I chose to leave home and study abroad at boarding school when I was eight. I have been living away from family for the past 16 years. I regret this decision and blamed myself. Over the past 16 years, I have not been very happy and my personality changed but have only realized this over the past few years. Before I went to study abroad, I was happy but ever since, I am not. The older I got, the more secrets I have and the more I keep my true self to myself. My parents and teachers have always reminded that I have to be good. Ever since the first day at boarding school, I have learned to only act good and follow the rules and never to step out of lines. People/ teachers like good and trouble-free student.
I only got to go home and see parents three times a year, and the rest of the time, I lived at school or with my guardians. Over time, I have hidden my true self and no longer know how to act freely and have fun. I always feel insecure and doubting myself. I also get angry very easily, very emotional. I am very jealous of people who got to grow up at home and wish that I had the chance but cannot turn back time.
I find that I feel very isolated and lonely and don’t know how to be around other people. Whenever, I am in a group I feel even more isolated as I always seem to be forgotten by other people, almost invisible. Although, over the time I was away from home, there have been many people who have been very nice to me. For eg, My guardians, they treated me like their own but I cannot open myself to them, I still feel I do not belong.
I have recently moved back home but still cannot remove these guilty, unhappy, lonely feelings. I sometimes will start crying because I am so unhappy (sometimes with work/ colleagues) and got no one to talk to. I don’t have many friends and struggles to speak of my mind/ feelings. I recently read an article online regarding boarding school syndrome, saying that young children that leave home at an early age can have an effect on them as they have grown up without parents/ love. Do I need help? (age 26, from Hong Kong)
I’m sorry that you have been struggling with these issues for so long. It is true that being raised apart from our parents during crucial developmental years can have a negative impact on our personality. However, from what I can gather, Boarding School Syndrome looks at a broader range of issues. It not only addresses being outside of your parents home but also the possibility of being sent away against your will, having harsh or abusive teachers or guardians, being exposed to abuse by peers because of the 24/7 nature of the schools, and so forth.
Even though you said that you “chose to go,” I don’t feel that a decision like that should be up to an 8-year-old child. You also stated that your guardians were very nice to you and treated you like their own child. These factors are in your favor, and I am hopeful that you can still learn any skills that you may have missed by growing up in a boarding school. You did not mention any type of abuse either, so again, this is in your favor.
If you focus your energy on reconnecting to your family now that you are reunited, making friends and broadening your social support system, chances are that you will start feeling better about yourself and your life. I think it would be a great idea to find a therapist to help you fill in the gaps you may be missing. Especially one who has expertise with early childhood attachment issues.
All the best,
Dr. Holly Counts