British boarding schools started in the early middle ages as a means to prepare boys for monastic life, but by the first half of the 19th century their purpose was to prepare boys and young men from the upper classes of society for service in the British Empire. It was believed that by separating from their families and subjecting them to harsh discipline, they would develop strength of character and devotion to the Empire. In truth, boarding schools were institutions in which boys were brutalised, abused, stripped of compassion and empathy and often left unable to form emotionally intimate relationships with others.
Boaders often develops a ‘Strategic Survival Personality’, in which the individual learns to be self-sufficient, at any cost. And the costs can be high: ex-boarders suffer from marriage breakdown, difficulties in being a parent, compulsive working, alcohol/drug abuse, to name but a few of the problems the strategic survival personality trait can bring.
The term Strategic Survival Personality was coined by Nick Duffel, the co-founder of the Boarding School Survivors project and author of numerous books, including The Making of Them: The British Attitude to Children and the Boarding School System, which is available on Amazon.
More information, support, workshops designed specifically for ex-boarders is available on the Boarding School Survivors and Boarding Concern websites here:
Ex-boarders often find themselves in a double-bind hallmarked by guilt: they have been raised to believe they are privileged to have received a private education, yet they are troubled by memories of abuse and brutality which, under other circumstances, would be associated with deprivation and poverty. The strategic survival personality often makes it much harder for boarders to reach out for help than those in any other demographic, but those that do give themselves the choice to finally be free of the emotional legacy of boarding school.
I attended boarding school from the ages of eight to eighteen, and I have undertaken extensive training as a psychotherapist in addressing the needs of ex-boarders. I understand the Strategic Survival Personality at first hand. I offer you the opportunity to re-visit your memories of boarding school in an environment of understanding, compassion and forward-thinking: counselling may help you lay troublesome memories to rest, break out of the Strategic Survival Personality and make lasting positive changes in your life.