Today Boarding School Syndrome is recognised as a real psychological issue by therapists and psychologists that has far-reaching effects on many ex-boarder's lives and relationships. The effects of going to boarding school can lead to profound personal difficulties in intimate relationships, and fuel patterns of behaviour that can benefit greatly from being shared, understood and carefully processed with the right therapist.
The replacement of home, family and parents with an institution has deep effects on a child's development and later on the adults behaviour. Boarding schools, although often viewed as places of privilege, fail to provide the crucial ingredients required for a child's healthy emotional development, producing young people out of touch with their own needs and feelings, and to those around them.
Isolated from the familiarity and warmth of their homes, young boarders may have found themselves unprotected from physical (bullying), emotional or sexual abuse. They may have been left attempting to fit in to a fear-based hierarchical culture far removed from the real world. Negotiating this environment might have been scary and difficult, requiring particular personality strategies to get by; keeping a low profile, rebelling, compliance, excelling at sport, bullying to not be bullied. It may have been a question of survival.
In early adulthood and throughout life, feelings buried from boarding school can resurface - fear, anger, homesickness, confusion, shock - and the very methods they adopted as young children to survive or tolerate them can now create a numbness from their real feelings and the feelings of others.
Therapy can help to access these feelings safely, working carefully with the adaptions so needed at the time, aiding the return to a sense of safety, connection and warmth, that would have been the natural experience of a harmonious home.
There are a wide range of problems that can be caused from living out of the survival patterns learnt at boarding school:
Do you recognise any of these symptoms of boarding school syndrome?
•addictions and destructive behaviours
•difficulties with intimacy in relationships
•depression and anxiety
•excessive criticism of self and others
•a tendency to catastrophize
•difficulties being a parent
•being emotionally resilient
•no sense of home, or a search for home
•an excessive busyness
•a fear of being in groups
The aim of therapy is to address these symptoms and restore a sense of your true self, by gently allowing feelings that may have been guarded against feeling for a long time, in a safe and contained relationship and space. Just recognising the effects of what is was like at boarding school and turning for help is a huge step for an ex-boarder, going against the perceived resilience and strength of holding it all together. The real strength is in allowing and listening to their true feelings.
The change possible in therapy through facing and accepting your experience, feelings and strategies can help you develop a congruent and healthy relationship with yourself and your needs, so that you look forward to being with yourself and others, and your right to your joy and well-being is restored.
I am one of a group of accredited psychotherapists and counsellors who have undertaken specialised training in working with adult ex-boarders with Nick Duffel, author of "The Making of Them."
For further information please see;