I initially intended to write about the experience of boredom, its potential causes, possible remedies, and the relationship between boredom and suffering. In fact, I still plan to talk about boredom (and chronic boredom in particular), probably as soon as next week. While researching the topic, however, I came across a study about boring people. The study helped to shed some light on why I react certain ways to certain people (including some of my patients). Since the information was helpful to me, I thought it might also be helpful to others.
We probably all know or have known at least one "boring" person. Naturally, we attempt to avoid interacting with this person whenever possible. On those unfortunate occasions when we do have to interact with him or her, we find ourselves struggling to pay attention and yearning to get away. It's human nature: we simply do not like people who bore us.
It is true that what one person finds boring another may find fascinating. Theoretically then, boring is not a trait that is inherent to a particular individual. The individual in question might be boring to one person but rather interesting to another.
And yet, there are certain things that make a person boring to almost everyone, regardless of the circumstances. Leary, Rogers, Canfield, and Coe identified some of these factors in their study, "Boredom in Interpersonal Encounters: Antecedents and Social Implications." The two interpersonal behaviors most associated with being boring were negative egocentrism and banality. The researchers defined negative egocentrism as a behavioral dimension (or category) that includes behaviors such as making frequent negative comments, excessively complaining about personal problems, being self-centered, and showing a lack of interest in others. The authors defined banality as a behavioral dimension encompassing behaviors such as talking only about trivial or superficial subjects, being interested in only one topic, and telling the same stories or jokes over and over again.
Other factors associated with being boring (but to a lesser extent) include "low affectivity" (characterized by low enthusiasm, limited eye contact, low emotional expression, a speaking in monotone) and "tediousness" (characterized by talking slowly, taking a long time to respond, taking a long time to make one's points, adding unneccesarry details, and dragging the conversation on).
The researchers also found that people respond very negatively to boring individuals. Not only do they view them as boring, they also see them as unfriendly and disinterested in others.
This whole thing sort of validates something I've noticed about myself as a therapist. Throughout my career, I've noticed that there are certain patients who just seem to rub me the wrong way. I groan when I see their names on my schedule. In session, I find myself surreptitiously glancing at the clock more often than usual. Every peek at the clock brings despair, as I realize that only a few minutes have passed since I last checked. I breathe a sigh of relief when the session finally ends and they are safely out the door.
Over time, I was able to determine what these patients have in common: they complain about the same problem or set of problems during every session and consistently reject any effort on my part to help them. I now realize that in addition to constantly complaining without trying to change, these patients almost across the board engage in the very behaviors most strongly associated with being boring. They complain excessively about their problems, they are completely focused on themselves and how unhappy they are, and they are disinterested in hearing feedback from me (and probably from anyone else). They show interest in a very limited range of topics, primarily their problems, their symptoms, and their suffering. And they tell the same stories (about their problems) over and over and over again, as if they haven't told them in every other session we've had.
Fortunately, I do not encounter this kind of patient very frequently. I do, however, feel better knowing that my emotional reaction to them is probably quite normal.