|EQI.org Home | Emotionally Abusive Schools
Back up of
.. it would be of great interest to me which steps were
taken by boarding school victims who arrived to stabilise
themselves, as I experienced a comparable childhood
situation (even though I wan not exposed to physical
harm). Although I do have boarding-schoolmates I don't
have any role model in my direct environment. Those who
left school with me do not talk about their feelings.
Most do not arrive to save themselves and remain stuck.
The people I talked to told me all about what they went
through. It left many of them hating life, hating god,
hating themselves. Many have (or had) violent tendencies
to overcome, since they were raised with violence.
I worked with a small group. They are all doing well now.
They all healed. All they needed was permission to heal.
Even the most confused, traumatized victims may heal. It
starts with telling their stories. If someone finally
understands, it can heal the wounds.
Was your boarding school physically/sexually abusive, or
just emotionally so?
First, thanks for listening. There are not many people
I spent some time musing on whether boarding schools are
emotionally abusive and what emotional abuse means. From
my feeling, I'd say, yes, any boarding school is
potentially emotionally abusive for some basic rule of
how humans interact. I suppose with regard to emotional
abuse most outsiders think about the beating teacher, but
I encountered another kind of abuse which, in some sense,
is possibly more difficult to bear than violence or
cruelty, because with regard to hostility, at least you
know you're being abused. I'm talking about emotional
Most of my tutors were some sort of odd or unstable,
orphans or isolated persons, immature or emotionally
unreceptive and too tough. There has been a wide range of
dysfunctions. For some reason, I guess I always had some
radar on such things, and looking back now, I'd say that
at least one or two of them might have needed a doctor
I distinctly remember "fraternalizing" and
inappropriate touches like "tickling" 10-12
year old girls. I remember that me and one of my friends,
we both couldn't stand it. I wouldn't directly put the
blame on someone for sexually-motivated transgression but
neither would I swear from today's POV that such events
were completely non-sexual.
Most of my memories are related to the body. I was
confronted to a lot of gawking (doctors) and touching
(moulds) which I didn't like. Due to circumstances, a lot
involved my inner thighs. I don't know whether kids have
a perception of sexuality, but even now I'm not happy
with showing flesh. I also dislike being touched.
Growing up in a handicapped school probably is most
comparable to growing up in a retirement home. When I
think back, all I distinctly remember are images of
invalidity and sickness. Those memories are so strong
that I even remember the smell.
Now, for a "little while" (some 12 years) I
have been confronted with a total opposite - a worship of
"beauty". I'm still figuring out how to cope
Last but not least I also disliked things like sharing my
shower with others, or having a tutor watching you. While
I agree that it's "necessary", I nevertheless
didn't like it.
So far my account on my unusual past. If you come up with
some insightful comment, don't hesitate to share it.
Thanks for trying to describe it. Do you have any memory
of other kids being sexually abused? Maybe you were
picking up a vibe of sexual harassment, even if you were
not personally assaulted?
I will keep thinking about it. That is just my first
I would like to point out that it was not everybody at
every time who did this. I just have memories of one
distinct tutor. He was around 50 and seemed to be single,
and probably considered me as his "daughter".
Oddly (I only become aware of it now) that the other
tutors encouraged me in accepting this role.
For example, I was asked to make a birthday card for him
while the other kids weren't; it was just me. Of course,
making a birthday card in itself is not of evil, but in
my case, it seemed to enforce some unwanted familiarity I
was not comfortable with. I only learned now that tutors
are legally obliged to keep a certain professional
distance, which some did not keep.
Said tutor mentioned some Oriental institution of a
"female conversationalist", claiming that I
should be a "conversationalist" to him. The
other tutors firmly encouraged me with that.
Another incident I remember is my first
"boyfriend", who was a civil servant, and
around 20 that time (I was 12). In Germany, men must
become civil servants if they refuse to render service in
the military, for reasons of "non-violence". Of
course, men become civil servants for all kinds of
reasons, but some are nutcases, and this one was. He had
never had a girlfriend and was showing some immature
"soft" attitude. Of course I know now that it
wasn't right but I used to hang around hugging him in the
evening. Not spectacular but of course it wasn't right.
Civil servants receive no formal training in caring for
people. They are cheap workforces in hospitals, homes for
the elderly and boarding schools. In consequence, they do
not learn how to behave with minors, and of course,
nobody checks whether they are psychologically apt to do
that kind of work. This was at my detriment.
As for the teacher I mentioned above, there was at least
one girl who felt similarly annoyed with being 'tickled'.
But taboos work so nicely - nobody talks about them.
I also could imagine that in case you're subjected to
emotional abuse and under surveillance all your life, you
never start to question it, probably believing that it is
normal. As for the civil servant, I learned that after
the end of his service he got himself baptized and went
to Rome to become a Catholic priest. According to what I
read of him, he completely lost touch with reality. From
the flowery style in his letters I suspect him of being
in the grip of some strict traditionalist group. I don't
really care because everybody is responsible for one's
own decisions, but judging upon his letters he indulged
in cloyingly-sweet mysticism and devout 'romanticism'. In
any case I do not have any influence on that but I feel
concerned for the people he's going to behave as a
priest, especially with regard to young people.
Thanks for considering my story.
More to come.
Simply the fact of being away from home, among strangers,
and getting unwanted attention from an unknown older man
would be traumatic for a child. There is a natural
generational boundary, so perhaps the man's behavior
violated your boundaries.
How to cope with such problems? I was advised meds and
"play therapy", but none of this seems to work
Meds are only a temporary solution. Like, how do you get
off the meds if the pain is still there? Play therapy is
good, but expensive. My method is to face the fear. Look
straight at it, understand it, then put it in its place.
As long as it's a scary monster in the closet that you
don't understand, it will haunt you. When you put it in
its place, you integrate it. Accept it as part of your
history. Once you integrate it, you can realize that it's
over. It happened in the past and is not happening now.
We all have monsters to conqueor. Doing that work gives
us our character. It is our duty in life to come to terms
with the scary things in the closet. It's good to have
support and help - good friends we can turn to and speak
our minds. You (and I) will know these situations are
over when we can say, "You have no power over me
anymore. I am free from your abuse."
Kids who thrive in hostile world
Experts begin to understand why some children overcome
By William Hathaway
The Hartford Courant
August 7, 2005
Rob Dolan doesn't know when his mother started to hate
him. He thinks the animosity began well before the winter
day in 1988 when his father took off on a long-haul
trucking trip and never came back.
The way Dolan remembers it, things just got worse after
that day, sometime around his 12th birthday.
After his father left, Dolan was banished to the basement
with the family dog, a heavy chair always propped against
the knob of the door. His mother would leave him
freezer-burned bread and cans of tuna for meals, and
sometimes she would hit him with a piece of a hose or
door molding, Dolan says.
He remembers the shame of walking to school in clothes
stinking of dog urine. Most hurtful, he says, is that his
mother turned his younger sister and two younger brothers
"I was a weak, pathetic, terrified kid," he
Traditional psychiatric theory predicted that Rob Dolan
would be a troubled adult. Shaped by a hostile
environment, Dolan should have developed behaviors that
would condemn him to social and educational failure and
perhaps chronic mental illness.
But that didn't happen. Removed from his home at 13 and
cast into the child welfare system, Rob Dolan graduated
from the U.S. Naval Academy and is a lieutenant in the
Marine Corps. Now 28, he hopes to go to law school or,
possibly, run for public office.
As it turns out, a surprising number of children who face
extreme adversity not only survive, but thrive. And
scientists now think they understand why.
Children who overcome profoundly adverse life events tend
to have a genetic makeup that protects against the
effects of chronic stress. They share certain personality
traits and experiences that tend to inoculate them from
the worst effects of trauma and abuse.
They are often intelligent and empathetic. They can look
beyond the moment, and they stubbornly refuse to blame
themselves for the abuse others have heaped upon them.
Insights from their stories have prompted a movement in
psychology that emphasizes building on personality
strengths in abuse cases, rather than merely chronicling
the psychic and physical toll.
Traits of resilience
The ability to control impulses and to foresee results of
an action are hallmarks of children who weather trauma
and abuse. Yet for much of the 20th century, most
mental-health professionals and sociologists scoffed at
the notion there was any such thing as a psychologically
resilient child. The consensus view was that environment
was the chief sculptor of behavior.
In the 1970s and 1980s, studies emerged that challenged
that view and began to sketch the outlines of the
resilient personality. One of the first was a Harvard
study of men who experienced heavy combat in World War
II. About half the men did not later suffer from symptoms
of post-traumatic stress disorder. Those men shared
several traits: They tended to be altruistic, they had a
sense of humor and they were able to turn off or control
socially unacceptable impulses.
During the 1980s, evidence mounted that certain children
also could thrive despite a hostile environment.
One of the most influential studies was conducted by Emmy
Werner, now a professor emeritus of human development and
a child psychologist at the University of
California-Davis. Werner tracked more than 500 children
born on the island of Kauai in 1955. Many were born to
sugar-cane workers whose jobs were beginning to
disappear. Those families faced high rates of
unemployment, alcoholism and child abuse.
By the time these at-risk children reached their 20s,
most had been arrested, reported substance-abuse
problems, had children out of wedlock or were diagnosed
with depression or other mental-health problems.
But one of every three children from these high-risk
homes reported no such problems. They did well in school,
held jobs, stayed out of jail and showed no signs of
Werner and others continued to identify traits that are
common to resilient children. Some seem to be inherited.
For instance, children with pleasant dispositions tend to
have an easier time leading successful, happy lives than
those who are born anxious or sullen. Children with high
IQs have a better chance at bouncing back from trauma
than those who score lower.
Resilient children also show an ability to plan, to see
beyond the situations that cause them stress at the
moment. They do not tend to blame themselves for the
abuse or misfortune that has been visited upon them. They
often develop a sense of their own competence, a
confidence that they have mastered certain life skills.
Persistence, or the refusal to take no for an answer, is
a trait of resilient kids, says child psychiatrist
Kenneth Robson of West Hartford, Conn. In children who
have suffered trauma or abuse, "passivity can be
lethal," Robson says.
But what has really emerged, in study after study, is
that resilient kids also need help. Children who thrive
in the face of adversity almost always had at least one
other person in their lives who cared, even if their own
parents did not.
One conclusion of resilience research was inescapable --
and a surprise for many raised on Freud or deterministic
psychologists such as B.F. Skinner. In the script of
life, a bad beginning in childhood does not dictate a
"Nothing is deterministic in children," says
Joan Kaufman, associate professor of psychiatry at Yale
University. "These studies show us enormous hope.
The idea that early bad things that happen doom us for
life is something that is just not true."
A genetic part, too
Resilient children get help not only from other people,
but from their own genes. It is clear that some children
are born with a genetic makeup that can help them cope
with a hostile world -- or make them more susceptible to
anti-social behavior later in life.
Although scientists have not discovered the biochemical
recipe for resilience, they are zeroing in on some of the
Neurotransmitters, the brain's chemical messengers, and
hormones that regulate emotions and stress response play
key roles in how well a child will fare later in life.
People are also born with variations in the biological
thermostat that regulates levels of hormones such as
testosterone and cortisol, the master regulator of the
But the environment mediates how stress is regulated and
can trump genes, research shows.
For instance, Kaufman at Yale has studied a group of
maltreated children who possessed a shorter version of a
gene that regulates the transport of serotonin, a
neurotransmitter associated with mood. The shorter
serotonin transporter gene strongly predisposes children
But if maltreated children with the deleterious gene also
had friends, parents or other adults who gave them
financial or emotional support, they had a rate of
depression only slightly higher than children who
suffered no abuse and had the longer version of the gene.
In other words, a social support system can largely
negate the effects of biology and early adversity.
The lessons of such studies are clear. A few children
seem to be genetically hard-wired to withstand a great
deal of trauma. A few others who have genetic and
environmental advantages still fall apart in the face of
little or no adversity. Most are born somewhere between
these extremes. And where a person falls along that
continuum can change over time.
One way to ensure mental health is to build on the
strengths that a resilient child has, psychologists say.
Rather than focusing on past abuse and trying to repair
the damage it caused, many mental-health experts say they
emphasize bolstering the individual's strengths.
"I try to work on the muscles that have
survived," Robson says. "Those are the ones
that they will be using the rest of their lives."
However, mental-health experts have not yet found a good
way to discuss an individual's strengths.
The absence of words such as love and generosity in the
Diagnostic Statistical Manual, an exhaustive compendium
of psychiatric symptoms, is so pronounced that a group of
psychologists is developing descriptions of healthy
traits for an alternative or supplement to the manual.
The therapists are part of a new movement, usually called
positive psychology, that has set about training young
practitioners to identify and build upon the positive
traits in the troubled patients they treat.
With the help of mentors Dolan encountered in the
child-welfare system, and his own ability to make the
right decisions most of the time -- "I have always
known that A plus B equals C, that there are consequences
to my actions" -- Dolan managed to thrive despite
the stigma of not living with his own family.
At the end of July, Lt. Rob Dolan headed to Iraq. He was
so eager to serve that he volunteered to replace a
public-information officer who was wounded in western
Iraq, a hotbed of foreign terrorists.
He says he is in love with a woman in the Air Force
stationed in San Antonio, and that he has never been
"I don't need to prove myself to anyone
anymore," he says.
William Hathaway is a reporter for The Hartford Courant,
a Tribune Publishing newspaper.
Mail to e_complexus[at]yahoo.com
Hosting by WebRing.
Intelligence | Empathy
Emotional Abuse | Understanding
Literacy | Feeling Words
Respect | Parenting | Caring
Listening | Invalidation | Hugs
Search EQI.org | Support
Online Consulting, Counseling Coaching from