Has it happened to you? A few months into therapy and you’re scratching your head wondering what you’re still doing here. Things started off so strong. You were exploring your relationships or talking about work issues, maybe even venturing into a little family history. Maybe things have been a little better since you started. Maybe things haven’t changed much. Perhaps they even seem a bit worse since you’ve been talking about all these difficult things you’d rather not think about.
But you’ve gone over all that material and you’re still coming in each week. You’re still paying hard-earned money. And you’re still not being told what you should do differently.
You spend the whole time traveling to your appointment trying to come up with something to talk about, some problem in your life, some point of conversation that will take you through 45 minutes before you return to work or head home.
And you’ve come up with nothing.
And now you’re in a staring contest with your therapist, who doesn’t seem to be coming up with anything, either.
And you think to yourself, I’m bored.
So you skip an appointment and “take the week off.”
You may consider this boring feeling a signal you should move on.
You might text or email your therapist and say you’re done. You’ll call in a few weeks if you need anything.
When reflecting on this, you’ll say to someone, “You know, therapy just didn’t work for me.” There’s no hard feelings, just … it’s not for you.
As both a therapist and a person who has been in therapy, I can empathize. I’ve felt all of these things at one time or another. But I’ve come to understand something about “boredom”: I’m not convinced it really exists.
I like to talk about anger as often being a secondary emotion. It can be used, often unconsciously, to protect us from feeling (or showing) some of our more vulnerable emotions, such as fear, insecurity, and sadness.
But anger can be just pure anger. I’m not convinced boredom is, in and of itself, its own thing.
When I notice I’m feeling bored, I tend to get curious. What else is in there? What am I avoiding? What is the “boredom” protecting me from?
Back in my performing years, when I’d spend evenings in rehearsals for off-off-Broadway productions that didn’t pay and days in corporate offices as a temp, I remember spending hours doing mindless data entry. I became “bored” pretty quickly. But as I later came to realize, what I really felt was anger that I had to be there at all as opposed to making a living doing what I wanted to do.
I’ve even been to parties where I felt bored, but, upon further digging, I was feeling kind of insecure. Likewise, I have days when I’m at home and think I’m bored, but what I really want in those moments is to hang out with others. That is, I’m actually feeling lonely.
Boredom covers for all of these feelings. Because who wants to be angry at work, self-conscious at a party, or lonely at home?
When a person in therapy starts to talk about feeling “bored” in therapy, especially around the three-month mark, I’m psyched. I’m psyched because they said it and didn’t just fade away, as many do. They are creating an opportunity with their therapist to process the feelings beneath their “boredom.”
Some are upset because they’ve been coming week after week, spending a lot of money, and they want results! They want me to tell them what to do or what not to do. They want to know if there is going to be relief.
I may not have the answers to these questions. I may not be able to put their mind at ease with a timeline or guarantee, but I will provide the space for them to express what they usually squelch and speak about some new ways to handle it all. I’ll provide a space to let out the anger, the frustration, the sadness, the hopelessness, the whatever, and see that it’s not going to push me away. That it’s not going to destroy them.
Once the real feeling is expressed, therapy gets real. And it’s anything but boring.
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