Our culture demands conformity. As much as most of us hate to admit it, living in the U.S. especially, we prefer that others resemble us, and attempt to re-mold them when they don’t. In the poem The Rose that Grew from Concrete, Tupac Shakur wrote about a child growing up in trying circumstances to be shunned by the rest of the world when he reached adolescence. ‘Pac couldn’t understand why a seemingly good kid with rough edges was so harshly judged, why his differences were all anyone else could focus on. Although specific to children reared in the projects, Tupac’s sentiment can be applied to highly sensitive children in general. Despite the depth of the beauty they have to offer, most of us choose to focus on their damaged petals.
Tom Boyce, the author of The Orchid and the Dandelion, describes orchids as highly susceptible, being more easily swayed by the changes in their environments. They react strongly to poetry, music, and films on the bright side, but tend to also have difficulties bouncing back from criticisms, insults, and rejections. And often, due to who they are, criticism arrives in bundles. In writing this article, I wanted to focus more on the experiences of orchids rather than outline the strategies of managing their emotions, which was successfully done by the author in an article I’ll link below. Understanding their needs is just as significant as learning how to cope with them.
As I mentioned in countless past articles, cognitive distortions pervade all of our lives, but they’re even more prominent for orchids. Their intense self-doubt makes cognitive reconstruction, or reframing, even more challenging than it would be for others. Thus, they need more support. The orchids are more susceptible to negative thought spirals and find it more challenging to get themselves out. At bottom, they often mistrust their own reassurance and count on others’ validation. Unfortunately, asking for praise may be difficult because, as a culture, we tend to look down on those needing it. Instead of discovering why an orchid may require more frequent affirmation, we’re quick to call them selfish or childish, referring back to the stoic conception of adulthood, wherein one is just simply able to manage her or his own feelings.
But what would it be like if we understood, or cared to try to understand, their pattern of hyper self-criticism? What if the excessive selfie posts are ways for orchids to build up what little self-esteem they have? In their worlds, their struggles are compounded by self-censure, internalizing the labels placed on them. It’s one thing to understand and teach; another to punish. I think that most of us seldom ask about others’ experiences, simply hoping for them to carry their own weight. Too often, that weight evolves into the burden of people-pleasing. The orchids eventually learn that they have to care for themselves and preclude ill treatment. Boyce writes, ” (Alice) Miller’s insight was that the sensitive, ‘gifted’ child, in his or her efforts to fulfil the parents’ hopes and desires, loses a full sense of self, and moves into adulthood defined by others’ needs and with a trailing emotional emptiness.” In essence, they trade in their cores for pairs of puppeteer strings.
In treating orchids, I learned that, to them, self-acceptance is a foreign concept superseded by the thirst for conditional love. Rather than nurturing their dreams, their parents stifle them. The clients that could’ve been great writers and poets instead became accountants and programmers. There’s something to be said for a practical career, but not at the expense of losing one’s spirit. In searching for comfort and predictability, in feeling secure about our children’s futures, we sacrifice their well-being. I don’t think that the parent who negate’s his kid’s dream is a bad human, just deeply misguided.
While the world is a difficult place to navigate through, we can choose to make it less so. In examining our actions, we would do well in reminding ourselves that we don’t know everything, that maybe our children’s dreams are far more attainable than we initially believe. And, maybe, their sensitivities are mostly hard-wired. While having mostly difficult to control emotions, those kids tend to possess an inordinate level of empathy and imagination, thriving in environments that adapt to them. I’m not recommending that you never criticize them, but that when you do, you do it with love. Their experiences are already difficult, and they already beat themselves up more than you ever could, so why make their lives much harder than they already are?
Tupac, like many of us, was an orchid himself and he was also a rose. Imagine being a sensitive kid in nightmarish circumstances. Imagine the person that wouldn’t have been had someone not intervened. Imagine the kids lost in the trenches because compassion is scarce. Imagine what could be if we just care enough.