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.

Posted in Relationships | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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!

Posted in Understanding | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Relationships | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Counselling in Wokingham – The Last Biscuit

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

I think I may have made my fortune by inventing a personality test! It’s very simple, you can do this test yourself at home and it costs nothing! Here’s what you have to do:-

  1. Go to the biscuit tin and open it
  2. Eat all the biscuits except one
  3. Forget you have done this
  4. Decide that you fancy a biscuit
  5. Go to the biscuit tin and open it

biscuit4Oh dear! There’s only one biscuit left! What will you do?

I was talking to a client of mine about this hypothetical situation and she said that what she would do is to leave the biscuit in the tin. “It would not occur to me to eat it.” she said. “It would be as if there were no biscuits in the tin.”

For her, then, her desire for a biscuit would not count because – possibly – someone else might want this biscuit. Their need would be greater than hers, in her mind, even though she had no idea whether someone else wanted the biscuit or not.

I have tried this test on a few people and found a variety of reactions. At the other end of the scale from my client, one reaction was that of glee.  “There’s only one biscuit in the tin AND I’M GOING TO EAT IT!” This represented a victory – it made the eating of the biscuit all the more special, and it linked with the fact that, for this person as a child, to eat the last biscuit would not have been allowed, so that it also felt a bit naughty.

biscuit2In between these two reactions lie a variety of attempts to find a compromise. Some would ask others in the household if they wished to lay claim to the last biscuit. Some would be selective – “I’d ask my wife but not my children”. Others would leave the biscuit in the tin but return later “If nobody had eaten it by six o’clock I’d eat it”. And some would break the biscuit in half – or break a half biscuit into two quarters – or just take a small piece of the biscuit and leave the rest. Of course, at some point the biscuit-breakers could be faced with a dilemma – is the one-sixteenth of a biscuit still worth breaking in half? Shall I eat it? Shall I leave it?

A biscuit is more than a biscuit, of course. One of my friends said that she would be struck, on finding that there was only one biscuit left, by a feeling of failure and guilt. She was, she told me, responsible for making sure that the cupboards were stocked with sufficient food and if there was only one biscuit in the house she would have let everyone else down. And I suppose the other side of this might be that her partner, faced with the last biscuit, might have felt let down, disappointed, perhaps even (somewhat irrationally) unloved.

biscuit1So there we have it – The Last Biscuit Test. Sadly it is not going to make my fortune as the subject is already much discussed on the internet as here – and there’s even a Last Biscuit game here

What a disappointment – nothing’s new – and now I really want a biscuit. Where’s that tin….?

Posted in Understanding | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Counselling in Wokingham – Not Speeding

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 my last blog I talked about my habit of speeding up while driving and the need for me to monitor my speed regularly and slow myself down. And I talked about how we can do that with our emotions, behaviours and thoughts, so that we counterbalance unwanted habits.

connections3So, for example, you can monitor your stress levels and do something to reduce stress, rather than let it build up unnoticed. At the end of the blog last time I posed the question of whether you can stop getting stressed in the first place. Can you get to the root cause of your emotions and change them there, rather than managing and monitoring them?

Well, the short answer to that question is that yes, I believe you can – but often it’s not very easy. To start with, it’s not easy to understand why we get stressed, or fearful, or sad – or indeed, happy – in different circumstances. I know that being late stresses me, whereas it doesn’t bother other people in the slightest. And why are people scared by different things? Why do we cry in different circumstances?

connections2It’s all very personal and often these things go back a long way. When we are children we are very flexible and our brains are developing rapidly. We develop not only our knowledge but also our connections. We experience emotions much more strongly as children and so experiences – or stories – can make a deep impression, especially if repeated. So if an older brother liked to tease you with stories of bogey men coming to get you at night, you might well end up scared of the dark. If days at the seaside are always sunny and happy, you will probably feel happy at the sight of the sea as an adult.

Patterns are developed from our experiences – but of course we can’t always remember our experiences, especially if they happened at a young age, and so it can be hard to understand why the connections are there. Why do certain types of music affect us in different ways? Why is red your favourite colour? Why are you attracted to people with brown eyes? These preferences may go back to the cradle.

connections1The answers to many of these questions of our likes and dislikes may not matter, but if you want to change – to overcome your fear of spiders, or to stop getting stressed when you are late – it can be helpful to understand the connections, because what you need to do is to change them, to re-wire your brain, in a way.

I think I know why I get stressed when I am late. My mother was always on a tight schedule in the mornings – to catch a bus across London for her work – and so if I was slow to get ready, I’d make her late, and she’d be stressed and maybe get annoyed with me. So now, when I am running late, and find my stress levels rising, I can fight that childhood connection. “I am not 5 years old, my mother is not late for work, I am not in trouble. I am just a few minutes late for an unimportant meeting. Nobody will get angry with me”.

In the moment, this sort of mantra can help to reduce my stress levels. Repetition of these messages can change the connections in my brain. The connections are made by repetitions as a child and, once understood, they can be changed by repetitions as an adult. A problem is, however, that as adults, our brains are much less flexible than they are when we are children, so the connections are slower to break and slower to rebuild.

But can it be done? Yes, for sure.

Posted in Looking After Yourself | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Counselling in Wokingham – Speeding

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

I don’t know if it’s the same for you but when I’m driving on the motorway I have a tendency to speed up. I may start off with the good intention of driving at the speed limit, but as I settle into the drive, my concentration tends to waver and my speed gradually increases.

speed1To keep my speed in check, I will periodically look at my speedometer and, if I am driving too fast, slow down to a more sensible speed. During my journey there is therefore a constant process of monitoring and adjusting my speed that goes on to enable me to keep things under control.

I was talking to a client about this in relation to her stress levels. She said that she felt that, like my speed on the motorway, her stress gradually increases as little things that annoy her accumulate. So a difficult interaction with a customer at work, a disagreement with her partner, breaking a glass, her children “playing up”, – all life’s normal little annoyances – for her they would build up to a point where she would have to let the stress out somehow, and often that would happen in an uncontrolled and unhelpful way. Taking the analogy with my driving further, it seemed that she didn’t have a monitoring process – the speedometer check – that would prevent her speeding up to 120mph and crashing the car.

speed4So we talked about putting that check in place. How could she monitor her stress levels without an external gauge? Well, once she thought about it, there were signs. In particular she talked about what she could “see” when she shut her eyes. Was it quiet and peaceful in her head or was it nervy and anxious? And she could talk about scoring her stress level at a particular time from 1 to 10 . Then, given that she couldn’t hope to live her life entirely without stress, what was an acceptable level for her to be running at? What was her speed limit? And then, what could she do to reduce her stress level, to take her foot off the accelerator?

This sort of monitoring can be used with all our emotions, I think. Particuarly with stress and anger, but also with fear and sadness – “I’m feeling down, what can I do to cheer myself up?” And also, I suppose, with moods like excitement or boredom or restlessness. What can you be too much of? What is too much for you or those close to you? How can you be less of it? All very individual questions with individual answers.

speed2I think (though passengers in my car may disagree), that monitoring and controlling my speed is sufficient to keep me safe and avoid too many speeding fines, but it doesn’t actually solve the problem, it merely controls it. Why do I speed up in the first place? Can I stop doing that? If we think about the emotional parallel to my driving it may be important to get to the root cause of the problem. Why does my client get stressed?  Can she stop doing that?

And that feels like a topic for my next blog….

Posted in Looking After Yourself | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Counselling in Wokingham – War & Peace

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

Do you find that some people are much easier to talk to than others? I am thinking of discussions – even arguments – that involve your opinions, perhaps about politics, or religion, or education. Such conversations are of course easier if you share the same view as the person you are talking with, but the are potentially more interesting, more stimulating, if you have different views.

For some people, having a discussion is about exploring a topic with someone else. This means listening to what each other have to say, and understanding each other’s point of view. It can also lead to a better understanding of your own point of view and a broader understanding of the subject in hand. It may also lead to a change of opinion on your part. I’d see such conversations as constructive and co-operative – “peace” conversations.

warpeace2For other people, having a discussion is about winning or losing. Such people tend to start the conversation with a fixed point of view which they have no intention of changing. Their purpose in talking to someone else about it is to convince the other person of their view – to out-argue them. They are not seeking a better understanding of the topic, they are simply looking to win the argument. These are “war” conversations. People can gain a lot of pleasure from this sort of cut and thrust – it is like a game, and they want to come out as winners. Sometimes, I think, they adopt a view on a subject for the fun of having the debate, not because they have really thought about the topic and really believe what they are saying.

warpeace1Although the words “war” and “peace” carry judgmental undertones, I am not saying that one sort of conversation is better or worse than the other – but they have different purposes. “Peace” conversations are more appropriate when agreement is sought – so if you and your partner are discussing your children’s education it is good if you can agree on the question of whether you can agree about whether to pay for private schooling. If one of you feels railroaded by the other into a decision they are not comfortable with, that is unlikely to be constructive. “War” conversations, on the other hand, are more about having fun – intellectual sparring can be stimulating and leave you feeling closer, more intimate with your “adversary”. But reaching agreement is really not important.

But when two types of people go into a debate for different reasons there can be quite a clash. One is trying to debate a topic and develop understanding – the other is playing a game and trying to win. If they don’t recognise that difference, both can end up getting frustrated with the other, and there is no resolution. Often one person will simply end up closing down the conversation because it seems pointless – and that can be annoying for the other.

Within a relationship, patterns can develop and there can be difficult power dynamics – so that conversations can have an importance beyond the topic in hand. Such conversations can have emotional undertones – about respect, about affirmation, and about love. If one person simply wants to “win” the argument they can be oblivious to the emotional impact of their “victory” on their partner – it can leave them feeling unvalued, ignored, disrespected and unloved. But equally if one person is seeking common understanding and agreement it can be hard for them to understand that this is frustrating for their partner. Their partner may feel that the conversation has happened – maybe several times already – that both sides have expressed their point of view and laid out their arguments. What more is there to be said?

warpeace3So what’s the answer? If these two types of people are in a relationship together, is conflict inevitable? Not necessarily, I think, because if they recognise the situation they can work with it. “Hang on a minute! We’re having a “war” conversation here when we should be having “peace” conversation. Let’s rewind and start again…”

Posted in Relationships | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment