John Bowlby's Attachment Theory explains the impact that early childhood relationships and experiences have on our development. He attains that children come into the world biologically pre-programmed to form attachments with others, because this will help them to survive. This relationship with their primary attachment figure enables them to develop a secure base so they can go off into the world and create secure relationships with others.
So, what happens to the child who is sent away to boarding school and has this attachment abruptly severed?
Or the child who may have already had a very insecure attachment in the first place due to parental emotional or physical neglect. Unfortunately many children who may have experienced the bereavement of one parent are often sent away to school, as the lone parents believes the school will provide their child with an offering they are unable to match. This child then experiences a broken attachment on top of an already broken attachment. Abandonment on top of abandonment.
“For the first term at school, I spent every night convinced that my mother was dead. My dad had died a few years earlier, and suddenly she had disappeared too. I fantasised that the cleaner had put poison in her makeup. I had to lie awake in bed in the dormitory with these fears going round and round in my head."
Unfortunately this young boy was only allowed to write letters home on a Sunday, and was allowed very little contact with his mum. He said he had to shut down his feelings as there was no point having them. At this stage a child can shut down a huge part of themselves; the part that feels vulnerable and scared. This is put away in a guarded box inside themselves. They can then appear mature and grown up and that vulnerable child part has gone.
In place of their parents, a child may attach to their peer group at school in order to survive and / or to this new survival personality itself. (Nick Duffell, 2000).
However, this lost suppressed child part has not disappeared completely. It can often show up in their adult self in relationships. Once discovered, it can be incredibly uncomfortable for this independent self reliant ex-boarder to accept that there is a wounded part of their soul that is crying out for love, nurture and to be looked after.
If they can unlock that part of themselves and meet their younger self with love and compassion for all that they felt and lost, then integration can start to occur and that lost child can start to come home.