Jun

6

2016

The Long-Term Impact of Boarding School

What is Boarding School Syndrome?

Boarding School Syndrome is not a medical category, but a proposal that there is an identifiable cluster of learned behaviours and emotional states that may follow growing up in boarding school, which can lead to serious psychological distress. These can include depression, difficulties in forming relationships, and emotional numbness. It’s the term applied to the long-term impact of boarding school.

Therapists need to understand and be aware of these symptoms in line with a client’s background in the schooling system, which may help them to identify and treat ex-boarders. In this blog article we take the key learning points from Professor Joy Schaverien’s seminar on Boarding School Syndrome that took place in Brighton in April 2016.

What are the psychological events that may lead to boarding school syndrome?

Attending boarding school is a unique and alternative upbringing which impacts heavily on long-term development. Understanding the nuances of boarding school experience is important for understanding where many symptoms stem from.

Hidden Trauma

The lasting effects of early boarding is a hidden trauma. A young child sent away from home to live with strangers, and in the process loses their attachment figures and their home. They’re exposed to prolonged separation. They may experience bullying and loss. This combination leads to unbearable emotional stress. A young child does not have the mental capacity for creating a coherent narrative out of these events on their own, as they are unable to process it. This trauma may become embodied, leading to conversion physiological symptoms and a large number of psychological symptoms.

Bereavement

The term ‘homesickness’ does not do justice to the depth of losses to which the boarding school child is subjected. The broken attachments of the first days in boarding school amount to a significant, but unrecognised form of bereavement and the child must learn to live without love.

For the child, their losses are minimised and glossed over as insignificant. This contributes to the hidden aspect of the trauma. The term ‘homesickness’ encompasses a complex systems of unprocessed grief and many children are emotionally wounded (traumatised), exiled (homeless) and bereaved (grieving). Suddenly, children are abandoned and have to adapt to the abrupt and irrevocable loss of the childhood state. Children lose their role – their sense of themselves as people who belong in a family group and have to prematurely appear grown up. It is not uncommon for the repressed distress to come out in symptoms such as bed wetting and vomiting as tears are not permitted.

The child may feel a sense of homelessness. The repeated experience of returning home as a stranger and then leaving, just as the child has settled back in, builds a psychological pattern – an expectation of being left which is often unconsciously active in later life. These patterns of disrupted attachments are often replayed within a long-term partnership. This can also cause a psychological split between the boarding school self and the home self.

Numerous celebrities have described their experiences of boarding school negatively. Rupert Everett said that upon being sent to boarding school he could not stop crying. Kristin Scott Thomas has described boarding school as ‘a wicked thing’. James Blunt (above) said that boarding school was an inspiration for his music as ‘to be taken away from one’s family and locked away for 10 years’ creates ‘an incredible intensity of emotion.’

If the child is unhappy but is given the message that the school is good for her and a privilege, then they feel they have no right to complain and can lead the child to doubt her or his own perception. Although the child may conform, the confusion will likely remain, causing a second psychological split between the feeling self and the thinking self.

Another loss is the dependent state of childhood and thus the premature death of the child self. This can never be regained because when the child returns home she or he is inevitably changed, no longer trusting but watchful and alert for rejection. Once a child realises her parents are not returning, an encapsulation of self occurs and a protective shell is formed. Deep within the armoured self is the hidden vulnerable child who trusts no one. Overwhelmed with many physical manifestations of grief, something has to happen psychologically for the child to survive, and children have to learn to live cut off from their internal emotional turmoil.

Captivity

The child is captive, living in a situation not of his own choosing and which he is helpless to change and thus is undergoing another hidden trauma. Living without traditional family markers of the passing of time, such as birthdays, means that when an ex-boarder tells his tale it may lack narrative flow.

In the case of imprisonment, there is an absence of loving relationships. There is also no one with whom she feels she can be appropriately angry. Without the outlet for expression, the child may turn that anger inwards. An unconscious form of splitting may occur, whereby in order to keep the parents happy, the child has to do violence to his own psyche.

Symptoms and what to be aware of when working therapeutically with ex-boarders

Ex-boarders often seek therapy for general depression, relationship difficulties, and a sense of emotional numbness, which may manifest from not living their own lives. Even experienced therapists may miss the depth of the wound inflicted by broken attachments and the emotional neglect suffered when the child is sent to boarding school. As a result of society, the ex-boarder themselves may have the view that boarding school is a privilege.

As children, ex-boarders were unable to tell their parents of their suffering and thus as adults they may disregard their own suffering. This may replay in therapy as they may not expect the therapist to take their story seriously. They may recount it, omitting the emotional impact and gloss over their suffering with a well-rehearsed joke. It can often be difficult for the adult to recognise that the treatment they received was wrong, as a child usually assumes her experience to be the norm, especially when it is shared with others who are in similar circumstances.

The ex-boarder may appear socially confident, but may have a deep and permanent lack of trust in loving relationships as a lasting repercussion to the repetition of loss. It can replay in adult relationships, and manifests in anticipation of rejection and fear of abandonment by later attachment figures. This may lead to emotional withdrawal and as an adult they may, against their own desires and emotional needs, prematurely cut off from intimate relationships. This may replay as psychotherapy becomes important, and it may lead to sudden termination of the therapeutic relationship when the rage associated with dependency begins to surface.

Whilst widely viewed as a privileged upbringing, it’s important to understand the particular experiences and long-term impact of boarding school.

With ex-boarders, the breaks in psychotherapy have little impact at first. The regular pattern of school holidays followed by the return to school arms the ex-boarder with a mechanism for coping with disrupted attachments. However, after a few breaks, they may need to stop, believing they are better working things out alone as dependency seems too much.

Boarding school may also lead to sibling groups. The bonding in sibling groups compensates for the loss of family and the significance of the sibling group continues into adult life as a sense of belonging is maintained. The powerlessness that children at first experience in relation to the rules may create a sibling bond and may also produce people who conform. This prepares them well to follow a career in the military, law or some highly formalised institution.

Ex-female boarders have an ability to get in with people of all classes and help others feel at ease. However, as their suffering is masked, the therapist may have to resist reciprocating the friendliness in order to take seriously the perceived suffering hidden behind the social presentation. Women may also show up symptoms of shame, as they were often punished with shame and humiliation as opposed to the physical beatings in many boys schools.

The armoured personality and encapsulated emotional self becomes a way of being and influences the way ex-boarders may interact as adults. As a child, the ex-boarder splits off parts of his vulnerable self in order to survive, and the adult may show signs of amnesia and an inability to get in touch with their feelings. Ex-boarders may show symptoms of dissociation and it may manifest as a sense of feeling permanently distant from the world which is a recognised symptom of PTSD. Therefore an approach that attends to bodily symptoms and links the person to their body experiences may help. The ex-boarder may need to learn that it is safe to have feelings. The moments of meeting may be the strongest therapeutic factors in working with Boarding School Survivors.

Further reading: Joy Schaverien talks to us about the emotional impact of boarding school

33 Comments

  1. Harri on 26 March 2017 at 10:10 pm

    Just want to say, 2 decades of therapy and a whole training as a therapist myself, this article totally, uncannily, hits the mark. Thank you. It affirms the experience and gives some fresh insights too.

    • Brighton Therapy Partnership on 29 March 2017 at 7:12 am

      Thank you Harri.

  2. MomOfTwoLittleGirls on 3 April 2017 at 3:39 pm

    Just asking – are there any arguments FOR boarding? The brief I’ve read seems to be very one sided.

  3. MD on 4 April 2017 at 8:02 am

    An insightful article which resonates with my own experiences. Certainly boarding school divorced me from making any emotional attachments in general, although there were pre-existing causes for that as well. When I left at 16, I think I over-compensated by making an obsessive attachment to one or two people…

    So what can be done…. just years of therapy?

  4. Sue Davies on 4 April 2017 at 10:48 am

    It certainly hits the mark, I can remember in my early years of boarding school, sitting in our car as it sped towards town, with my tin trunk of clothes in the back and tears flowing down my face. It really did feel like abandonment, and on hindsight it tore my parents to pieces when they saw my tears – there was nothing they could do, we lived to far from town to make the daily school run. My issue was they could only get my eldest brother and myself into school for the first year as there was no space, and only on the second year did my twin sister and brother go as well. It felt as though they were the special ones.

  5. Moses on 6 April 2017 at 1:17 pm

    Very very true. I went to boarding school at 10 and ever since I have been this hard person (feedback from people I interact with) and even when I feel for someone, it is a major task to tell them how I feel. When I lost my dad ten years later, I felt the pain but could not even bring myself to cry. It has been 12 years. I always know that school killed something in me. Something that even makes me just say “sorry” when condoling a bereaved friend and nothing more!

  6. Munano on 7 April 2017 at 6:46 am

    That’s me right there. All of what I’ve been going through in one detailed article. I’m 31 and my life has been a very unpleasant one. I hated boarding school and I’d never have my kids go through my experience as a child. It’s wicked.

  7. Helena Shaw on 21 May 2017 at 2:05 pm

    I am so grateful to find this article. I was sent away at 6 and now in my late 30s I am starting to see how I have a very superficial bond with my mother. I have had several forms of counselling and am still taking medicine for depression after a break down several years ago. Now I just need to find a therapist local to me with experience of treating patients with Boarding School Syndrome.

  8. Cecilia on 23 May 2017 at 7:08 pm

    Yep rings true for me sent away at 10 “for my own good, how lucky was I ?”
    As soon as dependancy or emotional attachment nears I run away.

    The most successful period I had with a partner . . was when I had two men . .both called John as it happened. With one I had a spiritual/intellectual bond and spent hours talking, with the other a purely physical one . . .
    That way I wasn`t dependant on one !
    Not really a satisfactory long term solution though, eh ?

    I feel now only family can validate me, but do you think a therapist can really help you to value yourself ?

  9. Lynn on 13 June 2017 at 7:07 am

    I left for boarding school at 14. In another country and culture. I don’t do relationship follow- through well. For years I was ashamed of myself and knew everyone else was better than me. I cried alot without knowing why which in turn made me feel without value. I was suicidal and even wrote out my funeral service. I longed to just not be here anymore. Years into my adulthood, a friend introduced me to a magazine titled “Among Worlds”. It was writted by and for third culture kids. I cried through every issue, thankful that I was not the only person feeling the difficulty of fitting into and belonging to something or someone.
    I still don’t feel attachments. But I suspose that’s ok. I am a christian and look forward to one day being made whole again.

    • Brighton Therapy Partnership on 14 June 2017 at 5:11 pm

      Thanks for your contribution Lynn. It is indeed of some comfort in our lives to realise that we are not the only ones feeling as we do. Wishing you well Lynn.

      Best wishes
      BTP

  10. OrganisedPauper on 15 June 2017 at 8:18 pm

    It doesn’t reflect my experience. I went to boarding school at the age of 8, but it was a free choice. I never had to stay there. I wasn’t made to.go. I was badly bullied & misunderstood in the state system. I got a grant for boarding school. I didn’t experience home sickness like some children did. My issues from boarding school are different from those listed. I liked school, until my teens. There was a lot of sexual pressure from boys in our mixed sex school, at the same time I was considered the ‘weird’ girl. It didn’t make any sense. I still liked the school itself, just not the other children. I’m definitely not emotionally numb.I have a very deep core of low self esteem, although I suspect I would have been even worse off in the state sector.

  11. Rory Holburn on 2 August 2017 at 7:38 pm

    As an ex boarder I certainly recognise some of the influences and pressures, but I would like to state that these are not always negative for all boarders. Some of these experiences, when complimented with a very strong family life in between, can be very positive and affirming. The family love is not missing but is enhanced in the moments when time is shared together and the time apart enables independent growth and development beyond the family alone.
    I had great and horrible times at boarding school, very much like life itself.
    I am always concerned that once something has a label it gets applied to everything. I pray that therapists do not hear “boarding school” and just assume negative. There is enough of that idiocy in day to day life already. Yes, they are not suited to all, but they also do work for many.

  12. Valerie Thomson on 18 August 2017 at 2:52 pm

    my husband went to boarding school at 11 always felt deprived of some home life…I went to boarding school at 14, loved almost every minute, I could be independent and had friends, (was on a farm so lonely at home.) I had resources I never had at home. I think a good boarding school can be a very good experience and a wonderful environment, especially in one’s teens. It is not always a negative experience.

  13. Tony on 19 August 2017 at 2:54 pm

    Boarding School let me down when I most needed the support, I was expelled for a robbery I did not commit, simply the malicious actions of a fee paying boy vs a naive scholarship boy.
    Money certainly talks
    My parents took the school’s side and disowned me
    16 years old and destitute, sleeping on newly made friends floors, hostels and squalid bedsits until I joined the Military
    Abandoned by the military after 12 years of service due to the end of the Cold War
    Issues with depression and a failure by the NHS in recent years to address my mental health issues they suggested I contacted the charity Combat Stress
    I haven’t been able to settle into a normal routine at work and have had numerous jobs since leaving the military in 1996
    I have a small circle of friends and if I feel my trust has been broken then there are no second chances
    My parents are no longer part of my life and neither is my sibling, I tried reconciliation some years ago only to realise that I would never receive their acceptance
    Back in a military environment in KSA at age 52 and very much on the outside here in regards to my coworkers as mental health issues are frowned on as LMF

  14. Cameron on 5 November 2017 at 7:44 am

    I also was sent to one of these appalling places at a young age. Parents mistake boarding schools as ‘ communities’ , which children and young people need as anyone does. But they are institutions, not communities .. just like prisons. One of the horrors is that young children have to form instant attachments , as they are pulled form their natural ones. These being non family authority figures, or other children. Children in these situations often retreat into fantasies or early addictive behavior – things that lead to addiction issues later in life, esp substance abuse. As an exboarding school person, and someone who has been in therapy for years and is now in treatment for substance abuse issues, I have found that so much of my dysfunctional thinking/behavior has its roots in the culture of being a child effectively being brought up in the institution as functioning as a surrogate parent . The only people they benefit are the most conformist type of children, who then go on in later later and repeat the institutional brainwashing, applying it to other institutions in later life.

  15. Ruth wilkinson on 6 November 2017 at 3:37 pm

    I can totally relate to this. I was sent away to boarding school when I was 5 till the age of 10. My parents gave me photographs of them but I couldn’t bear to look at them. I feel I did a life time of grieving in those early years and now have no emotions left.I cannot find anywhere inside me feelings of love nor do I feel sad at losing anyone whether it be death or just leaving. The exception is towards animals I can love them and be upset when I lose them. I do ‘t know if this is common.

  16. Lucy Carr on 12 November 2017 at 11:11 am

    The relief I felt when I read Joy’s book, was quickly replaced with total horror and overwhelming sadness. The relief was that finally I had found something which so eloquently taplkedvof how I felt, plus I briefly experienced a validation of my feelings. The horror and sadness came from the understanding of what I went through, that my feelings had been denied entirely all my life….labelled as an over sensitive/emotional or difficult child. The horror that I can’t have what I missed out on and so desperately crave, that I feel so damaged and different that I don’t feel I will ever find peace and acceptance. I have a wonderful therapist, who has shown me patience and kindness for 2 and a half years now. I can’t think of living without her in my life, yet I despise this neediness in me, and I am scared every day that she may walk away from me either intentionally or unintentionally. It is my own children(I love them fiercely and can never let them down)and my fear of failing that stop me from stepping out of this world. So the journey of life continues, with me keeping everyone and everything just that little bit separate from my being. I am sorry for all others who experience this despair, may you one day find some peace.

  17. sue on 13 November 2017 at 7:31 am

    What is so very sad is that whether we can see it or not, the damage was caused. I was sent away at 9, unable to speak to my parents for 3 months at a time, and unable to tell anyone how very lonely and sad I was. It has taken me over a decade of therapy to come to terms with some of the damage that being away at school caused. Recently, I heard a program about a kid with an attachment disorder and found myself crying – what he described was exactly what I had often felt. Being sent to boarding school was a brutal thing, no matter how often we were told “we’re doing this to give you the very best opportunities” and it is only with the help of an excellent therapist and treatment for depression that I find myself able to live a contented and productive life. If I had to say one thing to anyone having gone through the boarding school system it would be this: find yourself a therapist who can help, because you can become whole. I did, and I believe anyone can.

  18. Joe 90 on 5 January 2018 at 7:05 pm

    At 54 years of age, suddenly 45 years of more or less across-the-board cr*p starts to make sense. Too many absolutely spot-on observations to itemise.

  19. Pamela Chedore on 8 January 2018 at 2:30 am

    I think that the article is too one-sided. I went to boarding school at ten, in a community where boarding school was considered normal and a privilege. There were good and bad times and I think it was a good preparation for life in general. I don’t suffer from depression, didn’t feel abandoned, and retained the same personality from before I went. Some children aren’t suited to boarding school – nor for that matter to competitive sports or high academics. I hope that all boarders are not now suspected of having been traumatized – of course the mental health community will only see those who were.

  20. Numbskull on 8 March 2018 at 1:31 pm

    Speaking personally, it seems that there are two possible outcomes from attending a boarding school, and they are not mutually exclusive.

    One is a resilience and determination combined with an understanding of the value of conformity, which can sometimes deliver professional success.

    The second is the development of a numb skull, frozen childish emotional development along with isolated and defensive thinking wrapped in a lifelong expectation of impending abandonment.

    Unfortunately the interplay between these two can cause difficulties not only for the ex-boarder, but also for many people around them.

    At work, issues of trust and authority can cause a mismatch between the boarding school children and the majority have not.

    Closer to home, another challenge is how to be a resourceful parent of children from the age of 10 upwards, having had no real experience of this, apart from prolonged institutionalisation.

    A third challenge comes in relation to caring for parents as they become infirm: love, duty, resentment all fight it out with a force which can be far too strong for such delicate circumstances.

    I’m coming to realise that the boarding school experience has probably damage the people around me more than myself.

  21. Samantha White on 31 March 2018 at 10:44 am

    I went to boarding school aged seven, with my sister who was three years my senior. Our parents had just had a bloody and messy violent divorce. We are both broken. She has bi-polar and has been on Lithium etc for decades. I just, just…. try and keep the tacking that is my dress in tact. Its falling apart at the seams of course.

    I thought my day had come when Dad said he could no longer afford to keep 4 kids in private school, by this time he had remarried and his new wife wanted her kids privately educated. Not at boarding school though, just the best day schools. So we were brought out and put back home, a home we didnt know. My mother had moved house three times by then. We only visited her new home in holidays so were unfamiliar with even the location or geography of the area. And didnt know any of the kids of our own age who had been brought up together.

    We were outsiders.

    I was forced to take an IQ test in Thetford because I hadnt ever sat an Eleven Plus exam. I really wanted to go to the Secondary Modern but my mother insisted I sit this IQ test to enable me to attend the Grammar School.

    I dont know much about public schools/private schools. But as a girl it was clear to me that when I went at age seven it wasnt to be groomed to go then onto a famous school like Eton or Harrow. We as girls were mainly taught embroidery, Latin, maths and gym. Plus of course DS – domestic science.

    It was a third rate boarding school even by the standards of the day. All manner of discarded kids washed up there. Some stayed some were put in there for one term never to return. I stayed at Overstone for about three years. I had been at St Andrews for three years before that. At least that was some stability.

    Boarding Schools at their worst are an excuse for the well off to dump their children. Once dumped in an institution that accepts them that legitimises the act of dumping your children “for their own good” and thus by paying for this you salve your own conscience as a parent.

    For every boy at Eton there are thousands more boys and girls at lesser public schools buying into this crap. When will it ever end? Its systemic abuse.

    Snobbery, my school thought hockey vulgar so we played lacrosse. Result? We had only three schools in the whole of the Uk to play against and all of them were too far away for the school to afford us to go and play against.

    Result? More isolation.

    Monsterous.

  22. Torn on 5 April 2018 at 10:37 pm

    I’m finding this reading fascinating, as well as the comments of those sharing here. My eleven year-old step daughter is working on achieving a scholarship to a prestigious boarding school around an hour’s drive away. She wants to board – even though day school is an available option. She claims she wants to board to be away from her mother, with whom her relationship is strained. With us, she has two solid parental figures and a younger brother with whom she has an excellent relationship. Transport would definitely be a huge challenge for us if she gets accepted. I’m wondering if allowing her to board with the option of changing to day school at her own choosing would negate negative effects? But we would much rather she live at home to have the security, guidance and support of a loving family. I don’t feel she is mature or equipped enough to bear the challenges of a life without a shoulder to cry on or genuine loving connection. She has grown up with two parents with mental illness, has been sheltered unnecessarily to a large degree I don’t think the distance would be beneficial. Yet the school seems an excellent fit for her and would give her huge academic advantages.

  23. john wright on 13 May 2018 at 4:58 pm

    not sure what you want to hear or not but i was put into a boarding school in Wiltshire from the age of 8 years old until i was almost 16 within a week i was Assulted by a member of staff then later on by another boy i was put into care as i could not read or write it was in the early 70s in all that time i did not learn very much up until i left after leaving the school it was the start of the 80s even then i still could not read or write very good i spoke to some man that said to me that i had dyslexia as it had only just been diagnosed what a long 8 years not having my parents or family to of learnt from im now 54yrs of age and still badly hurt from been placed into the boarding school it has effected me its probably ruined who i could of been.in a strange way i still miss that place i have even had a friend drove me to that ex school just to see it and it was about around 200 plus miles even when i left that school i missed what i had learnt and missed the puples and the teachers it was like my family

  24. Anon on 4 June 2018 at 3:38 pm

    Where do I begin? Since this is anonymous I well try to be as honest as possible. First if all, I hated boarding school with a passion only comparable to my deepest loathes. Which I’m not even sure there is anything I could ever hate as much. The very first day I arrived was a harbinger to what would be the for years I spent in that prison. I arrived a few days after the rest of the class, together with my deskmate then. As the others somewhat already knew each other, they were generally being a noisy bunch. Suddenly I heard a voice boom from outside “class five B, you are making noise. Kneel down everybody.” I was shocked. Everybody started kneeling down. My deskmate started kneeling down too but I told him we would say we have just arrived, I was not about to be punished on my first day.
    The teacher, a beast of a human being called Mr. M came in and beat everyone. When he got to us, we simply said that we had come that day. He passed and continued punishing the rest of the class.
    The sadistic pleasure that punishment was meted out was to become an almost daily thing, for four years. There was a time when the teachers had the cooks boil canes in water and salt(so I heard). The believability was in that the canes were almost similar while previously the teachers had their own different canes. And they stung. So fucking much.
    I suffer from all the symptoms listed-difficulty with relations, amnesia, difficulty with empathy. I feel like I’m stuck, suicide has looked tempting so many times. I feel hopeless so many times, like I can never move from here. I hate you dad for taking me to that school and just underlining the part where I told you I was homesick in my letters in red. I hate the woman he married who has been the biggest tormentor of my life. I hate everything.

  25. Another anon on 30 June 2018 at 12:13 pm

    I was sent to boarding school at 7 and loathed every minute. I’m now in my 60’s and still get butterflies when i see a packed suitcase waiting in the hallway. A few years ago we put the dog into kennels for week and i found myself shaking and sobbing on the trip there. There’s no doubt it seriously messed me up.

  26. s burgess on 21 October 2018 at 2:23 am

    in one way i’m glad i went .its hard for bad situation to break me now.after living through a traditional boarding school in in new zealand.

    morning runs, evil squads 5 to 7 morning runs beaten the whole process.gateings, abuse, neglect ,racism ,cold showers (a fire hose naked in winter). tutors were only present a few hours a day. the control power was firmly with the prefects. the culture shock on leaving took a few years .my brother found jail a easy process compared to boarding.

    the bad parts emotionally were intense. i didn’t see call my parents for 5 years after i left school unplanned by the way. it felt like returning to a trauma. it was not long after having cancer i was sent to boarding.im still not clear why it was so hard to even call them. i think i must of had a sense of neglect . and at that point i felt like a stranger in the family still do.

    the skills you learn are great for some situations. i never give bosses grief. i work as a team and put myself in context not placing my needs above others. but asking for help expressing pain feels unnatural and weak. its hard to seek help ask for favours from friends.and often it feels like supporting others needs feels fake .like this is the correct process.but they don’t know real pain. no real sense caring even tho i give a lot to those in need money emotional support.

    some of what went on i wont get into. abuse was institutional . abusers were the leaders both teachers, students.so much of our identity was formed in such situations it feels like attacking the institution is attacking one’s own identity. student fought to keep the sadistic traditions runs etc.

  27. Eve on 7 November 2018 at 12:05 am

    I was sent to boarding school at 9 ( all girls) was bullied and left when I was 13 due to having a mental break down, which lead to being diagnosed with BPD 13 years later.

  28. Maxina H on 9 March 2019 at 4:32 pm

    I was sent to boarding school at 8 right after we moved from Canada to London. I was teased and bullied for having a Canadian accent and having a Harrod’s label on everything. I had no friends. My mother was a psychopathic nacsassist who was chronically in search of social advancement so her children had to go to British boarding school and her shopping tastes were only expensive. We were not badly off but the excessive spending took its toll as my father retired with nothing and she remarried (without a divorce and before my father’s death…..). I cried days in advance of being driven to the school. Even traveling to London years later would fill me with anxiety and dread.
    I don’t have children; too terrified to do that and no trust in a partner during those years to do so. Numerous inappropriate to abusive relationships. I grind my teeth. I used to bite my nails until they bled. Now I pick at my fingers until they bleed.
    Boarding school may have given me a break from my narc mother while she had a fancy social life in London but bottom line: why have children at all if you’re going to send them to boarding school.

  29. Ellie on 25 April 2019 at 8:09 am

    I relate to this article well. Was sent to a boarding school not far from home at age 13-17. Too many unexplainable rules for convention & “discipline” sake. I was allowed to sleep at home 1 weekend a month. Went to an all girls school at age 7-12 so transitioning to a mixed gender school when I was in my pre-teens was a bit lonely and awkward. I was bullied by idiotic teenagers throughout my years there and my self esteem suffered until my late twenties. Continued living in hostel dormitories from then on for college and university. I still have a very superficial relationship with my family and I can’t keep a healthy relationship. I usually forgot that I grew up in a boarding school. Reading this tells me it could be one of the elements to why I am either detached or overtly attached. Important question is, how do I take it from here?

  30. Nicko on 20 October 2020 at 5:01 pm

    So many of the issues mentioned above are spot on for me, but surely it’s not only those “privileged” boarding school students who may have suffered, surely those sent residential care homes etc experienced similar issues, without the possibility of parental love & support in the holidays ?

  31. Jeff Keighley on 27 October 2020 at 11:54 am

    I have to say the whole point of children being sent to boarding school is for children to turn out in a different way. The parents wish children to be tough, resilient, better educated and form more relationships with their peers. That is what they hope for.
    However, what if the experience isn’t that. What if the child is not popular, perhaps smaller or physically weaker, already has some mental health issues or lacks confidence. This means they often succumb to bullying by peers which as, in a full-time environment, is enduring each day. There is a “Lord of the flies” experience for children, rather than a “Hogwarts”. There is little remedy to this. If the child tells an adult this and the adult intervenes, the child is seen as weaker, someone who can not be trusted and ostracised and the bullying escalates as they are pushed out of the borders of the local community, they are now supposed to be in.

    It seems to me, that the studies, from what I have read, look at skills, that don’t measure trauma, or are linked per se to qualitative data. PTSD suffers tell no one until they have to, believing it is not for them to say. Boarding school doesn’t encourage that. Vulnerable boarding school children, are often perceived as requiring too much support and told to make effort to mix in a community, they will, just never be allowed to be part of. This means such children, suffer a feeling of rejection in their new community. Equally, they may feel rejected by their parents and their new community. It follows that again they would feel let down by adult carers which should be helping those that are vulnerable.

    I am concerned that the measures and conclusions of outcomes in studies is wrong. They take overalls. That is sufferers mixed with a pool of higher achievers. Simply just because there may be high scores for achievement (due to a better education), those that suffer could be scored very low, with lasting damage which is overwhelmed in the data.

    Few people who have left boarding school would ever say to their parents or family “What have you done to me”, They are expected to tell parents “Thanks for what you did to help me”.

    For the rest of their lives they are expected to be appreciative of the fact, yet at the same time, never share the truth.

    Victim experiences of bullying is not just one thing here and another one there. Bullying at schools is a chronic problem, with high levels of fear, anxiety and depression. This is a given. It is also a given that corporal punishment was lawful, yet now we would wish to airbrush that out. We just can’t bear to face up to the fact, that people were paid to look after children and cane them. When caning stopped, teachers had to recruit prefects who we able to exert the force to pupils, heavily unregulated. Often Prefects chosen where tall, well built and bullies. It was suggested that giving them responsibility would make them more rounded, but just allowed power of prefects to exert on other pupils.

    I don’t see why any of what I am saying doesn’t just make absolute sense. Of course, if children grow up in such an environment, some will become “well rounded” power hungry bullies lacking in empathy, with a desire for more power. Such traits go well
    in high achieving politicians (something that often and mostly makes them bad polititians). The privately educated elite are hugely over populated in front line politics.

    There has been so much research into how domestic abuse affects children in their homes or in children’s homes. Why is there particularly an argument that putting children in a boarding school environment. An environment maybe subjecting children, to a long period, of their formative years in a situation of constant terror, rejection and worse still be powerless to change that situation, unless they want to seem ungrateful.

    How could children ever be put at risk in such a way. I was a boarder in 1984. I would be told things are much better but the private schools where they have counsellors and such. Absolutely they are needed, because it is recognised now that some people are damaged as a result of their experience. Why damage them in the first place and stick a plaster on them. Make sure the vulnerable never need to face such a cruel experience.

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