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Relationship Counselling for Boarding School Survivors
Boarding School Still Affects You Now
It might seem strange to be speaking of boarding school on a relationship counselling site. It’s worth considering that even though you may have attended a boarding school long ago the experience might still be having a huge impact on how you relate to your partner now.
The purpose of this article is to mirror back and encourage you to reflect on your experience of boarding school or be curious of the impact as a partner or as a child of a boarder. Consider how the experience back then links to your experiences now. Being conscious of the impact boarding school had on you brings you one step closer to re-integrating the parts of yourself that have been suppressed.
What's The Problem?
There are difficulties speaking about boarding school experiences in anything but a positive light. After all it is associated with privilege. Your parents may have made sacrifices to afford the fees and you may feel fortunate to have attended. It may have led to good opportunities in your life. You might have had a good time and got a lot out of it. Nonetheless, there’s evidence to suggest that it does have an impact on how you learn to manage feelings and how you relate intimately to others.
If you have been to boarding school there is a tendency to deny it’s affected your feelings in anyway at all. A typical response is, “Maybe for others, but I was fine with it”. The effect on feeling is subtle and profound. I encourage you to take time to reflect on your experience if you, or your partner or any of your parents went to boarding school.
Quantity Time With Parents Counts
To a greater or lesser extent we are all challenged in intimate relationships depending on what we experienced and learnt about being close to others from our parents in early life. We also learn as adults.
Attending boarding school at a young age living away from our parents interrupts the natural process of learning about who we are from the repeated interactions with our parents. This is particularly true in developing our capacity to be with and express our feelings. If you had parents who were not able to attend to your needs some of the points below may equally apply even if you didn’t attend boarding school.
Boarding School Survivor Symptoms
Our culture over-values independence. If we are emotionally independent we are not able to deeply connect to others. Well-being requires a balance between independence and dependence. This is sometimes called inter-dependence.
For many, the experience of boarding school requires independence at too young an age at the cost of normal and healthy feelings of dependence. Boarding school curtails the seeking of healthy dependence in the form of maintaining an emotional bond and love with a parent. The break in the emotional bond with a parent can result in an unconscious defence against seeking deep emotional bonds and allowing love in later in life.
If those early feelings of dependence are attended to in childhood a natural authentic inter-dependence follows . We learn how to meet our needs. We learn to attend to ourselves and we learn to give and receive affection. The result is a secure feeling of attachment.
It’s common for boys to be encouraged to toughen up to be become “unfeeling men” as a misguided requisite to survive in a competitive world. Boys are given this message anyway. Boarding school compounds it.
Being separated from your parents at a young age to go off to boarding school encourages you to suppress what you are feeling. How would you otherwise manage being placed in a structured rules based environment where there is no one to witness how you feel or what you need?
If you went to boarding school you may a some point discover a fear of getting closer to your partner. The fear is that closeness would activate the old feelings of dependence that were not safe to have back then so you unconsciously repressed them.
In a relationship each partner unconsciously affects the emotions of the other to maintain a balance. What one resists feeling, the other feels. It’s common that the partner of a boarding school survivor can end up feeling stupid, incompetent or overly-dependent which are the disowned feelings of a boarding school survivor who is only allowed to express competence, success and fatherly rationality.
Disconnection From Self
Being connected to yourself means that you are able to interpret the felt sensations in your body as feelings. Feelings help you respond to others and evaluate what is going on around you. They help you determine what you need moment to moment.Disconnection from your self occurs when you numb or constrict your bodily sensations. This lack of connection from your body prevents you experiencing an instinctual sense of what need. Disconnection is a learnt primitive defense to a perceived threat. When we are disconnected from our body we tend to rely on thinking to feel safe.
Boarding school subtly encourages over use of the intellect and suppression of feeling. It can be hard to see this as our society encourages conformity over being true to oneself. In boarding school you need to fit in, follow the rules and conditioned to accept the norms of suppressing “unwanted” parts of yourself to become successful. Some may believe that boarding school is a good training for life. It’s a powerful illusion. It’s not that the messages in themselves aren’t bad, ‘There is nothing wrong with wanting to be successful’. The subtly is in seeing what we are unconsciously encouraged to suppress in ourselves along the way. The price of conformity in boarding school is to disconnect from what we feel.
Disconnection From The Feelings Of Others
A learnt way to manage feelings that are not mirrored back as being OK is to repress them through disconnecting from your body. The effect is you are not sure what you are feeling. The experience of feeling may become intellectualised so you, ‘think your feelings’ rather than feeling them.
If you are a boarding school survivor who has unconsciously learnt to suppress feeling, you may often be perplexed over what to do when your partner gets angry and why they are angry.
It could be that they feel you are disconnected from them. You might be listening and responding to the content of what they say from rationality and yet are not listening to the their feelings or responding with feeling. You may be unaware that you have habitually disassociated from your body and feelings.
Relationship Counselling For Boarding School Survivors
It's A Challenge
Boarding school survivors are often reluctant to come to relationship counselling as it challenges their sense of success. It is difficult to admit that there is a relationship problem that needs looking at. Forays into relationship counselling can be short-lived and the process minimised or ridiculed to distract away from the issues.
Relationship Counselling Can Be Effective If There is Commitment
Relationship patterns are co-created so it is most effective if both partners attend together. With the right commitment it’s possible to reconnect to disowned feelings and to find ways to authentically connect to each other. It’s rewarding to eventually discover a longed for place of safe rest in oneself and a deeper connection in your relationship.