The Long-Term Impact of Boarding School

What is Boarding School Syndrome?

Boarding School Syndrome is not a medical category, but a proposal that there is an identifiable cluster of learned behaviours and emotional states that may follow growing up in boarding school, which can lead to serious psychological distress. These can include depression, difficulties in forming relationships, and emotional numbness. It’s the term applied to the long-term impact of boarding school.

Therapists need to understand and be aware of these symptoms in line with a client’s background in the schooling system, which may help them to identify and treat ex-boarders. In this blog article we take the key learning points from Professor Joy Schaverien’s seminar on Boarding School Syndrome that took place in Brighton in April 2016.

BTP also runs The Palmeira Practice, a counselling and psychotherapy practice. We have experienced therapists available offering online sessions to anyone affected by the issues in this blog post.

Therapists may like to view our latest training events 

What are the psychological events that may lead to boarding school syndrome?

Attending boarding school is a unique and alternative upbringing which impacts heavily on long-term development. Understanding the nuances of boarding school experience is important for understanding where many symptoms stem from.

Hidden Trauma

The lasting effects of early boarding is a hidden trauma. A young child sent away from home to live with strangers, and in the process loses their attachment figures and their home. They’re exposed to prolonged separation. They may experience bullying and loss. This combination leads to unbearable emotional stress. A young child does not have the mental capacity for creating a coherent narrative out of these events on their own, as they are unable to process it. This trauma may become embodied, leading to conversion physiological symptoms and a large number of psychological symptoms.


The term ‘homesickness’ does not do justice to the depth of losses to which the boarding school child is subjected. The broken attachments of the first days in boarding school amount to a significant, but unrecognised form of bereavement and the child must learn to live without love.

For the child, their losses are minimised and glossed over as insignificant. This contributes to the hidden aspect of the trauma. The term ‘homesickness’ encompasses a complex systems of unprocessed grief and many children are emotionally wounded (traumatised), exiled (homeless) and bereaved (grieving). Suddenly, children are abandoned and have to adapt to the abrupt and irrevocable loss of the childhood state. Children lose their role – their sense of themselves as people who belong in a family group and have to prematurely appear grown up. It is not uncommon for the repressed distress to come out in symptoms such as bed wetting and vomiting as tears are not permitted.

The child may feel a sense of homelessness. The repeated experience of returning home as a stranger and then leaving, just as the child has settled back in, builds a psychological pattern – an expectation of being left which is often unconsciously active in later life. These patterns of disrupted attachments are often replayed within a long-term partnership. This can also cause a psychological split between the boarding school self and the home self.

Numerous celebrities have described their experiences of boarding school negatively. Rupert Everett said that upon being sent to boarding school he could not stop crying. Kristin Scott Thomas has described boarding school as ‘a wicked thing’. James Blunt (above) said that boarding school was an inspiration for his music as ‘to be taken away from one’s family and locked away for 10 years’ creates ‘an incredible intensity of emotion.’

If the child is unhappy but is given the message that the school is good for her and a privilege, then they feel they have no right to complain and can lead the child to doubt her or his own perception. Although the child may conform, the confusion will likely remain, causing a second psychological split between the feeling self and the thinking self.

Another loss is the dependent state of childhood and thus the premature death of the child self. This can never be regained because when the child returns home she or he is inevitably changed, no longer trusting but watchful and alert for rejection. Once a child realises her parents are not returning, an encapsulation of self occurs and a protective shell is formed. Deep within the armoured self is the hidden vulnerable child who trusts no one. Overwhelmed with many physical manifestations of grief, something has to happen psychologically for the child to survive, and children have to learn to live cut off from their internal emotional turmoil.


The child is captive, living in a situation not of his own choosing and which he is helpless to change and thus is undergoing another hidden trauma. Living without traditional family markers of the passing of time, such as birthdays, means that when an ex-boarder tells his tale it may lack narrative flow.

In the case of imprisonment, there is an absence of loving relationships. There is also no one with whom she feels she can be appropriately angry. Without the outlet for expression, the child may turn that anger inwards. An unconscious form of splitting may occur, whereby in order to keep the parents happy, the child has to do violence to his own psyche.

Symptoms and what to be aware of when working therapeutically with ex-boarders

Ex-boarders often seek therapy for general depression, relationship difficulties, and a sense of emotional numbness, which may manifest from not living their own lives. Even experienced therapists may miss the depth of the wound inflicted by broken attachments and the emotional neglect suffered when the child is sent to boarding school. As a result of society, the ex-boarder themselves may have the view that boarding school is a privilege.

As children, ex-boarders were unable to tell their parents of their suffering and thus as adults they may disregard their own suffering. This may replay in therapy as they may not expect the therapist to take their story seriously. They may recount it, omitting the emotional impact and gloss over their suffering with a well-rehearsed joke. It can often be difficult for the adult to recognise that the treatment they received was wrong, as a child usually assumes her experience to be the norm, especially when it is shared with others who are in similar circumstances.

The ex-boarder may appear socially confident, but may have a deep and permanent lack of trust in loving relationships as a lasting repercussion to the repetition of loss. It can replay in adult relationships, and manifests in anticipation of rejection and fear of abandonment by later attachment figures. This may lead to emotional withdrawal and as an adult they may, against their own desires and emotional needs, prematurely cut off from intimate relationships. This may replay as psychotherapy becomes important, and it may lead to sudden termination of the therapeutic relationship when the rage associated with dependency begins to surface.

Whilst widely viewed as a privileged upbringing, it’s important to understand the particular experiences and long-term impact of boarding school.

With ex-boarders, the breaks in psychotherapy have little impact at first. The regular pattern of school holidays followed by the return to school arms the ex-boarder with a mechanism for coping with disrupted attachments. However, after a few breaks, they may need to stop, believing they are better working things out alone as dependency seems too much.

Boarding school may also lead to sibling groups. The bonding in sibling groups compensates for the loss of family and the significance of the sibling group continues into adult life as a sense of belonging is maintained. The powerlessness that children at first experience in relation to the rules may create a sibling bond and may also produce people who conform. This prepares them well to follow a career in the military, law or some highly formalised institution.

Female ex-boarders have an ability to get on with people of all classes and help others feel at ease. However, as their suffering is masked, the therapist may have to resist reciprocating the friendliness in order to take seriously the perceived suffering hidden behind the social presentation. Women may also show up symptoms of shame, as they were often punished with shame and humiliation as opposed to the physical beatings in many boys schools.

The armoured personality and encapsulated emotional self becomes a way of being and influences the way ex-boarders may interact as adults. As a child, the ex-boarder splits off parts of his vulnerable self in order to survive, and the adult may show signs of amnesia and an inability to get in touch with their feelings. Ex-boarders may show symptoms of dissociation and it may manifest as a sense of feeling permanently distant from the world which is a recognised symptom of PTSD. Therefore an approach that attends to bodily symptoms and links the person to their body experiences may help. The ex-boarder may need to learn that it is safe to have feelings. The moments of meeting may be the strongest therapeutic factors in working with Boarding School Survivors.

Further reading: Joy Schaverien talks to us about the emotional impact of boarding school

Abuse at Boarding School

In recent years there has been increased publicity exposing the abuse in boarding schools that has taken place. If you have experienced abuse, or know someone who has, you may be interested in contacting Alex Renton. He is an investigative journalist and survivor of abuse at boarding school. Alex keeps a database of allegations against teachers and schools. Any information sent to him will be treated in confidence, but he has limited capacity to investigate individual cases or offer advice in pursuing redress. His website is alexrenton.com

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  1. Harri on 2017-03-26 at 10:10 PM

    Just want to say, 2 decades of therapy and a whole training as a therapist myself, this article totally, uncannily, hits the mark. Thank you. It affirms the experience and gives some fresh insights too.

    • Brighton Therapy Partnership on 2017-03-29 at 7:12 AM

      Thank you Harri.

      • Jo on 2021-07-10 at 7:49 PM

        Gosh how this resonates so much!
        Struggling with anxiety while reading this has helped me try and put things in perspective.
        I’ve always been aware how ‘secretive’ I am emotionally and never reveal my inner self even though I am very bubbly and outgoing (it was even mentioned at school in a report).
        Struggled so much with ‘homesickness’ and never settled well. I feel this answers some questions about why I am like I am and struggle letting people ‘in’.
        Thank you. I’m glad I found this article.

        • Claire on 2021-08-08 at 12:52 PM

          Jo, I am very similar to you. Boarding school aged 11, expelled aged 14, then a further 2 boarding schools, also expelled!

          • Jenny on 2022-04-17 at 12:18 AM

            Boarding school at 11. Expelled aged 13, two years as a day girl living with a cold and distant mother, then sent away again to another boarding school. I never returned home after leaving school aged 18.

          • Leona on 2023-01-22 at 8:40 AM

            Likewise Claire, the ripples from those boarding school years continue even after being a therapist myself for 20 years. I was also a “difficult” child and expelled at 15.
            The work continues.

        • Cas Henderson on 2021-11-24 at 11:12 AM

          My father was an alcoholic who occasionally beat up my mother.
          Boarding school from the age of 12 was a haven for me and provided a stable life.
          No lying awake at night waiting for my father to come home, I worried about going home.

          • Mark Davidson on 2022-12-07 at 11:02 AM

            Did your father happen to have attended boarding school also? That might explain in part his behaviour towards your mother.

          • Sally Milne on 2023-07-06 at 3:44 AM

            You poor kid ! My father was a real narcissist We were never good enough and were emotionally abused so I never looked forward to going home as nothing had changed I felt like I was on the out side looking in . So being sent to boarding school just made me feel even more unwanted and thanks to all that I became a very angry adult . I’m finally going to get some therapy as I really don’t like myself very much and being sent to boarding school doesn’t help your outlook on life at all

      • Jewad Bashir on 2022-01-03 at 2:48 AM

        My experience of boarding school was in another country but I felt every part of this article. I feel with age, the impact of boarding school seems to get worse for me. I was 6 when I went for 6 years. Those 6 years have had a huge impact and mostly negative.

        • Milly on 2022-02-22 at 6:49 PM

          I resonate too. Got to boarding school 7 years old and sometimes I slight change in my boyfriend’s treatment set me panicking. There is a time I had mentally broken up with him and even healed and he was not aware I had thought he had left me. Truly speaking one learns to develop shells to be ready for rejection.

      • Sue Gallagher on 2023-01-15 at 2:08 PM

        It’s not just rich kids. I was sent away to a grammar school with 30 boarding places, on a scholarship.. my Mum sent us because the situation at home was pretty awful. I recognise myself in your article . I have struggled all my life with feelings of unworthiness and have great anxiety round relationships. Have spent decades trying to make myself worthy of love.The dissociation is still hard to deal with at 78! I don’t blame mum, it sh etried very hard to help us and I never doubted her love.

        • Edward Charles White on 2023-05-04 at 5:39 PM

          I cannot express how much I can identify what you wrote about Boarding School. I was sent to a small school at the age of 5 years & 3 months. And have never felt whole again & I read this article which resonates deeply within me of my own experience & that of my younger brother who was sent with me to school & he was not yet 5 years old. During the last week I have been thinking about my life & at 77years of age I know I never recovered from the trauma of seperation from my mother in particular who has no choice in the matter of our being sent off to Boarding School! It was her deeply loving nature & all the love she showered on us that has sustained us for these many long years! Thank you for revealing so much of the trauma & disassociation I have felt all my life! I agree that the trauma of seperation & abandonment is so total! Thank you for expressing it so beautifully & sensetively! It has helped me. Perhaps when I come to the U K this summer I can avail of the therapy I need from the center you run. I just had to write this to you – it’s been so helpfull. All the very best in your endeavours to help people like me. Edward White

    • Genevieve on 2021-06-13 at 6:25 PM

      I was sent to a boarding school when I was 4 years old. I have so many issues going on I’m 25 now I have been thinking of seeing a therapist but I haven’t got the guts to book an appointment yet. I’m far away from home and these days I cannot speak properly for more than a minute with my parents.i have just gone rude and I’m filled with guilt as well.

      • John on 2021-06-21 at 3:26 AM

        Genevieve, please book an appointment. I am reading this article and understanding my 85 year old father. I wish he had received some help years ago. He has been emotionally disassociated his whole life, which has been very sad. Good luck on your journey.

        • Marina on 2021-11-04 at 11:14 PM

          I only heard about this syndrome through a TV show and wow does it resonate I find myself crying my eyes out.

          I am so sad this happened to us, so sad for the years I compartmentalised my hurts and fears and human feelings. The article is correct – even trained therapists don’t pick up on it. It feels almost shameful to talk about our trauma because boarding is associated with privilege so we shouldn’t complain. Loss / Bereavement was compounded for me by the death of my father and the remaining members of my family moving away. Its probably snowballed into a form of PTSD.

          • 29 on 2023-04-29 at 8:11 PM

            Similar experience I lost my 3 primary caregivers throughout my time there. Arrived at 7 graduated at 18 lost my mom at 9, grandma at 16, and my grandpa at 18 before graduation.

            Now at 23 I’m getting therapy.

      • francis on 2021-06-29 at 6:20 PM

        I have only just become aware of the depth of the damage that this experience can have. 3 failed (10 yr) marriages and always me testing the other to the limits and beyond of their comitment to me. A split between the feeling self an dthe thinking self.
        Start the therapy! I wish I had done this years ago.

        I only reconciled with my father after he became dependent (stroke). im 63 Dont wait ! mend now dont let this waste years fdor you!!!!¬!

      • Jayne on 2022-01-14 at 2:26 PM

        Please seek help. I sense such woundedness. I was sent off at 9, in a foreign country, and I cannot imagine going at 4, unable to understand what was happening. I never regained the closeness with my family after returning to the States and living at home. Our family was trouble anyway and I had to assume adult responsibilities very early. I hope you find some peace.

        • Penny on 2022-02-17 at 9:24 AM

          I too was sent to boarding school in the 60s. It was not a bad experience for me. It taught me to be resilient, self contained, happy with my own company. I was an only child and enjoyed the company of my peers 24/7.
          Please don’t ‘knock’ boarding school It is not bad for everyone, though I admit it does depend on the child.

      • marv on 2022-10-24 at 7:01 AM

        Genevieve, i encourage you to book a therapist. That was such a young age.

      • Andrea Crawley on 2022-11-16 at 12:22 PM

        I went to boarsing school when i was 4. I think i was there for 2 years. I had 1 friend called Genevieve for a short amount of time. She was nice. But her family were rich and moved around so she wasnt there for long. I was not a rich kid. And the other kids knew it. I was there as the unhealthy result of a divorce battle between my parents. I am 53 now. I have had a few traumas in my life and its only through therapy I have even started to look back and unbury the unpleasantness of the past. CPTSD.

      • Diana on 2023-03-16 at 9:44 PM

        4 is so so young to be sent to school – I was 12 and it was hard. 25 is also young so if you can get help now and can start to heal then you have a lot of life ahead of you to enjoy. Take good care xxx

    • PJ on 2023-03-17 at 10:22 PM

      I identify here. I think some manage boarding school better than others. But I was sent aged 8 from to school in England by my expat parents. Leaving them at the airport gate was hugely traumatic and numbing. I would cry after lights out for weeks every term. A lot of numbing as a consequence and also anxiety. My parents also had ‘privileged’ but emotionally deprived experiences sent to boarding schools (and a holiday home in my mother’s case). There are other historical factors – post war Britain etc affecting
      that generation. I find the various ‘splits’ identified here very spot on though.

    • Mike on 2023-09-24 at 5:15 PM

      Boarding school also, aged 11. But complicated by the fact that my parents marriage was also breaking down at the time. Holidays with father’s relatives, so no real home. A double whammy.

  2. MomOfTwoLittleGirls on 2017-04-03 at 3:39 PM

    Just asking – are there any arguments FOR boarding? The brief I’ve read seems to be very one sided.

    • Shirali on 2021-02-24 at 1:47 PM

      It can be being independent, able to manage things on their own, learn survival skill.
      If parents are unable to provide children education otherwise, better to send to boarding rather that letting the child be uneducated.
      They learn to live with different kinds of people, adapt and adjust, be discliplined, punctual.

      However, I think that these benefits doesn’t compensate for the psychological loss of child.

      PS- I wrote the above from my own experience of being a boarderer, and this article is hits the exact mark.

      • Louise on 2022-08-16 at 9:31 PM

        You can learn all these skills within the arms of a warm and loving family

    • Tim McElrea on 2021-03-24 at 8:23 PM

      If you want them to hate you as adults go right ahead. I was also a boarder

    • Rupert Hamilton on 2021-10-10 at 9:36 AM

      Putting aside all the negatives I can give you the positives on the basis of my experience as a boarder in a boys school in the 70s.
      1. If the family is constantly on the move, boarding school provides a consistent educational experience.
      2. If the parents recognise that their parenting skills are particularly lacking, handing the child over to other people might be a solution.
      3. Given that the child is living 24/7 in an academic establishment with an emphasis on achievement, it is likely that the child will achieve better exam results. I experienced compulsory ‘homework’ sessions every weekday evening; at least 3 hours of time when academic work was all that was permitted – punishment followed if seen doing otherwise. Saturday mornings were also filled with lessons.
      4. The child is introduced to a whole range of sports and activities that might not come their way at home. They have the chance to excel at their chosen sport.
      5. The child learns to live by rules and respect authority. A good learning environment for anyone considering a career that relies on such qualities.
      6. For some individuals, sound leadership skills can develop; as does confidence in abilities acquired.
      7. It is a highly competitive environment. Some children thrive by competing with others; academically, physically, socially.
      8. Smaller classes allows for more individual attention from sometimes highly intelligent adults who will inspire children to achieve more.
      9. The child learns to take responsibility for themselves; their actions, their comments, their relationships. If they create a problem they have to fix it themselves and not rely on others to do it for them.
      10. Compulsory attendance of religious observances at a time when the child is being taught to question and be curious about what is being learnt can lead to atheism and humanism. Christopher Hitchens was a wonderful example of this.

      I hope that this is enough to be getting on with. Suffice it to say I could have had twice as much to write concerning the negative aspects, seeing as we are predisposed to have negative thoughts!
      Just to be clear though, when my son was born, the very worst thing that I could have done to my beloved child would have been to sign him up to a boarding school.

      • FLC on 2021-11-24 at 9:00 PM

        Spot on, as was the original article. Independence was something I learned at boarding school and have valued all my life too.

      • Daniel Islam Taylor on 2021-12-02 at 6:25 PM

        Appreciate all the positive feedback but seems to me like it’s a slightly glorified correctional facility and lack of strife and acceptance on the parents part. All of what you mentioned is easily quite achievable in a day school that is why sensible, caring and striving parents send their children to day school.

      • Mike on 2021-12-15 at 1:28 PM

        I was a boarder too from 11 to 17.
        your list of positives stirs anger in me, it seems that you’re trying to justify the damage because of some upsides that you perceive.
        parenting is supposed to give the child confidence, acceptance, security and an accompanying presence in growing up to be autonomous, open and able.
        My parents were neglectful, giving over responsibility to others for their children. I was sent away supposedly because too close to my grandmothers and other women and to earn a new language. I lived in Geneva, didn’t speak English. Later on, in my 50s, my mother confessed that my sister and I were sent away to fix the marriage, as we were obstacles in my father’s eyes.
        Home was hell, boarding schools were hell. Yes, I did have to find a way to fend for myself, but that didn’t allow me to find a place in the world.
        Question what you express. We all have to to discover our truth.
        my best wishes to you and to all ex-boarders who still struggle.
        I’m 67, ex-Rugby

        • Shikx on 2023-09-09 at 3:44 PM

          People have different experiences, I loved being in boarding school myself, my experiences were good, my bond with parents is still intact…
          we can’t all claim to have had bad experiences because most people are cursing. let’s respect other people’s decisions and comments without labelling them insensible and uncaring. You should have worked on yourself after becoming an adult, if you are better than your parents, do the things they failed to do for you now that you are an adult

    • Aruna on 2021-11-24 at 2:43 PM

      I think it depends on what age you were ‘incarcerated ‘ ..the earlier in age the more trauma.

    • Peter on 2021-12-05 at 8:57 PM

      No don’t do it it will damage your children for life.

      • Nicky on 2021-12-18 at 9:15 PM

        I am so pleased to have found this web site.

        It makes sense of so many things I did not understand about myself.

        I boarded from 11 – 18 and still struggle with emotional displacement and all sorts of attachments. The older I get the more I realise how much boarding has affected me throughout my whole life; relationships, lack of confidence and self belief. I have detonated relationships and friendships throughout my life and never felt good enough. It has shaped the way I bring up my children and how I express my emotions – or not – with them and my husband.

        My parents were both products of the boarding system and neither of them were happy, I wonder how they continued to perpetuate something that made them so unhappy. Different world I guess but I wouldn’t to it to my children.

    • W Crowder on 2022-01-04 at 3:52 AM

      Yes probably. My dad and mom said that sending me to a boarding high school was “ best”- for THEM. They acknowledged later that it was not the best for me, I acknowledge that it was best for them, and left it alone but the damage was irreversible, I don’t trust anyone. I was a VERY successful 8th grader, was literally voted “ Most likely to succeed” in 8th grade by my peers in a large public high school, was popular , had girlfriends, was jr high student council president , had a great part time job so had money in my wallet, was a tremendous athlete, dressed well, sang, …. Then got told, “ your brother has gotten into a lot of trouble in high school, and We don’t have the time to run you to your events, I just got promoted at work(?yes my dad got a huge promotion) and we think that what’s best for everyone is for you to attend this small Christian HS ….”

      I don’t trust anyone.

    • Craig on 2022-01-04 at 4:06 AM

      Probably only if the family is disfunctional??

    • sally on 2022-11-29 at 9:28 AM

      I’d just like to say that I was emotionally abused at home my father was a narcissist and so I guess life at boarding school was an escape from his hatred of of us. I said to a therapist once that when I went home on school holidays it was like I was on the outside looking in as nothing had changed

  3. MD on 2017-04-04 at 8:02 AM

    An insightful article which resonates with my own experiences. Certainly boarding school divorced me from making any emotional attachments in general, although there were pre-existing causes for that as well. When I left at 16, I think I over-compensated by making an obsessive attachment to one or two people…

    So what can be done…. just years of therapy?

  4. Sue Davies on 2017-04-04 at 10:48 AM

    It certainly hits the mark, I can remember in my early years of boarding school, sitting in our car as it sped towards town, with my tin trunk of clothes in the back and tears flowing down my face. It really did feel like abandonment, and on hindsight it tore my parents to pieces when they saw my tears – there was nothing they could do, we lived to far from town to make the daily school run. My issue was they could only get my eldest brother and myself into school for the first year as there was no space, and only on the second year did my twin sister and brother go as well. It felt as though they were the special ones.

  5. Moses on 2017-04-06 at 1:17 PM

    Very very true. I went to boarding school at 10 and ever since I have been this hard person (feedback from people I interact with) and even when I feel for someone, it is a major task to tell them how I feel. When I lost my dad ten years later, I felt the pain but could not even bring myself to cry. It has been 12 years. I always know that school killed something in me. Something that even makes me just say “sorry” when condoling a bereaved friend and nothing more!

    • Simon read on 2021-02-05 at 4:48 PM

      It ruined me, I describe it as having my humanity stolen as a 9 year old.( I was made to fight a boy, by his older brother, three Saturdays running, during the power cuts in the winter term of 1971, I’d been their 5 days the first time it happened. My job was to lose and be humiliated in front of 100 of my peers three Saturdays in a row!!)

      • Mcb on 2021-03-19 at 6:01 AM

        Interesting in that I had the same experience only it was everyday for the most part of a year. Terrified going to bed for fear of what might happen and terrified waking up for fear of what I knew would happen. I’m 52 and now feel totally isolated at work. Trying to be part of the group but feeling scared and honestly believing everyone can see right through me and will take advantage of my weakness.

        • HL on 2021-12-04 at 1:03 AM

          That sounds awful. I hope you will be able to begin to get some help to deal with such trauma. Heartbreaking that at 52 you are still suffering from your childhood experiences so much. Please get some help for this.

    • Zoe on 2021-02-09 at 5:27 PM

      That is exactly it. It killed something in me too. I am struggling to make sense of it because I mostly thought I was okay with having gone to boarding school from 7 to 18 years old; however, it turns out that thinking about suicide most days from 13 till 28 isn’t normal (better mostly now though.) I lost any sense of community: that’s what it is. A boarding school will say that it is a community, but it’s an ersatz one. I don’t know where I belong. I was Scottish but the boarding school I went to mostly had English staff and students; I now sound English but I don’t feel it. When I returned to the fishing village where my mother lived (I was a scholarship kid), I was a stranger with a posh accent. It was a given that I’d never settle there myself as an adult. Since uni, I’ve moved around the world, and my education gave me the confidence to do that. But I have no home, no roots, no community, and I feel fake. And the thing is, there’s no going back. I can’t pretend to have a Dundonian accent again. I can’t pretend not to have gone to boarding school. I have no authenticity. I know a lot about culture and yet have none.

      • John on 2021-04-04 at 10:01 PM

        Dear Zoe. I feel like you do No roots no real home ,my colleagues at work say that’s rubbish I came home for the holidays my answer is the bonds had been cut I felt like an outsider in what was meant to be my home. The holidays weren’t that much fun anyway one summer in particular. Another story as they say ……

      • Sean Wu on 2021-04-25 at 9:13 AM

        We do have a culture brothers and sisters. It is this. Ex-boarders. We are among the strongest yet most damaged individuals and we were forged this way through no choice of our own. The end product is, well you know what it is, it is us, what the system was designed to make it makes, cold elite, leaders. We can make the hard calls without being distracted by petty things like our employees emotions. We have been groomed to rule this world and have paid dearly for it. Do not let the suffering be for nothing. Claim your rightful thrones, lord knows we’ve earned them.

      • Faye on 2021-06-22 at 11:24 PM

        This is so sad Zoe, I can’t pretend to know but your words about I feel fake raised a red flag. I managed to get my children into prep schools with bursaries and it meant they were advantaged academically. The senior school became an issue because they were too advanced for the local low performing state schools so I tried to get her into a day school because I was against boarding, but bursaries are only offered for boarding schools. We reluctantly were left with no choice but to go down this root or stay with a state school which would feel like huge waste of all our money and efforts. Also from Scotland we chose what we thought was the better English school. My daughter has only been there a year (except for covid lockdown periods) so its only like a term and half in reality but she has issues already saying she is sad and feels lost and fakes happiness. She reckons its to do with not making a lot of friends but having read this I think I will have to bring her home and not send her back. I can’t take the risk of damaging her. It’s not worth it. Her sadness is probably a lot deeper than just absence of friends but she can’t work it out and tries to tell me in her way but doesn’t know how. Already her housemistress advises counselling. I don’t know what to do next except bring her home and then go where. What a nightmare –

        • J. S. on 2021-07-09 at 9:58 PM

          I went from 10 to 16. It devastated me. Cried every day for the first term. Regularly went to cry on my older brother who eventually told me to ‘just get on with it’. I was bullied, alot of kids were, never found a tribe to protect me and I put on a brave face everytime I went home. It was a relentless prison with no privacy or autonomy. My parents were too busy with their jobs which took them abroad to ask me how I was. I was supposed to be grateful. I have not managed to form a lasting romantic relationship. I’m now 40. A successful high flyer professionally. On bringing it up now wtth my dad he says ‘why didn’t you tell us how unhappy you were?’ I was a good people pleasing 10 year old girl. I assumed my parents knew what they were doing. They didn’t tell me I had a choice. Your daughter is telling you she is unhappy at boarding school. That takes a huge amount of guts. Listen to her. Take her out ASAP. Parents sometimes force their aspirations through their children, destroying their wellbeing in the process.

          • Finola on 2023-05-22 at 1:55 AM

            I am presuming that all boarding schools are not the same apart from the fact that the pupils are reluctantly removed from their families and placed there for one reason or another.My school was run by The Louis Nuns in Ireland.With hindsight (I am nearly 70) it is plain to see how disturbed many of those left in charge of young girls were.I arrived at the school as a painfully shy 11 year old and was subjected to shocking and regular shaming punishments for minor misdemeanours.When I left I was a feisty defiant teenager but focussed enough to get top grades in all A levels.What seemed to me a joyous escape at 18 was in reality the beginning of a lifetime of the unravelling of the damage that had been done-No self esteem.fear of authority.difficulty with relationships and trust and above all a sense of not belonging anywhere-a lack of any sense of community.Blended into that mix was an overpowering sense that I had to be a high achiever in every aspect of life.
            When at 38 years of age and a wife and Mother of 4- I had a severe mental breakdown my late father with tears running down his face simply said”We should never have sent you to that school”
            Life is rarely easy for anyone but I have little doubt that it might have been somewhat easier for me had I remained at home.But then I recall much disturbed and rejecting behaviour of my Mother towards me before I was sent away.Maybe things would have been worse if I had stayed.!!

        • Thaly on 2021-10-10 at 12:39 AM

          Being happy and grounded with her family might be more important than academics. If she is unhappy, her learning will become impacted anyway. Take care

        • Carrie on 2021-10-16 at 6:28 AM

          How is your daughter now? What did you decide?

        • Aruna on 2021-11-24 at 2:53 PM

          Bring her home!!! Its better to be surrounded by loving parents & a stable home life than to become an emotionally damaged but brilliant kid!!

        • John Grant on 2021-11-24 at 7:25 PM

          It is not too late for your daughter to recover the experience of living as a deeply loved person – once lost by frequent repetition of returns to boarding school she may never find her way there again. Is academic and perhaps sporting success a better foundation for the adult emerging into the world of relationships? I do not challenge or in any way not respect your efforts to do your best for your daughter but please ask her in a way that will encourage her to share with you how she is feeling about going to school. With best wishes.

        • Angel on 2023-03-08 at 8:06 AM

          Be strong , if she is struggling bring her home, love her, there are benefits to local friends and good mental wellbeing is everything.
          Love comes first .

      • Patrick Bradfield on 2021-11-24 at 1:38 PM

        Hi Zoe, I identified with your experience. I was sent to school from Africa at age 8 to 18 travelling back and forth for holidays. When I finished school and college I went back to Africa but I never completely settled, just travelled and relished the freedom, too much! I couldn’t settle into a normal adult life with a steady partner, just got into a hedonistic lifestyle and didn’t want responsibility or to grow up! Eventually the constant travelling and hedonism caught up with me and I got very ill and had to be brought back to uk and hospitalised. I had a liver transplant and went to AA for alcoholism. I’ve learnt to live as a semi invalid and stay in one place but emotions I find difficult, friendships I can manage but close relationships are precarious. The AA taught me a lot, how to be vulnerable and be trusting but it’s a lot of work. I still have to work at it through meditation and letting go, talking about my experience, externalising it etc. But I could never regain my childhood or the human being I was meant to be. I’m an artist/painter but I’m almost permanently blocked! This article is amazing, it vindicates me and your story prompted me to reply.

      • Mike on 2021-12-15 at 5:31 PM

        Zoe, I feel what you say.
        standing alone without tangible points of reference or belonging is a form of solitary confinement where the only way to stay standing is to try to accept the unacceptable. Déjà vu all over again, to quote an American comedian.
        it’s prolonging what we knew. I wish I knew ways to heal; there are no recipes, often, no hope either. Yet the life force within us knows the way from where we stand. Trust builds as we open our hand to be guided. Life takes care of life when we let it and even if it finds resistance, it’s resilient. That realization is why I’m still around. it’s available to all, and it’s worth more than all the world has to offer.

      • Maria on 2023-08-27 at 1:08 AM

        I read the article and comments. So reminded me of my ex-husband. When I read Zoe’s comments, words came up that my ex-husband used to describe Why he wanted a sudden, unpredicted, divorce after 28 years.

        He was first sent to boarding school in Sri Lanka (he is Sri Lankan) at 5 and cried everyday. At 10 he was sent to St Edwards in Oxford UK until age 18.

        He was the only Sri Lankan boy at this boarding school. He arrived with an accent and left 8 years later speaking perfect Oxford English, having lost his mother tounge, an upper stiff lip, fearing intimacy.

        ”My life has been fake,” ”I dont know my identity,” ”I never had a teenage rebellion,” were his reasons for this sudden divorce.

        He had declared himself asexual a couple of years earlier, which brought us to therapy. The therapist had no experience in the boarding school syndrome. Yet, she began digging into his childhood. Questions about his time at boarding school were surfacing.

        Two years later, he abruptly requested divorce. A massive rage had come to the surface. After the divorce, he went on to medication for his mental state, gained weight and is more numb than he has ever been.

        I tried all in my might to support him, read up on the boarding school syndrome, contacted UK specialists, tried talking to him.

        But all in vain. He refused to keep his family together and let go of his best friend in life, his wife.

        I doubt he wants to address the complex PTSD of the school. I can’t even Think of What they did to him. My heart breaks.

        His mother doesnt care. ”We dont discuss private issues in this family.”

        Such tragedy.

  6. Munano on 2017-04-07 at 6:46 AM

    That’s me right there. All of what I’ve been going through in one detailed article. I’m 31 and my life has been a very unpleasant one. I hated boarding school and I’d never have my kids go through my experience as a child. It’s wicked.

  7. Helena Shaw on 2017-05-21 at 2:05 PM

    I am so grateful to find this article. I was sent away at 6 and now in my late 30s I am starting to see how I have a very superficial bond with my mother. I have had several forms of counselling and am still taking medicine for depression after a break down several years ago. Now I just need to find a therapist local to me with experience of treating patients with Boarding School Syndrome.

  8. Cecilia on 2017-05-23 at 7:08 PM

    Yep rings true for me sent away at 10 “for my own good, how lucky was I ?”
    As soon as dependancy or emotional attachment nears I run away.

    The most successful period I had with a partner . . was when I had two men . .both called John as it happened. With one I had a spiritual/intellectual bond and spent hours talking, with the other a purely physical one . . .
    That way I wasn`t dependant on one !
    Not really a satisfactory long term solution though, eh ?

    I feel now only family can validate me, but do you think a therapist can really help you to value yourself ?

  9. Lynn on 2017-06-13 at 7:07 AM

    I left for boarding school at 14. In another country and culture. I don’t do relationship follow- through well. For years I was ashamed of myself and knew everyone else was better than me. I cried alot without knowing why which in turn made me feel without value. I was suicidal and even wrote out my funeral service. I longed to just not be here anymore. Years into my adulthood, a friend introduced me to a magazine titled “Among Worlds”. It was writted by and for third culture kids. I cried through every issue, thankful that I was not the only person feeling the difficulty of fitting into and belonging to something or someone.
    I still don’t feel attachments. But I suspose that’s ok. I am a christian and look forward to one day being made whole again.

    • Brighton Therapy Partnership on 2017-06-14 at 5:11 PM

      Thanks for your contribution Lynn. It is indeed of some comfort in our lives to realise that we are not the only ones feeling as we do. Wishing you well Lynn.

      Best wishes

  10. OrganisedPauper on 2017-06-15 at 8:18 PM

    It doesn’t reflect my experience. I went to boarding school at the age of 8, but it was a free choice. I never had to stay there. I wasn’t made to.go. I was badly bullied & misunderstood in the state system. I got a grant for boarding school. I didn’t experience home sickness like some children did. My issues from boarding school are different from those listed. I liked school, until my teens. There was a lot of sexual pressure from boys in our mixed sex school, at the same time I was considered the ‘weird’ girl. It didn’t make any sense. I still liked the school itself, just not the other children. I’m definitely not emotionally numb.I have a very deep core of low self esteem, although I suspect I would have been even worse off in the state sector.

  11. Rory Holburn on 2017-08-02 at 7:38 PM

    As an ex boarder I certainly recognise some of the influences and pressures, but I would like to state that these are not always negative for all boarders. Some of these experiences, when complimented with a very strong family life in between, can be very positive and affirming. The family love is not missing but is enhanced in the moments when time is shared together and the time apart enables independent growth and development beyond the family alone.
    I had great and horrible times at boarding school, very much like life itself.
    I am always concerned that once something has a label it gets applied to everything. I pray that therapists do not hear “boarding school” and just assume negative. There is enough of that idiocy in day to day life already. Yes, they are not suited to all, but they also do work for many.

  12. Valerie Thomson on 2017-08-18 at 2:52 PM

    my husband went to boarding school at 11 always felt deprived of some home life…I went to boarding school at 14, loved almost every minute, I could be independent and had friends, (was on a farm so lonely at home.) I had resources I never had at home. I think a good boarding school can be a very good experience and a wonderful environment, especially in one’s teens. It is not always a negative experience.

  13. Tony on 2017-08-19 at 2:54 PM

    Boarding School let me down when I most needed the support, I was expelled for a robbery I did not commit, simply the malicious actions of a fee paying boy vs a naive scholarship boy.
    Money certainly talks
    My parents took the school’s side and disowned me
    16 years old and destitute, sleeping on newly made friends floors, hostels and squalid bedsits until I joined the Military
    Abandoned by the military after 12 years of service due to the end of the Cold War
    Issues with depression and a failure by the NHS in recent years to address my mental health issues they suggested I contacted the charity Combat Stress
    I haven’t been able to settle into a normal routine at work and have had numerous jobs since leaving the military in 1996
    I have a small circle of friends and if I feel my trust has been broken then there are no second chances
    My parents are no longer part of my life and neither is my sibling, I tried reconciliation some years ago only to realise that I would never receive their acceptance
    Back in a military environment in KSA at age 52 and very much on the outside here in regards to my coworkers as mental health issues are frowned on as LMF

  14. Cameron on 2017-11-05 at 7:44 AM

    I also was sent to one of these appalling places at a young age. Parents mistake boarding schools as ‘ communities’ , which children and young people need as anyone does. But they are institutions, not communities .. just like prisons. One of the horrors is that young children have to form instant attachments , as they are pulled form their natural ones. These being non family authority figures, or other children. Children in these situations often retreat into fantasies or early addictive behavior – things that lead to addiction issues later in life, esp substance abuse. As an exboarding school person, and someone who has been in therapy for years and is now in treatment for substance abuse issues, I have found that so much of my dysfunctional thinking/behavior has its roots in the culture of being a child effectively being brought up in the institution as functioning as a surrogate parent . The only people they benefit are the most conformist type of children, who then go on in later later and repeat the institutional brainwashing, applying it to other institutions in later life.

  15. Ruth wilkinson on 2017-11-06 at 3:37 PM

    I can totally relate to this. I was sent away to boarding school when I was 5 till the age of 10. My parents gave me photographs of them but I couldn’t bear to look at them. I feel I did a life time of grieving in those early years and now have no emotions left.I cannot find anywhere inside me feelings of love nor do I feel sad at losing anyone whether it be death or just leaving. The exception is towards animals I can love them and be upset when I lose them. I do ‘t know if this is common.

    • John on 2021-04-02 at 9:28 PM

      I can relate to this . I went away at the age of ten till seventeen to Boarding School. My mother is in advanced stages of Dementia and I feel little emotion . I was always told not to show any emotion by my Father l suppose over time it has just become an automatic response This can’t be normal surly ?

  16. Lucy Carr on 2017-11-12 at 11:11 AM

    The relief I felt when I read Joy’s book, was quickly replaced with total horror and overwhelming sadness. The relief was that finally I had found something which so eloquently taplkedvof how I felt, plus I briefly experienced a validation of my feelings. The horror and sadness came from the understanding of what I went through, that my feelings had been denied entirely all my life….labelled as an over sensitive/emotional or difficult child. The horror that I can’t have what I missed out on and so desperately crave, that I feel so damaged and different that I don’t feel I will ever find peace and acceptance. I have a wonderful therapist, who has shown me patience and kindness for 2 and a half years now. I can’t think of living without her in my life, yet I despise this neediness in me, and I am scared every day that she may walk away from me either intentionally or unintentionally. It is my own children(I love them fiercely and can never let them down)and my fear of failing that stop me from stepping out of this world. So the journey of life continues, with me keeping everyone and everything just that little bit separate from my being. I am sorry for all others who experience this despair, may you one day find some peace.

  17. sue on 2017-11-13 at 7:31 AM

    What is so very sad is that whether we can see it or not, the damage was caused. I was sent away at 9, unable to speak to my parents for 3 months at a time, and unable to tell anyone how very lonely and sad I was. It has taken me over a decade of therapy to come to terms with some of the damage that being away at school caused. Recently, I heard a program about a kid with an attachment disorder and found myself crying – what he described was exactly what I had often felt. Being sent to boarding school was a brutal thing, no matter how often we were told “we’re doing this to give you the very best opportunities” and it is only with the help of an excellent therapist and treatment for depression that I find myself able to live a contented and productive life. If I had to say one thing to anyone having gone through the boarding school system it would be this: find yourself a therapist who can help, because you can become whole. I did, and I believe anyone can.

  18. Joe 90 on 2018-01-05 at 7:05 PM

    At 54 years of age, suddenly 45 years of more or less across-the-board cr*p starts to make sense. Too many absolutely spot-on observations to itemise.

  19. Pamela Chedore on 2018-01-08 at 2:30 AM

    I think that the article is too one-sided. I went to boarding school at ten, in a community where boarding school was considered normal and a privilege. There were good and bad times and I think it was a good preparation for life in general. I don’t suffer from depression, didn’t feel abandoned, and retained the same personality from before I went. Some children aren’t suited to boarding school – nor for that matter to competitive sports or high academics. I hope that all boarders are not now suspected of having been traumatized – of course the mental health community will only see those who were.

    • Lamb to the Slaughter on 2021-02-15 at 11:35 AM

      “Some children aren’t suited to boarding school”

      Adults often make that decision, alas, not the child. Respectfully, may I then ask that if you consider the article to be “too one-sided”, are you suggesting the lived experience as reported by the damaged to be specious?

  20. Numbskull on 2018-03-08 at 1:31 PM

    Speaking personally, it seems that there are two possible outcomes from attending a boarding school, and they are not mutually exclusive.

    One is a resilience and determination combined with an understanding of the value of conformity, which can sometimes deliver professional success.

    The second is the development of a numb skull, frozen childish emotional development along with isolated and defensive thinking wrapped in a lifelong expectation of impending abandonment.

    Unfortunately the interplay between these two can cause difficulties not only for the ex-boarder, but also for many people around them.

    At work, issues of trust and authority can cause a mismatch between the boarding school children and the majority have not.

    Closer to home, another challenge is how to be a resourceful parent of children from the age of 10 upwards, having had no real experience of this, apart from prolonged institutionalisation.

    A third challenge comes in relation to caring for parents as they become infirm: love, duty, resentment all fight it out with a force which can be far too strong for such delicate circumstances.

    I’m coming to realise that the boarding school experience has probably damage the people around me more than myself.

  21. Samantha White on 2018-03-31 at 10:44 AM

    I went to boarding school aged seven, with my sister who was three years my senior. Our parents had just had a bloody and messy violent divorce. We are both broken. She has bi-polar and has been on Lithium etc for decades. I just, just…. try and keep the tacking that is my dress in tact. Its falling apart at the seams of course.

    I thought my day had come when Dad said he could no longer afford to keep 4 kids in private school, by this time he had remarried and his new wife wanted her kids privately educated. Not at boarding school though, just the best day schools. So we were brought out and put back home, a home we didnt know. My mother had moved house three times by then. We only visited her new home in holidays so were unfamiliar with even the location or geography of the area. And didnt know any of the kids of our own age who had been brought up together.

    We were outsiders.

    I was forced to take an IQ test in Thetford because I hadnt ever sat an Eleven Plus exam. I really wanted to go to the Secondary Modern but my mother insisted I sit this IQ test to enable me to attend the Grammar School.

    I dont know much about public schools/private schools. But as a girl it was clear to me that when I went at age seven it wasnt to be groomed to go then onto a famous school like Eton or Harrow. We as girls were mainly taught embroidery, Latin, maths and gym. Plus of course DS – domestic science.

    It was a third rate boarding school even by the standards of the day. All manner of discarded kids washed up there. Some stayed some were put in there for one term never to return. I stayed at Overstone for about three years. I had been at St Andrews for three years before that. At least that was some stability.

    Boarding Schools at their worst are an excuse for the well off to dump their children. Once dumped in an institution that accepts them that legitimises the act of dumping your children “for their own good” and thus by paying for this you salve your own conscience as a parent.

    For every boy at Eton there are thousands more boys and girls at lesser public schools buying into this crap. When will it ever end? Its systemic abuse.

    Snobbery, my school thought hockey vulgar so we played lacrosse. Result? We had only three schools in the whole of the Uk to play against and all of them were too far away for the school to afford us to go and play against.

    Result? More isolation.


  22. Torn on 2018-04-05 at 10:37 PM

    I’m finding this reading fascinating, as well as the comments of those sharing here. My eleven year-old step daughter is working on achieving a scholarship to a prestigious boarding school around an hour’s drive away. She wants to board – even though day school is an available option. She claims she wants to board to be away from her mother, with whom her relationship is strained. With us, she has two solid parental figures and a younger brother with whom she has an excellent relationship. Transport would definitely be a huge challenge for us if she gets accepted. I’m wondering if allowing her to board with the option of changing to day school at her own choosing would negate negative effects? But we would much rather she live at home to have the security, guidance and support of a loving family. I don’t feel she is mature or equipped enough to bear the challenges of a life without a shoulder to cry on or genuine loving connection. She has grown up with two parents with mental illness, has been sheltered unnecessarily to a large degree I don’t think the distance would be beneficial. Yet the school seems an excellent fit for her and would give her huge academic advantages.

    • A on 2021-06-13 at 1:00 PM

      There is a huge gap for those forced to board before age 10 and those after, as well as a difference in how boardingschools are. I went age 8, I’ve lived outside the UK for most of the last 14 years, I talk to my Mother once every month or two, and never really talk to my siblings, because we’re almost strangers, it’s not that we don’t get on-but we have no shared ground.
      If your daughter wants to board, you can phase her in, and let her maintain control of how much, that will circumvent the issues that many of the issues many of us are left with

  23. john wright on 2018-05-13 at 4:58 PM

    not sure what you want to hear or not but i was put into a boarding school in Wiltshire from the age of 8 years old until i was almost 16 within a week i was Assulted by a member of staff then later on by another boy i was put into care as i could not read or write it was in the early 70s in all that time i did not learn very much up until i left after leaving the school it was the start of the 80s even then i still could not read or write very good i spoke to some man that said to me that i had dyslexia as it had only just been diagnosed what a long 8 years not having my parents or family to of learnt from im now 54yrs of age and still badly hurt from been placed into the boarding school it has effected me its probably ruined who i could of been.in a strange way i still miss that place i have even had a friend drove me to that ex school just to see it and it was about around 200 plus miles even when i left that school i missed what i had learnt and missed the puples and the teachers it was like my family

  24. Anon on 2018-06-04 at 3:38 PM

    Where do I begin? Since this is anonymous I well try to be as honest as possible. First if all, I hated boarding school with a passion only comparable to my deepest loathes. Which I’m not even sure there is anything I could ever hate as much. The very first day I arrived was a harbinger to what would be the for years I spent in that prison. I arrived a few days after the rest of the class, together with my deskmate then. As the others somewhat already knew each other, they were generally being a noisy bunch. Suddenly I heard a voice boom from outside “class five B, you are making noise. Kneel down everybody.” I was shocked. Everybody started kneeling down. My deskmate started kneeling down too but I told him we would say we have just arrived, I was not about to be punished on my first day.
    The teacher, a beast of a human being called Mr. M came in and beat everyone. When he got to us, we simply said that we had come that day. He passed and continued punishing the rest of the class.
    The sadistic pleasure that punishment was meted out was to become an almost daily thing, for four years. There was a time when the teachers had the cooks boil canes in water and salt(so I heard). The believability was in that the canes were almost similar while previously the teachers had their own different canes. And they stung. So fucking much.
    I suffer from all the symptoms listed-difficulty with relations, amnesia, difficulty with empathy. I feel like I’m stuck, suicide has looked tempting so many times. I feel hopeless so many times, like I can never move from here. I hate you dad for taking me to that school and just underlining the part where I told you I was homesick in my letters in red. I hate the woman he married who has been the biggest tormentor of my life. I hate everything.

  25. Another anon on 2018-06-30 at 12:13 PM

    I was sent to boarding school at 7 and loathed every minute. I’m now in my 60’s and still get butterflies when i see a packed suitcase waiting in the hallway. A few years ago we put the dog into kennels for week and i found myself shaking and sobbing on the trip there. There’s no doubt it seriously messed me up.

  26. s burgess on 2018-10-21 at 2:23 AM

    in one way i’m glad i went .its hard for bad situation to break me now.after living through a traditional boarding school in in new zealand.

    morning runs, evil squads 5 to 7 morning runs beaten the whole process.gateings, abuse, neglect ,racism ,cold showers (a fire hose naked in winter). tutors were only present a few hours a day. the control power was firmly with the prefects. the culture shock on leaving took a few years .my brother found jail a easy process compared to boarding.

    the bad parts emotionally were intense. i didn’t see call my parents for 5 years after i left school unplanned by the way. it felt like returning to a trauma. it was not long after having cancer i was sent to boarding.im still not clear why it was so hard to even call them. i think i must of had a sense of neglect . and at that point i felt like a stranger in the family still do.

    the skills you learn are great for some situations. i never give bosses grief. i work as a team and put myself in context not placing my needs above others. but asking for help expressing pain feels unnatural and weak. its hard to seek help ask for favours from friends.and often it feels like supporting others needs feels fake .like this is the correct process.but they don’t know real pain. no real sense caring even tho i give a lot to those in need money emotional support.

    some of what went on i wont get into. abuse was institutional . abusers were the leaders both teachers, students.so much of our identity was formed in such situations it feels like attacking the institution is attacking one’s own identity. student fought to keep the sadistic traditions runs etc.

  27. Eve on 2018-11-07 at 12:05 AM

    I was sent to boarding school at 9 ( all girls) was bullied and left when I was 13 due to having a mental break down, which lead to being diagnosed with BPD 13 years later.

  28. Maxina H on 2019-03-09 at 4:32 PM

    I was sent to boarding school at 8 right after we moved from Canada to London. I was teased and bullied for having a Canadian accent and having a Harrod’s label on everything. I had no friends. My mother was a psychopathic nacsassist who was chronically in search of social advancement so her children had to go to British boarding school and her shopping tastes were only expensive. We were not badly off but the excessive spending took its toll as my father retired with nothing and she remarried (without a divorce and before my father’s death…..). I cried days in advance of being driven to the school. Even traveling to London years later would fill me with anxiety and dread.
    I don’t have children; too terrified to do that and no trust in a partner during those years to do so. Numerous inappropriate to abusive relationships. I grind my teeth. I used to bite my nails until they bled. Now I pick at my fingers until they bleed.
    Boarding school may have given me a break from my narc mother while she had a fancy social life in London but bottom line: why have children at all if you’re going to send them to boarding school.

  29. Ellie on 2019-04-25 at 8:09 AM

    I relate to this article well. Was sent to a boarding school not far from home at age 13-17. Too many unexplainable rules for convention & “discipline” sake. I was allowed to sleep at home 1 weekend a month. Went to an all girls school at age 7-12 so transitioning to a mixed gender school when I was in my pre-teens was a bit lonely and awkward. I was bullied by idiotic teenagers throughout my years there and my self esteem suffered until my late twenties. Continued living in hostel dormitories from then on for college and university. I still have a very superficial relationship with my family and I can’t keep a healthy relationship. I usually forgot that I grew up in a boarding school. Reading this tells me it could be one of the elements to why I am either detached or overtly attached. Important question is, how do I take it from here?

  30. Nicko on 2020-10-20 at 5:01 PM

    So many of the issues mentioned above are spot on for me, but surely it’s not only those “privileged” boarding school students who may have suffered, surely those sent residential care homes etc experienced similar issues, without the possibility of parental love & support in the holidays ?

  31. Jeff Keighley on 2020-10-27 at 11:54 AM

    I have to say the whole point of children being sent to boarding school is for children to turn out in a different way. The parents wish children to be tough, resilient, better educated and form more relationships with their peers. That is what they hope for.
    However, what if the experience isn’t that. What if the child is not popular, perhaps smaller or physically weaker, already has some mental health issues or lacks confidence. This means they often succumb to bullying by peers which as, in a full-time environment, is enduring each day. There is a “Lord of the flies” experience for children, rather than a “Hogwarts”. There is little remedy to this. If the child tells an adult this and the adult intervenes, the child is seen as weaker, someone who can not be trusted and ostracised and the bullying escalates as they are pushed out of the borders of the local community, they are now supposed to be in.

    It seems to me, that the studies, from what I have read, look at skills, that don’t measure trauma, or are linked per se to qualitative data. PTSD suffers tell no one until they have to, believing it is not for them to say. Boarding school doesn’t encourage that. Vulnerable boarding school children, are often perceived as requiring too much support and told to make effort to mix in a community, they will, just never be allowed to be part of. This means such children, suffer a feeling of rejection in their new community. Equally, they may feel rejected by their parents and their new community. It follows that again they would feel let down by adult carers which should be helping those that are vulnerable.

    I am concerned that the measures and conclusions of outcomes in studies is wrong. They take overalls. That is sufferers mixed with a pool of higher achievers. Simply just because there may be high scores for achievement (due to a better education), those that suffer could be scored very low, with lasting damage which is overwhelmed in the data.

    Few people who have left boarding school would ever say to their parents or family “What have you done to me”, They are expected to tell parents “Thanks for what you did to help me”.

    For the rest of their lives they are expected to be appreciative of the fact, yet at the same time, never share the truth.

    Victim experiences of bullying is not just one thing here and another one there. Bullying at schools is a chronic problem, with high levels of fear, anxiety and depression. This is a given. It is also a given that corporal punishment was lawful, yet now we would wish to airbrush that out. We just can’t bear to face up to the fact, that people were paid to look after children and cane them. When caning stopped, teachers had to recruit prefects who we able to exert the force to pupils, heavily unregulated. Often Prefects chosen where tall, well built and bullies. It was suggested that giving them responsibility would make them more rounded, but just allowed power of prefects to exert on other pupils.

    I don’t see why any of what I am saying doesn’t just make absolute sense. Of course, if children grow up in such an environment, some will become “well rounded” power hungry bullies lacking in empathy, with a desire for more power. Such traits go well
    in high achieving politicians (something that often and mostly makes them bad polititians). The privately educated elite are hugely over populated in front line politics.

    There has been so much research into how domestic abuse affects children in their homes or in children’s homes. Why is there particularly an argument that putting children in a boarding school environment. An environment maybe subjecting children, to a long period, of their formative years in a situation of constant terror, rejection and worse still be powerless to change that situation, unless they want to seem ungrateful.

    How could children ever be put at risk in such a way. I was a boarder in 1984. I would be told things are much better but the private schools where they have counsellors and such. Absolutely they are needed, because it is recognised now that some people are damaged as a result of their experience. Why damage them in the first place and stick a plaster on them. Make sure the vulnerable never need to face such a cruel experience.

  32. Ex-Boarder on 2020-12-27 at 9:04 AM

    Any ex-boarders, who see boarding school as a negative experience, there is a dedicated Facebook group: ‘Boarding School Survivors.’ Only ex-boarders can join.

  33. Gail Williams on 2021-01-10 at 10:02 AM

    I went to boarding school from the age of 7, my sister joined me when she was 5.
    Our parents divorce was so nasty and one parent was repeatedly sectioned with schizophrenia, that it was considered a place of safety.
    For me although suffering the obvious homesickness of family, friends, pets and familiar surroundings, and being bullied at some stages, I found lots of support from the older girls who always looked out for the younger girls, especially the full time borders who didn’t go home at the weekend.
    It has left me the person I am. And life does that to us. My sister has been happily married for over 20 years and I have just come out of a 22 year relationship, I think that would have happened regardless of my upbringing.
    School life was hard, but it gave me skills to survive and be self reliant, mental strength and resilience. Sometimes I think it is a blessing to be bringing up my boys without the influence of having had a family unit to compare to. I was influenced by many different family members who took care of us in the holidays, and my school friends and teachers and matrons. I can do this parenting job with an objective view, and both my kids are critical thinkers with clear boundaries and strong individual morals that are respected because without any other reference I have always treated them as little adults, I was treated at school. You learn from your own mistakes and without a constant parent, you make mistakes and learn from them.
    We can all heal if we work hard enough, and our own views of the world are just that, there is no right or wrong way to feel, we must learn to let go and move on from negative experiences, recognise the damage it has done to us, yet not let it define who we are today. Life is too short to give yourself a label and an excuse not to strive for enlightenment and happiness.

  34. David on 2021-01-31 at 6:06 PM

    This article and the comments are spot on for me. I went to a remote, religious order, boarding school in Wales (boys) during the 70s from the age of 10 – 16. I lived in London at the time.

    I believe that I was sent to escape the chaos and violence within the marriage of my parents – -I later found out that my school fees were paid for by my mother’s boyfriend (who she later married before moving abroad with).

    I felt a profound sense of heaviness and sadness at school. It didn’t help that I was introverted, small, wore glasses and wet the bed (pretty much every night). This made life in a large dormitory very embarrassing. I had a real sense of dread and despair on waking each day. I developed a feeling of shame at “being in my own skin” and would spend any break/down times on my own.

    I felt rejected and abandoned by my glamorous mother and the new life she had made for herself in London’s West End. She visited me just the once in 6 years.

    I have had real ongoing issues in my life with codependency, depression and addictions – I’m not solely blaming boarding school for these mental health issues -especially as there were other dysfunctional factors in play- but it was certainly a difficult set up for a person like me.

    I was upset by the physical bullying and the chaotic and unpredictable use of corporal punishment but it was the emotional hole that opened up within me that has been the main “hangover”.

    12-step recovery meetings and therapy have helped massively. I eventually married and had a child (at age 48) after years of relationship breakdowns and dysfunction. I think I can say that I’m finally happy aged 60.

    In summary, I do believe that an extrovert child (11 +) who comes from a loving and secure home can in fact enjoy a modern child centred boarding school especially if they like sport and teamwork so I’d hesitate not to “throw the baby out with the bath water”.

    A secure, loved outgoing (sport -loving) child who has good emotional boundaries and a secure sense of self could do well in a modern (non-corporal punishment) outward- looking transparent and accountable boarding school. I’m hoping that such schools as these do exist.

  35. Anon on 2021-02-05 at 10:31 PM

    I was sent at 12 to the top girls’ boarding school in the country. Extortionate fees and everything was about their reputation.

    After the first couple of weeks my house mistress called me into her office, I thought she was going to give me a hug or something- ha! She told me ‘If you continue to cry on the phone to your parents you will not be allowed to speak to them. Have you any idea how selfish you’re being? You have been given a wonderful opportunity and you are very privileged to be here. You’ll find things improve if you just get on with it and you’ll see them at half term’

    I used to dream that I was at home and then wake up to that cold reality every morning. I think it’s why I still find mornings incredibly difficult now, 24 years later.

    With the help of a wonderful counselor, I’m beginning to discover who I was before the school crushed so much of me beneath the surface.

    By the time I was ‘asked to leave’ at 16 having been groomed, under their ‘care’ by the man 9 years my senior (he was climbing the drainpiipe outside my window and when my parents found out they told the school they told me I had to go, my parents also threw me out) who would be my abuser for the next 6 years and father to my wonderful eldest son who I had at 18. I’m seriously considering suing them …

  36. Lamb to the Slaughter on 2021-02-15 at 11:08 AM

    Thank you for your article.

    I was made to board from age 8 – 18. When I tell my experiences of that time, others tend to glaze over and appear to think I must be fabricating or exaggerating. So, not only was I systematically abused at the time but the damage is able to continue through the ignorance of others. The legacy of my experience in those young, delicate years can never be cured and will never leave me – there is no mechanism by which it can, short of total memory loss. Some years ago I ceased contact with those members of my family I consider ultimately responsible for what I underwent and that decision has brought me some ease. It is the one kindness I can do for myself.

    To any other dear souls who were similarly torn from a bright future I send my hope for better things for you, if that is possible.

    • Toli Kamchi on 2021-05-31 at 11:44 AM

      I honestly do not know what or who i am. In India therapy are for weak and mentally disturbed. Ive been in boarding school since forever, none of the school i attended was less than 2000 miles.

      • Toli Kamchi on 2021-05-31 at 11:47 AM

        Its not that i dont have empathy or sense of togetherness. I do but its only towards my colleagues and work mates, not my family or friends i make along the way. I’ve always avoided closure.

  37. Boarding School Survivor on 2021-03-12 at 6:14 AM

    Thank you, everyone, for your comments. Huge love to you all. I also grew up in a boarding school institution. I was wide eyed with wonder as I arrived, escaping a home filled with alcoholism, rage and emotional unavailability which had already sent me out of my mind by the time I was 10. The reality of school was worse than any jail could have been. I was already way too damaged to fit in and was ostracized by my other housemates for the full 7 years I was there (11-17). I left school riddled with depression, anxiety and no sense of self. At 52, I’m now in intensive recovery for a lifetime of running from the pain and trauma through relationships and workaholism. I think being a highly sensitive person and ADHD add to the mix.
    What’s helping me is the ACA 12 step group, (adult children of alcoholics and family dysfunction), fortunately I can attend online. The issues of everyone there are all exactly these!!
    Finally being around others who were neglected, abused, abandoned, shamed, humiliated, and have similar attachment issues …..as well as a clear roadmap for healing is such a relief. It’s a slow process but finally beginning to nurture the numb. Big love to all other fellow survivors here

    • Anon on 2022-04-02 at 10:49 PM

      Me too

  38. AH on 2021-03-24 at 1:43 PM

    I spent 4 years in boarding school (10-14) before eventual expulsion, and have trivialised the damage that it has wrought upon me for the best part of the 15 subsequent years. Following a mental breakdown last year I have found myself, with the help of a therapist, confronting issues from my past which I had repressed. Chiefly among these issues is of course the sense of homelessness, abandonment, and vulnerability which comes with a 10 year old being left by their parents to be cared by for an institution. The walls that I have built around myself since this time may never come down fully.

  39. John on 2021-03-27 at 11:13 PM

    I was sent away at ten years old. Due to a misunderstanding in a letter home the following term I was informed by my mother that “Unless I made it into a sports team they would not come to visit me” When I was selected to play Rugby for the school and hockey they only came once .

  40. Belinda on 2021-03-30 at 7:50 AM

    As a full time boarder from the age of 9 to 11, living in hospital & an orphanage beforehand (I had parents) at a catholic institution run by nuns, the trauma of separation from my parents for 3 weeks at a time totally undid me. The nuns were cold sadistic beasts & there was never an act of kindness shown. Constant prayers & church attendance conflicted with the belief system vs the way we were treated. I was again sent to another catholic boarding school when I was 12 for a year & saw some of the same nuns from my previous school. I had & have abandonment issues so have chosen to have no man in my life from the age of 60 as I have been mentally & physically abused in previous relationships & marriages. I have two close friends & have dumped many along the way as they were frequently destructive. I feel sick when I see a nun & would never put my only child through an institution like this. He is now an adult & has his own issues, probably due to situations I put him in, unaware of what he was learning. There should be a class action against all catholic institutions for mental & physical abuse but we only hear about the sexual abuse which is horrific too. I have no religious beliefs due to the trauma of catholic nuns & I’m not & never have been a catholic. I’m happiest on my own & also suffer depression.

    • John on 2021-05-09 at 9:12 PM

      I too feel happiest on my own , and I have battled with depression on and off my adult life (I’m 58). Some therapies have worked short term a good friend and fellow nurse (This is woman who I’ve worked with a longtime and trust),suggested hypnosis to take me back to the school days and bring me forward slowly hopefully getting rid of the trauma as the therapist went. I’m not sure if it will work still a bit scare to try

  41. Anon on 2021-04-25 at 10:31 AM

    Did my time 14-18yrs old. Sent to the other side of the world different country, exiled for the crime of smoking pot. I’m 23 now and am fighting a hard fight against suicidal thoughts. I’m fighting so hard. But my last ex who knew I had abandonment issues chose to abandon me three separate times after promising not to so I was forced to cut her off and now I am back alone as I have been my whole life really. I have always been quite stoic thank god so I see all this as making me vastly stronger than those around me who verifiably have gone through less traumas, lets face it boarding school is a very unique hell. I will take advantage of the strength it has given me to build my dream life which is simply to be loved have a happy family. I know I am worthy of love and always was.

  42. Lloyd on 2021-04-27 at 9:02 AM

    I was sent to an American boarding school run by Italian priests for two years when I was 12 in the mid 1950s. I felt abandoned and worthless. Out of this I have learned to trust no one especially men and priests. I did learn how to pretend to get along in the world where I could go through all the appropriate motions of working, being a good person, or having a successful life but all the while doing what I wanted. Fortunately I wasn’t bullied or abused there probably because I was bigger than everyone else.

    I’ve spent most of my life trying to find someone to love me but then rejecting that love because I didn’t feel worthy.

    Some experiences during that period have been seared into my brain but I really don’t remember about 75% of the time I was there.

  43. David S on 2021-05-07 at 12:58 AM

    Sue, it’s great that therapy worked for you. Some people here find the views here one-sided. I guess we just want to get to the truth. Reading this and most of the comments it seems I have the classic boarding school survivor syndrome. I can’t say it was all bad, but overall it was traumatic. It was 24/7 hell. The problem was that at 13 I could not make sense of it and I did not feel secure. Of course now it seems obvious – I was taken from my home environment. It was a feeling of displacement. There was no one there to turn to. Since that time I have had trouble in relationships and settling down anywhere, although I have done well career wise. Burying myself in study and work I think was a way of dealing with the experience, and that started in my later years at the school and has remained.

    But perhaps there is another side to this story. I do know of a few people who didn’t seem to look back on the experience too harshly. But these people are also people whose character I find questionable – almost ruthless achievers who play the game in business as they did in school – and do very well. But I also question the honesty of both people (and the parents) who speak of boarding schools in glowing terms; their honesty to others and to themselves. The people I have managed to meet again and recount the experience, however, have all resented the experience in varying degrees, most have had difficulty in relationships, many childless, but mostly successful professionally.

    I could be blaming a lot of things on boarding school when possibly there are other causes. The more I understand the better.

    • Lesley Hughes on 2021-08-14 at 7:21 PM

      Is there a link with negative experience if boarding school and adult separation anxiety?

    • Ellie Dixon on 2021-09-17 at 3:56 PM

      Please read my comment. I would hope my character is not questionable.

  44. Arlene Ava on 2021-09-04 at 6:58 PM

    I hate boarding school so much
    I would rather return to my crumbling home than spen more thn a week in a school

    • Shelley Holland on 2021-09-07 at 2:43 PM

      Thanks for your comment Arlene Ava. If you are feeling in distress (and you are in the UK) please give Childline a call free of charge on 0800 1111 to talk to someone in confidence, or reach out to any young people’s services in your area, or your school counsellor if you have one. You don’t have to do this alone. Take care.

  45. Ellie Dixon on 2021-09-17 at 3:53 PM

    There is definitely another side to the story and I am quite shocked reading this. It is not my experience at all. But I am saddened to hear that so many people have had terrible experiences at boarding school. I went when I was 9 and weekly boarded until I was 11 and then I was a full boarder until I was 16. I then went to a day school for 6th form and hated the fact I was day and managed to convince my parents to let me board for my last year because I missed it so much. I loved seeing so much of my friends and being at home was boring! I did see my parents a lot though. At least once every two weeks for the weekend sometimes more as they used to come and watch my sports matches and then obviously all the holidays. It wasn’t barbaric and my parents made many sacrifices to send me there as it was expensive. I absolutely loved it and feel very fortunate. I feel that my education made me able to get on with all different types of people and I am very independent. I have since become a teacher and have taught in a boarding school myself and worked as an assistant houseparent. I can assure it was a very happy place. Its great fun for the kids. They form lifelong friendships. I’m now married with 2 children and my husband also went to boarding school and had a similarly positive experience although he did see his parents a lot less than me. Because of where we live in rural scotland, the state education is nothing short of terrible and we may well send our kids to boarding school at some point but will make sure we see them most weekends. Just another perspective. We have lots of friends who will do the same.

    • Carrie on 2021-10-16 at 7:25 AM

      I wonder if your experience is a positive one due to not feeling abandoned? Maybe you were involved in discussions about schooling and options? You also went home at weekends and your parents showed interest in you, your education and co-curricular activities. I wonder, if you told them you were unhappy, do you think they would listen? Let you move schools?

      I’m not a psychologist, but it seems to me that children who experience/feel abandonment, who are not listened to and discouraged to show emotion are the ones that have suffered most. Therefore, if boarding schools are still to exist, these issues clearly need to be rectified! Children should have a choice, be included in decisions about their lives, family connections should be encouraged and expected and parents should and be expected to be involved in their children’s school journey. That should be a requirement! You are still a parent! Boarding schools should move away from this notion of being an institution for adults to dump their children or that children should feel privileged to attend them!

      • Maisie on 2022-02-03 at 10:35 PM

        I think that back in the 70s and 80s things were pretty appalling in some schools, but they have cleaned up their act. They would not be able to get away with it now.

        I think a lot of it is down to whether the child actually wanted to go to boarding school, or were just sent away. These days you would discuss such things. In my case, my son asked if he could go to boarding school at the age of 12-13. He knew it was what he wanted, and he had to work very hard to get the required bursary/scholarship.

        Now he loves it – he is with friends, and is able to live a full life of music, sports, art and extra-curricular activities. When he comes home every third weekend, he is happy to be home, but also keen to get back to school. I think it has made our relationship stronger. The school’s pastoral care has been excellent.

        This article does surprise me, as it doesn’t seem to reflect the reality of how things are at the moment. Though I know plenty who suffered in such schools who are now in their 50s, and whose parents said they wished they had never done it.

        • Livwild on 2022-11-20 at 4:23 AM

          “These days you would discuss such things.” – Recent ex-border here saying that’s a huge generalization.

          Feeling abandoned and neglected is timeless and although it’s nice that you listened to your child, don’t make the mistake of thinking all parents act as you do. Also, the things my school covered up to save its reputation would astound you.

          It seems to me that you’re focussing on the placement of the child into the ‘nice(?)’ modern institutions rather than acknowledging their removal from the parents & home. No housemaster/mistress can adequately substitute the emotional fulfillment of a parent for a child, never mind a boarding house of 50+ children.

  46. Jo on 2021-09-19 at 11:40 PM

    I’m currently in therapy for the umpteenth time, now in my 40’’s, and guess what, it’s the first time I’ve opened up to a therapist about my time in boarding school.

    Not for actually hiding it previously but for some reason the conditioning of a privileged background made me believe it was an irrelevant part of my story and had no bearing on some of the issues throughout life.

    How wrong could I have been! It was actually the grounding and building blocks for everything I’ve experienced since and something I’m only just exploring now after all these years.

    Emotional abuse at the hands of teachers/house parents, bullying, loss, separation etc etc I could go on, one failed relationship after another, it’s only now I’m understanding why!

    At least I managed to carve out a career in a uniformed service eh? *Said rather sarcastically*

  47. Nick on 2021-10-27 at 2:52 PM

    This article seems shockingly descriptive of my own experiences of boarding school in Kent in the mid ’70s, and the traumatic effect that it had on me then and on my future life. I have just been referred to the subject by my therapist – I genuinely had no idea that my experiences where shared by so many.
    I’m sure that a lot of kids had a great time, but I know for a fact that there must be many, many that are suffering quietly and miserably even now. To those I say take heart, it is never too late to seek help and hopefully find some answers. I’m 58 now, and have to believe that myself.

  48. Sue C on 2021-11-09 at 2:44 PM

    I was a boarder in a different country. My family had moved overseas so we lost our grandparents and cousins and our dog. Boarding school wasn’t great, but it was also a sanctuary; a place of protection from what was happening at home. There was much abuse there and it was our mother’s way of trying to protect us.

    My brother went on to have an internationally glittering career. I did not. At 63, I am happy, contented and at peace but I’ve been through very difficult mental health problems for decades. I never became who I could have become.

  49. Samantha Ford on 2021-11-24 at 9:53 AM

    I went to boarding school in what is now Malaysia. I was 11. Pupils came from all over the world as their father’s were posted there. Children can be very cruel. I had very thick curly hair and became an instant target for bullying. Apple Pie beds with a snake for company, regular beatings by other girls who would whisper about being “in the ring” that night. Shivering with terror knowing I would be hauled out of bed and made to run down the middle of girls with wet towels with knots at the end which they relished whilst they beat me. Physical fighting, biting and scratching, and so it went on. I would find places to hide to escape, but the night always came. I had no friends and there was no comfort from any members of staff. I hated boarding school, ,being wrenched from my family and sent up to the highlands, I didn’t see my parents for months on end. Then another boarding school in another country – this one I ran away from. Once caught the entire school was told not to talk to me, including my brother, I was thirteen years old. My school report stated that my behaviour was “foolish” not one member of staff asked me why I ran away – to this day I have told no-one. Boarding school damaged me for life, I am very much a loner, trusting no-one, relationships have been difficult and I now find, in my later years, that I am, once again, totally alone. Children in a boarding school environment can be extremely cruel. I don’t blame my parents, they had no choice. I have never felt I belonged anywhere, even though I have travelled and lived all over the world. I have no roots, no place I call my home and a terrible sense of not belonging in this world. That’s the legacy of being put in a boarding school which I have been left with.

  50. G on 2021-11-25 at 12:03 PM

    I boarded from 12; whilst I didn’t have a bad time, much of what’s been said resonates.

    I never considered sending my daughter away to school but we’ll think of it for 6th form.

    Not mentioned in the article but something that’s struck me for years – boarding tends to create a different reaction to rules – a moral ambiguity to them – at home with parents, rules are interpreted with and possibly enforced by emotions – if you disappoint your parents you feel bad for the negative emotions you’ve created.

    Breaking of rules at boarding school does not have a negative emotional impact – one might be upset about being caught but there’s not much of an emotional response.

    It concerns me that many of the people in parliament/cabinet went through the public school system – 2/3rds through Eton College, The King’s School and Cheltenham Ladies’ College.

    It no longer surprises me that when politicians are caught breaking rules/laws there is no emotional repsonse – yes, they’d prefer not to have been caught but many lack the emotional understanding to understand why the country feels emotional about such things.

  51. John B on 2022-01-15 at 8:09 AM

    I was at a “top” boarding school from 1973 to 1978. Wrenched from an idyllic life in Africa into an alien landscape with incomprehensible rules and culture. The day I was dropped off killed the essence of me. I did not suffer cruelty. Just a complete absence of comfort, warmth, emotional cherishing. I adapted. Became cynical, academically successful, emotionally repressed. And reading some of these comments made me cry – which means they hit home somewhere deep inside. On the surface confident, successful and emotionally strong. But in reality deeply insecure, feelings of unworthiness and emotionally barren. Unable to give my wife the emotional support she needs because I literally don’t know how. I had no idea so many ex-boarders feel this way. So a big thank you to you all. Maybe therapy would be worth a shot.

  52. Anon on 2022-02-04 at 4:23 AM

    I went to boarding school at 6, after my parents’ divorce. Mum worked at the school. I saw her once or twice a week. She wanted me to get a good education, which I did, certainly academically. But if I go back to memories of being 6, not knowing anyone, away from my beloved mum, the pain after 50 years is as raw as it was in those days. I cried constantly for several months. My dad would ring the school and I’d speak to him on the phone, he’d have had a few drinks and the slurring upset me. I saw him only in the holidays. My grandparents’ home became my haven. It was unbelievably hard at the beginning, I got used to the life there but never, in 12 years, did I get used to leaving my mum. I have a huge problem with goodbyes to this day. Terrified something will happen and I’ll never see that person again. I tell people close to me that I love them whenever I say goodbye. Huge gaping sense of abandonment. My husband has helped me feel more secure. But when my daughter turned 6 I could not believe I’d been sent away at such a very young age, even though I understand my parents’ reasons. The most vital thing for me as a parent was for my daughter to grow up in a stable happy family.

    • Anon on 2022-02-04 at 4:29 AM

      I am still deeply insecure to this day and need constant reassurance of love from those close to me. Having said all that, at boarding school I found great friendships, girls who became like sisters to me and a great sense of being part of a team, all in it together. Resilience, inner strength came through. That’s something I’m grateful for.

    • Anon on 2022-05-23 at 3:04 PM

      Sister, I went at 6 too due to family issues, stayed for 12 years, and even continued another 5 years. Just guessing, we probably attended the same place! This article resonates so well with me and I don’t know until this day how to make sense of myself – my emotions and my communication styles. I just say to myself, “It’s a boon and a curse!”.

  53. Bastien Atterbury on 2022-02-26 at 8:59 PM

    The article is very helpful – The ideas, the very words -I’m seeing and understanding a past that has troubled me for most of my life. My parents divorced and sent me to a boarding school when I was 13. They divorced and remarried to new partners a few time and each time I was sent to a different boarding school – 3 schools in all with the last school as far away as possible from them. Reading the article – I get it – how could I at 13 understand, or create a ‘narrative’ that would make any sense on why I was ‘kicked-out’ of my family?

    Now that I’m in my 60’s, I have some perspective – my parents were shaped by the forces of 1940’S -1960’s when they were traumatized by WWII, the Korean war; they both served in the military in theirs 20’s and suffered the loss of many many young friends in battle. I have have come to realize that my mother’s generation of young women were completely outside the norm of prior generations; radical new fashions, living away from home, sexually active – So I have come to a realization that her behavior towards me was NOT about me. And that if I have compassion – my Mom and Dad were very damaged by simply the times in which they lived.
    So although being abandoned by my parents and sent to boarding schools was/is a huge hole of loss, I think being sent away from these very toxic parents (alcoholics and drugs) and their sometimes violent partners was the right thing. I really did well at the schools and had many friends. But as many other comments have said – sometimes a cruel person is on staff – I do remember being so very sad -really suicidal – and told by ‘counselor’ that I was selfish, and stupid , that my parents didn’t need to hear about it – didn’t I realize how much they had given me? WOW . so yeah I really hate officious opinionated people and avoid them if I can- but sometimes even in my 60’s I can be ‘reprimanded’ by some twit and I completely shut down and become powerless child 🙁

  54. Anon on 2022-04-02 at 10:46 PM

    This article accurately documents the effects of boarding as I have experienced them. I served six years in a school. My childhood ended when I was dropped off to a school I hadn’t even seen a picture of before I arrived. I coped by marking time till I could be 18 and escape, but by then the damage was done. I just invented a persona to navigate the experience and hide the crippled child hiding underneath. I lasted just two years at Uni, and emigrated to start a new life but by 23 I was burned out alcoholic. An emotionally bankrupt human being.

    Thirty years on from that, in a sober life which has been ‘a success’, I am experiencing the same rejection in a venomous divorce. Wounded, exiled and bereaved, it feels like nothing really changed. Because nothing has. I married someone who it seemed liked the idea of me more than the person I am, and she then stayed for the lifestyle. I got hoodwinked because I will love anyone who loves me. And I crave a home and fooled myself rather than face walking away from the one I created. I will tolerate the intolerable because in boarding school you have no other option so you learn to suck it all up. What I thought was resilience is really a propensity to accept harm from others and ignore it. I am the person boarding school moulded me to be.

    Sending your kids to boarding school is no different than volunteering to send them into care. It is too late for me, the damage is done, But if you are thinking of sending your kids to boarding school. Please don’t do it.

    • Rosemary Morgan on 2022-07-03 at 10:50 PM

      It is child abuse, and ruins lives

    • Patty on 2022-09-01 at 7:50 PM

      I thought I was too broken and damaged too, but at age 61 I am finally becoming happy and confident. Please, try to find a good trauma or PTSD therapist. One day maybe you will be able to stop running from your pain.

  55. Chris on 2022-04-18 at 11:07 AM

    I recall using all my school pocket money crying on phone to my parents begging them to pick me up. Future home calls were done in matrons office & disconnected if there was any negatively any letters home were redone so not to upset parents.

    The school was very sport focused & if you didn’t achieve you spent your time running perimeter of the field being tormented the whole Saturday was dedicated to sport.

    Outside term time there were leave weekends where you had to stay with a day pupils parents for a couple of days it always amazed me how nice they were to their children & how lucky they are to have everything.

    On the rare occasion my parents did visit when I saw them I couldn’t stop smiling as an adult I still don’t understand why. when it was time to return they didn’t say anything on day on the pretense it was a normal day but as we got closer if I started kicking up fuss would stop car & be spanked in lay-by / retrained & on arrival manhandled by school.

    Parents listen to your children otherwise don’t be surprised your kids hate you. Six is too young this was only 1990 so not that long ago.. Its absolutely true even to this day my parents take credit for any success & tell me of their financial sacrifice & how privileged I am etc

  56. John Withheld on 2022-04-20 at 6:03 PM

    Age 63. It doesn’t ever leave.
    This is a great article – I relate to every line. Tks

  57. Timothy Edward Peacock on 2022-06-07 at 4:48 PM

    ‘ And the child must learn to live without love…’

    • Anon on 2022-07-03 at 6:30 PM

      Thank you for the great article, I can completely relate having been sent to boarding school from 8-18. For parents thinking of sending their children I do think the experience may be enjoyable for children “choosing” to go for high school but I can’t see how it can be beneficial for the younger child. It took me a long time and the birth of my own child to realise the effects it had on me. I would never ever send my child whatever the circumstances, I prefer to spend every minute I can with him during his precious childhood and strongly believe as a parent that is the very least I can do. My grandparents, parents, siblings were all sent to boarding school, some of them from the age of 6 where they were sent off on the train for the whole term. My family see absolutely nothing wrong with the fact that I was sent away at 8 (I made my unhappiness very evident running after the car and beating at the windows, writing the saddest letters home etc). I think that is the hardest part to not have your trauma acknowledged it makes your needs feel insignificant. I was not bullied or physically abused, I was sporty and academic, I certainly did not learn to conform I would not make a good candidate for the military, I am rebellious, I have good friendships and have been married for a longtime but to this day I suffer from depression and abandonment issues relating to my family. This began only after having my own child and realising the reality of my own childhood. Please listen to your children, love and nurture them, your time with them is so very brief.

  58. Rosemary Morgan on 2022-07-03 at 10:47 PM

    British Boarding School at 7, destroyed my mental health, for life. I am told, I cried every day for 3 months. Then I learned to be tough and slept with a knife under my pillow, with huge anxiety. The abandonment triggered Borderline Personality Disorder, which tends to ruin one’s life……..

  59. Kate on 2022-07-30 at 9:16 AM

    I’m glad I found this. ‘Emotional numbness’ pretty much sums me up. I do think that the experience at the school depends on the child – and the school of course. My niece (now 13) is robust and happy at her boarding school. But then in 2022 they employ staff who are warm and loving to the kids. In the late 1970s the staff at my school all seemed to be cold social misfits. Thanks for writing this and also thanks to the other folks who have commented. Kate

  60. Patty on 2022-09-01 at 7:33 PM

    So lucky that at the age of 61 I finally found a trauma therapist who is helping me. This article is so spot on, and it’s true about the dissociation from our own bodies and feelings. I always had the feeling that I was numb and I wished I could feel joy more fully, but the usual cognitive behavioral therapists could only skirt around the symptoms. Please trust yourselves, acknowledge your trauma, and try to find a therapist who treats trauma or PTSD. Also try the book, “Complex PTSD, from Surviving to Thriving” by Pete Walker for better understanding your symptoms.

  61. Francois on 2022-09-04 at 7:48 PM

    Great article. My oldest son (13) will be going to high school next year. I am divided whether or not he should be a boarding or day student. Like any sane parent I want whatever is the best for him. A part of me thinks it could be good for him as it is a very good school and the boarding life could possibly provide him with new set of friends, confidence, discipline and social growth. The other part says it could be a bad thing as I saw what boarding did to my best friend (and he went to the best in our country), destroyed his relationship with his father and ultimately caused him to go down a dark and self destructive path. I am most afraid that sending my son to boarding house will weaken our father-son relationship, and it feels like I will be signing over the rights to my son’s life to the school. Any advice will be appreciated!

    • Livwild on 2022-11-20 at 4:40 AM

      I cannot emphasize this enough; ask what he wants and please really listen to his response. He may be young but it’s his life and he will be the one living with the choices made, every single day.

      If you have a good relationship with him, I’d say that no matron/ housemaster/ teacher can substitute the kind of support and love you as a parent can provide.

      The ages 13-18 are some very important developmental years and I do feel like parents & their boarding kids are estranged for not getting to really know the child during this time.

      If it’s the same school for day & boarding, he’d be in the same friend group, and discipline is better taught by someone you respect and understand rather than rules designed to control for the sake of control.

  62. David Greene on 2022-09-29 at 1:13 AM

    Despite the many years since my “incarceration” at a New England boarding school, I am not entirely surprised that many of us who shared that experience struggle from lifelong psychological scars. Saw a movie once, wherein one character says to another, “You went to one of those boarding schools, didn’t you.” The other replies that he did, inquiring how the other fellow recognized this. “You guys are always hard to read.” was the reply. Although one probably made some trustworthy friends there after a while, you learned to guard your speech and behavior. In the generally hostile environment, certain classmates were always looking for things that others around them said or did that might be exploited for derision or mockery. This sort of thing could give an insecure young student a serious stretch of trouble.

  63. John Bingley on 2022-10-08 at 10:40 PM

    Thank you, all my brave, wounded friends.
    Reading your stories, I am grateful to know I am not alone.
    Forty years on I am still understanding what happened to me in being sent to boarding school from age 12.
    In my country, the graduates of such institutions have for two centuries felt little compunction to mistreat others, most evidently the First Nations people and the land itself.
    Little wonder stealing children from their parents could be made government policy.
    I lucked in to finding a long time friend whose core is joy; over time I have come to appreciate how important this has been in modelling what positive emotion can be.

  64. Ann on 2023-01-31 at 11:00 AM

    I ent to boarding school at 4 and then right through the system. I recognise so many of the things others describe here, emotionally secretive, avoidance in relationships or leaving others before they leave me. Also this deep sense of shame and constant desire to self isolate which is hard for my husband. It’s bizarre, my father used to criticise me saying you we so happy and bubbly as a toddler but then after you went to school you changed. No awareness of why! I felt it was my fault I’d changed. I’m 60 this year. Feels to late to sort the lifetime of embedded hurt to be honest. Easier just to keep coping.

  65. Karen on 2023-03-04 at 8:35 AM

    Thank you for writing your article it has given me confirmation that so many things I have done and do aren’t my fault but the result of being sent away to school thousands of miles away from my parents aged 8. The added problem also was my mother was emotionally absent up until I was sent away. At 63 I hope I can find some peace and continue therapy which I’d stopped thinking I was a lost cause. Thank you.

  66. Jay on 2023-03-09 at 12:11 PM

    I went to a boarding school at the age of 13. As a 12-year-old child, I was pestering my parents to send me to boarding school. I had heard stories and found that life to be fascinating. I wanted to live it. I went to one of the premium boarding schools in my country, and I cannot be more thankful. My father was a kind man, he agreed to pay. My mother was dedicated and loving, and it did hurt her to send me off, but I did go. Now years later, looking back, those were the golden days of my life. Having said that, I do agree with some of these points, notably on detachment, but I do not know if this is specific to boarding children. I never cried. I got bullied the first year but went on to turn things around. I was inducted into the prefectorial body in my final year and made some lasting friendships. I have seen boys cry on the last day of school because they knew they will never return. I have always lived on my own, since 13, and now I am 33. I have lost both my parents, do not have siblings, not even married. I owe a lot to my upbringing which has given me the ability to endure. In a strange way, I think those formative years prepared me for my adult life, a life of endurance, abject loneliness, and conflict. To be able to see your mother die an unkind death all alone is a ruthless experience. But I managed and looking back, I think it was fated that I go to a boarding school. Sorry, a little philosophical, but I thought I should share.

  67. Father Leblond School on 2023-03-15 at 8:50 AM

    Such an insightful blog regarding the impact of boarding school. Children have to stay with different kinds of people away from their parents in a strange environment.

  68. Caroline Hobbs on 2023-04-10 at 11:36 AM

    Reading these comment makes me relieved that my sister and I escaped the opportunity of boarding school, we fought against it and won, by brother was less fortunate, Sad little Men by Richard Beard recounts his time at boarding school and many of his experiences as with my brother and these contributors resonate within the pages.

  69. Claire on 2023-05-05 at 8:05 PM

    Oh wow wow, why at age 32 have I only just started understanding my childhood trauma, I got sent to a special school at 6, as my teacher told my parents I have something wrong with brain, and she advised them to make me drink cod liver oil morning and night, and on top of that, that teacher beat me for 2 years, and my parents told me I’m lieing.. they then sent me to boarding school at age 6 until I was 12, I went home every two weeks.
    I then got abused at home , and mother says don’t tell anyone as no one will believe me, why the hell did I never see this was wrong, all so very wrong, I then at age 13 was allowed to go to same school as my brother, a private school, I eventually got myself expelled after year and half of basically tormenting the teachers. When i was (released from school ha) I dissapeared down an estate with my at time boyfriend and didn’t see my family much for 5 years…oh why oh why, I’m nearly 33 why didn’t I realise sooner!!!!

  70. Sally Milne on 2023-07-05 at 6:45 AM

    I feel for you. I grow up in a very unloving “family” and so by the time I was sent to boarding school just felt it was much as the same as being at home. I felt unwanted at home and just as unwanted at boarding school. I had no self esteem by the time I was sent away. I felt that unwanted- I remember my mother wouldn’t even meet me on the train platform I would have to drag my case down to the car so that really made me feel loved. I’m actually going to see a therapist next week – I’m 65 and feel it’s time I got rid of all my anger. It might just make me feel that I’m not such a bad person after all ?

  71. D on 2023-07-21 at 10:40 PM

    I have only just found this page. I’m 51 and feel an overwhelming sense of both sadness and understanding in reading the experiences of many of the ex-boarders who have posted their comments here. I get you, I can resonate with all of this stuff.
    For myself, the deep traumatic scarring feels like it may never heal some days but there is hope for those seeking ways to heal. I can attest that with the caring support of a therapist who is an ex-boarder, it really could help aid your recovery. I say this having paid for therapists privately over many years only to find they couldn’t help and just didn’t get ‘me’. Therapy is not easy and I noticed my tendencies to go back to old learned behaviours and self-sabotage along the way. Everyone’s experience will be different, however I have found, only this year, that a therapist who can understand many of the situations you may have faced at BS and be able to reassure and offer strategies you can use everyday, is truly invaluable.
    I sought help through one such therapist. It’s a long difficult journey with lots of twists and turns. But I hope that with an ex-boarder therapist like myself, you may find sprinklings of joy and happiness amongst some of the darker days. You don’t need to continue to suffer but you will need courage to dig deep, take a hard long look at how you live your life, and then turn things around for yourself in your life, going against perhaps all that we have ever known. Only then (once we’ve removed some of the baggage) do I personally believe we can begin to accept ourselves, give ourselves permission to enjoy aspects of life that we may not have been able to enjoy as boarders and start to heal. Whilst as adults we should be feeling that have freedom to do as we please, sometimes it feels we are still bound and held captive by our thoughts that are based on negative experiences all those years ago.
    I accept that BS was an enjoyable experience for the minority but in my experience having been at BS between ages 10-18 yrs it was anything but. I have little in common with my home town on the Hampshire coastline and it feels unfair and too late to ask my elderly parents why they didn’t visit my school when they came home from abroad. I also know friends from school are now spread far worldwide.
    Anyone considering sending children to BS, please don’t. It’s much easier to prevent the pain than it is to heal the deep confusing wounds that we suffer as children but don’t realise are actually there until years later.

  72. Zunaid on 2023-08-01 at 12:05 AM

    Father Marines,Mother Attorney.A boarder at Military Boarding,age 9-17.Country South Africa,period- the 90’s.Twelve yes later,US Marine like father,age 45.Wife zero,children Zilt,trust issues galore.Anger +confusion an emblem.Life=military Base because it feels safer like the Boarding. So,where do one start and how🤦‍♀️

  73. David Hayes on 2023-08-25 at 5:08 PM

    No. It’s life changing without understanding why. It was a living nightmare in the 1960’s for me. I couldn’t get away from bullies, corporal punishment was the psychological means used by teachers to keep control and now my two best friends were at school with me; effectively my family at that time. I vowed never to send my children to boarding school.

  74. Krupa on 2023-09-11 at 12:19 AM

    My stepdad was in boarding school because his dad was dead and his mother could not take care of herself, let alone a child, due to being abused in patriarchal, casteist India. This article describes my dad accurately. What I will add is that I paid the price for his torture, abuse, and unresolved issues – many of them related to boarding school but also just growing up in a patriarchal, casteist, classist culture. I am in my 30s, and I am a broken, unstable person. Having been raised by stepdad, it came with extreme neglect, abuse, manipulation, abandonment, and more. I appreciate that this article exists because it gives words to experiences that this hideous society refuses to acknowledge.

  75. Odeliya on 2023-10-27 at 10:19 AM

    I wish more parents in Ghana could see this article especially my parents they don’t agree at all in Ghana here parents believe that if they went to boarding school and they came out great then why should we complain about it and they continue to say it is the best they can do and its the best money could buy although i understand that the public schools here are messed up but they leave you with absolutely no choice .They just say you have to learn to adapt and make friends as if those options are the only ones that would solve the problem it is really confusing and it causes a lot of disruptions .

    for your information I’m 13 and I am a boarder dealing with such challenges. No matter how many times I talk to my parents no avail.

  76. Donna King on 2023-12-18 at 12:48 PM

    My partner went to boarding school from the tender age of 7 and rarely saw his family throughout his years at this military establishment. I resonate with the ‘privilege’ card they put on him to make him feel like they were doing him a favour. He’s 61 now and is such a great guy, but sometimes the ‘rage’ from it all comes out in such unpredictable ways it’s really hard to deal with. I get scared and he goes into denial until finally the walls come down but it is all very horrible and unpredictable. He often feels disconnected, and when these rages come up (how could he know what to do with anger if no one ever showed him?) Therefore he feels ‘tossed out’ and ‘unwelcome’ and ‘unloved’ all over again. I resonate with someone who said ex-boarders can push and test their partners, to see if the pattern of rejection / familiarity will happen again. It’s really hard. Sending everyone love. Re-learning self love is the only way forward.

  77. Adam on 2024-02-20 at 10:11 AM

    Just after my 10th Birthday I got asked to leave my primary school because I was diagnosed dyslexic. my mother was advised that I should go to a state run boarding school for Dyslexic children an hours drive away. The feeling of being sent away for not being enough has never left. The conection to my family feels broken. I am in therapy now and I’m working on unpicking the knots that hold me back from feeling like a whole person.

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