Don’t Want to Feel-Don’t Want To Know : On Boredom and Confusion.

by Velleda C. Ceccoli Ph.D. on October 9, 2010


I have been thinking about boredom and confusion, as two states which herald dissociation. Both occur often enough in my consulting room; and we all seem to experience them at one time or another. They seem to block certain thoughts and sensations, memories, and feelings under a fog of non-experience. We are then left bored (not feeling anything) or confused (not able to think clearly). Boredom and confusion blur our ability to be present and to experience anything fully.

When I first began to think about this, I was sitting opposite an adolescent boy who was “bored bored bored”. I started to envision boredom as a big fluffy quilt: a comfortable, soft blanket that covers up all feeling, and leaves us enveloped and comfortably numb…like the Pink Floyd song on the album Dark Side of the Moon. One could wrap oneself in this quilt, arrange it cozily, even pull it up over ones’ head. Underneath it, a general feeling of nothingness, just white noise, fluffy clouds, nothing, zero, zip. My patients often fashion these quilts for themselves, metaphorically speaking, and bring them into their sessions with me. I too, have partaken of this special binkey myself, having to shake myself loose from its numbing grip. So, while sitting in front of my young patient, and asking myself why he needed to be “bored bored bored”, I began to think of boredom as a psychic blanket which keeps us from having to experience anything at all, perhaps because we need the psychological rest, the ability to disconnect our feelings and sensations; or perhaps because we do not want to feel what is afoot. Either way, it seems to me that we are talking about a form of dissociative experience. We are bored. We are empty, curiously suspended, floating in limbo. We are not feeling.

Confusion, is more like an intricate cobweb weaving itself in our head. Not comfy like the boredom blanket, quite the opposite. The confusion cobweb can be discomforting and maze like, it can leave us with quite a headache. It can make our brain feel like peanut butter- the chunky kind, each chunk barring the entrance to potential clarity. Confusion does to our thinking what boredom does to our feelings. Confusion does not allow us to think clearly, to put words to our thoughts, to complete our thoughts, to link one with the other, or to articulate thoughts to completion. Instead, confusion moves us into its labyrinth of webs, and seems to have no end. This labyrinth is designed (you guessed it) to keep us from knowing. Busy trying to, but not knowing. It is designed to disconnect us from our ability to think clearly and reach a conclusion. It keeps us, well, confused, cotton headed and stuck, the information or conclusion we need just out of our reach, behind the cotton. Again, it seems to me that we are dealing with an experience that is potentially dissociative. We are confused. We are unable to think, we are circling around the maze of our thoughts without being able to comprehend them. We are not thinking.

I have talked about these two self-states with patients over many years now. Since boredom and confusion are states that lead to dissociation, they operate in the same way: sometimes protectively providing a respite from the demands of daily life, and/or defensively, entrenching themselves as part of a psychic mechanism which is meant to exile experience from consciousness and prevent it from returning in its original form. My patients have found it useful to think about their own boredom and/or confusion in this way, and it has led them to be curious about such states. Curiosity of course, rather than kill the cat, is one way out of dissociation. It opens the door behind the cotton or the blanket and brings you resoundingly into the present.

Being curious is a wonderful thing! It engages us in a thorough, here and now, examination of the object we are studying. When that object is ourselves, and our experience, curiosity requires us to engage fully, it demands our focused attention, and mobilizes all our senses in an acute way. It is as if,  we are playing at being a detective, and our curiosity helps us to sort through the information at hand. Curiosity even makes potentially difficult information or experience easier to process. This is because it keeps judgements and  potential “should’s” (rooted in our personal history) at bay. Instead, curiosity relies on our ability to play and stay open to the possibilities. It requires that we learn something new while using all of our accumulated experience. One of the skills of a psychoanalyst involves maintaining our curiosity in the face of what we do not know or cannot yet understand, of what may appear to be empty space, whether it is caused by boredom or confusion, or another self-state altogether. When our patients are able to be curious about their experience they re-engage it anew. It is then possible to label it, name it and begin to process it. It is the stuff that makes change possible.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

trisha coburn October 10, 2010 at 7:45 PM

Thank you Velleda for taking time to write this blog! I look forward to reading all your postings. Its like having therapy in the comfort of your own home, FREE!


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