This week, those taking part in my Boarding School Awareness Course started to recognise how they adapted themselves to fit in with their peer group and get through their school experience. When a young child has been abandoned at their institution and their attachment is broken with their family, they soon recognise that they must find a way to survive. The most effective way to do this is to attach themselves to their peer group. However, first they have to uncover the unspoken codes and rules that are needed in order to feel accepted and belong.
Fairly universal amongst all genders is the understanding that homesickness and crying gets you shunned from the group, so you learn to shut off those feelings of grief and shove them down deep inside.
Maybe you take on the ethos and values of the school and keep your head down, work hard to achieve and make your way to the top of the school and become one of the winners. You find your way in amongst a group of peers that do similarly and get a sense of belonging and safety that way.
Maybe you have a sense that this education system is at fault and you struggle to comply and take on a rebel stance, find a peer group who will support you with this and make your way through school with this hardened exterior.
Either way, your vulnerable child part is cut off and hidden inside this shell of armour never to be seen again. Unless that is, you are unable to take on either stance and your vulnerability seeps out and you become the target for bullying. No child wants to see another child display the characteristics that they are so desperately trying so hard to hide.
Did you become the Joker, the Sports success, the Bully, the Pleaser, the Achiever, the Hero, the Clown.....all characteristics you may have found that ingratiated you into your peer group.
And how do they work for you now?
Part of the path to healing ourselves as adults in relationships is recognising that we may have adapted ourselves as children to survive our boarding school experience. Ex-boarders have spoken of their child self dying and a new person forming. There is often no space for the vulnerable dependent child self in boarding schools, and from such an early age - often 7, children have to kill this part of themselves off and become mini adults. Characteristics such as resilience, responsibility, endurance and hard work are validated instead.
Part of the recovery is grieving for the abrupt loss of the dependent child self. Firstly recognise how you adapted yourself to survive, and then you can acknowledge that you have a choice to change those characteristics now if they don't serve you. Integrating that vulnerable part of you back into your adult self. Welcoming the part of you who has wants, needs and who may feel scared and sad at times.
When you are able to love and accept that part of you, you will be able to welcome, trust and believe that another may be able to love your whole integrated self as well.
If you would like to find out more or take part in my next Boarding School Awareness Course, click below.