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.

About Paul Cockayne

Counsellor, musician, iPhone developer, games-player, cheese-lover....
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