Flowers are frequently used in metaphors to help people understand complex ideas. This includes people who are living with Borderline Personality Disorder.

Marsha Linehan developed Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) for the treatment of people who have Borderline Personality Disorder. If you’ve seen her speak, read her recent memoir or been treated with DBT, you are no doubt familiar with her story of tulips and roses. She learned this simple but powerful floral metaphor from Martin Bohus,MD, a German psychiatrist who is an expert in BPD and a long time colleague, collaborator and friend of Dr. Linehan.



The gist of her tulip/rose metaphor is that If you are unhappy with your life because you  feel that you don’t fit well into your social environment or that environment reinforces out-of-control emotions and behaviors, its okay to look for a place that is better suited to meet  your needs.. In other words, you may be a tulip trying to flourish in a rose garden. If you are not happy there, Dr. Linehan suggests you look for a tulip garden instead.

This flower metaphor recently appeared in an article in the New York Times as well. It focuses on children who are highly sensitive and who are seemingly out of step with their peers in terms of their social development. They are more emotionally reactive and prone to social withdrawal from, rather than interact with, their peers. This preference for alone time over activities involving other kids raises serious concerns in their parents that something is wrong. However, as the article points out, highly sensitive kids do better academically and socially when their environment is tailored to better match their temperament,

To help explain this, the article uses the floral metaphor as well. Highly sensitive children, according to the author, are akin to orchids, an exquisite flower that needs a highly nourishing growing medium to flourish, On the other hand, other, less sensitive kids are more like the more common and resilient dandelion that can seemingly thrive in any space that offers even a minimum of soil, like a crack in a sidewalk. Both are worthy and much appreciated flowers, it’s just that orchids need a bit more TLC to blossom than dandelions do.  You can read the entire article here


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