Boredom can be Explored with Psychotherapy and Counselling

Self Destructive Behaviour can be the Result of Boredom and can be Explored with Psychotherapy and Counselling

Dr John Eastwood, a psychologist at York University, Toronto and joint author of ‘The Unengaged Mind’, a major new paper on the theory of boredom believes that boredom, although common, is neither trivial nor benign.

Boredom, he points out, has been associated with increased drug and alcohol abuse, overeating, depression and anxiety, and an increased risk of making mistakes. Although mistakes at work may not have dire consequences for most of us, for people with jobs such as air controllers or pilots, boredom leading to the lack of concentration can be very serious.

In his report, Eastwood states boredom to be “the aversive experience of wanting, but being unable, to engage in satisfying activity.” He further states, “All instances of boredom involve a failure of attention, and attention is what you are using now to blot out the plethora of stimuli around you while you focus awareness on a given topic.”

Attention involves three functions:

1. One has to be suitably aroused so as not to fall asleep

2. We have an orientation system that can cut in. e.g. you can still respond to movement in the corner of your eye if a car approaches as you cross the road

3. We have an executive system that oversees our mental activity so that we can stay engaged even if the task is not interesting

Boredom occurs when any of these functions break down.

As an innevitable experience, boredom can be seen as positive. Dr Esther Priyadharshini a senior lecturer in education at the University of East Anglia, says “We can’t avoid boredom. It’s an inevitable human emotion. We have to accept it as legitimate and find ways it can be harnessed. We all need downtime, away from the constant bombardment of stimulation. There’s no need to be in a frenzy of activity at all times.” She claims that it can stimulate creativity as a signal for change.

However, for some it may not have such positive outcomes. Those who have suffered extreme trauma are more likely to complain of boredom than others. It is thought that this is because the person emotionally shuts down, thereby finding it harder to work out what they need. They may be left with free-floating desire, without knowing what to pin it on. This lack of emotional awareness is known as alexithymia and can affect anyone.

Frustrated dreamers who have not realised their goals can expend all their emotional energy on hating themselves or the world, and find they have no attention left for anything else. Bungee jumpers and thrill-seekers may also be particularly susceptible to boredom, as they feel the world is not moving fast enough for them. They constantly need to top up their high levels of arousal and are always searching for stimulation from their environment.

Eastwood states that, “Boredom isn’t a nice feeling, so we have an urge to eradicate it and cope with it in a counterproductive way. This may be what drives people to destructive behaviours such as gambling, overeating, alcohol and drug abuse, though research is needed to tease out whether there’s a direct causal link”.

“The problem is we’ve become passive recipients of stimulation. “We say, ‘I’m bored, so I’ll put on the TV or go to a loud movie.’ But boredom is like quicksand: the more we thrash around, the quicker we’ll sink.”

Psychotherapy and Counselling is a useful way to explore self destructive behaviour patterns that could be the result of boredom. The Cavendish Psychotherapy Practice, comprising three female therapists can be found at 121 Harley Street, London.