Brené Brown wrote in her recent book about how boredom can be good for us. She says she lets her kids experience doing nothing because it allows their imagination room to grow.
While that may be true for kids with healthy parents, boredom may have a different effect on individuals who grew up in chaotic households.
For those who grew up in healthy households, boredom provides a neutral or mildly uncomfortable experience. But for those from dysfunctional families, it can feel downright scary.
The traumatized brain is hypervigilant to threats, so it’s hard to see how boredom would lead to creative expression in these cases. It sounds like more of a precursor to dread and anxiety.
The traumatized brain is not open to exploration and wonder. It is imprisoned by black and white thinking, the need for certainty, and a desire to get things over with.The traumatized brain is not open to exploration and wonder. It is imprisoned by black and white thinking, the need for certainty, and a desire to get things over with. Click To Tweet
Boredom paves the path to imagination only when you’ve been encouraged to explore your interests. When your needs and wants have gone unnoticed or been suppressed, however, tedium will not lead to self-discovery.
When boredom feels scary
For many of us, feeling bored doesn’t lead to the eventual engagement that Brown describes. Instead it causes anxiety, frustration, and an inability to engage due to brain fog.
Dr. John Eastwood of the Boredom Lab says the feeling made his patients fear depression. It led to depressive rumination and negative self-focus.
People who have experienced a traumatic event, he adds, may be more likely to feel bored. The emotional numbing required to stay safe in these cases leads to such malaise.
There’s evidence boredom may also serve as a defense mechanism. At least if you’re bored, you’re not enduring the flood of negative emotions that accompanies abuse and neglect.
The child’s need to protect herself from overwhelming emotions creates boredom as a haven. So, it’s less about having nothing to do and more about keeping oneself alive by feeling less.
For the traumatized individual, boredom can feel more than a little uncomfortable. It can fill you with dread feelings that you need to escape. This leads to the toxic busyness and inability to sit still that you may relate to.For the traumatized individual, boredom can feel more than a little uncomfortable. It can fill you with dread feelings that you need to escape. Click To Tweet
In addition, boredom with its relationship to difficulty engaging and poor focus, may be more common among those who suffer with ADHD.
An invitation to self-connect
Eastwood also says that boredom, like all emotions, carries a message for us. It tells us we’re lacking agency and not engaging with the world in a self-directed way.
Since survivors of dysfunctional families have been trained to abandon themselves, boredom may not be so easy to resolve. The first step is to connect with yourself in a way you were never allowed to as a child.
You may experience the temptation to alleviate boredom with action. To simply do something, anything, to escape the feeling.You may experience the temptation to alleviate boredom with action. To simply do something, anything, to escape the feeling. Click To Tweet
I invite you to let your action-taking include a move toward yourself. To check in with what your body needs right now and give yourself the compassion you never received as a child.
Before we can engage with the world in a meaningful way, we must connect with ourselves. This includes sitting with difficult emotions and understanding our wants and needs.
Until we do that, boredom will never be the gateway to imagination that Brown writes about. However, we can accept the invitation to go within and one day make it so.