Sunday, November 4, 2012

Chronic boredom

Boredom is a state of disengagement from your environment and/or whatever activity you happen to be doing.  Boredom involves desire in that a person who is bored wants to do something that will fully engage his attention.  Unfortunately, the state of boredom renders him unable to identify a sufficiently satisfying activity that will alleviate his condition. 

We all experience boredom from time to time.  For most of us, it is a transient condition that passes the moment we find something that absorbs our attention.  There are some, however, for whom boredom is more pervasive.  For whatever reason, these people are consistently unable to find activities that hold their attention.  For this reason, many are regular thrill seekers; they spend a considerable amount of time searching for something exciting to relieve their inner monotony.  Of course, excitement provides only temporary relief.  No matter what they do, the boredom always returns.  Thus, they find themselves caught up in a never ending quest for the next thrill.

What causes this condition and what can be done about it?  Bernstein attributes chronic boredom to loss of the ability to feel.  This occurs, he argues, as a result of early childhood experiences.  Specifically, chronic boredom occurs when a child is forced to hold his emotions in before he has developed socially acceptable outlest for discharing the tension these emotions arouse.  With no means to express his emotions, he simply learns to repress them.  A chaotic, over-stimulating environment will mask his absence of emotion.  However, when faced with a less stimulating environment later in life, he begins to notice his lack of emotion.  He feels under-stimulated, a condition that manifests itself as boredom. 

Kohut likewise attributes chronic boredom to childhood experiences.  He ascribes chronic boredom to the consistent failure of parents to be responsive to and to provide stimulation to their child.  Consequently, the child comes to crave stimulation and to seek it out in any form. 

Many believe that boredom masks an underlying sense of emptiness.  According to existential theorists, this emptiness is caused by lacking a purpose or meaning in one's life.  (This may or may not be due to childhood experiences).  Without a clear purpose, everything seems pointless.  If there is no purpose to a particular activity, why do it?  For one with no purpose in life, all activities are meaningless. 

So what can be done to help the chronically bored?  I will suggest a few techniques, but these are by no means exhaustive.

In researching ways to alleviate chronic boredom, I discovered that boredom is more prevalent among people with an external (versus internal) orientation.  To be externally oriented is to be habitually focused on the external environment.  When an externally oriented person feels bored he attributes it to an under-stimulating environment.  Because he sees the external environment as causing his boredom, he looks to the external environment to relieve it.  Unfortunately, this strategy is almost always ineffective, at least for the chronically bored. 

The conclusion I draw from this information is as follows: if the external environment doesn't hold the answer, perhaps it would help to turn one's attention inward instead.  What would happen if sufferers of chronic boredom adopted a curious stance towards their condition?  What if they attended to the physical sensations that accompany their boredom and observed how they change over time?  I suspect they might begin to see through (or perhaps beneath) the boredom.  If nothing else, they'd learn to tolerate the emotion and to simply be with themselves.  This alone would go a long way towards quieting their eternal restlessness.

De Chenne suggests that chronically bored people lack knowledge of their emotional and psychological needs.  Consequently, he suggests helping the chronically bored to clarify their needs and interests.  Once they determine what they need, they are better able to seek out activities that will satisfy and  fulfill these needs.

Now for my final suggestion.  If everything seems meaningless (and therefore boring), it seems logical that creating, discovering, identifying, or clarifying one's purpose in life would be beneficial.  This is admittedly a large task and it might seem too daunting for some.  If this is the case, start by simply taking the focus off of self and doing something kind or helpful for someone else. 


  1. ...and get off your hand held devices which provide the feedback of always "doing" something, which you then compare to your dull life.

  2. Wow...This completely describes what I felt for my whole life. Very good text. Thank you for the post :D

  3. I am a registered nurse and I can spot it in a patient. But it is frightening to find that I identify with this description and feel this way everyday of my life, but have to hide it.

  4. I changed when I went through menopause. I have been extremely depressed and bored. I took a medication for depression but than went off of it. I have been really struggling. Everything made so much perfect sense of what you said about childhood feelings and emotions that were not able to be expressed. I need to be comfortable with myself and these brain changes, but I feel like I have a brain injury and not comfortable with this new state of my thinking. I am very disengaged from people. I hope I can come back to life again and not be so vacant emotionally.

  5. I must say that i also relate to this, have always been chronically bored in my younger life and constantly felt under stimulated which really caused me to provide myself with an chaotic environment. This did not go so well in school or at home...
    Thanks for writing this article friend, finally one of the major puzzle pieces of my life seem to be in place :)


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