Counselling in Wokingham – Plans

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

If you’re going out for a walk, do you go prepared? Do you know were you’re going – do you have a map and a compass, and a destination in mind? Or do you like to follow your nose? If you’re in an unknown area, do you happily just put one foot in front of the other, treating each step as a part of an adventure, without worrying about where you might be in a hour?

plans1Some of us value safety and security, others like the unexpected, a sense of danger perhaps. Is it important to you to have a plan in life? Some people like to know where they’re going, to have things mapped out. Others are more content to see what comes up, to follow whatever path seems right to them at the time.

It is not unusual for people who love to plan to come to counselling at a time when their plan’s been destroyed. Quite often, they will have had a life plan since they were a child. They have always known what career they want, they have expected to meet Mr or Mrs Right, to have children – these things they have known since the age of 8, and they have worked towards them and everything has fitted in with the plan until…..

plans3…maybe you always wanted to join the army but found you were unfit. (I am reminded of the Peter Cook / Dudley Moore sketch “One Leg Too Few”).  Maybe that dream relationship turns into a nightmare. Maybe you and your partner, for whatever reason, are unable to have children.

All sorts of things might go wrong with that life plan, whatever it may be. Plans concocted by 8-year-olds are unlikely to take practicability into account, of course.  But if you are a meticulous planner, if you have everything mapped out, it can be a terrible shock to find that things aren’t going to work out the way you thought they would. You have gone on your walk, with map and compass, only to find that the map doesn’t match the terrain, that the compass doesn’t work, that you are hopelessly lost.

At might seem that there is less opportunity for disappointment if you don’t make plans. If you don’t know where you are trying to get to, it doesn’t matter if you don’t get there, does it?

Plan2Unfortunately things are not always rosy for these people either. When they come to counselling, they’ll often say things like “I don’t know what I want, but it’s not this”. They can find themselves overwhelmed by a feeling that things are not right for them – without having any idea of how to put things right. They are every bit as lost as the planner, in strange an unknown territory, without any means of getting to safety, or even, in their case, of knowing what safety might look like if they found it.

In such situations, panic can easily set in, but unfortunately that tends to make things worse – rash decisions, running round in circles, expending energy, getting nowhere. Better to sit and take stock, to let things settle. And counselling can help, of course, by helping you make a new plan, or a first plan, or by helping you to find a way to live happily without any plan whatsoever.

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Counselling in Wokingham – The Broken Record

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

I suppose we all get unwelcome callers on our doorsteps. People who want to clean our gutters, or sell us double glazing, or do a survey about something unimportant to us, or persuade us to vote for them, or convert us to their religion.

brokenrecord1I suppose, too, that we develop ways of getting rid of these people as quickly and painlessly (maybe even politely) as possible – although a friend of mine loves to keep them standing on the doorstep as long as possible, especially in bad weather. A technique I find effective is one I learnt a long time ago, as you can tell by its name : “the broken record technique”. For those of you too young to remember such things, broken records used to stick – the needle would jump and replay the same bar of music over and over again. On the doorstep, then, I will simply keep repeating “Thank you, but I’m not interested” until the unwelcome caller gives up and goes away – and usually this happens quite quickly.

Though I have never encountered it in real life, there is a cartoon image of the pushy door-to-door salesman as someone who puts his foot in the doorway, so that you cannot possibly shut the door in his face. As a counter to the broken record technique, this threatens leave the conversation in a perpetual stalemate.

I remember a couple a worked with a few years ago where this stalemate was mirrored in the way they communicated. Many years before I had met them, the woman had had an affair (or “more a dalliance” as she would put it). She could not understand why this continued to be an issue for her partner, who would to raise the matter periodically, and who continued to be angry about it, and hurt by it.

brokenrecord2He felt that she refused to talk about it – that she had never talked about it – and so the anger and hurt remained. If she would just sit down and have a proper conversation about what had happened, he would be able, at last to move on.

And so they were stuck – she the broken record : “It’s in the past”, “I don’t want to discuss it”, “Just get over it will you?” – he the pushy salesman who would not take his foot out of the door no matter how many times the record repeated itself. Indeed, he could not take his foot out of the door – he had tried to move on from what had happened, but his foot remained firmly stuck in the door. And he felt rejected by her broken record technique – he felt that she wouldn’t listen to him, that she wasn’t interested in him.

Though the dynamics of their situation were similar to the salesman sticking his foot in the door and talking to the broken record, their motives were quite different. He was not trying to sell her anything, but simply to understand, and so to take away the pain he felt. She was not trying to get rid of him but to protect herself from the guilt and shame she still felt about what had happened.

brokenrecord3To move forward, as is generally the case, a compromise was necessary. The woman agreed to talk about it, provided she could stop the conversation if it became too difficult for her. The man agreed to this, provided the conversation could be resumed at a better time. And the woman agreed to this provided the conversation was helping the man – that it was moving towards a resolution for him. It was an acknowledgement by them both that they couldn’t stay like this for the rest of their lives. The broken record had to be mended. The foot needed to be removed from the door. And at some point, they would get to a point where he could walk through the door and it would be closed behind him.

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Counselling in Wokingham – Unwelcome Guests

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

Sometimes when clients come to see me, they want to go over things that have happened in the past – sometimes things that have happened a long time ago. This is because things are somehow unresolved – they are not at peace with something that has happened, they have been unable to understand it, they still have questions about it.

unwelcome2It’s a bit like being in pain, I think; like having a recurring hurt that you can’t get rid of. Maybe there are times when the pain abates a little, and then it’s easier, and perhaps pain-killers can help, or can do something to distract yourself – there are things you can do to help you lessen, or forget, or manage the pain. But the pain won’t go away, it’s always there. You don’t understand why it’s there, the doctors cannot help and you have no way of knowing whether it will get worse or better. And so it can rule your life.

By the time clients come to see me they may have been living with such emotional pain for many years – they may have “tried everything” to get rid of it, but they have not succeeded. And so they come to counselling, perhaps as a last resort.

With individual clients, this can be tough work. It may be that, many years on, there is nobody left to ask about what happened – so there is no way for them to get answers to the questions they have – that nagging “why?”. Nevertheless, it is often possible to look at things from different angles, to seek alternative explanations – to construct different stories about what has happened. I remember talking to a client about the breakup of his first marriage – 30 years ago. He blamed himself for the relationship ending – and had been blaming himself for three decades. He had, I think, idealised his partner and so was convinced that it couldn’t possibly be her fault. But as we talked about it more he started to see that his partner was not blameless – that she had made mistakes too – that probably the break-up of the relationship had been inevitable, that it had stopped working for both of them. In such work, there are not, of course, answers. There are alternative explanations, there are different stories, but there is always an element of uncertainty.

unwelcome3Living with uncertainty can be difficult. We are an inquisitive species – we tend to look for answers and however far back we go into history – or pre-history – humans have sought to further their knowledge, to gain understanding of their environment, their emotions and their spiritual lives. Science provides us with many answers, as do religions. And in more day-to-day ways, technical manuals tell us how things work, movies and books on the whole have neat endings that provide us with comfortable feelings.

unwelcome1But there are not always answers – or if there are, we cannot always find out what they are, and sometimes we have to find ways to live with “not knowing”. It seems to me that there is something here that might be described as “making friends” with uncertainty. The constant battle for answers – the quest for the truth – the struggle with pain – the never-ending search for a happy ending : these things, it seems to me, can be more painful than the pain itself. Accepting that you will never know the answers can make a huge difference. Now, rather than fighting against the uncertainty, you can nurture it. It may be unwelcome in your life, but if you can treat it as an unwelcome guest – and then as a guest, your anger will subside, your pain will lessen, you will start to feel less frightened and more secure.

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Counselling in Wokingham – The Ultimate Challenge

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

challenge2We all have inner worlds – thoughts and feelings that we don’t necessarily show to the outside world. This is just as well – if we shared everything with everybody, goodness knows what would happen. We might say things that would shock, offend or frighten others, or that for various reasons might be inappropriate and damage our relationships with friends or colleagues. We might also shock ourselves – we are not always fully aware of our own thoughts or feelings, and may unconsciously be suppressing things we are ashamed of or don’t think are “right”.

So, we filter what we say, and of course we reveal different things to different people. We are unlikely to do any soul-baring to a new work-colleague – we might confide to our doctor about medical matters but not other things – we might feel comfortable talking to our mum about some things and to our dad about others. If you have a counsellor, they are hopefully someone you can talk to about almost anything – because they have no vested interest, they will not judge you, you do not know them except in that special, professional capacity.

challenge3And what of your partner? The assumption tends to be that your partner is the person you can share everything with – that you know all about them, and they about you. Of course, it’s never quite like that – we can never know someone else completely – indeed, we can never know ourselves completely. And sometimes that assumption – that you can (should?) share everything with your partner is much too much of a generalisation, I think. Some relationships – or some people in relationships – are just not like that. For some people, their privacy is very important, they do not feel safe letting their defences down, they need to keep some things secret. And some people don’t want to hear their partner’s private thoughts and feelings – they maybe don’t feel comfortable with that, they maybe like a bit more emotional separation.

Nevertheless, there is something about a mutual sharing of private thoughts that leads to a sense of great intimacy. Particularly this is true of sexual fantasies, which are often accompanied by feelings of guilt. Being able to share these with someone who will respect them, and even make them into reality, requires enormous trust – and when trust is invested and repaid, it leads to a feeling of hugs security.

This feels a bit like allowing a guest into your private room – a place where nobody has been before. There are precious and delicate things in your room, things that are special to you, and this makes you very vulnerable. Will your guest admire your treasured possessions, cherish them as you do, or will they think they are silly, laugh at them, mock you for valuing them?

challenge1There are many tests to be passed to make a relationship successful. It is like a computer game where you pass through many, increasingly difficult levels before you meet the ultimate challenge, the big boss, the most powerful opponent – except, of course that there is no final level in a relationship – you never stop playing the game.

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Counselling in Wokingham – The Little Dutch Boy

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

When I was at Junior School, I remember our teacher telling us the story of the little Dutch boy who, on his way to school, spotted water leaking through a small hole in a dyke. Knowing that, left alone, the hole would grow larger and the village would soon be flooded, he stuck is finger in the dyke and stayed there until help came.

dyke1The story carries all sorts of messages – about small problems becoming out of hand if left – about small actions having big effects – but I think at the age of 8 these rather passed me by, and I remember thinking what a lucky boy he was, being given the chance to be a hero just by sitting for a while with his finger stuck in a hole.

Thinking about the story now, I wonder how the boy knew that this small leak would lead to the village being flooded, and whether he wouldn’t have been better off running to the village to tell someone about it rather than sitting there waiting for someone to pass by.

The boy made assumptions, I suppose, and made what seemed to him a sensible decision based on those assumptions. And so he put himself into the role of a stopgap, and made himself stay there until someone relived him of that duty.

dyke2We can easily end up behaving like the Dutch boy, but unfortunately sometimes we are left far too long with our hole in the dyke – nobody comes to relieve us of that duty, and nobody proclaims us a hero. So we can end up just feeling stuck, unappreciated, and resentful of our position.

As an example, I remember counselling a woman a few years ago. She was angry because she spent far too much of her time running around after her mother, doing her shopping, cleaning and cooking for her, while her brother and sister did nothing. She wanted some help, she wanted a break, but felt that she couldn’t stop because her mother expected it, and couldn’t cope on her own, and her brother and sister were useless.

So, like the little Dutch boy, she had seen a problem, found a solution, but now was stuck with her role as carer for her mother, waiting for someone to rescue her. She had become a victim rather than a heroine.

So we looked at her assumptions – that her mother couldn’t cope – that her siblings wouldn’t step up and help – and we looked at where these assumptions came from and questioned their validity. And we looked at other reasons for keeping her finger in the dam – the hope of being declared a heroine – the question of what she might do if she didn’t spend so much time caring for her mum.

dyke3This is one example, but I think it’s easy to find ourselves getting stuck into patterns of behaviour that we’re not comfortable with

  • I don’t want to be so strict with the kids but I have to because you are so soft
  • I don’t want to keep such a tight rein on our finances but I have to because you can’t be trusted with money
  • I don’t want to have to clean up the kitchen every night but I have to because you’ll never get around to it

You may have been stuck for years – decades – with your finger in that dyke. But what would really happen if you removed it and went for help? Would the village flood, would the world fall apart, as you fear it might? Or might someone come to your rescue?

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Counselling in Wokingham – Rambling

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

Sometimes, when I sit down to write this blog, I have a clear idea about what I’m going to write about. On other occasions, like today, I have no real idea about where it is going to go.

It doesn’t matter, of course, because I am not committed to publishing this, and indeed can alter it as many times as I like before putting anything live. Nobody but me will know if I write nonsense and then delete it. I run no risk in sitting down to write in an unplanned way, I can ramble at will.

rambling1When our actions have no significant consequences it is easier to take risks, to experiment, to make mistakes. But we are doing things for a reason and we can end up being disappointed if we fail to meet whatever objective we might (perhaps subconsciously) set ourselves. If we are playing a computer game like “Candy Crush”, or trying to solve a Sudoku, it makes no real difference if we finish the level we are on, or complete the puzzle, or if we do not, but we can end up feeling frustrated or even angry if we fail. We can be harsh judges on ourselves – sometimes we can set ourselves impossibly high standards.

If our actions affect other people, the stakes tend to be higher, and so we are less likely to take a risk. Most of us need to work for a living, and so think carefully about leaving a job, generally ensuring that we have alternative employment before handing in our notice. This is not true of everyone, of course. Some people will make impulsive decisions and pick up the pieces later. They are perhaps more optimistic in outlook, believing that things will turn out for the best. More pessimistic souls might hang on in there, continuing with what they do for fear of a disaster if they change things.

rambling2Before embarking on a journey, some people take great care to plan their route. Going back a couple of weeks I blogged about maps and mentioned my father’s collection of road maps. Before a journey the relevant maps would be laid out on the living room floor and the route would be marked in pencil. My father liked to know exactly where he was going and how he was going to get there. Others, I am sure, would have been content to jump in the car and rely on road signs, on asking passers by, or just on muddling through.

Unfortunately for the planners among us, there are no detailed maps to help us with most of the decisions we face in life. I have worked with quite a few clients who find this quite disabling. They may be quite clear about where they want to go, but be completely frozen by the difficulty of knowing how to get there. What will be the ripple effect of their actions? How will others be affected? What will people think and say about them? What if they get it wrong? Their desire to plan things out in detail and think about all possible outcomes leaves them frozen – and they can remain stuck in a situation which is good for nobody, for fear that things will be worse if they make a change.

rambling3Risks, I think, tend to grow the more we think about them, and they can grow out of all proportion to reality. I remember a client who was unable to tell his partner about their financial difficulties because he knew she’d be upset. The worse things got, the more impossible it became for him to break the news, but then, of course, she was a lot more upset when she eventually found out than if he’d told her in the first place. Often, I think we underestimate other people’s ability to cope with bad news, feeling “They won’t be able to cope with it, whereas I can so it’s best not to tell them”.

I have rambled in an unplanned way to some sort of point – that taking risks is not as risky at it feels. There is nothing wrong with rambling, with exploring, with trial and error as a way of making most decisions. And if one reader has got something out of this blog, the risk was worth it, I think.

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Counselling in Wokingham – Storm at Sea!

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’s something magical and mysterious about the sea. Calm and clear at times, at others it can turn stormy and attack with ferocious power. For seafaring people, there is the constant possibility of danger – they need always to be vigilant and, when the seas are tempestuous, to devote all their energy into survival. “All hands to the pumps” is the saying, when all that matters is keeping the boat afloat.

storm1A client of mine was recently saying that for years he had felt like a fisherman in a stormy sea – powerless to stop the storm, just trying to get through it without his boat capsizing. Some bad decisions and a series of unfortunate events, had meant that he had been constantly battling with financial problems, health problems, and family problems.   All his efforts had gone into keeping things going – he was the only one keeping the ship afloat – without him it would sink. All he could do was to live day by day, coping with what came up, hoping that it would get better.

storm2While he talked about being under huge stress for a long period, also said that there were some very positive feelings that came from this experience, and these reminded me of Hemingway’s “The Old Man And The Sea”. He felt strong, powerful, and highly competent. He was surviving, and he was doing it on his own. He felt important, and noble – he was saving others who could not save themselves, and if, ultimately, he were to win the battle against all life’s vicissitudes, he would be a hero.

And he did win through. When he came to see me, things had settled down for him. He had a steady job and so financially, he was comparatively secure. His partner had emerged from a long period of depression and was rebuilding her life. His children were coming through their tempestuous teens, finding some direction, and talking about leaving home.

The trouble was now, as he said, that though he’d survived the storms, he felt as if he’d been washed up on a desert island. There was nothing for him to do. Things were much calmer, he was much safer, his family were OK, but he’d spent so long keeping the ship afloat that he didn’t know what to do instead. He had suspended his own life to cope with a series of ongoing crises and now he found himself wondering what the next problem would be, rather than being able to relax and enjoy himself.

storm3He talked about feeling like a volcano about to erupt. In coping for all those years he had suppressed his own feelings and now there was a lot of anger starting to come to the surface. He had not felt able to share his feelings with his partner for fear of driving her deeper into depression – and so he had kept everything inside, and all the feelings were mixed up – he wasn’t sure who he was angry with, or what he was angry about – “loads of things” – “everybody” – “the world”.

He realised too that his relationship had changed out of all recognition – his ship, as he said, was barely afloat. He had become his partner’s carer, and she had become someone who he didn’t confide in – he didn’t trust her to be able to hold his feelings. And so, he realised, they had to start again – to repair the ship together – to get to know and trust each other again.

They had survived the tempest, but now they had to escape from the desert island.

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