Counselling in Wokingham – Not My Fault

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

blame1After I left university I joined the IT profession, then in its infancy (frighteningly, this was nearly 40 years ago). I worked as a computer programmer and of course I made mistakes. Some were easy to spot and correct, others were much more elusive – a zero for the letter “O”, a missed semicolon. I remember on one occasion that I’d made an error that I just couldn’t find, and I managed to convince myself that I hadn’t made a mistake at all, that it was a problem with the computer, not with my program. When I voiced this opinion, however, the more experienced programmers all laughed at me. They had all had the same issue, and similarly had thought they had found a computer problem, but, they told me, it always turned out to be an error in the program. “Keep looking”, they said, and they were right.

But it can be comforting to blame our mistakes on others, and in my work as a counsellor I encounter this a lot. Classically, perpetrators of domestic violence will try to blame their partner. Phrases like “If you hadn’t looked at me oddly…” and “If you didn’t go on….” put the blame on the victim, and “I had to… “ or “I had no option..” deny that the perpetrator had a choice.

blame2It’s not just in cases of domestic violence where people blame others for their own actions, however, and it’s not always our partner who gets the blame. People can claim their parents : “I can’t help it, it’s the way I was brought up”. And their gender “I’m doing my best but remember that women can’t read maps” – or “I’d help more with the housework but men can’t see dust” (yes, a client of mine actually said this). And we can blame circumstances, of course, by saying “I haven’t had time” or “I’ve been too busy” rather than “I decided other things were more important”. We can even blame ourselves while denying responsibility : “My memory is bad”, “I have no patience”. It was a part of me over which I have no control.

What all these reasons (or excuses) have in common is that they deny that I can do anything about it – they deny that I have any control over the situation, they deny that I have any choice in what I do. As intelligent humans, we do have free will, however. Everything we do is a choice, even if it doesn’t always feel like it. With choice comes responsibility, of course, and if we accept responsibility, we will find ourselves taking the blame more often. It can be much more comfortable to deny that we have the choice in the first place!

blame3Having a partner can be very convenient, because there is always someone there to blame, but of course blame can be very divisive in a relationship. But, surprisingly, it can be used humourously too. I remember working with a couple who blamed each other a lot, even for things that were clearly not their partner’s fault. We worked on this and over time they learnt to own up, to take responsibility for their own mistakes. And when they had done this, they were able to parody their former relationship. One evening they arrived for the session slightly late. The man owned up, looking rather foolish : “I put the car into reverse by mistake and backed into the garage door”. And then he smiled “I’m sure it must have been my wife’s fault, but I haven’t quite worked out why yet!”

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Counselling in Wokingham – Collecting

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

collect1It must be over 30 years since I visited a fascinating manor house in the Cotswolds – Snowshill Manor. Apparently, it was owned by an eccentric (and presumably rich) Englishman called Charles Wade, who lived himself in a small hut in the garden because there was no room for him in the house – it was full of collections. Mr.Wade, it seems, collected collections – or butterflies, sword guards, bicycles, toys, masks, clocks and samurai warrior costumes – to name but a few.

What is the attraction of collecting? Mr Wade surely wasn’t interested in all those objects for themselves, I can’t imagine that he was an expert on all those things. His pleasure, or a large part of it, must have come from the joy of accumulating the objects. So I think it was probably less about the objects themselves than about the hunt for them. Before the days of the internet, collectors must have had to trawl through second hand shops and to have relied on a network of contacts to accumulate the things that interested them. Nowadays, the eBay and other sites make collecting a whole lot easier – and maybe rather less fun.

collect2Collecting has an addictive quality, and I think the fascination of the process extends beyond the collection of objects. Some people, for example, collect knowledge. We’ve all seen the people on quiz shows who seem to know everything about a certain subject and, here again, I think that these people find pleasure in accumulating knowledge, just as others love to gather objects.

Objects, knowledge – and people. Some people love to collect people! In business, in academia, in other walks of life, networking can be very important, and the process of finding and making connections can offer the same attractions as other collections. Look at Facebook! Some people just love to collect friends – even if they’re people that they’ve never met, it’s still one more name in the collection.

People collect real friendships, not just virtual ones, of course, and this can go hand in hand with a collection of facts about those people, perhaps in the somewhat unhealthy form of gossip. Here, there is also the excitement of getting to know someone well – to understand what “makes them tick”, or of building a bond. To collect an object, you need to find it, buy it, and put it on a shelf. To collect a person, you need to meet them, understand them and…..

Those dots can be a problem. The natural end to the process can seem to be to have sex with the person you have got to know. And once that’s happened, the person is in your collection and they can be forgotten about – it’s on to the next person, the next addition to your collection. Many “serial cheaters” have this sort of mind set, I think.

collect3Breaking this sort of pattern can be tough, but as with many behavioural habits, the first step is to recognise what is going on, and then to understand the effects on others. And what is important for the collector of sexual partners? Perhaps philately can provide an alternative amusement….?

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Counselling in Wokingham – Lies

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

We all tell lies, at various times. Or if not outright lies, at least half-truths. We select what we tell people and in doing so omit part of the truth. We tell people what we feel is appropriate for them to know, and we do this all the time. For example, our response to the question “how are you?” can be very different depending on who we are talking to.

Lies1I remember, some years ago, bumping into an ex-client in Wokingham. We were actually walking in opposite direction across a pedestrian crossing so there wasn’t really time to stop and talk, but we exchanged “How are yous”. He gave me a standard response : “Fine thanks” and then he realised who I was, and changed his response. “I really am fine thanks”, he said as we passed.

His response changed when he realised that I was not just a passing acquaintance but his ex-counsellor – knowing that, he felt it appropriate to give me different information. We do this all the time, I think – we reveal different parts of ourselves to different people. Friends, work colleagues, parents, children, and our partners might all receive different responses to “how are you?” – there are different aspects of ourselves – different truths – that we will reveal to each of them.

How much of the truth we tell depends no only on who we are talking to but also on ourselves. Some people are much more open than others, some embarrassingly so. Some people manipulate the truth enormously, perhaps thinking that they need to protect their own reputation by doing so, perhaps thinking that they are protecting the listener.

Lies3To get away with lying it is necessary to be consistent – and so habitual liars place a great strain on themselves. They need to remember what people “know” – in other words what lies they have been told, so that they can maintain consistency. If they are telling many lies to many people over many years, that is an enormous mental strain to put themselves under.

I have worked with quite a few clients who have found themselves trapped in their own lies – about their past, their addictions, their spending habits, their love lives and other things. Once they have started to tell the truth to people, they have all spoken about the enormous relief they feel. It’s as if they have been carrying a huge weight on their shoulders and, finally relieved of it, they can, at last, relax.

Lies2We can also lie to ourselves, of course, about ourselves. And it seems that represents a similar burden. Maintaining a pretence; “I’m not addicted”, “I haven’t got an anger problem”, “I’m fine”; is hard work. How can anyone relax and be completely at ease if they are having to hide stuff away from themselves? And in fact the strain is probably greater than that of lying to someone else, because perhaps you can relax when they’re not around whereas, if you’re lying to yourself, you have to keep the act up all the time.

Telling the truth is much easier than lying!

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Counselling in Wokingham – Rules are made to be…

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

rules1The possibility of Russia being banned from the next Olympics got me thinking about rule-breaking.   Competitive sports and games have rules, which are written down, but they also have codes of ethics, which often are not. At snooker, a player who plays a foul shot is expected to own up to it – that is part of ethics of the game, though it may not be an actual rule. Golfers, similarly, are expected to be their own rule-keepers to a great extent. Other sports have an on-field referee or umpire and in many of these sports the ethics seem to be that it’s OK to break the rules as long as you’re not caught. Shirt-pulling at football is a good example, and what happens inside a rugby scrum, I’m sure, is not always strictly within the rules of the game. And though I don’t know a great deal about ice hockey, it appears that players are expected to break the rules at times, that’s accepted as part of the game, and part of the entertainment for the crowd.

Beyond the universe of sports and games, there are many rules that influence, if not govern, our lives. The relationship between laws and ethics is interesting here, as well. Murder, for example, is clearly against the law, and also, for nearly all of us, against our moral code. We would describe killing as “wrong”, although of course the law allows for extenuating circumstances, and distinguishes between murder and homicide, which suggest that in the eyes of the law, some killings might be more “wrong” than others.

rules2And what of speeding? It’s against the law, but many people would not regard it as “wrong”. For some, it perhaps falls into the same category as shirt-pulling at football – it’s OK to speed unless you get caught.

For some people, the rules define what is right and wrong – rules are there to be kept. For others, rules are more of a framework – they may overlap with what we consider right and wrong but there are differences in some area. And for some, rules are a challenge – rules are there to be broken. We relate to rules in different ways, and as individuals we relate to different rules differently as well.  It’s complicated.

rules3It’s more complicated still in our personal lives.   We have our own rules, but these are not written down, they are, in general, unstated.   Our “values” influence how we behave, but we may find it quite hard to define what they are. What are your expectations of others? We probably all have different ideas of what makes a good neighbour, or work colleague, or friend, or mother, father, husband or wife – and so we all have different ideas of how we should behave in those roles.

Because these personal rules are unstated, we tend to follow them unconsciously and that means that they have a lot of power. For the most part, these rules help us – we have learnt them by experience and they work most of the time. But sometimes we can find ourselves in a new situation, and our existing rules don’t apply, we have to make new rules or break old rules.

This is where understanding can be helpful. What are your rules? Where do they come from? Who made the rules? Are they a help or a hindrance? Which of them can you break and which are cast in stone?

Rules are made to be…..flexible?

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Counselling in Wokingham – Out in the Open

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 got up this morning the kitchen was a bit of a mess – I hadn’t tidied up after dinner last night – and I thought “ugh” – not a great way to start the day.

open2I was reminded of my mother, who hated to be greeted in the morning by an untidy kitchen and used (this being the days before dishwashers) to stack the dirty things in the cooker to get them out of sight. Quite what the logic of this was, I’m not sure. Maybe if we were burgled the burglars would think better of us for having a tidy kitchen.

I have never repeated my mother’s method for ensuring a tidy kitchen in the morning, and I suspect if I did I would forget about the dishes in the cooker and get a very nasty shock a few days later when I next came to use it. Anyway, I was met this morning with a messy kitchen, and thought “ugh”, but I opened the back door, and the sun flowed in, and it all felt rather better. The kitchen got tidied, I made a cup of coffee and while tidying I had decided what to blog about today.

That moment when I opened the back door and the sun came in changed my feelings about the task at hand, and indeed about the whole day. There’s something about being in an enclosed space that can be quite depressing. Opening a door, stepping outside can change that.

open1I was talking to a friend yesterday who was talking about a big change at work – a change of office and with it a move to more work “in the field” – a much less desk-based culture. Through there were many aspects of the change that worried her, she was excited about getting out and about more. I was speaking to a lorry driver earlier this week and he said something similar about being on the road – about feeling free, not supervised, his own boss, able to relax.

I am reminded of a client from years ago, a climber, who didn’t talk much, certainly not about his feelings, until he described the experience of standing alone on a mountain top and seeing the world spread beneath him. For him there was a sense of freedom, and also of awe. He became aware of how small he was and how huge the world – and his problems seemed to become much less significant.

Open spaces are incredibly powerful. The countryside, the sea, the stars – they can all have that pull. And on a much smaller scale too – I have become aware that after each paragraph that I type, I pause, and take my eyes up from my laptop to look out of the window in search of inspiration. There isn’t really any inspiration there, just my car, but I think refocusing my eyes and taking in a different view enables me to step away from the detail of what I’m writing in order to think about the overall theme.

open3And what has all this to do with counselling? I don’t actually stand on top of mountains with my clients, or even go for walks (though that may not be at all a bad idea), but I think that for many clients, coming to counselling provides that same sort of experience. It gives them a different place to think and talk, which can help to change their view of themselves and their lives.

Blog done. Next – my tax return. I think it will need more than opening the back door to make that seem an attractive proposition….

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Counselling in Wokingham – Rituals

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

Births, deaths and marriages. We have rituals to mark them all. Most cultures do, I think. They will take different forms but there is some sort of ritual, ceremony or party to mark significant events.

So too for birthdays, religious festivals, house warmings and (of recent times) stag and hen parties, and even divorce parties.

Why do we have these rituals? For various reasons, I suppose. We want to remember, to commemorate, to celebrate – or maybe we just want an excuse for a good party.   Many of our rituals mark a significant change – an ending or a beginning, sometimes both.

ritual1I am put in mind of traditional New Orleans funerals. On the way to the cemetery, the marching band plays slow music followed through the streets by the coffin and mourners. After the burial, the band plays more upbeat music and there is dancing and celebration on the return journey.

Thus this sort of ritual marks a transition. The end of a life – but life continues for the rest of us. In general, transitions (not just bereavements) can be difficult, and dealing with change can be tough. A new job, the end of a relationship, a house move. We move from the familiar to the unfamiliar, from the known to the unknown, from the safe to the scary. And when they move things around in the supermarket….!

ritual2I remember talking to a client who was constantly struggling with change because her partner travelled a lot with work. So for a week or two she’d be on her own with the kids. She’d establish a routine that worked, things would settle into a pattern but then her partner would be home again, and everything would change. He’d want to be involved and to help but she’d just established, necessarily, a routine that worked without him. She and the kids were just getting settled into that routine when everything changed.

It occurs to me that establishing a mini ritual might be helpful in such a situation – to do something that marks the departure or the return of the absent partner for the whole family. Perhaps a game they play as a family, or a group hug, or a special meal might be ways to mark the change – to help everyone recognise that an adjustment is necessary.

ritual3We can make our own rituals to meet our own purposes, and indeed I think that we do so all the time, without necessarily thinking about it in that way. Most of us will follow a routine in the morning – a ritual that helps us to start a new day. Our journey to work will often mark a mental transition from private life to professional life – a ritual that helps us to adopt our “work persona”. I remember a friend, an amateur football referee, who said that in donning his referee’s uniform he went through a mental transition to become the strong, authoritarian figure that his role demanded.

But I think maybe we need to change our rituals. Repeat the same ritual too often, and it becomes mundane, its effect can start to wear off. Celebrate the ritual!

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Counselling in Wokingham – The Facts

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

In the UK the referendum is looming – do we want to stay in the EU or not? I can’t say I’ve been following the debate in any detail, but what has struck me as a casual observer is how much dispute there is about the facts. No sooner does one side produce some telling statistics than the other side is challenging them with statistics of their own.

How can this be? Facts are facts, are they not? Surely there’s no disputing the facts?

facts1But what are facts? Things that are true, things that are indisputable, I suppose. So in the world of arithmetic, 2+2=4. Fact. In a game of chess, bishops move diagonally. Indisputable. In these examples, we start by defining the context of what we’re taking about, and then, within that stated context, we can state facts. If I just said “bishops move diagonally”, without the context of a chess game, that would of course be untrue, because ecclesiastical bishops are not restricted to moving diagonally; they can move sideways, or jump up and down, or do the can-can if they choose, though it may not be considered dignified for them to do so.

facts2The context of most of our lives is much broader than the world of mathematics or a game of chess, which means that facts are much harder to come by. If I go to the supermarket to buy washing powder, I can look at two rival brands and see which costs more (in that particular supermarket). But which is better value? Will the more expensive one last longer than the other? Will it get my clothes cleaner? How much cleaner? Is that significant?

Facts are really complicated things, I think, but they are comforting things as well. It’s nice to feel that we know what’s going on in the world, that we are making well-judged choices rather than random decisions and that we understand our environment. It seems to me that we like facts because they help us to feel secure and safe, which is ironic because that means that we seek out facts for emotional reasons.

facts3We tend to befriend people who share our opinions rather than challenge them. We tend to read newspapers that reinforce our views rather than undermine them. We tend to accept the “facts” that back up our opinions and doubt the “facts” that threaten them. I wonder just how many of the opinions we hold, of the decisions we make, are based on the facts, and how many are based on our feelings, our beliefs – our prejudices.

But then again – our feelings and opinions are facts, aren’t they? “I am scared”; “I like apples more than pears” – such statements are true, they are indisputable, are they not? So maybe feelings are facts, and facts are opinions, and opinions are feelings?

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