Counselling in Wokingham – Getting Used To The Idea

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

Some new ideas sit easily with us, and we can embrace them readily. If they fit with the thoughts and beliefs that we already have, they are comfortable and easy to fit in with our picture of the world. These ideas fit well for us emotionally. If we admire someone, we can easily listen to someone else singing their praises. If we believe in ghosts, we can readily engage with the idea that someone else has encountered them.

ideas1On the other hand, it can be hard to embrace new ideas when they conflict with our existing belief system, and so we can find ourselves rejecting these ideas – questioning and disbelieving the evidence – because to believe these ideas would require a major revision of the way we look at the world.

The educationalist Piaget described us as living in equilibrium. Most of the time, we can live more or less at peace with our various beliefs, thoughts and feelings. When something new comes along – a different idea or a new experience, the equilibrium is upset and we need time to integrate the new thing, and re-establish our equilibrium.

ideas2Some people refuse to believe that man ever landed on the moon, or that Elvis is dead, (despite a certain amount of evidence to the contrary) because, for whatever reason, they want to continue to believe their own theory. On a more sinister level, there are people who refuse to believe that the holocaust ever happened. New scientific theories – such as the idea that the earth is round rather than flat – tend to have to fight for acceptance until the evidence is overwhelmingly in their favour.

When people have some sort of emotional investment in looking at the world a particular way, it can take a long time to change, and this is something I come across a lot in my work. I’ll give you three examples.

Addicts often take a long time to accept that they have a problem. It may be obvious to friends and family that their habit is out of control, but the addict themselves will often be in denial. “I can give up whenever I want to”. They will minimise the problem, claiming they only smoke ten a day when it’s really more like forty. They will blame circumstances: “I’m going through a stressful time at work at the moment and this is my release”. The idea that they have a problem, that they need help, is a difficult one because it requires them to change the picture they have of themselves.

Sometimes we cling onto ideas about other people. It can be difficult for women to accept that they are in an abusive relationship, for example. The man they fell in love with, the man they admired so much, their Prince Charming – he turns out to be abusive and violent. That behaviour is completely at odds with the picture we want to see, and so it is difficult to accept, difficult to grasp. And so we can make excuses for the behaviour – “there’s a good man inside” – “it could be much worse”, and so on.

ideas3When we are young, our brains are very malleable. New ideas are easier to assimilate. We are less “set in our ways” – and that includes our mental ways as well as our behaviours. As we get older, it generally becomes more difficult to accept new ideas just as our minds change, so too do our bodies change – they become less flexible, less strong. And so, at some point, we will be forced to play less strenuous sports, for example, or give up sport altogether. And as old age approaches we may need more support – walking with a stick, needing help with the gardening or cleaning, needing a stair lift. This can be difficult if we pride ourselves on our independence, our physical strength. It requires, as my other examples do, a major rewrite of our story about ourselves. The facts do not match the picture we have of ourselves.

New ideas can be difficult to take on board, to integrate with our old ideas. And this integration is a process that takes time. We might know, on one level, that we have a problem with alcohol, but to believe it – to feel it – takes longer. It is a slow process of absorption that ultimately enables us to attain a different equilibrium in our thoughts and feelings.

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Counselling in Wokingham – Naughty, Naughty

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 big news item in the UK this week has been that Lord Sewel, upholder of standards in the House of Lords, has been filmed snorting cocaine through a five pound note from the body of a naked prostitute. Allegedly.

It is difficult to understand what might have been going on in Lord Sewel’s mind but I suspect that part of it was about compartmentalisation. I work a lot with couples where there has been an affair and it is often the case that for the cheating partner there seems to be no connection between their life at home and their life in the affair. It is almost as if there are two – or more – different selves involved in the two relationships, that the two things do not join up.

Why is this? I suspect that it is something learnt in childhood. As kids, we tend to experiment. Life is interesting. I remember, around the age of seven, I’d guess, wondering how long it would take a wash basin to fill up if I put the plug in and left the tap dripping. Of course, having set up the experiment, I then forgot about it as there were more interesting things to do than to watch a tap dripping. Some time later, I found out how long it took before the wash basin overflowed and water started coming through the ceiling. And the consequences of that.

naughty2If, as children, our natural desire to stretch boundaries and explore is forbidden by our parents, some of us stop exploring, but others will explore in secret. And so we can behave in one way at home, and in a completely different way when with our friends. We can develop the idea that different rules of conduct apply in different situations, and that these situations don’t really connect – they are separate from each other.   The different worlds don’t meet, they don’t impact on each other. They are separate (watertight) compartments.

Of course, on some level, we know that we are being naughty – that our parents would disapprove, or be upset, or punish us, if they found out. And for many people that is enough to discourage our naughtiness, or set boundaries around it. But for some people – and I conjecture that Lord Sewel is one of these people – we believe we will never be found out, or we don’t care whether we are or not.

Acts of naughtiness can be thrilling – we can feel high (even without allegedly snorting cocaine through a five pound note from the body of naked prostitute). And that’s nice – to feel big, to feel great about ourselves. And I suspect that for Lord Sewel the irony of the situation added to the high he experienced. The enormity of the deception is fantastic. On the one hand, he holds a position carrying immense responsibility and on the other… LOOK WHAT I CAN DO!!

naughty1And I wonder if Lord Sewel is enjoying being on the front pages of the newspapers? I wonder if he is (secretly, on one of his compartments) revelling in the publicity? I wonder if he is looking forward to the visit to the headmaster’s study? Let the authorities do their worst…they can’t hurt me. Here perhaps is another thrill. If I can uphold standards in the House of Lords, and snort cocaine through a five pound note from the body of a naked prostitute, and be found out, and get away with it? HOW BIG AM I NOW!!

Of course, I speculate. Free from facts about Lord Sewel’s life I can conjecture freely. And I can also criticise. And it seem to me that Lord Sewel has made a significant style blunder in what he’s done.

Because if you are going to (allegedly) snort cocaine through a banknote from the body of a naked prostitute, surely you should use at least a fifty?

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Counselling in Wokingham – Kings and Dolphins

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

king1Why do we want the things we want?  It’s complicated, I think. As children, we have dreams – often impossible dreams. Most of us will never be a professional footballer, or a ballet dancer, or the king, or a dolphin – or whatever, as kids, we might have imagined we might be one day.

As kids, we are also likely to have role models, perhaps people we know, or people we see on TV, or fictional characters – but people who we admire and try to imitate. Like our dreams, our role models are not always what we first think, and our attempts to be like them may prove fruitless. Being like Spiderman would be great but sadly I have not been blessed with the ability to walk up walls. The other thing about role models is that as we get older, we can realise that they are not perfect. The fun uncle who made us laugh may turn out to be a drunkard – the teacher whose strength you admire may emerge as a bully.

So our early aspirations may need to be modified – or even scrapped completely – as we get older, and they will be replaced by new ambitions that are, usually, more realistic and better considered. And as our lives change, so to do our needs. We may stop craving adventure and give more priority to security; we may want to trade in activeness for peace.

The things we want from life change over time, as we grow in experience (and perhaps wisdom), and as our circumstances change. Our ambitions change, but often the reasons for our ambitions stay the same as when we were first forming our dreams as children.

kings3So if you wanted to be a professional footballer when you were young, why was that? Possibly because you wanted fame, or success – to be admired? And those things may still be very important to you today even in a less glamorous job. If you wanted to be the king, perhaps that was about power? Or wanting to do things to help others? And the desire to be a dolphin might have been about wanting freedom, fun, or a life without boundaries.

king2Thinking about our childhood dreams can help us to understand why we want what we want. It can also help us to question those desires, because we may, unconsciously, still be trying to fulfil needs we had as children. Being top of the class would probably have earned you praise from your parents, but is that still appropriate as an adult? Being good at football might have earned the admiration of your peers, but do you still need to seek the admiration of others? Does the would-be king still need power over others? And the wannabe dolphin? Was she seeking escape? From what?

So, if we dig down, we can understand, and if we understand we can choose to change. Maybe, when we understand, we like what we find, and choose to keep it. Maybe we think, “that’s stupid” and choose to change it. But whichever it is, we have the choice, we do not have to be dictated to by our childhood emotions.

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Counselling in Wokingham – Little Things

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 little things annoy you? Does your partner put the toilet roll in the holder the wrong way round? Do you resent having to join a short queue in the local shop? Do you find yourself irritated when the traffic lights change to red just as you approach them?

These are all things that fail what might be called the “test of time”. What difference will they make in a year’s time? Come to that, what difference will they make in a day’s time? Or even an hour’s time? No difference at all, of course – so why do they annoy you?

little3The answer is, I think, that they don’t really annoy you. Yes, you get annoyed, but that’s not about which way the toilet roll is facing. Really you are annoyed about something else – something more important. Perhaps you feel, deep down, that your partner doesn’t care about your feelings and doesn’t listen to you – and the wrongly-hanging loo roll is a sign of this. Perhaps you are feeling put upon by friends and relatives, and that you never get any “me” time. So standing in a queue at the shop is one more thing that leaves you feeling that there is too little time in your life – that you have too little control.

little1If little things annoy you all the time, you probably need to try to look below the surface to understand what’s really going on for you. But for most of us, these things are not a continual annoyance. We are not tormented by the traffic light goblins who wait for us to approach before switching to red. We do not spend our lives taking the loo rolls out of holders and turning them round. For most of us, little annoyances are occasional things. Mostly I don’t mind queuing but sometimes I just can’t face it. Why is this? Why do these things annoy us sometimes and not others?

Often, the answers are obvious – we are annoyed by the traffic lights because we are running a little late, for example. But even in this simple example, we can go deeper. Why does being a little late matter to us, when for other people, being late is not a big deal? – indeed for some it seems to be a way of life. So to understand why little things annoy us sometimes we need to look deeper – perhaps our cultural background has something to do with this – perhaps we are still influenced by our parents’ standards of punctuality, or tidiness, or whatever it might be.

little2Usually, the reasons for our annoyance lie in the past. But sometimes, curiously, they lie in the future. I remember talking to a client who found herself irritated by work colleagues who were resistant to change for no good reason. They had always been like that – and she had worked with them a long time – but her irritation was new, or at least much more intense than it had been in the past. She had put up with it for years, she realised, because it fitted with her vision of the future. The plan was that she and her partner would stick with well-paid but stressful jobs for five more years before setting up their own business – but the sudden end of her relationship meant that this dream was no longer going to become reality. And this meant that she no longer needed to stay in her job – it was no longer part of the future plan – and so the minor irritations it brought became much less bearable for her.

So, if little things are annoying you, there will be a reason, but not necessarily the one you first think of…

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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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