Counselling in Wokingham – Just Being

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

Are you someone who can just be? Can you sit in silence, at peace with yourself and with your thoughts?

being2In this day and age, most of us find ourselves busier than ever. Work demands more of us than ever before, mobile phones mean we can always be contacted – and if we have kids they are probably involved in 101 different activities that require us to provide a taxi service. TV and the internet tend to be major sources of entertainment these days, so that even at times when we are on our own, there is always the opportunity to fill our life with sounds and pictures that occupy our thoughts. More than ever in the history of mankind, we are bombarded with external stresses and external stimuli.

Do you sometimes get the feeling that you’d like the world to stop for a bit? Being able to get away from the hustle and bustle can be important. Some people meditate, or walk, others might listen to music or take a long hot bath. There’s something about being in the open air that is relaxing – and for many people something about being near water that is very helpful. Hence, I suppose, our love of sun and of seaside holidays.

being1Over Easter, I visited the Matisse exhibition at the Tate Modern and found that just sitting with the images he’d created took me to a very, peaceful, happy, secure place and left me enormously refreshed afterwards.

Some people, however, find it really hard to escape the real world in any way. The idea of spending an evening in is really difficult for them – they need to be busy, to be out, to be in the company of others. I think that often these people are keeping busy to protect themselves because, for whatever reason, they are not content just to be – they don’t like their own company – they don’t like themselves.

being3This is connected with boredom – which can be a defensive mask – a reaction to unpleasant situations. It is also connected to addiction; one of the triggers for an addictive activity can be boredom and very often the addiction is another way of masking bad or unpleasant feelings. In the moment, the addict feels good, euphoric – though typically this is quickly followed by negative feelings.

One of the keys to beating an addiction is to find an alternative behaviour. This can be an alternative addiction – and some addictions are a lot healthier than others. Replacing a drug habit with a fitness regime, for instance, is a big step forward. But learning just to be – not to rely on external stimuli – can be an immensely important step for an addict, who can learn not to need any kind of masking behaviour, but to be content in their own skin.

It may be something that you find difficult – it may even seem impossible – but actually it’s something that we can all learn to do. Just sitting quietly for ten seconds can be a start – and the ten seconds can become a minute, and so on. There may be demons lurking inside you, but it’s surely better to turn and quietly face them than to blot them out, to mask them, to run away from them.

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Counselling in Wokingham – Excuses, Excuses

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

It’s been over two weeks since I posted a blog entry – I’ve been busy – I just haven’t had time.

Or have I?

excuses3In reality, I have had time, but I’ve chosen to do other things, which were maybe more important, or more fun, or more relaxing. But the time has been there, and my failure to blog has been a choice rather than a necessity.

We hide behind these expressions, don’t we? “I haven’t had a second” – “I’ve been too busy” – “My hands are tied” – “I have no choice” – “I’m sorry but I can’t help you” – “I forgot”. Of course sometimes these reasons are genuine but often I think we use them to hide the fact that we are making a choice that we fear will be unpopular. It is easier to offer an excuse that to explain the real reason – “I did think about doing it but I couldn’t be bothered” – “I could help you if I chose to but actually I think that what you’re asking me to do is unreasonable and I’m not going to do it” – these statements are likely to lead to a confrontation, and that is something that most of us prefer to avoid.

If we use excuses too often with the same people – whether friends, families or work colleagues, they stop being believable. “I’ll do it tomorrow” might work for a couple of days, but beyond that people will start to doubt you, not to take what to say at face value, to mistrust you, to lose respect for you.

excuses2When this dynamic enters a relationship, it can create a downward spiral. The excuses can grow into lies – increasingly elaborate lies. The seeds of mistrust can grow into deep suspicion, and feelings of anger and betrayal can develop.

Most, maybe even all, successful relationships require mutual respect and trust. I am not just talking about intimate romantic relationships, but relationships between family members, friends and work colleagues. Mutual respect and trust are generally slow to build, but can be quickly destroyed – and once destroyed are much more difficult to build for a second time.

excuses1Respect and trust are important in our relationships with other, but also, perhaps even more so, in our relationship with ourself. Just as we can make excuses to others, we can make excuses to ourselves – “I’m going to give up smoking but not yet because I’m very stressed at the moment” – “I was going to mow the lawn but it looked as if it might rain”. And yet we know that these things are just excuses, really, and so an internal dialogue can develop in which we mistrust ourselves, are suspicious of ourselves, become angry and negative about ourselves.

There is, I suppose, a place for “little white lies” in our interactions with others. If they don’t get found out, they have done their job, and everyone is happy. But beware of the little white lies you tell yourself – they’re bound to get found out….you can’t fool yourself!

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Counselling in Wokingham – The Equinox

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 equinox has just passed, and so the days are (just) longer than the nights and we move towards another spring and another summer.  The change in length of the days and the nights is predictable, like the ebb and flow of the tides.  But will the longer days lead us into a blazing hot summer or a disappointing, wet one?  That we cannot know, not in the UK at any rate.

equinox2The pattern of days and nights is constant, a sine curve of longer days, flattening out until gradually the days shorten, accelerating towards the equinox and then moving into a mirrored pattern of longer nights.  The pattern is dictated by the movement of the earth around the sun – by external forces.

As humans, we are also affected by external forces – indeed some people believe that sun and the moon are significant influences on us, as they are with the days and nights and tides.  But other forces are at work as well – our environment has a big influence on us – what others are doing around us; the way a room is decorated; the sounds we hear; what we smell – all these things influence our moods.  People differ in this regard; some people seem, for example, to be strongly influenced by the weather while for others it seems to make little difference to their mood.

Many of these external forces are beyond our control, but some are not.  For example, rearranging furniture or redecorating a room may be things we can decide to do and act on.  And certainly most of us are able to control what we eat – and undoubtedly this will affect our mood and our behaviour to some extent.

equinox3There is another, significant, level of control we have over our moods, which distinguishes us from the days and nights, or the oceans which are pulled by the moon, whether they like it or not.  As human beings we have free will – self-determination – we can make decisions and instigate changes.  We can control what we eat, but more than that, we can control how we react to external forces.

We might be angered by a traffic jam, or frightened by a spider, or find ourselves saddened by the memories a piece of music holds.  We can’t necessarily control these feelings (and may not want to) but we can control how we react to them.  In the traffic jam we can shout and scream and beat our fists against the steering wheel, or we can take a deep breath and put on some soothing music and wait for the traffic to clear.  I am reminded of John Cleese in Fawlty Towers, thrashing his broken-down car with the branch of a tree.  Such a ridiculous waste of energy is hilarious, and yet we all do this, I think; we all react, at times, in ways that are inappropriate, unhelpful, even damaging to ourselves and to others.

equinox1It seems to me that as we develop as human beings we assemble a toolbox – a set of strategies that we use to cope with different situations – with different emotions.  Most of the time we can find the right strategy to cope with a given situation but sometimes we find that the emotions are too strong for our toolset – As Basil Fawlty often does – or we find ourselves experiencing feelings that we’ve never dealt with before, that we lack the right tools to deal with.

But one of our great talents as humans is our resourcefulness, and I think that there are always ways of dealing with new and difficult situations.  The tools that we have may not work exactly as they are, but they can be adapted, we can develop something we used before, we can combine some different techniques, we can improvise.

The days and nights have no tools at their disposal, they are completely at the mercy of the sun and the earth.  The tides are dictated by the moon.  For us, there are many things that we can’t control, but there are many more things that we can control.  Choice is, perhaps, our greatest asset.

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Counselling in Wokingham – More marks out of ten (or eleven)

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 deal with your emotions?  Although we are all different, I think that there are two styles : externalisation and internalisation.

The externaliser expresses what they are feeling – they talk very freely about their emotions, or they may show their emotions in physical ways.  But the externaliser tends to have a default position that when they are dealing with heightened emotions, they show them.

flood3On the other hand, the internaliser doesn’t show their emotions very readily. Instead they keep things inside, and process them quietly on their own.  When they are doing this it tends expend a lot of energy and they are likely to withdraw, to go quiet, maybe to take themselves completely away from other people.

I see this as a sliding scale – a continuum.  If we were able to score our emotional energy on a scale from 1 to 10, an externaliser will be showing their emotions when their score is less than 5, whereas an internaliser won’t start to let their feelings about until the level goes above 5.  We have probably all come across people who are at extremes of the scale – there are people who “wear their heart on their sleeve” – they are volatile and excitable.  They maybe let their emotions out at level 1 or 2.  On the other hand there are the people who are always calm and collected; nothing seems to ruffle them.  Their feelings need to be up at 9 or 10 (or even 11) before they show any signs.

flood1It’s a bit like a flood barrier.  A low barrier – a 1 – lets the river overflow easily whereas a high barrier – a 10 – will need a tsunami before its defences are breached.  But what the 1s and 10s have in common is that they are people who struggle to deal with their emotions – they are uncomfortable with them.  The extreme externaliser handles this by letting their feelings out as soon as possible – by giving them away, even after the slightest rainfall.  The extreme internaliser handles their feelings by squashing them – by denying they exist, until the tsunami comes along.  If you can remember that far back, might think of Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe as two extremes – at least on the tennis court,

In thinking about this, I realise that it is not quite this simple because people will have different ways of handling different sorts of emotion.  Some people always seem to be chirpy – so they can express happiness easily but their sad feelings are kept inside.  Others may come across as very anxious, fearful people, or very angry people – so they tend to express these emotions much more readily than others.

flood2It can be helpful to think about where you are on this scale – and where friends and family are as well.  If you are an externaliser, it is worth thinking about the effect this can have on others – are you dumping your feelings on them too much?  And if you are an internaliser, perhaps you are trying to do too much yourself – it’s hard work maintaining those huge barriers.

I don’t think we can make drastic changes to our natural styles but I think that an awareness of them can help us to adapt.  Moving from a 2 to a 3 – or from an 8 to a 7 – can have a big impact on those around us and is something that is achievable.

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Counselling in Wokingham – Eleven Out Of Ten

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

Bobtanner2I used to have an eccentric old art master at school, by the name of Bob Tanner, who used, sometimes, to give people a mark of eleven, or even twelve out of ten.  When he sat down to mark homework he would start at the top of the pile, giving the first piece of work he saw, let us say, eight out of ten.  If he next came to a piece of work that was better, he would award it nine out of ten.  The next improvement would get ten out of ten, and then where did he go from there?  If the next offering was better still, it had to get eleven.  By the same token, I suppose in theory he could have given some homework minus marks, though even my own pathetic efforts at drawing never achieved this nadir.

Bob Tanner’s way of marking was relative, rather than absolute, I suppose.  Every piece of work received a fair mark relative to the other pieces, but the theoretical maximum mark of ten was meaningless.

This week, I was talking to a client who was very critical of herself in her everyday life, and we explored how she judged herself.  She talked about giving herself marks, and said that ten out of ten was never achievable, that realistically eight out of ten was the most she could ever hope for from herself.  But that extra two points that she could never achieve seemed to hurt her, to leave her feeling bad about herself.  When I tried to get her to talk about things she was proud of, everything was qualified – she could always do better – nothing was ever really a success.

Bobtanner3Of course, looking at how we can do better is a positive thing – if we don’t do that we can become arrogant and complacent.  Aiming to do as well as we can – or to do better than we’ve done before – gives us something to strive for, and something we can achieve, but perfection is different – impossible to achieve except perhaps in isolated cases.  To aim for perfection is to set yourself up to fail.  And besides, who decides what perfection is?

If we adopt a Bob Tanner attitude to judging ourselves, we can look at what we do in a relative, rather than an absolute way.  This means that there is no “out of ten”, no perfection that we can aspire to, but that instead we think about how we are doing differently.  We might judge ourselves in various ways, for example by comparing ourselves to others; by looking at the impact we have on others; by looking at some sort of internal standards we have for ourselves.  But none of these ways of judging really lends itself to giving marks out of ten.  Instead, we can ask ourselves questions that are more meaningful such as : “What did I do well?” and “What can I do better?”

Bobtanner1We can constantly strive to improve ourselves.  However well we do, there is always more we can achieve.  I wonder how many out of ten Bob Tanner might have given to Van Gogh?  187/10?  So, tomorrow, Vincent, can you achieve 188?

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Counselling in Wokingham – Losing a Dream

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

Loss can come in different forms.  Bereavement can be a huge loss, of course, but loss can also come in the form of the end of a relationship or an important friendship.  The common thread here seems to be that something that is important to us internally, something that is part of us, has been taken away, not by choice but by force.

loss1People talk about the hole that is left inside them when they suffer a loss, and it can feel as if something has been ripped out of you.  What is that?  What is it exactly that has been taken away from you?

I think what many of us do is to “internalise” important people in our lives – we carry little versions of them around inside us and they provide us with things which are important to us – comfort, security, excitement perhaps.  We will get different things from different people, and the mix of what we need will be particular to us.  For some people companionship might be the most important thing, for others a sense of adventure may be what they need.

So we carry internalised versions of people around with us to help us – and we do this with other things as well – pets, for example – but we also do this with ideas.  It can be very important for some people to have plans, for example.  Without a plan they feel lost, out of control.  With a plan, they feel much more secure and confident.  If you are someone who likes to plan ahead, or has a vision – a dream – then the realisation that the plans are unrealistic, that the dream cannot happen, can also be a great loss.

loss2I worked with a client recently who lost a sort of dream.  As a child, he had always looked up to an uncle; his father was not a strong role model but his uncle was, and my client’s vision of who he wanted to be was based very heavily on his uncle.  So he carried with him the idea of how his uncle was, and how he wanted to be, and that gave him something that he was constantly taking out, looking at, and working towards.

However, as my client grew into adulthood he started to see his uncle’s flaws – and came to realise that his uncle was not at all the person he thought he was.  Looking at him through adult eyes gave him a very different picture of his wonderful uncle.  The loss of this childhood role model was a great blow – it seemed that his dream had been destroyed.

But although his uncle was not the person he thought he was, was not a good role model – that didn’t mean the model was wrong.  The vision my client had, of how he wanted to be, was still a valid one.  In counselling my client was able to disentangle the role model from the person, keeping what was still important to him, discarding what was not.

loss3That, I think, is part of the process we go through in recovering from a big loss.  It is about adjusting our internal model of the person, or the dream, or the idea.  It’s not like a piece of machinery, where a broken part can be replaced with a new one. We can’t find a direct replacement for our loss (although people do try to, for instance with “rebound” relationships).  Instead we need to reposition things, adjust them, retune them so that we are able to function in a similar (but different) way to how we were before the loss.

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Counselling in Wokingham – Banging Your Head Against A Brick Wall

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

Do you ever feel as if you’re banging your head against a brick wall?  I think we all get that feeling sometimes.  There’s something we want, perhaps something we feel we deserve, that we just can’t make happen.

Why is this?  I suppose there might be many reasons.

brick2You might have run into one of those bureaucratic nightmares, when you keep getting passed from one department to the next, with nobody able to solve your problem, nobody willing to take responsibility, seemingly nobody who cares about you.

You might be dealing with someone who is very stubborn or selfish.  They won’t see sense, they won’t see the bigger picture, or they are maybe just scared of change.  But for whatever reason, they won’t do what you ask, even though it’s clear to you that it’s the right thing to do.  Teenagers can often be like this, selfish, stubborn, fiercely independent.  I know I was that sort of teenager!

brick3Our partners, too, can be obstinate and difficult, and ex partners even more so.  It can be impossible to communicate with them, they can refuse to negotiate or compromise and that can be an incredibly frustrating place to be in.  It can feel as if you’re continually offering olive branches, trying to find new ways to make things work, as if you’re bending over backwards to accommodate them – but it’s like banging your head against a brick wall.  You just can’t win.

There are two sides to every story and the “brick wall” will have their own reasons for being difficult, stubborn and unreasonable – and it’s very unlikely that they would use those adjectives to describe themselves.  The difficult teenager may be striving for independence – searching for their own identity – and the last thing they want is to be told what to do, however much sense it makes, however obvious it is that it is the right thing to do.  That stubborn ex partner may be very angry with you, or frightened or their own feelings – or of yours – and keeping the barriers up may be the only thing they can do – at least for the time being – to keep themselves safe.  They may just need more time.

brick1The thing about brick walls is that they are solid and strong.  That’s their whole reason for being, really.  So they don’t tend to respond much if you hit your head against them – and hitting them harder, or more often, doesn’t make any difference either.  It just hurts more.  So you need to find another approach.  Rather than get angry with the bureaucrats who won’t help you, it may be better to take a more gentle approach. Or perhaps you need to accept that they are not going to help you and talk to their supervisors, or write a complaint letter – or maybe just accept that you are not going to get what you want and drop the matter.

I have never seen anyone break down a brick wall by smashing it with their head.  So if you feel as if you’re banging your head against a brick wall, ask yourself why you’re doing it.  Although it can feel as if you have no choice, there is always a choice – you can always choose to stop – at least for a while – or to take a completely different approach. Banging your head against a brick wall hurts and gets you nowhere.  But it is not the brick wall that is hitting you, it is you that is hitting the brick wall.  It is you that is choosing to do this, and you that can choose to stop.  There has got to be a less painful way of achieving nothing….

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