully, give a little. When it gives no more you let it go and look for another strand that you can grip, pull, wiggle and tease. And so gradually you loosen the tangle until eventually a beginning is revealed.

tangle2The analogy works – in counselling, we just start somewhere, anywhere, and talk about it, talk around it, explore it, understand it a little better. And maybe that leads us somewhere, or maybe we change the subject of conversation or shift the emphasis somewhat. If A causes B and B causes C and C causes A, it’s no good trying to change A, B or C individually, we need to understand the circle of causality and change A, B and C together.

And so we find a beginning – or beginnings – and we can start to follow things through. The tangle becomes looser, we start to realise that we can untangle it, we regain a feeling of being in control, being able to manage the mess, of moving forward towards something better.

There’s no way unravel that ball of wool quickly, patience is the key. Even the smallest step can be the start of a big change.

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Counselling in Wokingham – Rules

Paul Cockayne – 07791

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

The story in the news this week – about Eleanor Hawkins and friends stripping off in Malaysia – got me thinking about rules.

rules1There are rules on all sorts of levels in our lives. There are laws of the land that are laid down by our governments and we are expected to abide by them – but of course laws vary from country to country, from state to state. And in the UK, there are still by-laws that are specific to certain areas. Laws are not universal, although today there is probably more commonality across countries than historically there has ever been, but there are still a lot of differences.

Laws are developed out of custom and practice, but the two do not necessarily match exactly. For example, “Middle lane hogging” is now illegal on UK motorways but (infuriatingly) people still do it. People resent being told they are not allowed to do something they have always done and some rebel. Our habits can be a stronger influence than the law.

rules2Laws change over time, for various reasons. New technology (internet trading for example) can necessitate changes. So can changes in attitudes – for example to gay rights. Sometimes, changes are provoked by the people – by protest and demonstration. I like this quotation by George Bernard Shaw: “The reasonable man adapts himself to the conditions that surround him… The unreasonable man adapts surrounding conditions to himself… All progress depends on the unreasonable man.” Without protest, laws would be much slower to change.

Laws exist at all sorts of levels – all societies and sub-societies seem to have a need for them. Businesses, sports clubs, religious organisations, all have rules – even the Anarchist Federation has rules! And families, too, have rules. There are rules for children – about bedtimes, about homework – and rules for adults too – there are understandings about what is acceptable behaviour in the home, which may be significantly different to what others expect in their homes.

rules3But perhaps the most important rules are the ones we make as individuals – and these are rules that are not written down, or stated clearly. Indeed, as individuals, we do not necessarily even know what our own rules are – though we will probably recognise it if someone breaks them. “You can’t do that!”. We have so many rules – about our personal space – about lateness – about how others should speak to us – about tidiness – about money. The list is never ending, and we are often aware of these rules only when someone else breaks them – our children, a new partner, a visiting friend.

Whatever the rules, we run risks if we fail to respect them – as Eleanor Hawkins and friends did. The Malaysians were offended when visitors came into their country and broke their rules. In our personal lives, we need others to respect our rules – spoken or unspoken, otherwise we too will be offended, hurt – even frightened and angry. The rules are there to protect us.

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Counselling in Wokingham – A List of Everything

Paul Cockayne – 07791

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 recently chanced upon a “list of everything” on the internet. I have to say, I doubt its completeness but nevertheless it’s a valiant attempt at a very daunting task.

Recently I found myself talking to a client about the idea of compiling a list of everything. It wasn’t that he had a lot of time on his hands and that I was trying to find a helpful way to fill it. It was more that I thought it would be an interesting exercise for him to make a list of everything that he did. Working, family time, chores, reading, eating, sleeping – a list of all the different activities that filled his life.

everything1I have suggested this before to clients who say that they have no spare time. For them, writing down everything they do and estimating how long each activity takes can help to identify things they are doing that they might spend less time on – or stop doing altogether. Could they spend less time playing computer games? Do they really need to iron pillow slips? Could they stop work in the evening at 7pm rather than 8pm?

So for these people the list of everything can help them to think about where their time is going, and how they might adjust that. But for the client who sparked this blog off, my idea in getting him to draw up the list was to get him to think about why he chose to do each item on the list. Which things did he do because other people wanted or expected him to – and which did he do for himself?

everything2We all have responsibilities – duties – and many of the things we do are for other people. We run errands for our aged parents or we provide a taxi service for our teenage kids. And some things that might appear to be our choices are sometimes not – or not entirely.   Perhaps you became a doctor because your father wanted you to (but you’d really prefer to run a pub) – or you go to the gym because your partner likes you to look good (but it bores you silly).

Some of us would have loads of things on the “do for others” side of the list and much less on the “do for myself”. Others would be the other way round. We tend to label the first sort people as “selfless” and the second as “selfish”. Nice people and nasty people. Good people and bad people. And so we can feel it’s wrong to do things that are for ourselves – because that’s “selfish”.

everything3But we all need to find a balance – it’s good to look after others but we also need to look after ourselves. The balance we need is different for each of us – and it varies at different times of our lives. There are times when we have the time and energy to help others – but there are also times when our first priority should be to look after ourselves. Making the list of everything can help you to look at the balance for you at the moment, and help you to think about whether it would be helpful to change that balance.

And if you’d like to see the original list of everything, you can find it here

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Counselling in Wokingham – It Wasn’t Me!

Paul Cockayne – 07791

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

honesty1News today that Sepp Blatter had resigned as President of FIFA got me thinking about honesty and responsibility.

When you were a child, if you did something naughty, did you own up? Or did you say nothing and hope that nobody would find out? It’s very tempting to say nothing, of course, and in a sense the logic of this is unarguable. If you say nothing, and nobody notices, no harm is done. If you own up, your parents may get angry, and you’ll be in trouble. Why bring that upon yourself?

honesty2Of course, sometimes there are suspicions. And so your father or mother might challenge you. Have you taken money from my purse? Did you break the vase? Have you eaten all the chocolate? And again, if you own up, you’ll be in trouble, but if you lie, they won’t know whether it was you, or your brother or sister, or the baby sitter, or the cleaner. And so again you might get away with the crime unpunished for lack of proof.

There are a whole array of questions about morality here. Is it OK to lie, cheat or steal if nobody finds out? Does it make a difference who you are lying to or stealing from? Is honesty always the best policy? Who decides what is right and wrong?

Our moral beliefs are developed at a young age – or at least the framework for them is, but it is interesting to contemplate where they come from. Parents and teachers, friends and family, books and TV, religion, world events – all these things can play a part in forming our beliefs but quite how they intermingle in us as adults is different for all of us. In a sense, what we believe in is a bit random.

But regardless of our personal beliefs about what is right and wrong, it seems to me that broadly people fall into one of two categories – those who judge themselves and those who let others do the judging.

honesty3People who judge themselves – who are critical of themselves – will tend to examine their motives, question their thoughts and feelings, and sometimes be very hard on themselves. If they do something they are not happy with they will feel ashamed or guilty. These people will usually be ready to own up because they already feel bad about what they’ve done and admitting to it will be a weight off their mind – and will allow the world to punish them.

People who allow others to be the judges are much more likely to act according to their own wishes, without particularly dwelling on the consequences. “What they don’t know won’t hurt them”. They will tend to have a less rigid moral framework of their own and be adaptable. They may well be seen as quite laid back – they go with the flow rather than having strong opinions of their own. They are unlikely to own up to their mistakes – and when suspected are quite likely to lie or argue their way out of things, or to try to put the blame on others.

Which category are you in? I think I know where Sepp Blatter is….

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Counselling in Wokingham – Let’s Forgive and Forget

Paul Cockayne – 07791

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

Forgiving and forgetting. They’re so often bracketed together – and yet they are very different things. In using that phrase “let’s forgive and forget” there’s an assumption that the two things are associated – that one leads to the other – even that they are very similar. Is that right?

forgive2If someone has hurt you – whether it be a parent or a child, a lover or a friend, a boss at work or a teacher at school – whoever it is, the pain they have caused is something we will remember. I think that’s how memory works – we are most likely to remember things that have an emotional impact on us, good or bad. These things sit with us for a long time and we tend to rework them internally – and this prolongs the memory of what has happened. So it seems to me that the idea of forgetting such things is ridiculous. How could you forget about the parent who beat you, about the lover who cheated on you, about the boss who bullied you? Indeed, would forgetting about such things even be a good idea? These things are important, albeit negative, life experiences and as such are opportunities for us to learn about ourselves and about others. If we were able to forget about them, wouldn’t that leave us vulnerable to similar things happening to us again? “We must never forget”, for then we might repeat our historical mistakes.

forgive1So, let’s not even try to forget, but what of forgiving? I think there are two main elements to that. The first is about understanding, and the second about feeling safe in the future.

If we are to forgive, the first step is to understand. Without that understanding we will tend to leap to conclusions. Why did your partner cheat on you? “Because he wanted to hurt me”. “Because I am a bad husband”. “Because I don’t give him enough attention”. “Because he doesn’t love me”. …and so on. The conclusions we jump to tend to be quite blaming – either blaming ourselves or blaming the “hurter” – and that doesn’t tend to lead to forgiveness. Gerneally, the reasons for our behaviour are quite complex and it can take time and patience to understand them. But to forgive I think we need to move from “My partner cheated on me because he wanted to hurt me” to something more like “When my partner cheated on me, he hurt me badly, but he didn’t intend to do that. The reasons why he did that are….” …and there may be many different things that let up to him having an affair. All this is not to say that the affair was justified or appropriate, simply that we understand the reasons, however bizarre the logic behind them might seem to be.

forgive3So, understanding is one element of forgiveness, but what about feeling safe for the future? If we are still in contact with the person who has hurt us it is important not only that we understand, but also that they understand. That can give us confidence that they won’t do it again – that they’ll be able to react differently next time similar circumstances arise, and so we can feel a bit safer. On the other hand if the “hurter” is someone who we no longer see – an ex-boss who bullied us, or perhaps a parent who is now dead – of course they are not in a position to hurt us again. In these cases, though, it is possible that other people – the next boss for example – might behave in similar ways and so it is important that we understand how we can better protect ourselves if similar circumstances arrive in the future.

When people talk say “let’s forget about it”, what they often mean is “let’s never talk about it again”. And I think that is because they haven’t really forgiven. Maybe they haven’t forgiven the “hurter”, and so talking about the event is still painful. But often it’s the “hurter” who wants to forget – because they feel guilty or ashamed about what they’ve done, and so they really haven’t forgiven themselves.

Forgive and forget? Instead, what about “Understand and Remember”?

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Counselling in Wokingham – Signals

Paul Cockayne – 07791 970406 –

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

signals1Signalling systems have existed probably for as long as man has. Certainly the ancient Chinese used smoke signals to convey messages along the Great Wall – and smoke signals have been used in many other civilizations. No doubt cavemen had ways of signalling to each other to warn of sabre-tooth tigers. Semaphore, naval flags, tic-tac….and there are many more.

Why have signalling systems always been so important to us? I suppose there are a number of different reasons. Firstly, they enable us to communicate with people who are distant – who cannot hear us, and maybe cannot see us. Secondly, they enable us communicate standard messages in a concise way – boats flying particular flags to warn of a fever – the white flag of surrender. And with these particular flags, there’s another advantage of the signalling system in that is has the ability to interrupt normal interactions with an urgent message. And a fourth thing occurs to me as well – the ability to transmit information that other people can’t understand – an element of codification.

Communication with someone who is distant – the feeling that they cannot hear or see me – these thoughts resonate strongly with much of the work I do counselling couples. Communication is not working properly – they are not listening to each other – they feel distant from each other.   So do signals have a part to play in our relationships? I think they do.

In fact, a lot of the time, when we communicate, we do use signals. Communication is not just about the words we say, but also about the way we say them. Our tone of voice, intonation, volume, our facial expressions, our body language – all these things contribute to the message which is received. In fact, if we use sarcasm, we will often say exactly the opposite of what we mean – but say it in such a way as to leave no doubt as to our real meaning.

signals2Despite all these signals, conscious and unconscious, sometimes our messages don’t seem to get through – sometimes we are not heard. I was talking to a couple (let’s call them Tim and Anna) a while ago about this. Tim would often come home from work feeling annoyed, angry, tense about his day.   Anna would try to help by making a cup of tea, giving him a hug, telling him about something funny the kids had done. But sometimes none of this seemed to help, and would just make Tim more irritable and moody, and he would snap at Anna. What Tim really needed – sometimes – was just to be left on his own for a while to relax – but Anna couldn’t tell when he needed that and when a cup of tea and a hug was more useful. So they came up with a signalling system. If Tim wanted a hug he would put his briefcase down in the hall. If he wanted time on his own, he’d keep hold of his briefcase, say hi to Anna and the kids and retreat into the study.

All this was pre-discussed and worked well – Tim got what he needed – Anna was not hurt by his disappearance because she understood and knew that he would emerge in a happier state of mind. This is a bit like the naval “fever” flag – the briefcase signal immediately delivered an important message that overrode normal communications.

signals3And what of the secret, codified signals? Do they have a place in our relationships? Yes, I think they can do. I couple a worked with used a code phrase “Not right now” which said something like “I can’t talk about this at the moment because I fear we might have an argument in front of the children but I am happy to talk about it later when the kids are in bed.” Another example comes from a couple I will call Mike and Sally. There was always friction when they visited Mike’s family. Mike and his brothers would tease each other – there’d be a lot of banter – and sometimes Sally felt that they ganged up on her – all teasing her together – and she found this quite disturbing and difficult to deal with. So Mike and Sally invented a secret signal that enabled Sally to say to Mike “OK, this has gone too far for me and I’m starting to feel quite upset by it. Please can you do something to change things – to let me see that you are on my side”. And then Mike was able to come and sit with her on the sofa, or suggest they went out for a walk, or turn the conversation around in some way.

The secret signal can be very powerful. In that private communication that only you and your partner understand there lies a sense of partnership and intimacy that can be one of the special characteristics of a good relationship.

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Counselling in Wokingham – New Stuff

Paul Cockayne – 07791

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

New stuff is exciting! “A new broom sweeps clean”.   New Year resolutions represent an opportunity for a fresh start – for life to be different. At the start of the month we say “white rabbits” to bring luck – a new month offers the chance for change.

NewStuff1Traditionally, the honeymoon marked a new start for married couples, the first month of marriage – at one time their first experience of being together unchaperoned – the first time they would have sex together. Of course, times have changed, but we still talk of “a honeymoon period” to represent that period of a relationship when everything is fresh, new and exciting.

Those early days of a relationship can be very heady – they occupy our head in an obsessive, infatuated way. We might think about our new partner constantly, we might look forward impatiently and eagerly to our next meeting, we might put them on a pedestal, seeing the relationship as the best thing that has ever happened to us.

As we get to know our partner better, we generally find out that they are not perfect – nobody is, after all. They may do things that annoy us, they may have baggage from the past, they may expect us to be someone we do not wish to be. And so the honeymoon period tends to come to an end and we will most likely need to work on the business aspects of a relationship – communication, negotiation and compromise being key elements of that.

NewStuff2These business aspects of relationship do not tend to be nearly as much fun as the honeymoon period – indeed, some couples really struggle with them – and sometimes people try to cling on to the honeymoon feelings, not wanting to burst the bubble, to ruin the romance, to destroy the “perfect” relationship.

What some people do is to hide things from their partner. There’s a worry that, if my partner finds out that I drink too much, or that I am in financial difficulty, or that I still have a very close relationship with my ex – if they find out about these things they will not want to be in a relationship with me – or they will demand that I change if I want the relationship to continue. We don’t, of course, know how a new partner will react to bad news until they get some – and so there’s a tendency to delay that moment, to hide the news, for fear that they will react badly to it. The honeymoon is prolonged by lies.

Newstuff3Other people hide things from themselves. The idea of having met the perfect partner, Mr. or Ms. Right, is an alluring one – and one that has been propagated in literature for centuries. And so we can kid ourselves that this new partner is that person – the handsome prince or fairy tale princess. We can ignore the signs, we put them on a pedestal, we worship them – and this can leave them feeling that they must try to be perfect, for fear of disappointing us. The honeymoon is prolonged by pretence.

Sometimes circumstances mean that couples don’t really get to know each other. It’s a process that takes time and if other things – work, kids, family – prevent them from exploring and find out about each other it can be months, years, or even decades before they stop, and look at their partner and wonder who they are. Do I know this person? Do I even like this person?

However long the relationship has been, it’s not necessarily too late to get to know each other properly, although sometimes it can be difficult to know where to start. Communication can be a lost art (or a never-found art) for some couples but if there is a sense of partnership– if both of you want to make changes – it is always possible to make a new start. And new stuff is exciting!

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