In our new weekly Psychological & Spiritual Therapy column, therapist Jack Surguy is offering professional advice to The Mindful Word readers for all those questions and problems you have wanted to discuss with someone qualified and caring.
If you would like Jack to assist you in any areas of your life and relationships, fill out this form. He will respond to your questions through this column, normally published every Tuesday.
I’d like to know the reason why I’m always bored or get bored quickly. This started from my childhood. My relationships bore me quickly. When I’m attending a function or just a gathering, after an hour I want to leave. When I’m visiting my family, on the second day, I want to leave. Most of the time when I’m with people at home, I’d rather go and be alone in my bedroom.
I am an Human Resources (HR) specialist who is currently unemployed. I like HR, but I was bored in my last job, in 2012, and even in my previous ones. Boredom and wanting to be alone are my challenges. It feels like I don’t belong here.
Out of the blue, which is how it happens most of the time, I get emotional and just cry. When this occurs, I remain emotional for a couple of days.
Female, 45, South Africa
Thank you for your question. Boredom is actually a rather complex topic that hasn’t received a great amount of attention. Research indicates that the majority of people become bored at some point in their life. However, there are some individuals who seem much more prone to experiencing boredom than others. The chronic boredom these individuals feel can result in serious psychological, social and physical consequences.
From your letter, you state that you’d like to know some of the possible reasons why you’re always bored or get bored quickly. To try and answer that, we need to have a pretty good understanding of what boredom actually is.
What is boredom?
According to psychodynamic theory, boredom is being in a state of longing for activity, but being unaware of what it is you desire, as well as the tendency to look to the world or the environment to provide relief. This definition of boredom emphasizes the aversive experience of inaction, emptiness, paralysis of will, and feelings of meaninglessness. Cognitive theories focus on the individuals’ perception of their environment as monotonous or uninteresting. Also, these theories emphasize that bored individuals suffer from poor concentration and are forced to control their attention with effort.
Boredom is intimately related to a multitude of physical and psychological complaints such as various types of addiction, hostility and aggression, feelings of meaninglessness, depression, loneliness, a reduced zest for life, Type A behaviour, anxiety, dangerous driving habits, sleeping disorders, depression, binge drinking, and marital infidelity.
Boredom has also been found to correlate negatively with job satisfaction, grade-point average (GPA) among students, and covert narcissism. In this form of narcissism, the person ironically feels inferior, insecure, timid, and inhibited. They have little self-confidence, are socially avoidant and are sensitive to potential criticism. The desire they harbour for admiration, power, and grandeur remains hidden. People inclined towards narcissism, whether overt or covert, are often highly self-involved, and their own needs take precedence over those of others.
Individuals who often feel bored describe themselves as feeling fake, since they’re always observers who basically watch life happen, as though from some distance, rather than engaging in life. Bored individuals have also been described as having a passive, expectant attitude with the hope that the external world will supply satisfaction.
Overall, bored people tend to feel restless and unchallenged, think that their current situation serves no purpose, and prefer to engage in behaviour they find meaningful. They often feel constrained. They must do what they don’t want to do or can’t do what they want to do, but they often can’t articulate what it is that they want to do. They often feel disengaged and stuck in an endless, dissatisfying present. Research suggests that boredom-prone individuals have either repressed or given up on determining what they want to do and, as such, fail to engage with the environment.
The type of boredom you described in your question is often referred to as internalized boredom, which is characterized by irritability, restlessness, anxiety and social and emotional loneliness. Individuals who experience internalized boredom often feel lonely and alienated, because they’re responding to a mental restlessness, rather than to their environment. Manipulation of the environment won’t alleviate boredom and loneliness for these individuals.
Some individuals react by escaping into their own minds and fantasizing about where they wish they were or who they wish they were with. This nostalgia often increases feelings of emotional and social loneliness. When these people have time to themselves, they often feel bored and lonely because they don’t have anyone to share it with, and don’t feel comfortable initiating new relationships or finding activities to do by themselves. When they’re left alone, they often begin to reflect on their circumstances and become frustrated and angry with the people and situations that they feel are contributing to their negative state.
As you can see, boredom is a rather complex issue. We really don’t have a firm understanding of all the dynamics that are at work when a person is suffering from chronic boredom. However, your question gave some information that shows what may be at the root of your chronic feelings of boredom.
Life tasks essential to mental health
Alfred Adler developed a theory called Individual Psychology. Within his theory, Adler identified three “life tasks” he believed essential to mental health:
2) work, and
3) social relationships.
Success in dealing with life tasks depends, to a large extent, on an individual’s ability to successfully relate to others on an equal level. You actually addressed all three tasks in your question. When describing your difficulty with boredom, you stated that your relationships bore you quickly, you want to quickly leave family and social gatherings, and when people are visiting you in your home, you’d rather be alone in your bedroom (love and social relationships). You also stated that you’re an HR specialist, but have been unemployed since 2012. You stated that you were bored in that position, as well as the positions prior to it (work). It appears that you’re struggling with all three life tasks laid out by Adler.
In Adler’s concept, individuals who retreat from the life tasks often do so to avoid a loss of self-esteem due to what the individual interprets as failure or a fear of failure. Retreat from the life tasks allows them to maintain the belief of potential for high achievement and avoid feelings of inferiority. Retreat from performing the life tasks is also often associated with a lack of what Adler called “social interest”—a feeling of community, an orientation to live co-operatively with others, and a lifestyle that values the common good above your own interests and desires. Social interest also includes an active interest in the welfare of humankind, and identification, empathy, and compassion with and towards others.
Fear of failure
Fear of failure in the life tasks frequently results in a withdrawal from life and feelings of bitterness and depression. Withdrawn individuals often long to belong, to be valued, and to have the respect of others, but doubt themselves to such a degree that they don’t believe they can achieve these goals in a psychologically, emotionally and socially productive way. To avoid these feelings, individuals will most often withdraw and stop trying to meet these tasks. According to Adlerian theory, this discouragement is born in childhood, if children aren’t encouraged to develop self-sufficient skills or are actively put down, or, often, when a parent insists on doing everything for the child, depriving them of the opportunity to experience success and courage in meeting the tasks of life.
In therapy, instead of focusing directly on boredom, I’d instead want to explore the issues and difficulties you’re experiencing with the life tasks. Recall that boredom has been tied to feelings of emptiness and meaninglessness. What areas of life tend to provide people with a sense of fulfillment and meaning? Normally, those are their friends, their family, their work, and their belief that they’re contributing and helping others in the world. In therapy sessions, I’d want to explore where there may be some underlying fear of failure that’s holding you back from fully engaging in life. Recall also that boredom has been tied to individuals feeling like they’re observers of life who basically watch it happen, as though from some distant vantage point, rather than engaging with it. Overall, it appears that your chronic boredom and difficulties in meeting the life tasks are strongly connected.
My suggestion, Zizo, is to try to develop the courage to view your strengths and weaknesses in a very honest and realistic way. Explore if there may be any connection between the life tasks and your struggles with boredom. In a previous article I wrote about developing fearlessness. I highly suggest that you read the end of said article on this past year’s election which details a meditative practice that helps individuals develop fearlessness and courage.