Counselling in Wokingham – Are you selfish enough?

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

The word “selfish” has a bad press – how many times did our parents tell us “Don’t be selfish!”. The implication is that it is wrong to put ourselves before others, that our own needs are less important than those of others.

selfish2I think that we are inherently a selfish race and so it is important for us to learn that other people matter as much as we do, that their needs are important too. Hence the “don’t be selfish” message from our parents. It’s important to be able to look at the big picture, to see things from different perspectives, understand what is going on for other people as well as for ourselves.

But alongside that, we all need to look after ourselves, to make sure that our needs are met. People who are never selfish tend to end up being taken for granted and feeling used. So in the sense that selfish means “looking after myself”, selfishness is a good quality – indeed, an essential one. Often, those messages from our parents leave us feeling guilty about being selfish when actually we should be proud of being selfish – to the right degree.

I remember reading a piece once from a writer who coined the word “self-ful” in an attempt to describe the act of looking after oneself in an appropriate way. Thinking about one’s own needs whilst being mindful of others, I suppose.

selfish1Some people seem never to think about themselves, or if they do, it is only to remind themselves that other people have more urgent or more important needs to be met. And there is reward to be gained from such an attitude, a bit like those ascetic monastic orders who deprive themselves of all worldly pleasures. It is a sort of martyrdom, but often one which is not expressed, so that other people don’t necessarily appreciate the sacrifices that are constantly being made.

What I’ve seen from some clients – very unselfish clients – is that their needs seem to build up to the point where, like a caldera, they need to find an outlet. This can, like a volcano, be a violent eruption. People can suddenly leave apparently happy relationships after 20 or more years, or splash out thousands of pounds on a sports car, or adopt a new career that represents a complete lifestyle change. Sometimes the outlet is not a volcanic explosion but a gradual seepage – a secret activity conducted over many years – a long-term affair, grabbing a cigarette in private when the opportunity is there, using pornography, transvestism.

selfish3Whether it’s an eruption or a seepage, the discovery of the outlet usually causes shockwaves in a relationship. “I never realised that you were unhappy” is a common reaction from the unselfish person’s partner. But in the aftermath of the shock, comes the opportunity to do things differently. The relationship can be re-set, and the words “I want….” might even be heard.

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Counselling in Wokingham – Alternative 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

facts1The White House spokesperson this week presented what she called “alternative facts” about the crowd size at Donald Trump’s inauguration. That’s an interesting expression and one which may well enter the dictionary of euphemisms in the next edition.

In my work with couples, I am often presented with what might be called alternative facts. “We had a big argument on Tuesday” : ”No, it was Wednesday” or “We never have sex any more” : ”Yes we do, we had sex in October”

There can be battles in the counselling room to establish who is the more reliable witness. Who is telling the truth and who is presenting “alternative facts”? The Trump administration seems to be embroiled in a power struggle with the press, and so too I find that my clients can be battling with each other to establish who is the more truthful, the more reliable, the more right.

facts3I suppose they are trying to convince me, hoping I will pass judgment. Or maybe they aim to convince their partner, hoping to subjugate them. But perhaps mostly they are trying to convince themselves, to justify their feelings and opinions – a defensive reaction which maybe is what we’re seeing from the Trump camp too.

While there are interesting parallels to be drawn, there are of course differences too. The crown size at Trump’s inauguration is (approximately) measurable by looking at recordings, but not all statements can be proven or disproven in such a clear-cut way. Conversations are not recorded, sex acts are not diarised, and so what clients present to me as facts are often opinions or even codified feelings, for example:-

  • “We had a big argument on Tuesday” could mean “I am still feeling really upset by the argument we had this week and I’d like to talk about it”
  • “No, it was Wednesday” equals “I am scared that things will blow up again, let’s not talk about it”

The battles to establish the truth, the power struggles I witness are never constructive. If we establish that an argument happened on Wednesday rather than Tuesday, what difference does it make? Does it establish who is the better person? Does it mean that you are always right and your partner always wrong? Does it mean that your partner is never again entitled to disagree with you?

facts2Battles can end in stalemate – a balance, an equilibrium of sorts – but such endings are unstable, resentments simmer, war is liable to break out again without warning. It’s far better to negotiate a proper peace settlement where both parties can get what they need and work together in co-operation, in partnership in the future.

I very much doubt that Trump is capable of doing that, and his battles for power will continue. I rather hope that clients I see are capable of more.

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Counselling in Wokingham – The Spider’s Web

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 people come to counselling with enthusiasm, eager to explore a particular issue, keen to find out more about themselves. Most people, particularly if they are attending counselling for the first time, arrive feeling rather nervous, wondering what will happen, not knowing what I will be like to work with. A few people attend unwillingly, “sent” by a friend or family member, or “dragged along” by a partner who sees couple therapy as the only way forward.

web2Sometimes people enter counselling with a feeling that talking about things can make it worse – that some things are best left unsaid. This can apply equally in relationship counselling or in individual work…”let’s draw a line under the past and move on”….”I don’t what to think about what happened in the past, I want to concentrate on the future”.

The danger of taking this line is that the past lurks. It sits there, in the background, and then comes back and hits you when you are not expecting it to. All our experiences – happy or unhappy – as an adult or a child – influence who we are today and how we might behave in certain situations – and sometimes this can be unhelpful, both to us and to those close to us.

web3We cannot simply ignore the past or pretend that it never happened. Every single experience we have shapes us in some small way. We learn from our past – not in a conscious way, necessarily, but unconsciously. We learn from observing others, from interacting with others, from books, from TV. It’s not a logical process or a controlled one, but largely a matter of trial and error, I think. We absorb stuff and then mash it around into some sort of coherent structure – our beliefs, our values, our feelings.

I remember talking to a client who didn’t normally show his emotions, but who would find himself dissolving into tears if he saw a distressed animal on TV. There are reasons why people experience road rage, or are scared of spiders, or hate silences. All these things are connected in some way to our past experiences, although it may not be obvious how or why.

web1Our brains are incredibly complex things, full of connections that we don’t fully understand, like a spider’s web. If we ignore the past, the connections remain static –they retain their power to kick in unexpectedly and cause us to react in inappropriate ways. Exploring the past is not about changing what has happened but about changing the connections in our brains, so that we can choose how we react to situations, rather than having the secret spider’s web of connections choose for us.

We never stop learning and counselling can be part of that process. Understanding the links between our past and our present gives us more power to do things differently.

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Counselling in Wokingham – Who are you?

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

What is it that makes you who you are? What gives you your sense of personal identity?

scan-152650009-1As a student in the 1970s I wore my hair fashionably long and it stayed that way when I left uni and started work. But a few years into my working life, I applied for a new job, and it was politely but firmly suggested to me that I should smarten up a bit – that the long hair was not really appropriate.

I was outraged, at first. Shouldn’t I be judged on the work I did, on the way I behaved towards other people, not on my appearance? Did I not have a right to wear my hair how I wanted to? And growing my hair had been, I suppose, representative of my independence, a reaction against school rules, and it seemed to be important, to say something about who I was.

But I wanted the job. I wanted it for career reasons, and for personal reasons. And so eventually, reluctantly, I made a trip to the barbers, my first for many years. It felt like a big, big, decision, but of course after having my hair cut I was just the same person, but with much shorter hair. It made no real difference.

“I can’t change who I am” is a phrase I often hear from clients, usually as a defence against making some sort of adjustment to their behaviour. And indeed you can’t change who you are, but you can change your behaviour, and just as my identity did not change with the length of my hair, neither do people change inside – change who they are – as a result of changing their behaviour.

samson2I remember a client who was a very keen footballer. As a single man his life revolved around football – playing it, watching it, and talking about it with his mates in the pub. When he became a father, he had a difficult time adjusting to the idea that he ought to spend more time at home. “Football is who I am”, he said.

I remember too, a woman who found herself getting very angry with her children, shouting at them, and hating herself for it. “But my temper inherited, that’s how my parent were, it’s in my blood”, she said.

The ideas we carry about who we are can be restrictive – we can find ourselves disabled by them, unable to change. But we can change the stories, we can choose what we think about ourselves. “Football is who I am” can become “I am someone who loves football and also wants to be a good dad”. ”It’s in my blood” can instead be “I can be inclined to copy the way my parents brought me up, but I am going to make every effort to do some things differently”.

samson1The story of Samson and Delilah comes to mind, when Samson loses all his strength after having his hair shorn. It’s a great story, but in real life our personal identities are not changed quite so readily!

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Counselling in Wokingham – New Year Resolutions

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

Did you make any new year resolutions this year? And, as it’s now January 4th, have you broken them yet?

resolution1Timing is important. A new year can represent a new start, and that can be important in trying to do things differently. It can be useful to draw a line under the past, to start afresh, to look forwards rather than backwards.

Having said that, I think that new year is in some ways the worst time to make a resolution. In the first place, it’s quite likely that you’re hung over, which is not the best condition to look for the strength to change. But more significantly, you’ve most likely made (and broken) new year’s resolutions many times before. Indeed, you may well have failed to keep exactly the same resolution many years in succession!

So even when making a new year’s resolution, you may be expecting to break it, you may be expecting to fail even before you’ve started to try. It may be that other times of year are better for trying to change those habits or behaviours that are so difficult to change. It’s about finding the right time for you.

resolution2Motivation is a key factor in making a significant change. Motivation can come in many forms and to keep a resolution you will need to find a personal motivation that is strong enough to maintain the change you decide upon. Smokers will sometimes put the money they save into a pot, saving up for some special treat; a problem with this can be that it’s hard to maintain the motivation after the special treat is obtained. Often people will make changes to help others in their lives, and their reward may be to see others happier; a problem here can be that your habit can become a secret – many are the smokers or drinkers who give up to please their partners, but end pursuing their vice of choice secretly.

It’s important to have motivation, and best by far if that motivation comes from within you. For the most part we are a selfish race, I think, and the strongest reason for your doing something is because you want to, not because someone else wants you to. That can lead to resentment, as well as making it more difficult to maintain the change.

resolution3One other factor that can inhibit change is a lack of belief. Your partner may tell you that you shout at the kids too much, your doctor may tell you that you drink too much, the speed cameras may say that your drive too fast. But unless you actually believe these things yourself, you will probably be reluctant to change.

Timing, motivation, belief. Three important factors which can help you to change. It’s rare that they all happen to come along together but understanding which of them you have, and which you need to work on, can make that resolution much easier to keep.

One of my resulotions is to blog more often. So far, so good….

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Counselling in Wokingham – The Common Enemy

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

enemy1Many years ago I was part of a 5-a-side football team. The standard was very poor (and I did nothing to raise it), but the team spirit was excellent. Why was this? Well, it was all down to the organiser and captain who I shall call Fred, an abnoxious little man, universally disliked by the whole team.

It was fortunate that Fred was not a drinking man because after our usual defeat on the pitch the rest of the team would gather in the pub to talk about Fred and whatever ridiculous and annoying things he had said or done that week. Our dislike of the man united us, and whatever differences might otherwise have been apparent in the team were insignificant in comparison to our universally negative opinions about Fred.

Though it was fun at the time, in retrospect I suppose it was a bit mean of us – Fred worked hard to make sure we had a team every week, and did no real harm – but leaving that aside, it is interesting to reflect on the unity Fred inadvertently managed to produce.

enemy2Having a common enemy can be an incredibly strong force. Revolutions are built on it. The French and Russian revolutions (though my historical knowledge is admittedly hazy) targeted the aristocracy, Nazism focused on the Jews, and now, on the morning that Donald Trump was elected as US President, I think perhaps he has managed to do the same thing with more of a scattergun approach.

But ignoring Trump for a second (I doubt that will be easy in the next few years) and turning my thoughts to relationships, I think that unity is incredibly important. Typically when we start out on a relationship – even in the first few dates – we’ll be exploring to find out what common ground exists between us. Do we like the same things as each other? Do we share the same views? The same sense of humour? Without a certain amount of commonality, the relationship is very unlikely to thrive.

We probably make the relationship a long term one with common ends in sight – a shared vision of the future, but of course as time goes on couples can find that they change, in individual ways. This can mean that the shared vision no longer exists, and partners can find themselves living day to day, following a routine, without a common goal and without the “travelling companion” who their partner once was.

enemy3Acrimony and arguments can develop when partners have different views on parenting, on finances or politics, or on how to spend their time.   Without that long-term vision the atmosphere can easily become hostile – couples can become enemies rather than allies.

If this has happened to you it can be helpful to find a common enemy – a “Fred”. Fred doesn’t have to be an actual person, he might instead be something like “anger” or “blame”. But having a Fred can re-unite couples, who can acknowledge the need to work together to overcome the anger in the relationship. With a common enemy, you are automatically on the same side, and once you are on the same side, almost anything is possible.

Is there a Fred in your life?

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Counselling in Wokingham – Asking for Help

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 am not particularly a political animal, but the Brexit vote and its aftermath have rather revived my interest.

help3My interest is largely a voyeuristic one – what will happen next? We are in unknown territory, and I think, if they were honest, the government would admit that they are very much out of their comfort zone. It’s a scary place to be, and we see politicians reacting to that in various ways. Some are full of bluster and bravado (“we’ll be better off out”) while others are all doom and gloom (“it’ll be an economic disaster”). Some want to get actively involved, others want to run away and hide. Fight or flight…

We can have these same reactions when, as individuals, we find ourselves outside our comfort zone. We don’t know what to do, we have no control, we can easily resort to fighting or fleeing, whichever is our natural reaction.

This loss of control makes me think, more generally, of loss. The reactions we experience in dealing with a bereavement are varied – anger, denial, blame, bargaining, depression are all common, and we’ve seen these from various politicians in the aftermath of the Brexit vote, too.

help2In our personal lives, one of the most important things we can do is to ask for help, which can take various forms such as practical support, advice, training, emotional support, all of which can be more or less useful depending on the circumstances. On of the difficulties can be that we don’t always know what sort of help to ask for, and that can put strain on a relationship if a partner assumes we want advice when what we really need is a shoulder to cry on.

Asking for help can also be difficult because it is often seen as an admission of weakness. We need to make that admission first to ourselves, and then to others, in order to access the help we need. That can be quite a brave thing to do and in fact I think that asking for help is usually a sign of strength, not weakness. Already out of our comfort zone, we may want to run away, or to fight, to deny, to withdraw, to shout and scream or to blame others. To admit we are struggling is, for many of us, another step away from our comfort zone, the zone where we feel in control of our lives.

It can be difficult to do, but asking for help can be the most important step in dealing with a problem. Certainly in working with relationship difficulties I often feel that couples have already made a huge step forward, just by coming to counselling. They have admitted to themselves and each other that they are struggling and in doing so they have already started to change.

help1Will we see our government making such a brave admission? Will Teresa May make a statement to announce that she doesn’t know what to do? I somehow doubt it…

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Counselling in Wokingham – Falling In Love Again

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

Last time I wrote about “falling out of love”. When I counsel people who feel that has happened to them, they often ask if it is possible to “fall in love again”, and how they can make that happen.

fallinginlove1The idea of making it happen is perhaps a little strange, because in general falling in love just seems to happen on its own, it’s not something you work at. So trying to fall in love can feel a bit contrived, but I see nothing wrong in that. In many areas of our lives we set objectives and work towards them in a conscious way. Why should developing our emotions be so very different from gaining academic qualifications or mastering new piece of computer software? If you want something specific, it’s more likely to happen if you actively work towards it, than if you just wait and see.

However hard you and your partner work at it, you can’t necessarily make it happen, but there are things you can do to make it more likely – to improve your relationship with somebody to the point where it becomes possible to love them – and for them to love you – again.

In my last blog I suggested that love is an accumulation of thoughts, feelings, beliefs and behaviours that are different for all of us; different feelings in a different mix. If you’ve stopped loving someone, you’ve stopped feeling some or all of those things, and so falling in love again is about finding ways to build back the feelings you’ve lost.

fallinginlove3A common theme is trust. For many people, trust is an important ingredient of love – indeed for many it is essential; love cannot exist without trust. A good way of breaking trust is by keeping secrets from your partner, and so something like the discovery of an affair will break trust and damage love.

Secrets damage trust and honesty restores it. It can be a painful and difficult process but after an affair, being honest about what has happened is a really important step in rebuilding trust and therefore in restoring love.

If you and your partner can understand what love means for each of you, you can work at restoring it, by breaking it down and building it up. It may be about spending more time together, about making plans, about sharing your joys or fears, helping each other achieve individual goals, about extending boundaries in your sex life.

It may be about almost anything and about many different things, but almost certainly it will be about doing things together, thus fostering a sense of partnership that may have disappeared over time or through circumstances.

fallinginlove2Love changes. When you’re 60, your ideas about love will probably be very different from the ideas you had when you were 20. As you get older, you need different things in life and so you also need different things in love. Some relationships seem to change naturally – they seem to adapt to changing needs. Love can evolve, it seems, though I suspect this comes about through good communication, together with respect and flexibility from both partners.

Not all relationships change naturally, however, and so, without any obvious circumstantial changes, couples (or one of a couple) can fall out of love. Where both partners are willing to put in the effort, I think it perfectly possible to rediscover love, perhaps a different form of love, often a better, deeper love.

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Counselling in Wokingham – Falling Out of Love

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

It’s a recurring theme in the work I do – often couples will tell me that they have drifted apart, “fallen out of love”.

What does that mean? It’s a complicated question to answer, because I don’t think there’s any single definition of what love is. It’s different for each of us, and indeed our love for one person might be different from our love for someone else.

love1Love is a collection of thoughts, feelings, beliefs and behaviours that add up to something special and important. The elements that add up to what we call love are many and various : trust, excitement, respect, physical attraction, support, fun, closeness, honesty, shared values, friendship, common goals, great sex, loyalty, attentiveness, humour, faithfulness. And some people would associate love with negative things as well : blind devotion, helplessness, disappointment, delusion.

I’ve probably only scratched the surface. Ask ten people to make a list of “love elements” such as the one above and they’ll all be different. Ask people to rank the items in order of importance and there will be even more differences.

So falling in love, and falling out of love are very personal things, different for each of us. But if we’ve fallen out of love we can say that not enough items on our own personal list are being ticked – or if they are, that the ticks are not big enough.

love2In breaking it down like this it perhaps becomes clear that the reasons why we might fall out of love are just as varied as the reasons why we fall in love. Your list of “love elements” might have ten items on it – things that are special for you but not necessarily for other people. If one or two of them get dented a bit, your love will probably survive – but if several of those love elements are significantly damaged, so too will your love be.

Sometimes it will be significant events that damage your love. If faithfulness is important to you, it will be a great blow if your partner has an affair. If fun is high up your list, it will be tough if you or your partner becomes depressed. And so we can go on – each element on your list can be damaged by events, sometimes events entirely out of your control.

But sometimes, it’s just down to circumstances. For young couples, it’s often the case that things add up. Work is perhaps intensive and demanding. Financial pressures mount with a house purchase – and a solution may be to work longer hours. With the arrival of children, priorities change dramatically and this adds to the strain for both partners.   Often all these things happen at the same time, and couples find that it becomes almost impossible to spend quality time together. This can continue for years, so that it can become “normal” for the couple, and so some, perhaps many, of the items on each person’s love list will no longer be ticked.

love3But we are a race of survivors, and without necessarily realising that we are doing it, we will adapt to changed circumstances and learn to live without all those love elements that were once so important. This can happen so gradually that we don’t realise it until, one day, it hits us that the relationship has changed. We have fallen out of love.

So can you fall in love again? Can you make that happen? You’ll have to wait for the next exciting episode….

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Counselling in Wokingham – Windows, Bubbles and Patchwork Quilts

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 dark ages, when I started a career in IT, it wasn’t even called IT. There were no graphical interfaces. Windows hadn’t been conceived. Computers had very limited memory, they could only do one thing at a time.

Things have changed, just a little, since then. Now computers multitask and we can have many windows open at the same time, viewing more than one on the screen at a time, and flipping between them as we wish.

windows1I think this is a pretty good representation of how we operate in our daily lives. It is rare that we will just have one thing going on at a time – we might be driving, listening to the radio, and thinking about work all at once. We might be watching TV, playing a computer game and listening out for the kids at the same time.

One of the stories we are told about gender is that men can’t multitask. This is a bit of a myth, I think – we all do multitask even if we don’t realise it. It’s a skill we all possess and can develop – a skill that’s really valuable at times, essential in certain situations. (So too, of course, is the skill of being single minded, to concentrate all your attention on one thing, as high-performing sports people learn to do).

windows2These multiple windows that we have open are, I think, more like bubbles than windows, because they can vary in size. It’s as if the bubbles are competing for our attention, striving to grow as large as possible, to occupy as much space as possible on our “computer screen” – in our conscious mind. The screen is a fixed size, so as some bubbles grow, others are squeezed into corners.

Some people seem to have many bubbles of roughly equal sizes – children, partner, family, work friends, hobbies, the ”to do list” all seem to coexist. This can be quite tiring and these people can find it hard to relax. They can also find it difficult to change their habits, their way of doing things, because of the complexity of their pattern of bubbles. It’s perhaps, for them, more like a patchwork quilt than a set of bubbles, a static arrangement that is not easily changed. Everything connects with everything else.

windows3Other people seem to live very much in the present, and so one bubble dominates their screen – the thing that they are working on, thinking about, in the present grows and everything else shrinks to make room. These people can be prone to addiction because what is happening in the present seems to be all that matters – all that actually exists. Similarly, they can find it difficult to look at or think about the big picture and can find themselves prone to having affairs. When they are with their affair partner everything else becomes insignificant. Nothing else matters, there are no connections.

How big are your bubbles?

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