Boarding School Syndrome

When children are prematurely separated from parents before their nervous systems are developmentally ready for it, we see two things that are seemingly paradoxical - one is the development of an adult, false self, and hyper individualism, which is very richly rewarded in patriarchy and capitalism in terms of being high achievers.

But there is the other side to this - study after study has shown increased anxiety, misogyny, issues with trusting anyone or emotional availability, disorganized attachment, and a whole host of other behavioral adaptations, that show up in mid-career/mid-life, even if the ex-boarder adult in question seems externally very successful. In my work, I work with many high achievers, many of whom stayed in India's boarding schools for many years, that helped children prepare to get into IIT - the world's most competitive engineering university. Whether they get into the said institution or not, the after-effects of these years show up later in life.

Now these high achievers in their 40s and in therapy and coaching sessions with me, are able to deconstruct that experience for the first time, in the safety of my therapy room. We work on the 4 main pillars of this experience - Attachment, Bereavement, Captivity, and Dissociation.

When a child is put in a situation that they are not developmentally ready for, they develop an adult self to survive. And also, then there is that captive child, who feels fear and is stuck, but has learned to completely dissociate from their body's felt sense, in order to survive.

This means that the young child self may have had to "fragment" - have different parts that seem disparate, in order to survive.

What this also means is as an adult - one may have issues differentiating between safety and unsafety in the body, inability to feel hunger/satiety, cues and much more.

This also creates a lot of angst while dating/in a marriage, but after one becomes a parent - all the neurohormonal feedback systems that need to be online for one to be an attuned, connected parent, feel absent or hard to access. In therapy, we work on these states in a deep neuroscientific way without shame.

In addition to the separation and attachment trauma, many boarders face two additional layers -

1. The extreme pressure to perform, the inhuman work days, and the dehumanizing atmosphere that puts severe stress on young nervous systems

2. Sometimes high-structure religion/cult-based boarding institutes use toxic shame and misogyny and an exaggerated savior complex in their young learners.

In almost all of these cases of religious/cult-based boarding schools, survivors have experienced mild to severe bullying at best and power abuse/sexual trauma as the worst case, for extended periods of time, by religious authority figures/peers. This causes body dysmorphia and a lot of sexual ambivalence and confusion.

Of course, in many families - we see this idea of "privileged abandonment" where boarding is a ticket to an elite clique/life which money can afford, along with access to a peer group that is also privileged, opening doors to future career and financial success.

In some other families, children are sent to boarding school to safety from chaos in the house - mental health issues, and alcoholic/abusive family dynamics, so that also creates a double-bind in terms of safety and attachment. Children cannot wait to get back to the boarding school and describe that experience very fondly and simultaneously repress their yearning for parental attachment, and supress normal biological attachment needs, which shows up in needs suppression, unmet needs rage and more as adults.

  • Many of my ex-boarder clients (some of who have been boarded very early in life, some under 10 years) have reported being able to be present in the here and now for the first time in their life as a result of our coaching/therapy program, and be able to bond and connect to a relational other.

  • They have been able to work through the crippling fear of turning out to be an abusive adult to their future/current child.

  • They have been able to parent without hitting, yelling, or shaming.

  • They have been able to feel pleasure in a relational and sexual context for the first time.

  • Men report being able to finally feel this elusive "empathy" or "EQ" that their spouses have pointed out that they lack. They report being better leaders - with their clients and co-workers.

  • This has changed eating, sleep, and much more for them. One client noted the absence of panic attacks two sessions into the program.

  • Another got off depression medication that they have been prescribed on and off for years.

Curious? Ping me and let's talk.

531 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

TL; DR : Starting January 2023 I am only offering two programs, one for nervous system foundation regulation and the other for advanced healing. Both for people who have already invested in inner wor