Are you an orchid or a dandelion?

One of the key ideas I always share with my clients is that we all have a certain temperament, which we are born with and which has a profound impact on the way that life experiences, good or bad, affect us. Many of my clients have a sensitive, emotional temperament, which means that they are much more affected by problems in the family than someone with a robust, more intellectual temperament. It's important to emphasise that having a certain kind of temperament is neither good nor bad – it's just like being born with brown or blonde hair, blue or green eyes, not your choice or fault in any way but simply how you arrived on this planet.

I also tell my clients that I have a sensitive, emotional temperament too. This can make life difficult at times, as I am affected deeply by negative experiences and my childhood was pretty bumpy, to say the least. But it also bestows on me particular talents and gifts – I could not be a therapist without this kind of temperament. After all, you wouldn't want a therapist who was insensitive, unempathic or unkind! 

Dandelion children

Psychologists have, in recent years, been investigating the theory that we are all either orchids or dandelions. This is based on the Swedish idea that 'dandelion children' are pretty robust and do well in any environment, even if the parenting and family dynamic are less than perfect. US psychologists Bruce Ellis and W. Thomas Boyce extended this idea to include 'orchid children', who were especially sensitive and so needed just the right conditions to thrive. In practice, that means loving, nurturing parents; a relatively calm and stable family environment; and no traumatic experiences during childhood.

If orchids have a difficult family dynamic, they will struggle – developing a number of schemas which will affect them throughout their life and very likely experience depression or anxiety, among other problems, when these schemas are triggered by stressful events. But, if these sensitive children are well-nurtured, they will bloom into beautiful young people and later adults – just like the orchids above.

If you are a dandelion, you may not need my help. But if you're an orchid whose childhood was not what you needed, life may be a struggle. If you would like some help, call me on 07766 704210 or email

Warm wishes,



Feeling tired, stressed and under pressure?

If you often feel stressed or pressured, are hard on yourself and prone to self-criticism, you may well have a strong Demanding Parent – one of the most common modes in schema therapy. These modes are parts of our psyche, which have different functions and can be more or less helpful, depending on the messages they give us. For example, the Healthy Adult is a nurturing and protective mode, which helps us function well day to day and defends the more vulnerable parts of us from the critical, unsympathetic parts.

This may all seem a bit confusing, but we all have different sides to our personality – some more positive and helpful than others. In order to work directly with these different sides, in schema therapy we name them and try to get clear on their particular flavour: protective or attacking; encouraging or destructive; soothing or upsetting. The Demanding Parent is the part that drives us on, trying to achieve ever greater volumes of work or higher standards in our work, parenting or academic achievement. To an extent, this is helpful – it's good to be hard-working and ambitious, to take pride in everything we do. That's certainly the approach I take to my therapy sessions – I always want to do my best for people and help them as much as I can.

Never good enough

The trouble is, your Demanding Parent is never satisfied. It's like however hard you try, however many hours you spend slaving away at your desk, however much praise you get from your boss, that internal pushy parent always wants more. I see this mode in people who are perfectionistic, never happy unless they get all As or a first in their degree. Also those who are harshly self-critical, jumping on every mistake, however small, and berating themselves for it. If you have a strong Demanding Parent, no wonder you feel exhausted and under pressure all the time!

In schema therapy, we aim to quieten this destructive voice down and get the Healthy Adult to take over its job. This part of us still pushes us and helps us achieve, but is encouraging, not aggressive; positive, not negative; and supportive, not undermining. Think of it this way: if you wanted to lose weight, would you rather have a personal trainer who screamed at you and put you down all the time, or one who was encouraging and on your side, helping you achieve your goals without making you feel bad about every little slip-up? I know which I would choose.

Remember to be kind to yourself, even when you are striving and aiming high. Research clearly shows that being harshly self-critical is not remotely helpful or motivating. A firm but fair approach achieves far better results – and doesn't leave you vulnerable to developing mental health problems like chronic stress, anxiety or depression.

If you would like to learn how to be less self-critical, email

Warm wishes,