Counselling in Wokingham – Don’t Kiss the Frog!

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

frog3In fairy stories, the princess kisses the frog, and he turns into a handsome prince.

About six weeks ago I blogged about Dr.Jekyll and Mr.Hyde, about the idea that there is good and evil in all of us. In the story, the evil Hyde, eventually overcomes Jekyll and there is an implication here that our true nature is bad, but that we keep that hidden by a combination of strength of will, intelligence and social pressures. And the suggestion seems to be that, without such constraints, we would be savages. And the same message exists in other books – Lord of the Flies comes to mind.

I suggested in that blog that this belief about ourselves fuels an inner conflict – there are parts in us that we don’t want others to see, and so we fight to keep them hidden. But why fight ourselves?   If instead of seeing your Mr.Hyde as being evil you could see him as being hurt, as needing help, you stand much more chance of loving and understanding yourself and of harnessing Mr.Hyde’s energy in constructive ways.

We all have different aspects to our personalities and they surface at different times. Most likely, you behave differently at a party to how you do at work, or in a library, or when you’re tired, or when you’re having sex. But are any of these behaviours any more real than any others? Some of them probably feel more comfortable, more natural – you are more confident in some situations than others – but they are all real, they are all part of you.

frog2Equally, our friends and loved ones also have different aspects to their personalities and we can call fall into the Jekyll and Hyde way of thinking about them, too. You may see your partner behaving very differently in different situations, and you may react differently to them – you may feel proud or embarrassed or loving or angry or surprised at different times, in different situations. Some of these feelings will be more pleasant than others and you might wish that your partner should behave differently in some situations, so that you can feel good all the time.

But you can’t make other people change – it’s only your partner who can change how they behave. You can’t make the horrible Hyde go away so that you and Jekyll can live in bliss. If you believe you can do that, you can find your self trapped on a mission – a mission impossible – to “cure” your partner. It’s not that Jekyll is real and Hyde is an impostor, they are parts of the same person, you can’t have one without the other.

People can change their behaviour, of course, and if you can say to your partner “I know that you like to let your hair down sometimes – and it’s great to see you enjoying yourself – but last night when you danced naked in the street in front of my boss I was very embarrassed” – if you can say something like that, hopefully they will listen to you and have a constructive conversation about it. They may be able to stop doing that altogether – or you may be able to find a compromise (“not in front of my boss” – “I’ll keep my socks on”) – or you may agree to accept the naked dancing and be able to laugh about it with your boss.

frog1Whatever compromise you might come to, it’s not magic. There is no potion that will get rid of the embarrassing Mr.Hyde. In fairy stories, the princess kisses the frog, and he turns into a handsome prince.

In fairy stories.

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Counselling in Wokingham – An Eye for an Eye

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 recent terrorist attacks in Paris and the retaliatory French air strikes got me thinking about – among other things – revenge.

eye2The desire for revenge is a common human reaction to being hurt, I think. It is an emotion that I encounter often when I work with couples after an affair. Frequently the non-affair partner feels the desire to exact revenge, sometimes on their partner, sometimes on the third person. And this desire for revenge can take various forms – sometimes physical violence, or destroying property. Sometimes it’s an attempt to destroy reputation by revealing the affair – “telling the world”. Or people may attempt to exact emotional revenge, by having an affair themselves, or possibly by confronting their partner or the third party publicly, to humiliate them. Or much in the news recently is “revenge porn” – another attempt to humiliate, I think.

So, if we are hurt, there can be a desire to “hurt back”. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, as the saying goes. The French air strikes are just that, I think. The question of whether air strikes will eliminate terrorism or whether they provoke it is open for debate – and whatever your point of view on that, such arguments do not translate back to personal acts of revenge. It is difficult to argue, I think, that having a revenge affair will help to stop people having affairs in the future.

There can be an element of competitiveness in seeking revenge. Suppose someone cuts you up on the road – they get ahead of you – a place in front of you. They are one rung higher up the ladder and you are one rung lower. And that can provoke some people into acts of revenge – road rage.

eye3Justice, too, is as important element in revenge. If your partner has cheated on you they have done something bad – they have broken the rules, the marriage vows, the agreement – by having sex with someone else. And when people break rules they have to be punished, don’t they? That is justice, and as the legal system in the UK does not punish adultery, people sometimes feel justified in “taking the law into their own hands”. Rules have been broken, the gloves are off, anything goes.

Does revenge help? I think for an individual, an act of revenge can result in a feeling of triumph or elation. However, very often this is a temporary thing – after that initial reaction the avenger can be left feeling regretful about what they’ve done. They can be left feeling that their act of revenge has really been rather petty – that they have descended to the same level as their partner. Rather than being better than their partner, they are just as bad. Again, the road rage example is valid, I think. If another road user drives badly, cutting you up, then you chasing them, ramming them, accosting them, are reactions that are out of proportion and in retrospect can feel silly. Better surely, to drive sensibly yourself, to keep clear of the other driver, with the thought that if they carry on driving like that, they will probably live to regret it.

eye1Some people do seem to regard life as a competition – even a war. The small transaction – of being hurt and extracting revenge – can be a battle won. And each battle won is a step towards winning the war. The trouble with this way of thinking is that where there are winners there are also losers, and if we adopt that competitive approach to our personal life – to our relationships, we can end up hurting people who are close to us, and doing more harm than good.

The pacifist will argue that retaliatory air strikes are not the way to eliminate terrorism. They will argue in favour of dialogue and mutual understanding. Whether that is the best way forward with ISIS, I will not pretend to know. But in our personal lives, we are not at war, and stepping away from the conflict – attempting to understand and compromise – is far more likely to bring a positive outcome than an act of revenge.

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Counselling in Wokingham – Traffic Lights

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 was sitting in my car waiting at the traffic lights yesterday, thinking about – well – traffic lights, and the emotions they evoke.

lights1Red lights annoy me – they hold me up. I dislike having to wait. If I know where I am going, or what I want, I like to happen as soon as possible, I get impatient with waiting. Buy why? As I think about it now, I realise that I am not like this in all situations. There can be something very exciting about waiting, at times. The build-up to an important event, for example, can be compelling. “Tingling with anticipation”. I remember a decent amateur footballer I used to know who talked about the build up to a match, which started when he’d get home from his match on a Saturday. Unpacking the kit, washing it, cleaning his boots – all these seemingly tedious tasks were part of a building excitement, a ritual that led to another math in a week’s time. The build-up to Christmas can be similar and the ritual of opening the advent calendar, like the footballer cleaning his boots, adds to the anticipation of the event itself.

lights3Amber lights can be even more annoying than red, I think. Sitting well back in a queue, as the lights change, it can seem to take forever between the lights changing and the car in front of us moving. I have an idea – a little fantasy – that when the lights change, everybody should move off immediately, rather than waiting for the person immediately in front of them to move. Think how much time we’d all save if we did that! And what could possibly go wrong? Well, I suppose there might be the occasional crash. But it’s strange how distorted our impression of time can be. A few seconds sitting in a queue can seem a long time when we’re ready to go but others delay us. I’m aware that when I’m sitting at the front of the queue, I always try to make sure that I move off promptly when the lights change, so as not to hold everybody else up, even for a few seconds!

Amber lights, too, can be a signal to stop – that the lights are about to go red. Increasingly, they seem to be a seen as a challenge. Drivers seem to accelerate through amber lights as a matter of routine. A rebellion? Defiance? Outsmarting the authorities?

lights2Green for go. Good news, surely? Well, I remember being driven, in my teens, by a family friend who hated green lights. As she approached them, she became fearful that they would change to amber, and that she would not be able to brake in time to stop. So she would slow down, driving as if the lights were already red, just in case they changed. And then, if the lights remained green, would come the awful decision, for her, about when to accelerate and go through them. She was, I suppose, a pessimist. Maybe she expected things to go wrong for her. Perhaps life was littered with disappointments and she had learnt to take nothing for granted. She may have felt that he idea of a free passage through the lights was just a trick.

How do the different phases of the lights affect you?

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Counselling in Wokingham – The Best Of Both Worlds

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 do you regard people who are single? By this I mean people who are not in a long-term relationship. Generally, I think society tends to regard it as a sign of failure. Single people are “left on the shelf”, “sad and lonely”. The assumption can be that people are single because they can’t find – or can’t keep – a partner. There is an implication that there’s something wrong with them.

single1Looking at things a different way, I’m sure that we all know people who are “stuck” in unhappy relationships – and they can also be “sad and lonely”.   We could refer to such people as being “fallen off the shelf” – but we don’t – and I can’t think of an equivalent expression for their situation.

So I think there is a sweeping assumption – a societal expectation – that being in a relationship is preferable to not being in one. Any relationship, it might seem, is better than no relationship at all. But clearly that’s not the case, and yet some people choose to stay in desperately unhappy relationships, sometimes for fear of being on their own, of being “left on the shelf”.

single3Being single can be a choice that people make – and a legitimate and sensible choice. Having another person sharing your home and your life is complicated. You can clash, because inevitably there will be times when you have different needs. This means that to help the relationship run smoothly you will need, at times, to make compromises, to do things that you don’t particularly want to do. And relationships are emotionally complicated things – you trust someone and that makes you vulnerable, you can get hurt.

For many of us, these complications are worthwhile. Indeed, the unpredictability of our partner can be rather exciting. But many people prefer to keep things simple, they don’t want surprises, they want to have control of their lives and their emotions. And so for them to be single is sensible and logical – it is not that they are not “left on the shelf”, it is a valid life choice that they are making.

single2Boundaries are important, and those who choose to be single are maintaining their boundaries in a different way to those who choose to be in a long-term relationship. Within a relationship, we still have need to maintain boundaries in a way that works for us. Suppose that your partner is struggling emotionally. That affects you – it can drag you down – your world can be turned upside down. You will want to support them but beyond a certain point you may have to protect yourself by asking them to get the support they need from a professional – the strain on you may be too great.

We tend to see the question of being single or not as being binary – you’re one or the other. It doesn’t have to be like this. I worked with a couple recently who saw it differently. They had children together, they had been together over ten years, they had great times together, they had a good sex life. But they struggled to live with each other, they had different values, different standards, they both admitted to being stubborn, and they clashed with each other a lot. So they agreed to live separately. They were still a couple, but they had two homes. For them, this was the best of both worlds.

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Counselling in Wokingham – Hiding

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

There was recently a programme on TV called “Hunted” in which contestants tried to evade capture for 28 days despite the best efforts of a team of hunters armed with all the modern technology.

Hiding1What is the appeal of such a scenario? It’s one person against the world, I think – can the little guy beat the system? – can the underdog win through? It touches on the same theme as Orwell’s 1984 – the battle of the individual against the system, the fight for liberty, freedom, choice. It’s a fight for significance, I think. We are each just one small person in a huge universe, and in the big picture are completely insignificant. But if we can beat the system, get the better of it, we can feel bigger than it, we can feel that we have real value.

It’s a big game of “Hide and Seek”, which children have been playing for centuries, and there’s something appealing in this both for the hiders and the seekers, of course, otherwise the game would not work.

Why is it nice to hide? Don’t we all want to be noticed? Being ignored, being insignificant, is a bad feeling, isn’t it? And yet sometimes the idea of disappearing can be very appealing. I suppose sometimes that’s about running away. If there’s too much stress, if you have too many responsibilities or there are too many demands on you, the idea of vanishing can be very appealing. That’s part of the attraction of a holiday, I suppose – to get away from it all.

hiding3This seems to link to depression. It’s a withdrawal from life, a disengagement from others. In a state of depression, it can feel like there’s a barrier between the world and the depressed person – a wall they are unable to climb – so they find themselves in a very lonely and isolated place. And horrible as that place is, it perhaps represents a safer place that the real world, with all that means for that particular person.

There are many different situations in which we do like to hide – to avoid embarrassment, or humiliation, or being a scapegoat, or being bullied. In seminars or meetings, typically the front row is that last that the audience will choose to fill – most people prefer to be inconspicuous at the back, or in the middle.

hiding2Sometimes we like to be noticed – at other times we like to hide. And most of the contestants on “Hunted” struggled to find the right balance. Hiding for 28 days was difficult, and even though they could find situations where they were apparently safe from the hunters, they would take risks in order to communicate with their family, or to score more points over the seekers. And I suppose there is a contradiction here, in that the contestants had chosen to hide on a national TV show. They had chosen to hide in a public way – in order to be noticed. And maybe, for the most part, that’s why we like to hide.

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Counselling in Wokingham – Chess, Computers and Bricklayers

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 ever get the feeling that there’s something missing from your life – but you don’t know what it is? Sometimes when people first come to counselling they’ll say “I had everything”, usually as a prelude to telling me how they’ve made mess of things, how they’ve ruined their “perfect” life.

chess3But I suppose they didn’t really “have everything” or they wouldn’t have been tempted to change things. I think often these people have something undefined missing from their lives, there’s a feeling for them that there’s a gap somewhere. But because they don’t understand the gap they don’t necessarily know how to plug it. It’s like trying to fill a hole without understanding what materials to use. It’s no good trying to stop a leak by plugging the hole with tissue paper, for example.

So sometimes people make decisions that turn out to be wrong – moving house, changing jobs, ending a relationship, investing in a new business venture – all these things might be helpful in certain circumstances but not in others. Sometimes people try to fill the gap physically – by putting things into their bodies – alcohol or chocolate, for example, can be attempts to fill a gap that will inevitably only bring temporary respite.

It’s important to try to understand the gap, and it can be really useful to talk about it. Feelings can be difficult to understand, they can nag away at us, trapped inside us. Talking about them gives them more substance, more shape and makes it easier to understand them. Feelings do have logic to them, but the logic can be paradoxical, contradictory, and irrational.

chess1When I was at school, I was a keen chess player, and I remember a piece of advice I was given then. When you’re playing a game of chess and you don’t really have a concrete plan, it can be a good idea to identify which of your pieces seems to be positioned badly, and position it somewhere better. Small changes can lead to bid improvements.

Similarly, when there’s a gap in your life, you don’t necessarily need to do anything drastic. Instead, identify something that you’re not happy with and do something small to change it. If your work lacks challenge, can you talk with your boss to see if there’s something else you could be doing? If you’re bored watching TV every evening, can you try reading a book or playing a board game?

chess2Making small changes like this doesn’t necessarily fill that gap, but it can help you to understand the gap more. I used to have a job fixing PCs when they first started to become popular. I didn’t have too much idea of what I was doing, but by switching components one at a time I could identify the broken part by trial and error.

Similarly, if there’s a gap in your life, you can try fixing it in this way. It can take many bricks to fill a hole in a wall, buy you can only lay them one at a time.

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Counselling in Wokingham – Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

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

Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, a classic story by Robert Louis Stevenson, reworked time and time again. A well-known there, of the good man and the evil, both contained in the same body. The idea that we all have a dark side that we keep hidden, that we need to keep under control.

JekyllHyde1Do you feel like that about yourself? Are there things about you that you don’t like, that you struggle to subdue? Maybe you can get very angry, say things you don’t mean, behave badly towards others. Maybe you can be jealous, or vindictive or spiteful and you regret it when you behave like that. Maybe you have a tendency towards laziness that you dislike. I think most of us would say that there are bad sides to our character, things we wish we could get rid of.

That way of looking at ourselves – the Jekyll and Hyde model – depicts a battle between good and evil. So, if you feel you have a Mr Hyde in you, does that mean that you have to battle all the time to keep him down, to keep him under control? I think it does feel like that for many of us.

For the fortunate, the battle is not too difficult to win – and the consequences of the occasional loss are not too great. If you occasionally drink too much, or are rude to people, or slob about watching a lot of TV and wasting your time, does it matter? Let Mr Hyde have his fun, you can apologise later, your friends will understand the occasional lapse – you’re only human after all.

For the less fortunate, their Mr.Hyde impacts on their lives and the lives of those close to them in a significant and serious way. For these people the battle is not easily won and the consequences of losing the fight are dire. And there’s a downward spiral – each lapse can leave them feeling worse about themselves and that makes the battle more difficult to fight, even to the point of surrender. Ultimately Mr Hyde was too strong for Dr Jekyll, of course.

Jekyllhyde3What can be useful here, I think, is to look at things differently. Your Mr Hyde is not a different person living in your body, he’s a part of you. Where has he come from, why is he there? Rather than trying to get rid of MR Hyde, try understanding him instead. So if he’s an angry person, perhaps in part he is copying behaviour you saw as a child, in one of your parents perhaps? He may think that’s a normal way to behave in certain circumstances. What makes him angry? Rudeness? Injustice? Rejection? What triggers him, why is that so important to him, when to other people it may not matter nearly so much? What life experiences have led Mr Hyde to be the way he is? What are his beliefs, his values?

If you can understand your Mr Hyde, you have a chance to help him. He is not an evil man, he is a part of you and he behaves and feels the way he does for a reason. He doesn’t want a battle. Probably what he wants is to be helped. He may be like a little boy or girl who has been hurt badly. He may need someone who can get past the anger, or jealousy, or spitefulness, someone who will look after him. He may feel like your enemy, but he really wants you to be his friend.

Jekyllhyde2If you can make friends with Mr Hyde, you can work together with him. His anger can give you energy, his laziness can help you to destress, his sadness can give you sympathy for others.

Mr Hyde is just like the rest of us, he wants to be loved. And who better to love him than Dr Jekyll, who has known him all his life, who knows him better than anybody. Give the poor man a hug.

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