The way in which we form our early relationships with our parents or primary carers affects our long-term relationships in later life.
Young children who have to deal with early separation and loss, either from adoption, bereavement of a parent or prolonged separation from their parents for whatever reason, have to manage the strong feelings that are evoked by this trauma in some way or other. Children who are sent to boarding school at an early age also suffer in this way.
Joy Schaverien, an author and psychoanalyst published a paper on ‘Boarding School Syndrome’ in the British Journal of Psychotherapy in May 2011 and is currently writing a book on the psychological impact of boarding school.
She suggests that these young children who become ‘looked after children’, have to develop coping mechanisms to manage the separation from their parents. Joy identifies a cluster of learned behaviours:
- Pattern of Emotional Encapsulation (Self-sufficiency)
- Problems with Intimacy
- Inability to talk about Feelings
- Making deeply dependent relationships and then cutting off
This of course has an impact when the ex-boarder forms an intimate relationship in later life. As a young child in an alien environment, the boarder learns to cope with things on their own, to shut down their feelings and to cut off from their feelings of loss and grief at leaving home. They then often struggle in adult life to allow closeness and intimacy, preferring to be self-sufficient and independent. This is a defence against igniting the earlier feelings of loss and separation, which were too painful to bear as a child.
For ex-boarders or those in a relationship with an ex-boarder, it can be helpful to begin to explore the impact of those early experiences on their current relationship. The learned behaviours that were adopted as a way of surviving in their early years get in the way of a fulfilling and satisfying adult intimate relationship. Being able to begin to understand and process those early experiences is a good place to start.
For further information visit Joy Schaverien’s website www.joyschaverien.com