Counselling in Wokingham – Space

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

Have you ever stood on top of a hill and looked at the landscape spread around you? So many lives, so much going on that you can never know about. Or when did you last sit and look at the stars? What is out there? Outer space is so enormous – there’s so much we don’t know, and may never know. And do you like to sit at the seaside and watch the waves? They are powerful, unstoppable, awesome.

space1The comparison between our small selves and such enormities can be both humbling and uplifting – and it can also enable us to put things into perspective. Things that may be worrying about, problems we have can sometimes seem trivial when we think about them in comparison to the landscape, the oceans, or outer space.

Space is important on many different levels. The spaces we work in and live in are important to us – the way we choose to organise (or not) our working space reflects ourselves and influences the way we work. Even more so the space we live in – do we feel comfortable? – does it feel like home? Interior designers, architects, Feng Shui practitioners, cleaners, decorators and many others earn their livings by making the spaces we occupy more pleasant for us.

space3If you live with someone else – or even a pet – you are sure to sharing at least some of the space you live in with them, and this can be difficult. One of you may like the environment tidy, you may hate clutter, while the other may prefer to live in a homely manner, and find their partner’s tidiness too clinical. This can be doubly difficult when one partner moves in to the home of the other, which already has its owner’s style and house rules. The person moving in may feel that there is no space for them. If they have lots of stuff they want to bring with them this may be very difficult for tidier partner to accommodate. The tidy one may feel invaded, while the more cluttery may feel one excluded. Or it can happen the other way around. The person moving in may see loads of ways to improve things – by making changes, by tidying up, by organising things “better” – and their partner may find that these things go completely against how they like things to be done.

Communication and compromise are important, of course, but this can be very difficult if you are feeling invaded, or pushed away, in a relationship that is probably only in its formative stages.

It is important for us to have enough control of our environment, just as we need to protect our personal space. We find ourselves backing away if a stranger gets too close and we may do the same thing, emotionally, if we feel out of control or unsafe in our living environment.

space2“A tidy desk is a tidy mind”, they say and for many people this is true – they need to live in a tidy environment to feel relaxed, secure and in control. But it is equally true to say “a cosy house is a cosy mind” and many people would rather feel cosy than tidy.

We each have our own needs and styles and want our spaces to be in harmony with those needs. We seem to feed off the spaces we occupy, and maybe it’s like that when we stand on top of that hill, or look up at the stars, or watch the waves crashing against the cliffs. Looking out at such views can be uplifting, empowering, exhilarating and it seems that sometimes we can drink in those feelings and carry them with us when we return to our normal routines.

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Counselling in Wokingham – Why?

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

why3People don’t always know why they’ve come to counselling. Sometimes they do have clear ideas about what they want to achieve: to give up smoking; to manage their anger better; to deal with the loss of a loved one. Other people arrive with much more vague ideas: to understand themselves better; to improve their relationship; just to explore.

All these reasons are equally valid, though they may change during the course of counselling. People with only a shadowy idea of why they’ve chosen to come for counselling will often find that their objectives become clearer over time. Those with a clear idea of what they want to achieve will sometimes find that their ideas change as counselling progresses – that the issue they thought was central turns out to be peripheral.

People have many levels – and so too, counselling can have many levels. Let’s take as an example the client who wants to give up smoking. It can be helpful to talk about alternative strategies – “When I feel like having a cigarette, I am going to say no, and instead…..”. It can be helpful to have goals and rewards – “I am going to aim to stop smoking for a month, and then I will have saved enough money to buy….”. These, and other techniques, focus on changing behaviour, and this can be enough to help people break the habit of smoking – and once the habit is broken it can become much easier to “stay stopped”.

why2Working at the top level is enough some of the time, but often it’s necessary to go down a level – or more, typically by asking “why?”. To continue with the smoking example, this is about understanding the reasons why you smoke – in what way does in help you emotionally? – how does it fit with your beliefs about yourself? Going down a level offers the chance to make deeper changes – by exploring and understanding your motivations you can begin to change the way you look at yourself, and the stories you and others may have about you, for example.

I remember working with a couple – let’s call them Dave and Sue – where these different levels were starkly apparent. Dave and Sue agreed that the relationship was not working and one of the issues they identified was that they didn’t make the best use of the time they had together. Dave felt that Sue spent too much time watching TV and wanted more “quality time” with her. Sue asked him what he meant – how much TV was too much? How much time per evening should they spend together, in his view? Sue was attacking the issue at the top level – just thinking about changing their behaviour enough to make things better. Dave’s response was that he wanted her to want to spend time with him, rather than watching TV. Working at the top level was not enough, they needed to go deeper and ask “why?”

why1The “why?” question can be revealing – but in order to reveal ourselves we need to feel safe – most of us will not choose to try walking a tightrope without a safety net. Counselling can provide that safety net, where it is safe to explore the “why?” question, it is safe to delve down a level or more, and it is possible to give ourselves the opportunity to make deep and lasting changes.

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Counselling in Wokingham – Knowing Lots Of 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

Do you like quizzes? They can be a fun way to pass the time, and when you get a question right – especially if it’s something that most people don’t know – it can be a nice feeling, a little buzz. Top of the class!

knowledge1If your memory or your general knowledge is not so great, quizzes can be a bit of an ordeal. The assumption is that its good to know the answers – the person who knows the most gets a prize – they are the winner, they are best – and you are not.

Quizzes offer an opportunity to show off your knowledge but knowledge is something that we tend to respect and value in others and in ourselves. I think that “knowing stuff” gives people a feeling of security, of being in control, of being powerful. People with strong opinions tend to project themselves as strong people – and others will follow them, reassured by their certainty. Religious leaders, trade union leaders, political activists, and a host of other types pull people in with their certainty, their knowledge.

“Knowledge is Power”. It’s been said for centuries. But knowledge does not have to be truth – I think perhaps it’s as much about certainty, or faith, than it is about knowledge. False or dubious beliefs can carry as much weight as true ones, if expressed in a convincing way.

Why am I philosophising like this? It’s because I think that for us as individuals, the quest for knowledge can be alluring, but unhelpful.

knowledge2In a relationship, what must it be like to live with someone who knows all the answers? That leaves no room for us to hold a different opinion, to do things a different way. It leaves no grey areas, no room for discussion or compromise. If your partner believes that they know all the answers, then their way is best, and why on earth would you choose to do things a different way? Many an abusive relationship is founded on the belief that “I know best”.

Like many other behavioural patterns, knowing the answers can become obsessive and compulsive. Facts need to be checked. Thank goodness for Wikipedia! We can achieve certainty with a couple of mouse clicks! But if the laptop is out of reach, we can always bluff – make something up. If we give the answer with enough conviction people will believe us, and respect us for knowing stuff.

I worked with a client like this a while back. She had always needed to know the answers to feel good about herself but this was putting herself under a lot of pressure. When asked a question in a meeting at work, or by her partner, she would feel it was a test that she needed to pass. A sort of panic would descend and she would make up an answer – any answer – to stop the panic. When she realised that this was what she was feeling she was able to change things. Giving herself permission to say “I don’t know” was immensely liberating for her.

knowledge3It is OK to be unsure, or not to know all the answers. Uncertainty can be a warm, soft feeling and it can be a joy to embrace it.

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Counselling in Wokingham – Does It Matter?

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

Why are some things important to us, while other things are not? Some of us are ambitions to do well at work, others are perfectly content to plod along. Some want to excel in their hobbies, others just want a nice relaxing pastime. Some feel they must do the best for their elderly relatives, others feel no such obligation.

matter2The theory of Transactional Analysis talks about five “drivers” – to be perfect, to please others, to be strong, to try hard, to hurry up – and I think these can be very useful categories in helping to understand ourselves and others. But sometimes people can categorise themselves too readily. “I’m a perfectionist so I can never leave things half done” : “I’ve got a hurry up driver so we mustn’t be late….”

The problem with this is that you can typecast yourself – you can become a slave to the categories you identify – you can them as unchangeable. But I don’t think that these drivers are embedded in our DNA, I think they are learnt.   This is empowering, because it means that we have the ability to be different – to change these character traits, though it’s by no means an easy thing to do.

matter4These drivers can be two-edged swords. They motivate us, they provide a framework for making decisions and they are an influence on our personal code of moral values. But there can also be situations where they are a nuisance. Sometimes the perfectionist would do well to settle for “good enough”; the person with the “be strong” driver to let themselves cry.

If you want to do some things differently – to behave differently in certain situations – one important step can be to go beyond these drivers and ask yourself that most intrusive of questions : “Why?” Why do I feel the need to be strong? Why is it important for me always to try my hardest? It might be difficult to answer the “why?” question – “It’s just the way I am” – “I’ve always been like this”. What this tends to suggest is that you have adopted these drivers from a young age – it’s something you’ve learnt to do. Maybe your father was a caring sort who always encouraged you to think of others, maybe your mother criticised you if you fell short of perfection, maybe your sister used to laugh at you and tease you if you cried, so you learnt to be strong.

Matter1A client of mine told me that he had a “hurry up” driver, and we explored this together. He was able to track it back to pre-school days, the age of about 3 or 4, he thought. Mornings in his house were always frantic – his father and mother both used public transport to get to work and the whole process of getting ready to go out was always done to a tight deadline. He seemed to remember that if he wasn’t getting ready in time, his mother would become very flustered and sometimes angry – and he linked this with feelings of panic and fear if he was going to be late for a meeting or even a social event, even 50 years later.

With my client’s understanding, came the ability to change. When he found himself starting to panic about being late for a social event, he could ask himself “who cares?” – and the answer would be “My mother cares”. And since his mother was not going to this social event (indeed, she had died more than 20 years previously), he was then able to calm himself with the thought that actually nobody would really be bothered if he was five minutes late – that it really didn’t matter.

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Counselling in Wokingham – We Might Ask

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

A : “Why did you snap at me?”

B : “Because you interrupted me”

That’s a nice simple explanation, isn’t it? But does it tell the whole story?

interrupt2We might ask why B was irritated by the interruption. Perhaps B was in the middle of saying something that they thought was really important. Perhaps they were concentrating hard on what they were saying, and interruption came in the middle of a complicated train of thought. So perhaps A broke in, not only to what B was saying, but more importantly, to what B was thinking. Perhaps it felt to B as if A had invaded their private world.

We might ask whether A really did interrupt B. If B was thinking hard about what they were saying, perhaps B had paused for thought without realising it – maybe for quite a while – and A actually thought they had finished. Or perhaps B was monopolising the conversation, endlessly going on and on about their own perspective on something – and so perhaps A felt that interrupting was the only way to get a say in the conversation.

We might ask why B thinks that interrupting someone is annoying. Perhaps B learnt this as a child. Perhaps this was something that B’s parents were very firm about, and so it is something that B was brought up to do – something B seems as normal. But perhaps A wasn’t brought up like that. Perhaps in A’s family it was normal for everyone to speak at the same time, so that A learnt from a young age the art of listening and talking at the same time. (And if you think that’s not possible, it’s worth considering how an interpreter could do their job without learning this art).

interrupt1We might ask as well about how A and B were regarded as children. Did A come from an argumentative family? Did A feel shut out because everyone else talked louder than they did? Was A told to sit quietly in the corner and not speak? If so, A might be getting those same feelings in conversation with B – of being told to be quiet. Or perhaps it was like that for B – perhaps they were never allowed their say as a child, and so now, as an adult, it’s really important to them to get their point across.

Then again, this exchange between A and B might betray their feelings about each other. Perhaps A thinks B is a bit of a bore, rattling on about inconsequential stuff. Perhaps (assuming A and B are a couple), A is embarrassed by how B behaves in social situations and interrupted to try to save their own embarrassment. Perhaps B thinks A never has anything interesting or useful to say and so letting them speak is a waste of time. Perhaps (assuming A and B are a couple) B feels A cannot make decisions and needs to be told what to do. Perhaps, perhaps…

interrupt3And so we can go on. What happens in the moment doesn’t just happen in the moment, it happens in the context of the whole conversation, of the relationship, of the events that led to the conversation, of the background and upbringing of the participants, of their culture, their religion, their ethnic origin….

Or perhaps A interrupted B because B was about to get run over by a bus….

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Counselling in Wokingham – Telling the Story

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

story1We all have stories to tell. I don’t mean the funny stories we might churn out in a social situation, about strange and wonderful things that have happened to us in the past. I have a great story about a friend who drove his car off the side of a station platform – but I don’t mean stories like that. I mean the stories we have about our lives, about things that have contributed to who we are today. These may be tough stories to think about – and tougher to tell – about abuse or violence. They may be things that happened to us that shaped our beliefs – things our parents or teachers told us about ourselves, maybe negative messages about what we couldn’t do – or positive messages about our talents. These stories tend to be about emotionally charged times – times when we have been scared, or angry, or felt really happy, or guilty, or proud of ourselves.

We tend, I think, to remember things that have affected us emotionally (although we may blank out memories that are particularly painful).   But these emotionally-intense experiences are the things that tend to shape us, to be landmarks in the development of our personalities.

When you think about your own stories, you probably look at them in a fixed way – by which I mean that you tell them in the same, or in similar ways each time – whether you are telling them to yourself or to someone else. This is particularly the case with stories from a long time ago – and sometimes with these stories we remember them second hand (at least partly) – from what our parents have told us, for example. But is interesting that if we check out one of these stories, perhaps with a brother or sister, they will often have quite different memories.

story2There are different sides to every story but sometimes we can become stuck with a particular version, and an accumulation of different stories can leave us with a belief about ourselves. “I’m unlucky in love” – “I’m always messing things up” – “Nothing bothers me” – “I’ve never fulfilled my potential”…..and many more. But if we believe these things about ourselves we will tend to move forward expecting them to happen again. “I’m unlucky in love” – so this new relationship will be another failure. “I’m always messing things up” – so this new opportunity will fail and I’ll blame myself for it….and so on.

Where I am going with this is that we can tell ourselves stories in whatever way we choose. So, for example, if you remember the breakup of a relationship with sadness, try telling yourself the story in a different way. Can you be angry about it? Can you blame your ex rather than yourself? Can you look at what was wrong with the relationship and see its ending as a lucky escape? Can you think of all the things you did to try to make it work – and see yourself as a bit of a hero?

story2The way we tell these stories is a choice – and so the way we look at ourselves is a choice as well. For victim, read survivor: for unstructured, read creative: for stubborn, read determined. We cannot change our past, but we can look at it differently, we can look at ourselves differently, and in doing so we can help to shape the future to make it different from the past.

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Counselling in Wokingham – Washing Lines and Cupboards

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

Nowadays, most of us seem to lead busy – even frantic – lives. Advances in technology mean that things can happen more immediately and more conveniently than ever before. Shopping, for example, can be done from an armchair these days, if we choose.

With the immediacy and convenience of modern life, our expectations have changed. We expect things to happen quickly, we expect to be able to get hold of people quickly. All well and good, but unfortunately others expect the same of us. Employers, in particular, tend to expect their staff to be available when needed – so the boundaries between our work and our private lives are eroded. No longer do we clock on at 9 and clock off at 5, many of us are expected to be available on demand.

So, how do we cope with this erosion of boundaries? One answer is that we do what we can to create mental boundaries. One of my clients explained to me how she kept mental “to do” lists of different colours – the urgent in red, the important in yellow and so on – and how these lists hung, like wet towels, on a washing line in her mind. Alongside the washing line she had a picture of her timetable for the day, again using some sort of colour scheme to indicate work, family life and social activities – and in this mental timetable she would make sure there was at least half an hour each day to work on something from her “to-do” list. Once she had done her half hour, she could remove the towels from the washing line and put them away – until the next day.

Another of my clients talked about putting things in cupboards in his mind, shutting the door firmly when things were dealt with so that he had a picture of neat cupboard doors – the clutter behind them nicely concealed.
washing2These are ways – and there are many more – of creating order from chaos, of gaining control of the unruly parts of your life. We all probably do this, in different ways, and these techniques can be very effective. They have their limitations, however. My client with the cupboards talked about them becoming so full that he could no longer cram anything into them. In the end the doors would not shut, the walls collapsed, and everything burst out into the most awful disarray. He could no longer cope.

The towels and cupboards are ways of dealing with things internally. Another approach is to deal with things externally. The most common way of doing this is to talk about them – to work colleagues, to friends, to family. “A problem shared is a problem halved”, they say. “It’s good to talk”. And there is something very powerful about verbalising one’s troubles. Rather than hanging them on washing lines or shutting them in cupboards inside our heads, we are letting them out. They come out of our mouths and in doing so release tension within us. They seem to exist outside us rather than inside us, which makes it easier to confront them, look at them differently, or even just walk away from them.

washing3Some people gain enormous comfort from talking – and it is the talking that is important, not the response, so even talking to a pet can be very helpful. But talking is not the only way to externalise your problems. Writing can serve the same purpose – a letter to your ex, saying all the things you wished you’d said can be very liberating, even if the letter is never posted and never read. Other people express themselves through art, or music, or digging the garden.

This externalisation is of course central to counselling. Holding things inside can be very hard work, mentally exhausting. Letting them out, sharing them, talking about them are steps along the road to being able to let go and move on.

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