Working with Former Boarders

The key to working with boarding school survivors is to understand how they had no choice to survive.

Former boarders have learned to present a workable front by effectively employing splitting, denial and projection.

Practitioners must be thoroughly acquainted with these phenomena and understand the ways the psyche can structure itself to cope with a child’s experience of feeling unsupported by parents in an atmosphere requiring 24-hour vigilance against peers and staff alike.

Though linked with the privilege, the schools are founded on a philosophy that excludes all that is vulnerable and voluptuous in life. In order to adapt, the child has to make many self-betrayals and self-inventions. The psyche of the boarding school survivor follows suit and strives to banish whatever is emotional or sexual, childish or feminine.

As adults, they find it nigh impossible to unlearn the strategies once put in place. Breakdowns in survival can occur within difficulties in intimate relationships, in parenting, or in the loss of an identity, such as a work problem.

Although experienced as a calamity, such crises indicate an opportunity for recovery and relearning relational and emotional competencies. Long-term therapy work is frequently necessary, alongside couple-counselling for those in durable relationships.

Next page: Survivor Personalities