Counselling in Wokingham – Cartography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul Cockayne – 07791

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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Counselling in Wokingham – Holding on to Those We Love

Paul Cockayne – 07791

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

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

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

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

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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