As I began to explain in my previous post, the introduction to this topic, I’m considering now, with the perspective of hindsight (because I didn’t recognise these things back then) that my own childhood began with bereavement-induced stress, but there were other stresses too, leading me to be what Dr Tom Boyce might label as an Orchid child, and now as an adult, simply an Orchid.
I was, however, fortunate to be living with both of my parents (since my mum remarried) in a family environment that was pretty stable, or so it seemed on the face of it. Money became increasingly tight, and somehow this, I realise, puts a level of stress on things, like the lack of money is a restriction: other kids have things that you don’t, or worse, food perhaps isn’t the most nutritious (although it seemed my parents always did their best in this regard, since even children in families with money might have consumed more in the way of junk food). Both of my parents smoked and my step-dad had increasing health issues throughout his life; at one point he was faced with the prospect of having to use a wheelchair if we were ever to go out anywhere and I remember being told this and finding it deeply distressing.
In all, I think it’s fair to say myself and my siblings had a fair few stresses to deal with, but as Dr Tom Boyce points out in his talk “no two families are the same” and he explains that what he means by this is that even within a family, the experience for each involved is different, potentially meaning that one child in a family can be a Dandelion while another in the same family can be an Orchid. There can be genetic reasons for this as is gone into in quite some detail in the last part of the talk, which was too much for my Orchid brain to take in and I skipped over it.
Boyce did mention briefly asthma which I used to suffer from, along with hayfever. I came to recognise that my asthma was affected by stress; I feel my stress as a physical tightening in my chest and at times I have had stress pains in my upper back. Hayfever is basically the immune system reacting to pollen, but you can describe this also as a stress on the system. I have gradually learned to manage these things to the point where I am medication-free. Part of this learning involves recognising that these things, when perceived as stress, add up, and compile with other stresses, so often if you are dealing with, say, emotional stress, then symptoms of asthma and/or hayfever will be made worse. Food and in particular food intolerances also induce a form of stress, and I will talk more on this in a moment.
While I didn’t want to go into all that detail regarding my own childhood, rather, the point is to figure out some answers to those questions I pondered at the start of my first post on this topic, like Boyce did in his talk, I suppose I felt the need to explain “where I’m coming from.”
Can an adult reverse the effects of growing up as an Orchid?
- NLP. I’m sure there can be a degree of reversal, and my prior reading of a book on Neuro Linguistic Programming certainly gives hope, but it was alarming to me when Boyce showed a slide illustrating the effects of stress on an animal brain, and my concern seeing that is “that sh!t aint reversible!” Of course that’s likely a worst-case illustration and realistically neither you or I have that degree of damage to contend with. It seems to me that NLP could be employed to reverse the list of Orchid symptoms, such as how we respond to various stresses, overcome our shyness, or become more open to ‘novelty’.
- Food. Stress is the big factor to contend with and I realise that I have been almost unconsciously working towards reducing stress in my life (or have I? More on this in a moment). I have reduced stress in my life because I got out of a household of smokers, I partake in regular exercise, and I eat healthily. Since learning about the Orchid and stress thing though I have looked more closely at low-stress foods, although from my research I found that there are some things that are listed as “stress-reducing” but I think that has a slightly different connotation in that, what I mean by ‘low-stress’ foods is ones that don’t stress out the body so much as others might, such as processed “foods” and ones high in sugar. ‘Stress-reducing’ foods would likely be ones that calm you down, like when drinking tea. There might of course be some overlap. I believe foods low on the G.I. would be low-stress, since insulin spikes to me are a stress in themselves and basically a low-carb diet keeps me calm and steady.
Here’s a list compiled from this source:
- Green Leafy Vegetables
- Turkey/Pumpkin seeds (high in iron/tryptophan)
- Fermented Foods – promoting a healthy gut
- Fish high in omega-3
- Dark Chocolate
- Vitamin D – aka sunshine
- Avoid: Sugar, Gluten, Processed Foods
- Coffee. I’ve come to recognise caffeine and coffee in particular (because tea can be calming) is stress-inducing. This is a shame because I often enjoy a daily cup of coffee. While not prepared/ready to quit drinking coffee, I do recognise its stress-inducing effects on me, which generally build up over a few days if I don’t stick to my self-imposed limit. I believe such things as ‘energy drinks’ that may be labelled as sugar-free because they use artificial sweeteners (or other natural ones) may also be stress-inducing and should be avoided.
Can you thrive as an Orchid?
This seems like an odd question following the previous one, since if the solution is to reverse the effects of being an Orchid, then surely one becomes a Dandelion, but Boyce’s stance is that Orchids are a good thing and are beneficial to society, and likely the planet as a hole. For these reasons I’m going to go with the idea of ‘once an orchid, always an orchid’. We will still have our certain tendencies, but the uncomfortable, unwanted, and harmful effects of these tendencies can be reduced and managed. In doing this, therefore, the answer to this second question is again Yes, we can thrive as an Orchid. Boyce provides a list of ‘six strategies’ that allow a child to thrive, but lets consider them as adults:
- Be your own true self
- Build routines; we thrive on sameness
- Caritas; a Latin word but effectively means ‘seeking attentiveness and steadfast love’
- Celebrating and honouring diversity
- Engage in imaginative play; be imaginative and creative
- Balance your fears with a need for exposure/mastery
Those strategies can apparently be found in Boyce’s book. While I recognise my desire for routine, I often struggle to build them. Sometimes I can manage a particular routine for a while, only for it to then slip. Where my efforts effect others or their view of me (reflecting on that period of school life and homework) then I find less of a problem.
Actively manage vs avoiding
I mentioned that I found myself seemingly and unconsciously working towards reducing stress in my life. As I pondered the ‘anxiety’ part of ‘maths anxiety’ I started to realise that really there is (for me at least) only anxiety and maths lessons were just a situation where the feelings became apparent. I also pondered more deeply the avoidance techniques I had employed when it came to homework and how they persist today when it comes to tasks in my adult life. I was left with these two things to research: “anxiety and avoidance” and I learned from another video that avoidance is indeed part of the ‘cycle of anxiety’.
As I’ve come to recognise, the repeating of the cycle throughout life leads to a compounding effect, the previously mentioned video illustrates this:
I can see now how I have routinely turned to different things to avoid anxiety, how I have labelled a lot of these things as a bad habit and sought to reduce or remove them, only to replace them with something else, or an increase in something else, such as to replace video game addiction with a Youtube addiction. This was all because I feel anxiety/stress and then react by avoiding/escaping. The act of avoiding leads to a perceived reduction in the stress because the anxiety is removed, and I’m realising now how this gets misinterpreted as a positive outcome or success. In the long term this means the problem will return, persist, and likely increase (as explained in the video) because the underlying issue hasn’t been overcome. One needs to break the cycle, as revealed in the aforementioned video (likely easier said than done).
By way of another video I watched recently, this time of Jordan Peterson, his solution with regard to combating an addiction (which I’m proposing here is something turned to as a means of avoidance) is to keep plugging away, and even if/when you do slip backwards, because the very experience of a slight improvements, will compound in an upward trend and magically thwart, I suppose, the downward trend of the impact of the cycle of anxiety (misleadingly from this perspective illustrated an an upward trend in the graph above).
I’m not convinced by Patterson or his idea alone; while it may work for some, my most recent overcome hurdles have stemmed from reframing techniques introduced to me in the book on NLP. This involves either imagining the better version of yourself, or using a role model (real or imaginary), and being that person (or positive trait that you aspire to if it’s of someone real, because I don’t think you should seek to escape being yourself). Ideally you’ve really got to ‘click your fingers’ and start. For example, if you smoke then you have to click your fingers and stop. I realise that in the case of addictions such as this there may be withdrawal symptoms that need to be addressed and where a ‘slip backwards’ is experienced then this is the time to employ Peterson’s mindset of, “it’s just a slip”, but there is an overall trend of improvement and you can still progress forwards again from this point, and each time you do will lead to overall progress.
Peterson’s approach alone doesn’t work for me because if I am to imagine being my perfect self (of course realistically no one is perfect) then there is no addiction to reduce: my imagined perfect self would have no addiction. By persisting with an addiction but in its reduced form, I am still existing as an addict and not who I want to be. Don’t “want to be” (or wish), Be.