Updated: May 19
This is a question I have been asked often.
Unfortunately, most people I work with who are exploring the impact of their boarding school upbringing are in their 40s, 50s and 60s. It is only by chance they stumbled on an article in a newspaper, found Nick Duffel's book and are starting to recognise how growing up in an institution that promoted academic success at the cost of interpersonal relationships has impacted their own personal marriages and relationships.
They now want to find a way to show up differently in their relationships and a missing piece of this puzzle is explaining all this to their partner, who may have had a completely different upbringing to their own.
They may worry that their partner may hold the belief, as many in society do, that boarding school is a privilege to all, and thus fear rejection when trying to explain this. The ex-boarder themselves may still hold this view and it can be hard to push through this feeling, showing their vulnerability by beginning to have these conversations.
In my marriage, had I known that some of the causes of my behaviour originated from my schooling and my attachment patterns, it could have made a huge difference in my behaviour and in my marriage. For example, I would have been able to acknowledge why I prioritised my friendships above my partner and how essential it was for me to keep one foot out of the relationship. To protect me in case he left. I would have been able to understand what tied me to my partner and how terrified I was of being abandoned.
With the awareness that I now have, I am aware of certain triggers that can connect with my inner small, abandoned child and when my responses are not appropriate to the situation. I recognise that if my partner is to offer advice to me, it is not a criticism that will lead to abandonment and therefore I do not need to respond so defensively or withdraw. He understands that when he goes away, I may well need some time to welcome him back. The pattern of shutting off my feelings to my primary attachment figure (my mum) began when I was left at boarding school and can get played out again and again in the present day. He understands this and therefore we work together to find a way that works for us both.
What has been an essential part of my own personal growth and healing has been working through this whilst in a relationship with my partner. I have been able to share with him all my learnings and experiences, and although his upbringing was very different, he has a greater understanding and this alleviates the shame I may feel when sometimes my small 11-year-old part takes the lead in my behaviour.
A common trait that ex-boarders have is the need to do everything on their own. Work it all out by themselves. It can be incredibly hard to let someone else in, let alone reveal the part of themselves that has needs, wants and desires. They may have had to cut off that part of themselves at the school gates on that first day of school otherwise the emotion may have overwhelmed them. However, they are no different to any other child, they just developed a strategy to protect themselves from hurt.
I work as a Therapist because I believe in the healing that can come about from being in relationship with another and I also understand how terrifying it can be to let someone in and show your vulnerability. Lifting the shame that paralyses so many of us. Often people just want a space to be heard and listened to, and unfortunately, children at boarding schools rarely get the opportunity to use their voices and be heard.
I created an online workshop below to offer up a starting point for conversations. To watch together, to share with your partner, and to act as a prompt for communication. Some of it may resonate, some might not. It is starting point, and I hope that it helps explain some of the difficulties that those who grew up in boarding schools have and how it may influence their behaviour now.
The first step to change is awareness, and I hope this will enable growth for both of you in your relationship.
The RRP is £47, but I am offering it at a discounted price of £30 until the 31st of May. The Coupon Code to enter at the checkout is PARTNERS