40. Sigmund Freud: Are You Aware Of The Traumatic Impact Separation Has On A Child That Is Sent To Boarding School Just After Experiencing The Oedipus Complex?
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Abandonment and separation from a parent can have vast emotional effects on most human beings, although some people are more resilient than others. Those who are more sensitive or more fragile can find the impact of abandonment or separation, very hard to bear.
Being separated from a parent can affect anyone at any age however, what I want to address in this Blog is what happens after the Oedipus Complex is experienced.
I have explained the Oedipus Complex in Blog 38 and 39 so I won’t bore you with a definition.
It is suffice to say that once a child has symbolically experienced what Sigmund Freud’s Oedipus Stage refers to, and once they have ‘killed off either mummy or daddy’ and they then get separated from their parents, either as a result of death, divorce or even sending the child to boarding school, the effects can be devastating.
To a child, abandonment or separation from a parent may seem like it’s their fault and they may perceive it as a form of punishment.
When a child is still working through their emotional stages with regards power and control, flirting, rejection, boundaries and so on, and they then get separated from a parent the messages received can be confusing. Suddenly they may feel punished for really ‘killing off a parent’.
Often parents are not aware of the stages of development their children experience in order to develop emotionally. Most people aren’t even aware of the Oedipus Complex. If they have heard of it, it often gets dismissed as one of Freud’s weird little theories. This is a real pity as its significance and impact on how a child develops is very important.
Also, if a stage isn’t addressed or properly worked through, it gets ‘carried over’ to the next stage and so on.
Today, most clinicians recognise the boarding school syndrome as having a traumatic emotional effect on children which can then hover for many years to come. These children sadly, also learn to hide emotions, fake maturity and assert dominance over anyone weaker, becoming bullies devoted to winning above all costs. Bullying is endemic: understanding this system comes from younger boys acting as servants for older boys – and enduring whatever punishment if not obeyed and this behaviour is often recreated in adulthood as similar submissiveness is demanded from those they are sent out to rule or lead. And indeed, the boarding school is a suitable preparation for anyone considering the military – for a system that is no longer even that necessary. Alternatively, rugby, a violent sport is still played and considered as a necessary method of negating any creativity or sensitivity.
And sexual abuse is often rampant and nowadays – even if it gets reported in the press, an investigation undertaken yet, the schooling system still continues as children are either disbelieved or silenced – as the teacher just gets moved on.
We have all probably witnessed and heard how some children scream and even hang on to a parent’s clothing in fear that they will be left forever as they contemplate the first day at nursery or at school. Those with separation anxiety would find the severing of the parental tie very painful.
Feeling wrenched from their mothers can be frightening. So you can imagine how children must feel when dumped at boarding school for weeks on end, as they wait and wait for parents to either to visit or to collect them during holidays. And those fearing further bullying or abuse would be terrified. But also knowing that parents wouldn’t want to hear their pleas, often leads to emotional suppression in order to survive.
Boarding school can therefore be extremely distressing for a child. Children may feel not only punished, they may also experience a whole ream of feelings such as loneliness, sadness, disappointment, panic, rage and even a sense of worthlessness.
Often children can lie crying in bed for hours longing for their mummy. Slowly, however, they learn to toughen up and cope, suppressing their longing, their sadness and most of all their anger. For a 5 or 6 year old, this must seem like emotional torture.
Anyone living without love, touch or their mummy or daddy, can indeed feel like they are being punished or indeed – emotionally abused.
The psychological impact of these formative separation experiences can leave a child emotionally ill-prepared, for relationships in the adult world.
Children often survive separation or boarding school by cutting off their feelings and constructing a defensive system that can severely limit their adult lives.
The shocking memory of being left can also damage a child’s trust resulting in a fear of intimacy – lest that trust be broken again
Also, if a child has symbolically ‘killed off a parent’ and that parent actually leaves or dies, this can leave a child feeling confused about their power and consequently they may feel very guilty. These feelings may be unconscious and they may remain so until later on in life, when and if, similar issues arise which could trigger the ‘hidden’ or forgotten memories.
Furthermore, if a child thinks that it is being punished for having killed off a parent, this would undermine any natural process of the child’s development with regard to its own sexuality and its ability to form relationships. They may have insecurities about sex and relationships or how to flirt or how to even manage relationships.
Our parent’s relationship is our relationship blueprint. It is therefore crucial for a child to watch parents manage their relationship. This prepares a child for adult relationships as they watch and learn.
How on earth can they do this whilst at boarding school?
Worse still, it is common knowledge that boarding schools have a high rate of bullying. Bullying is inevitable and endemic in 24/7 institutions full of abandoned and frightened kids.
Sending a young child into this hornet’s nest is in my opinion highly questionable.
It can stunt a child’s emotional growth and the child can remain withdrawn emotionally stuck in the stages of development that may not stand them in good stead later on in life.
Also, and if you remember earlier I wrote that those who are more sensitive or more fragile can find the impact of abandonment or separation, very hard to bear. Those who are more sensitive have been known to be turn to drugs, commit suicide or they may self-harm and so on.
Others who are stronger may be able to build an emotional defence mechanism around themselves.
We as therapists have often heard people say that their childhood was very happy or that they loved every moment of their childhood or indeed boarding school.
Although this may be true, it may not always be reflected in their personal or business relationships.
What it usually means is that the client has developed a strong emotional mechanism of defence around themselves – by burying the memories deep within the psyche.
Consequently, it can then involve quite a lot of hard work to help the client feel safe enough to let their guard down, in order to uncover and remember the feelings and emotions that they may have felt long ago.
Human beings have an incredible technique of burying any negative memories that may have been painful. (I wrote about this in Blog 5 called, ‘Your Brain Can Be Your Worst Enemy’).
Furthermore, often parents report that they went to boarding school and as it did them no harm it would do their own children no harm.
I refer you to my section of Blogs written about The Family, especially blog 35 with regards to how families carry or repeat patterns as well as Blog 33 about the family system that requires each member to maintain the status quo so as to not rock the boat. I dod not wish to repeat them here but once you have read them you can apply the information here too.
In other words, if a behaviour can have negative consequences, lets not perpetuate what has possibly been done to us through ignorance or a lack of proper research. This is how patterns of behaviour get repeated and carried from one generation to another.
Also, there is a huge difference between sending a teenager who is far more emotionally developed off to boarding school, compared to a small child that has just undergone the Oedipus Complex.
So if you are a parent, please please do consider all options and speak to therapists and clinicians before sending your child to boarding school.
For further reading:
- Sad Little Men by Richard Beard.
- Stiff Upper Lip by Alex Renton. Renton, who was abused at prep school and his excellent book is about boarding school, it’s cruelty and misery.
- And this article: https://www.brightontherapypartnership.org.uk/impact-of-boarding-scho
© 2016 Information Copyright Deidré Wallace
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This touched a nerve. Ex boarding school brat.
I am glad to see that you found this post useful.
Thank you so much for your comment.