Counselling in Wokingham – We Might Ask

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

A : “Why did you snap at me?”

B : “Because you interrupted me”

That’s a nice simple explanation, isn’t it? But does it tell the whole story?

interrupt2We might ask why B was irritated by the interruption. Perhaps B was in the middle of saying something that they thought was really important. Perhaps they were concentrating hard on what they were saying, and interruption came in the middle of a complicated train of thought. So perhaps A broke in, not only to what B was saying, but more importantly, to what B was thinking. Perhaps it felt to B as if A had invaded their private world.

We might ask whether A really did interrupt B. If B was thinking hard about what they were saying, perhaps B had paused for thought without realising it – maybe for quite a while – and A actually thought they had finished. Or perhaps B was monopolising the conversation, endlessly going on and on about their own perspective on something – and so perhaps A felt that interrupting was the only way to get a say in the conversation.

We might ask why B thinks that interrupting someone is annoying. Perhaps B learnt this as a child. Perhaps this was something that B’s parents were very firm about, and so it is something that B was brought up to do – something B seems as normal. But perhaps A wasn’t brought up like that. Perhaps in A’s family it was normal for everyone to speak at the same time, so that A learnt from a young age the art of listening and talking at the same time. (And if you think that’s not possible, it’s worth considering how an interpreter could do their job without learning this art).

interrupt1We might ask as well about how A and B were regarded as children. Did A come from an argumentative family? Did A feel shut out because everyone else talked louder than they did? Was A told to sit quietly in the corner and not speak? If so, A might be getting those same feelings in conversation with B – of being told to be quiet. Or perhaps it was like that for B – perhaps they were never allowed their say as a child, and so now, as an adult, it’s really important to them to get their point across.

Then again, this exchange between A and B might betray their feelings about each other. Perhaps A thinks B is a bit of a bore, rattling on about inconsequential stuff. Perhaps (assuming A and B are a couple), A is embarrassed by how B behaves in social situations and interrupted to try to save their own embarrassment. Perhaps B thinks A never has anything interesting or useful to say and so letting them speak is a waste of time. Perhaps (assuming A and B are a couple) B feels A cannot make decisions and needs to be told what to do. Perhaps, perhaps…

interrupt3And so we can go on. What happens in the moment doesn’t just happen in the moment, it happens in the context of the whole conversation, of the relationship, of the events that led to the conversation, of the background and upbringing of the participants, of their culture, their religion, their ethnic origin….

Or perhaps A interrupted B because B was about to get run over by a bus….

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Counselling in Wokingham – Telling the Story

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

story1We all have stories to tell. I don’t mean the funny stories we might churn out in a social situation, about strange and wonderful things that have happened to us in the past. I have a great story about a friend who drove his car off the side of a station platform – but I don’t mean stories like that. I mean the stories we have about our lives, about things that have contributed to who we are today. These may be tough stories to think about – and tougher to tell – about abuse or violence. They may be things that happened to us that shaped our beliefs – things our parents or teachers told us about ourselves, maybe negative messages about what we couldn’t do – or positive messages about our talents. These stories tend to be about emotionally charged times – times when we have been scared, or angry, or felt really happy, or guilty, or proud of ourselves.

We tend, I think, to remember things that have affected us emotionally (although we may blank out memories that are particularly painful).   But these emotionally-intense experiences are the things that tend to shape us, to be landmarks in the development of our personalities.

When you think about your own stories, you probably look at them in a fixed way – by which I mean that you tell them in the same, or in similar ways each time – whether you are telling them to yourself or to someone else. This is particularly the case with stories from a long time ago – and sometimes with these stories we remember them second hand (at least partly) – from what our parents have told us, for example. But is interesting that if we check out one of these stories, perhaps with a brother or sister, they will often have quite different memories.

story2There are different sides to every story but sometimes we can become stuck with a particular version, and an accumulation of different stories can leave us with a belief about ourselves. “I’m unlucky in love” – “I’m always messing things up” – “Nothing bothers me” – “I’ve never fulfilled my potential”…..and many more. But if we believe these things about ourselves we will tend to move forward expecting them to happen again. “I’m unlucky in love” – so this new relationship will be another failure. “I’m always messing things up” – so this new opportunity will fail and I’ll blame myself for it….and so on.

Where I am going with this is that we can tell ourselves stories in whatever way we choose. So, for example, if you remember the breakup of a relationship with sadness, try telling yourself the story in a different way. Can you be angry about it? Can you blame your ex rather than yourself? Can you look at what was wrong with the relationship and see its ending as a lucky escape? Can you think of all the things you did to try to make it work – and see yourself as a bit of a hero?

story2The way we tell these stories is a choice – and so the way we look at ourselves is a choice as well. For victim, read survivor: for unstructured, read creative: for stubborn, read determined. We cannot change our past, but we can look at it differently, we can look at ourselves differently, and in doing so we can help to shape the future to make it different from the past.

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Counselling in Wokingham – Washing Lines and Cupboards

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

Nowadays, most of us seem to lead busy – even frantic – lives. Advances in technology mean that things can happen more immediately and more conveniently than ever before. Shopping, for example, can be done from an armchair these days, if we choose.

With the immediacy and convenience of modern life, our expectations have changed. We expect things to happen quickly, we expect to be able to get hold of people quickly. All well and good, but unfortunately others expect the same of us. Employers, in particular, tend to expect their staff to be available when needed – so the boundaries between our work and our private lives are eroded. No longer do we clock on at 9 and clock off at 5, many of us are expected to be available on demand.

So, how do we cope with this erosion of boundaries? One answer is that we do what we can to create mental boundaries. One of my clients explained to me how she kept mental “to do” lists of different colours – the urgent in red, the important in yellow and so on – and how these lists hung, like wet towels, on a washing line in her mind. Alongside the washing line she had a picture of her timetable for the day, again using some sort of colour scheme to indicate work, family life and social activities – and in this mental timetable she would make sure there was at least half an hour each day to work on something from her “to-do” list. Once she had done her half hour, she could remove the towels from the washing line and put them away – until the next day.

Another of my clients talked about putting things in cupboards in his mind, shutting the door firmly when things were dealt with so that he had a picture of neat cupboard doors – the clutter behind them nicely concealed.
washing2These are ways – and there are many more – of creating order from chaos, of gaining control of the unruly parts of your life. We all probably do this, in different ways, and these techniques can be very effective. They have their limitations, however. My client with the cupboards talked about them becoming so full that he could no longer cram anything into them. In the end the doors would not shut, the walls collapsed, and everything burst out into the most awful disarray. He could no longer cope.

The towels and cupboards are ways of dealing with things internally. Another approach is to deal with things externally. The most common way of doing this is to talk about them – to work colleagues, to friends, to family. “A problem shared is a problem halved”, they say. “It’s good to talk”. And there is something very powerful about verbalising one’s troubles. Rather than hanging them on washing lines or shutting them in cupboards inside our heads, we are letting them out. They come out of our mouths and in doing so release tension within us. They seem to exist outside us rather than inside us, which makes it easier to confront them, look at them differently, or even just walk away from them.

washing3Some people gain enormous comfort from talking – and it is the talking that is important, not the response, so even talking to a pet can be very helpful. But talking is not the only way to externalise your problems. Writing can serve the same purpose – a letter to your ex, saying all the things you wished you’d said can be very liberating, even if the letter is never posted and never read. Other people express themselves through art, or music, or digging the garden.

This externalisation is of course central to counselling. Holding things inside can be very hard work, mentally exhausting. Letting them out, sharing them, talking about them are steps along the road to being able to let go and move on.

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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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