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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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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