Counselling in Wokingham – A Big Adventure

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 friend of mine was telling me about a great-great uncle by the name of Ed who in 1887, as an 18-year-old, sailed to Canada with no job and little money. At the time it was a young and still quite wild country and he had many adventures, using his initiative and nerve to get by from day to day, to earn money and (mostly) keep our of trouble while he moved around the country.

Adventure1The world has got much smaller in the 130 years since Ed went walkabout in Canada and I wonder whether, in the 21st century, there are still such adventures to be had. I suppose there are still a few remote corners of the earth, but almost everywhere now we can maintain contact with friends and relatives, we can get help if we need it.

So are there no adventures to be had these days? Another friend of mine lusts for new experiences and finds them through holidays which she takes with random groups of people, always to somewhere different and often to somewhere intrepid; the foothills of Everest; the Arctic; the upper reaches of the Amazon. These are guided holidays and not adventures of the sort Ed experienced – there is little personal danger involved – but nevertheless they are adventures. They take her to new places, she meets new people, unexpected things happen, she has new experiences.

Both Ed and my friend associate adventures with travel, but that doesn’t have to be the case. I suppose the word “adventure” comes from the same roots as “advent” – so it is about an arrival, a new beginning.

Adventure2And I think that’s right. Learning something new can be a new adventure, and straight away I think of people who’ve experienced an adventure in learning to sing, or paint, or play the ukulele. And people who train for a marathon, or start up their own business are also breaking new ground, having an adventure. And indeed, there’s the adventure of becoming a new parent. I still remember the moment when, now nearly 30 years ago, my wife and I brought our first child home. We sat in the living room with him and looked at each other, and at him and my wife said “OK, so what on earth do we do now?” It was a step into the unknown, a big adventure for all three of us.

adventure3In my work, I meet many people who are embarking on an adventure. In coming to counselling, they are looking for a new beginning. Perhaps they’re looking for a new way of interacting with the world and the people in it. Perhaps they’re looking for a deeper understanding of themselves. They are taking a step into new territory, exploring places they’ve never explored before, but those places happen to be inside themselves, not in an unexplored corner of the earth.

And I think that’s what makes something into an adventure. It’s not necessary to go to Canada like my friend’s great-great Uncle Ed, or to hike with a bunch of strangers and some huskies across the Arctic. Such things can help to create an adventure, of course, but the adventure is really taking place inside ourselves. The element of risk, the need for improvisation, the experience of new or of heightened emotions – these are typically the things that give us a sense of adventure, and we can find them in many different ways. If you want to have an adventure, it’s there waiting for you.

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Counselling in Wokingham – Groundhogs and Giant Insects

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

Routine is comfortable and safe. You know where you are. It’s nice to be able to find the things we want; to know where they are in the house; to know which shelves they are on the supermarket. It can be disconcerting, even quite upsetting, when the supermarket decides to move everything around, or if your partner puts the scissors in a strange place so that you can’t find them.

metamorph1We all need a certain amount of order in our lives, I think because it helps us to feel secure and in control of things. Imagine if, waking up in the morning, somehow all the rooms in your house had moved around, that when you found the kitchen there was a family of wombats living there, that everyone had started to speak a different language. Suppose, like the main character in Kafka’s “Metamorphosis”, you woke to find that you had turned into a giant insect. It would be unsettling, to say the least.

But on the other hand, a “groundhog day” scenario, where everything repeats itself exactly, would be equally difficult to deal with. However good your repeating day might be, I think it would soon start to become monotonous. And if it were a bad day…! I wonder what it must have been like for soldiers in World War I, waking every day to the same living hell.

metamorph3We need routine, but not monotony. We need variety, but not chaos. If we think of this as a continuum, between “Groundhog Day” at one end and “Metamorphosis” at the other, we will each be comfortable at different points on the line, some preferring more routine, others more variety. As well as that, some of us will be more adaptable than others, will be able to move from our preferred point on the continuum more easily. If we think of the continuum as a colour spectrum, some people are a single, fixed colour, while others are chameleons.

metamorph2It can be easy to envy people who are different. Someone who likes variety and change can think how nice it would be to be able to tolerate routine, to be able to carry out repetitive tasks without getting bored. Someone who likes routine can see other people’s lives as much more exciting and interesting than their own boring but comfortable existence. The grass always looks greener on the other side of the hill of course, but it is worth remembering that the person on the other side of the hill is thinking exactly the same.

“A change is as good as a rest”, they say, and it can be refreshing to visit the other side of the hill from time to time. It’s nice to go away on holiday, to do something different, but coming home can be nice as well.

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Counselling in Wokingham – Losing It

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

Losing what? One’s train of thought? One’s temper? The plot?

When I think about people “losing it” I suppose I think first of people getting angry, and in particular, people getting irrationally angry; people whose reactions to events are quite out of proportion to what has happened. Road rage springs to mind as a common example.

losingit1Jealousy is another good example, I think. Fits of jealousy can lead to people losing it – I remember a client who cut up all her cheating partner’s clothes, and I remember (and still cringe at) the story of John and Lorena Bobbitt.

I think, too, about toddlers having tantrums because they can’t get their own way; throwing their toys out of the pram; breaking down in tears; drumming their feet on the floor.

losingit2In our day-to-day lives we experience emotions constantly, but usually at a low level. We have a filtering mechanism that keeps our emotions under control, so that in general, they do not gush out in an uncontrolled way. We may show happiness with a flicker of a smile, annoyance with a frown, shock with a raised eyebrow, but it will much rarer for us to jump for joy, fly into a rage, or scream with fright. In general, we check our emotions before letting them out. Some people do this a lot more than others of course. Some “wear their heart on their sleeve”. Others are “cold fish”.

When we “lose it” I think that what happens is that this filtering mechanism breaks down. The emotions are too strong for the filter, and they break through, like a river bursting its banks. Will lose the ability to reason; conventions of social behaviour are forgotten; we act in irrational ways.

losingit3This broad idea of “losing it” applies to various situations, I think. It’s broader than a child’s (or adult’s) tantrum. Anxiety attacks happen for the same reasons, I think. The emotion is too great for the filter. And so too for the addict. The need for the next fix is so burning that the addict will do anything to get it, and this applies not just to drug dependencies but to other forms of addiction such as gambling, pornography or the many other things that people can find themselves dependent upon.

The situations vary, the reactions vary, the emotions vary – jealousy; injustice; fear; loss, and many others. But what links these situations is that the feelings have gone very deep – they have hurt and I think that is because they have connected in some way with our childhood experience. The feelings we have now have touched on – subconsciously awakened – emotions we had as a child. It’s like a chain reaction and at the end of the chain we react in a childlike way, with anger, or tears, or panic, for example. We forget we are an adult. We lose it.

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Counselling in Wokingham – A Broken Kettle

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

Our everyday lives are littered with expectations. When we get up in the morning we expect the kettle to work, we expect the car to start, we expect the traffic to be a nightmare, we expect the newsagent to be open and to have a copy of our preferred newspaper. We have expectations of work colleagues, family and friends. We have expectations of mechanical devices, of the weather, of our favourite TV programs.

Kettle1In general, our expectations are met – and that is why they are expectations. We expect the kettle to work because it always does. We expect the traffic to be awful because it usually is.

Sometimes your expectations will be exceeded, and that tends to provide a little lift. Perhaps the traffic is not as bad as expected, and you arrive at work feeling brighter than usual. Perhaps you unexpectedly bump into an old friend and that brings back some pleasant memories which make you feel chirpy.

But sometimes your expectations will not be met. Then you are probably disappointed, but usually you can work with that. You can boil water in a saucepan instead of the kettle. You can find things to enjoy in a different newspaper. Such things are minor disappointments and we can usually find ways to works round them.

kettle2But these little disappointments dent our trust. If the car fails to start three days running, our expectation will start to change; we will start to doubt; we will lose trust in the car. We will eventually reach the point where we are provoked into a change – a new kettle – a different newsagent – a different route to work. And after a change we will probably not have a firm expectation. Will the new route be any better? We wait and see. If, after a number of days, the journey seems consistently better, we will form a firmer expectation about the trip to work. We will start to trust the new route.

Expectations and trust; they are strongly linked. We have expectations of our partners and if they are not met, our trust is eroded. And in this area of our lives, for most of us the stakes are higher than if we are dealing with a kettle or a newsagent. The trust we invest in our relationship is really deep and fundamental. For many people, their inner security is based on their trust in another person, and so if that trust is damaged, their relationship is damaged, and they themselves can feel damaged.

It’s not too difficult (or expensive) to go out and buy a new kettle, but it’s a much bigger decision to end a relationship. But if your expectations – your needs – are not being met, what choice do you have? Well, you can change your expectations, of course. For example, if your partner is not a great listener, you can talk instead to family, or friends, or a counsellor. You can stop expecting your partner to listen, and get your needs met elsewhere.

kettle3The problem here can be that you end up changing your expectations in many different areas of the relations, and you can change them multiple times. Because ending a relationship is such a big thing to do, you can compromise to the point where the relationship meets very few of your expectations. It can end up being a relationship that is not at all what you want.

If you realise that you are in that situation it may feel that it’s time end the relationship, time to buy a new kettle. And while that may be an answer, it’s not all or nothing. Because you might have lost sight of the fact that, unlike a kettle, your partner is capable of change. You may only need to ask.

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Counselling in Wokingham – Loading the Dishwasher

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

Which is the best way to stack the dishwasher? Which shelf of the cupboard do the baked beans go on? Who is the better driver? Who takes the dog for a walk more often?

Dishwasher1Couples sometimes find themselves arguing about little things; things that are so trivial that in retrospect it is difficult to understand why there was an argument at all. This can leave both partners feeling ridiculous and helpless.

So why does it happen? As ever, there is no single answer, but in my experience such arguments are sometimes what I would call “trial” arguments, carried out on safe ground – the real arguments, about the subjects that really matter, are too dangerous because the stakes are too high. So there are, underneath the surface, some very fundamental issues in the relationship which are not discussed.

Let’s take the example of the dishwasher. One of you (let’s call them Pat) likes the dishwasher stacked in a certain way, because that makes it quicker and easier to empty. The other (Chris) is not bothered about that, and tends to load the dishwasher any old how in order to get the dirty plates out of sight and the cycle started as quickly as possible.

Dishwasher2So, Pat comes to empty the dishwasher and finds Chris has loaded it all higgledy-piggledy, which makes it more difficult for Pat to unload. Pat is irritated by this, especially as it’s happened many times before and Chris knows it irritates Pat, but still does it. What’s going on underneath this? Maybe Pat feels that Chris doesn’t listen. Maybe Chris feels that Pat is over-controlling. Maybe Pat feels that Chris never listens, and doesn’t care. Maybe Chris feels that Pat wants everything done Pat’s way and really wants a servant, not a partner. These feelings may typify the relationship – the way they make decisions; the way they parent; their sex life. And underneath all this, Chris and Pat are uncertain of each other’s love. Pat would feel move loved if Chris stacked the dishwasher “right”. Chris would feel more loved if Pat accepted her as she is.

Dishwasher3Another dynamic here may be that Pat is better at arguing than Chris – more articulate, more verbally adept. This leaves Chris feeling that they can never win arguments – that they are inferior, that Pat sees themselves as “always right”. So, in an attempt to redress the balance, Chris may “pick arguments” about trivial things, in the belief that surely they can win this argument; surely their “perfect” partner will admit fault in this case; surely they will say “sorry” this time. Or sometimes Chris will become very emotional because Pat can’t cope with that. Pat has the advantage in a verbal argument, so Chris counters with emotion.

These patterns can develop over time and it can be difficult to see the patterns when you are in the thick of it all. Counselling can help because it can help you to take a step backwards and understand what is going on beneath the surface. And once you understand, you have some sort of chance to do things differently.

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Counselling in Wokingham – Compliments

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

Some years ago, I used to play tennis regularly – and rather badly. On one occasion I somehow found myself on the same court as a qualified coach and after the expected and conclusive defeat I asked him for some tips to improve my game.

compliment1I got what I asked for, I suppose, but what he did was to tear my game apart piece by piece – my feet, my grip, my swing, my body position, and many other elements of my play were dissected and criticised. I had tips all right, probably twenty or thirty of them, but I was left feeling completely deskilled and utterly confused. He had given me so many things to think about that my head was spinning. What I should have asked for, I suppose, was “one tip” rather than “some tips”.

When we learn stuff, we learn it a bit at a time. I couldn’t go from being a casual tennis player to Wimbledon Champion in a week. We can’t become fluent in a language in a few hours. We can’t go from being able to add a few numbers to solving differential equations without learning a lot of stuff in between.

We have to go in small steps, and steps which make sense for us as individuals – not everybody’s steps are the same. I might find it a lot easier to improve my forehand than my backhand. Reminding myself to watch the ball might be quite easy but putting my feet in the right places could require a lot of practice. Others will find the opposite is true for them. So for learning to be at its most effective – most efficient – it needs to be personalised, though of course that is not always practical.

What got me thinking about all this was a conversation with a client who was talking about compliments. She said that her partner paid her lots of compliments, but they didn’t seem to mean much to her. They were the wrong compliments.

compliment3Just as we need to learn in small steps that are personal to us, I think compliments, if they are to mean anything, need to be personal and believable. The best compliments are small and personal. If a compliment is too big, it is not believable. Suppose I cook a meal and am told that it tastes good. I can believe that, and it is a nice compliment. If I am told that I am the best chef in the whole world, I am more likely to feel that this is a sarcastic remark than a genuine compliment. It is too big – it is unbelievable.

Equally, A compliment has to mean something to me. If I am told that I am really good at doing the washing up, I am likely to think “so what?” or to see it as an attempt to manipulate me into doing the washing up more often, rather than to read it as a genuine compliment.

Howling wolfCompliments are nice, but sometimes they are more than that – they can make our hearts leap. A friend of mine is a keen artist, a skill she has learn – is learning – late in life, and she told me about a great compliment that her husband paid her. She had done a drawing of a wolf, and he told that her on looking at it that he wanted to reach out and stroke the wolf’s fur. My friend described this as a real wow! moment for her, and I think the reason was that, as well as being personal and believable, this compliment also carried a third element – it was aspirational. By that I mean that the compliment, unprompted, matched her hopes – it affirmed that she had achieved something she was aiming for – something she’d really hoped for – in her picture.

We don’t always know where we’re trying to go – until someone tells us we’re there!

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Counselling in Wokingham – Privacy and Secrecy

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

Among the various issues thrown up by the release of the Panama Papers, one that has got me thinking is the issue of privacy. There has been a clamour in the UK for politicians to make their tax statements public, and one defence to this is that politicians, like others, are entitled to privacy.

Privacy or secrecy? What’s the difference between keeping something private and keeping something secret? There is an implication, I think, that keeping something private is OK, is appropriate, it is an entitlement. On the other hand, keeping something secret carries undertones of guilt or of wrong-doing – that this secret thing really ought to be revealed. Others have a right to know.

private1If (hypothetically) a senior UK politician is evading taxes, does a resident of Australia have a right to know? I don’t think so – but a resident of the UK does. If I have a serious illness does the bloke in the local shop have a right to know? Of course not, but quite possibly my employer does, if it affects my work. If my next-door neighbour were having a affair, do I have a right to know? No, I don’t think so – but I think his wife does.

If this distinction is right, the difference between something being private and it being a secret depends not only on the thing itself but also on the person it is being kept from. There is something important here about the degree to which revealing the truth might affect the relationship between the two people, or companies, or organisations. Some information is relevant to the relationship, some is not.

private2So if I say something is “private” I am suggesting that the information is not relevant to you, the listener – but of course that is only my opinion – because you don’t know what I’m not telling you, you can’t form a judgment yourself. So it may be that something I regard as “private”, you might regards as “secret”. And of course, people can have bogus arguments about this – I may argue that something is private simply because I don’t want to tell you. You may argue that I’m keeping a secret simply because you want your curiosity satisfied.

And so this whole area is very cloudy. If you get together with a new partner, how much do you need or want to know about their past life? And how much are they willing to tell? Are their old friends just friends, or have they been something more? How many sexual partners have they had? Have they ever taken drugs? Are they maintaining privacy or keeping secrets?

private3Our relationships – whether with politicians, shop-keepers, neighbours or partners – survive within a band of trust. That band may be a broad or a narrow one, but as long as things stay within that band, the relationship will work. Once things move towards the edge of that band, things tend to get rocky.

On the edge of that band of trust live the borders between privacy and secrecy.

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