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Your Highly Sensitive Child: An "Orchid" in a Field of Dandelions

My friend Robert Reiher, a credentialed psychologist who works extensively with children, recently shared with me a paper he co-authored and I was so impressed with his grasp of some of the aspects of the trait of high sensitivity I thought I'd share it with you. One point he makes is that the HSP child has a much more delicate personality than his peers. Kind of like being an orchid, he really needs a protective environment to properly flourish.

If you'd like to read Robert's entire essay, here is a link to a pdf you can download, but in brief he discusses current research studies that show ways you as a parent can help your HSP child develop fully in this fast-changing world and avoid some of the pitfalls that come with constant change, especially the potential for a sense of overwhelm.

What are these pitfalls and where do they come from? Well, to start with we're all facing an accelerated rate of change in every so many areas around us. Stimulation from multiple forms of media and an ever-expanding technologythat commands our attention 24/7, a very real sense of time compression which in turn urges us into a multi-tasking, "do more faster" mindset. Citing research by Dr. Elaine Fox at the University of Essex, Robert says that it indicates certain people posse a gene that creates in them a "biological sensitivity to context." Simply put, people with this gene fit into a subset of HSPs that he describes as the "Orchid and Dandelion" model.

Orchids are very delicate flowers, and really can only grow and thrive under controlled conditions. And corrspondingly, an "orchid person" is biologically highly sensitive to environment, and can easily become emotionally drained trying to function in a world that has become so dependent on meaningless escapism and distractions. Also, such a person is negatively impacted by a sense of "disconnect" that can exist in our fast-evolving social environment in which relationships develope primarily within a digital remove, and are decreasingly "fact-to-face."
On the other hand, "Dandelion People" are much sturdier and resilient to these trends. Like weeds in a garden  they thrive, the research model's creators propose, because they are people who are less impacted by adverse stress. No matter what circumstances they encounter, they just keep on going like the Energizer Bunny. To the typical HSP, these seems just plain unfair.
But wait -- there's an upside to all of this. It turns out that the same gene that puts them at risk for depression or anxiety from toxic influences, also allows Orchid People to benefit at a greater rate from positive ones. In fact, Orchids can learn to survive and flourish when everything is changing around them in ways that can help them excell in life far beyond the common Dandelions.

"You are not going to reverse the rate of change of our society right now," Robert cautions, "but you can develop a powerful internal tool that you can use daily to nurture your individual gifts and perspectives." And he goes on to describe in great detail a technique he has developed to help people, especially highly sensitive people, to cope with stressful events in their lives.

This technique he calls the P.A.U.S.E. Process, and it's a meditation process that starts with slow breathing and uses an internal metaphor of the Inner Theater to help you shift from being "hair-triggered" by the outside world and potentially shutting down from stress and overwhelm to moving into an empowered state in which you nurture your unique purpose and gifts. Learning the P.A.U.S.E. Process, says Robert, can shift those Orchids who sometimes feel like a red-lining boiler into excelling far beyond their even-tempered but less-motivated Dandelion friends.

So while you may be more sensitive, the compensating side of being an HSP may be your potential to blossom into show-stopping beauty like a well-nurtured Orchid flower. Always remember that with every price, there comes a prize as well. As an HSP in a world where everything has changed since your childhood, it is imperative to find a daily practice beyond yoga that is individual to you and helps you flourish, like a rare orchid, rather than wilting into overwhelm. And yet while the trait of high sensitivity brings with it this important responsibility to take greater care of yourself and set clear boundaries, it also brings with it powerful benefits. As Uncle Ben tells Peter, "With great responsibility also comes great power."

If you'd like to read more, here's a link to the very interesting 29-page PDF that Robert was nice enough to share with me about "Orchid and Dandelion Children." I'm sure you'll find this as fascinating as I did! There are also some interesting links in the pages to related sources of information.

I've also asked Robert, and he has kindly agreed to do a follow-up article for my next email newsletter about his work at Sober College and Woodbury University. So take a moment now to subscribe so you won't miss out on his insights and recommendations on how to thrive in a less-than-sensitive world. Here's the link to subscribe to my free Highly Sensitive People Newsletter.