What Is Privileged Abandonment And How Can It Affect The Child?


Before we focus more specifically on privileged abandonment, let’s look at what is meant by the term ‘childhood abandonment’ and why it might occur more generally and at the potential effects of such abandonment upon the individual.

What Is Child Abandonment?

Child abandonment can take two main forms :

  1. Literal, physical abandonment (e.g. a mother leaving her baby on a stranger’s doorstep or another place where the baby will be found by a member of the public with the intention that there is no further contact between the mother and her offspring).
  2. Extreme neglect and emotional abandonment over a protracted period of time

Reasons Why A Parent Might Abandon His / Her Child :

  • the parent has a severe mental illness
  • the parent is living in extreme poverty
  • the parent has a substance abuse problem
  • the parent is homeless
  • the parent is a single mother living in a society that severely stigmatizes single mothers
  • the parent is forced to involuntarily abandon their child because they (i.e. the parent) is sent to prison or deported
  • the parent discovers that the child is not his / her BIOLOGICAL offspring
  • extreme conflict between the child and the parent (most likely to occur when the child is an adolescent) causing the parent to ‘disown’ the child
  • the child identifies as LGBT+ 
  • parental divorce

What Are The Adverse Effects Of Being Abandoned As A Child?

The possible repercussions for the abandoned child are :

Irrational feelings of guilt relating to having been rejected

Complex posttraumatic stress disorder (Complex PTSD)

Abandonment issues

Separation anxiety

Attachment disorder (e.g. reactive attachment disorder and disorganized attachment disorder)

Dysfunctional adult relationships

Borderline personality disorder (BPD)

‘Clingy’ dependency

Privileged Abandonment? Emotional Effects Of Boarding School On The Child

Whilst attending a boarding school is frequently regarded as a privilege by many in society, research by Duffell highlights the fact that the child’s experience of undergoing such schooling can all too often also involve inducing in him/her profound feelings of abandonment and neglect.

Indeed, Duffell, who has worked with many ex- boarding school pupils who have been adversely psychologically affected by their experience, refers to the concept of ‘privileged abandonment.’

In particular, Duffell highlights the fact that, very often, no matter how emotionally painful the child finds it to be separated from his/her parents, s/he is inhibited from showing such emotion due to the fear of being mocked, ridiculed and bullied by his/her peers as a result.

Usually, too, the child learns that s/he is prevented from reporting any bullying or abuse s/he may suffer whilst at school due to a prevailing culture secrecy and denial as well as fear of potential consequences.

Fear Of Appearing Ungrateful :

Because, as alluded to above, so many in society regard those who attend boarding school as ‘privileged’, or, even, ‘spoiled’, this makes it more difficult still for the child at boarding school to complain about feeling abandoned and frightened for fear of giving an impression of ingratitude; this may well especially be the case if the parents manipulate the child by emphasizing the sacrifices they have been compelled to make in order to pay for his/her education.

Denial :

As adults, many individuals may enter a state of denial about the adverse psychological effects their time at boarding school had on them, pushing the emotional torment it caused them at the time out of their conscious minds and below the level of awareness; this may explain why it is not uncommon for those who suffered considerably as a result of their schooling to send their own children to boarding schools where they may undergo similar experiences of suffering.

Duffell and other researchers suggest that the adverse effects on the individual of attending boarding school may include him/her :

  • developing a disdain for displays of emotion and vulnerability both from others and from him/herself
  • developing a rigid, over-emphasized sense of importance in relation to self-reliance and not being dependent upon others
  • developing a ‘durable’, but ‘brittle’ and ‘defensive’,  personality
  • lack of emotional development due to the necessity, whilst growing up at boarding school. to repress feelings of emotional dependency
  • lack of trust in relationships in adulthood
  • fear of abandonment in adulthood
  • shame about feeling/showing signs of vulnerability/dependence, including within intimate, adult relationships, leading to problems within such relationships.


According to Schaverian, author of Boarding School Syndrome, The Psychological Trauma Of The ‘Privileged’ Child, we can reframe common elements of the boarding school experience to more accurately reflect how they may be perceived by the vulnerable, sensitive and potentially traumatized child’s point of view:


This may be reframed as feelings similar to bereavement and mourning as a result of the loss of important attachment figures (e.g. mother and/or father).


Schaverian suggests that institutionalization may feel more like captivity to some children. and that strict regime, timetables and rules severely restrict the child’s liberty to make his/her own day-to-day decisions.


School rules may misrepresent, falsely characterize and distort loving friendships and intense, emotional attachments between pupils. Also, early institutionalization may disturb incipient appetites in relation to food, sexuality and intimate relationships.


This may instil in the child a sense of having been sent into exile. Also, may lead to the development of two quite distinct selves: the ‘boarding school self’ and the ‘home self.’


Enforced absence from home may mean the child is deprived of appropriate, physical, affectionate interactions with family (e.g. hugs) for a significant part of their childhoods which may lead to disturbances in emotional development.



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Boarding School Survivors. Therapeutic Help For Survivors Of Boarding. https://www.boardingschoolsurvivors.co.uk/for-therapists/.

Nick Duffell, Thurstine Basset: Trauma, Abandonment And Privilege: A Guide to Therapeutic Work with Boarding School Survivors. Routledge. Paperback, 2016(ISBN: 9781138788718)

Schaverian, J., Boarding Scool Syndrome, THe Psychological Trauma Of The ‘Privileged’ Child,

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

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