Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states
Have you ever heard this plaintive cry or uttered it your self? This lament about boredom affects young or old alike. However, there is not a lot that is known about it except that boredom is very unpleasant. So, what is boredom, what seems to cause it and what can be done about it?
According to the Oxford American Dictionary, second edition, the word, bored "is a feeling of being weary because one is unoccupied or lacks interest in their current activity." Another definition of "bored" is that it is a "feeling" of having nothing to do. The reason that the word "feeling" in the last sentence is in quotes is that boredom is subjective an in the conscious experience of the individual person. In other words, if two people attend a lecture and one of them is bored and falls asleep but the other one is fascinated it means that they each have a different and subjective reaction to the same experience. Due to feeling bored, the one person is not able to focus their attention on the lecture and they gradually fall asleep. This is not unlike the political science class that I took in undergraduate school many years ago. Others in the class were fascinated but I could barely keep my eyes open.
What Causes Boredom?
It has never been made clear what causes boredom but there are many theories and explanations. Speculation has it that some people crave a lot of external stimulation to prevent themselves from becoming bored. The particular type of external stimulation will vary from one individual to the next. For instance, those people who are extroverted are very successful in finding people to speak to and avert becoming bored. The constant stimulation from the successful ways in which they interact with people is a constant source of stimulation for them. However, those people who are introverted may have more of a problem finding stimulation because socializing with people does not come so easily to them.
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It is believed by some researchers that some people experience boredom out of an inability to know what they are feeling and what it is they really want. Alexithymia is the inability to know what one’s feelings really are. People who experience alexithymia usually lack a fantasy and dream life or at least are unable to remember their dreams. If they do remember them they have no way of explaining or imagining what they might mean. One does not have to experience alexithymia in it full blown flatness but the inability to know one prefers to do is a similar type of thing. In other words, it is the inability to know what to do, or to know what might feel good, or to have any hobbies, interests or enjoyments is what leads to the feeling of being bored.
One theory of boredom comes from psychoanalysis. The theory states that boredom is anger and hostility that a person turns against the self resulting in the feeling of boredom. There are a few studies from the 1990’s that seem to substantiate at least a correlation between boredom and anger plus hostility.
Many professionals in the field of substance abuse state that it is boredom that is one of the catalysts for drug and alcohol abuse. In fact, the big book of Alcoholics Anonymous suggests that yearning or wanting along with bored feelings are what lead the alcoholic to drink. Using a similar explanation, it is thought that many teenagers turn to drugs and alcohol out of boredom felt at home and in school.
Many years ago it was suggested to me that so many adolescents feel bored because their metabolism operates more quickly than during adulthood. The supposed result is that young people experience time as passing very slowly. Supposedly, as we age, metabolism slows with the result that time seems to pass more quickly. Well, I do not know if a slowed metabolism is the reason why time seems to fly by so quickly for me but it certainly seems to move at an ever quickening pace and many of my peers agree.
It is also thought that boredom can be a symptom of depression and the lack of interest in anything is really the withdrawal from the world due feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. Among small children a lack of stimulation in the environment can promote boredom because their natural curiosity and need to explore is not satisfied. This, too, can lead to a kind of depression.
Finally, in school, classes that are either too difficult or too easy for a child or adult can lead to feelings of boredom. Those who are extremely bright and have high IQ’s can feel bored if the content of the lessons are not stimulating because they are too easy. On the opposite side of the spectrum, classes that are too challenging for a student can lead to boredom because what they are learning is beyond their ability or readiness to master the content.
What to do?
In the event that you are someone with a chronic sense of boredom or if you have a child who complains about boredom at home or school, you need to explore the possibility of depressing or of something else that is causing that uncomfortable feeling. If your child is bored in school they might not be placed in the correct class. While many children complain about school being boring it should not just be dismissed. In fact, many youngsters, unable or unwilling to talk about what is really bothering them, may being having problems in school due to a bully they are afraid to discuss or due to classes being too easy or hard and a fear of talking about that problem. "I am bored" can represent many things, especially when a child is constantly repeating it.
There is always the possibility of consulting a mental health professional for your self or your child if boredom continues unabated.
Your comments are welcome and encouraged.
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