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Boredom is a state of malaise, close to anxiety, characterized by a feeling of emptiness. Its origin is attributed to objects that the subject claims are boring, in other words, odious (inodiosus ) in the etymological sense of the word.

Boredom (languor, neurasthenia) was one of the dark humors of ancient medicine (boredom was associated with the spleen, and melancholy, with the liver). It became the ailment of the era during the Romantic period, as typified by Françpois-René de Chateau-briand in René and The Genius of Christianity (part 2, book 3).

Sigmund Freud did not see boredom as a specific symptom. He noted that the idleness of young women created a state of reverie dissociated from reality and susceptible to hysteria (1895d). But he saw their lassitude as normal, since other objects cannot occupy the place of the primitive lost object, the penis (1910h). Sándor Ferenczi in "Névrose du dimanche" (1919/1974) saw a link between the development of anxiety and the absence of exterior censure associated with a need to work.

With the introduction of the notion of the withdrawal of libidinal cathexis, psychoanalysis provided significant insight into the concept of boredom. Without libidinal cathexis, one loses drive and an ability to make demands, except for a need for a change associated with a miraculous arrival of an object that would again give life to one's activities. This feeling of a loss of interest in things is, in fact, a loss of libido. Otto Fenichel assimilated boredom with a type of depersonalization in which the subject feels that he must do something but does not know what. Heinz Kohut pointed out the link between the analyst's boredom and the feeling of exclusion that the patient provokes in him by withdrawing emotionally. Ralph Greenson saw boredom as a defense against fantasy activity or as a result of one's unconscious perception of one's resistance.

The analysis of boredom reveals a kind of phobicobsessional fluctuation between withdrawal of libidinal cathexis and ardent desire driving impulsive acts that provide an outlet (Mijolla-Mellor, 1985). As with inhibition, boredom is not simply a lack of movement but a pointless stagnation, to which is added an enduring hatred of time. It is a defense against a phobic anxiety over a primary, but undifferentiated, investment in objects.

Sophie de Mijolla-Mellor

See also: Depersonalization; Decathexis; Mirror transference; Narcissistic transference; Time.


Fenichel, Otto. (1951). On the psychology of boredom. In Selected papers of Fenichel. New York: W. W. Norton.

Ferenczi, Sándor. (1974). Difficultés techniques d'une analyse d'hystérie. Oeuvres complètes (Psychanalyse, Vol. 3). Paris: Payot. (Original work published 1919)

. (1974). Névrose des dimanches. Oeuvres complètes (Psychanalyse, Vol. 3). Paris: Payot. (Original work published 1919)

Freud, Sigmund. (1910h). A special type of choice of object made by men. SE, 11: 163-175.

Freud, Sigmund, and Breuer, Josef. (1895d). Studies in hysteria. SE, 2: 48-106.

Greenson, Ralph R. (1967). The technique and practice of psychoanalysis. New York: International Universities Press.

Kohut, Heinz. (1974). The analysis of the self (M. A. Lussier, Trans.). New York: International Universities Press. (Original work published 1971)

Mijolla-Mellor, Sophie de. (1985). La trame phobique de l'ennui. Nouvelle revue de psychanalyse, 32, 173-184.

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A state of weariness with, and disinterest in, life.

Everyone, at one time or another, feels bored. Children, however, may report boredom more frequently because they have not yet learned to alleviate it for themselves. Infants and toddlers rarely experience boredom. Infants spend large blocks of time asleep and much of their waking time feeding. Toddlers have a nearly unlimited curiosity to explore a world that is still new to them. Preschool and school-aged children, though, are fickle in their attention s. The child may be engrossed in an activity one minute and, seconds later, lose interest and complain of boredom.

Adults who complain of boredom may be expressing their frustration at being unchallenged by their present activities. People who complain about being bored at work, for example, may feel that they are not being used to their potential. Boredom in adults is often a sign of a lack of intellectual stimulation. In rare instances, people who repeatedly complain of boredom might be suffering from a clinical condition such as depression . Depressed people may withdraw from formerly interesting activities and complain of boredom. Such a person may need to talk to a psychologist about the factors that are causing the depression.

Further Reading

Wester-Anderson, Joan. "Overcoming Life's Little Doldrums," Current Health 19, (February 1993): 4+.

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77. Boredom (See also Futility.)

  1. Aldegonde, Lord St. bored nobleman, empty of pursuits. [Br. Lit.: Lothair ]
  2. Baudelaire, Charles (18211867) French poet whose dissipated lifestyle led to inner despair. [Fr. Lit.: NCE, 248]
  3. Bovary, Emma housewife suffers from ennui. [Fr. Lit.: Madame Bovary ]
  4. Des Esseintes, Jean in dissipation and isolation, develops morbid ennui. [Fr. Lit.: Against the Grain ]
  5. Harthouse, James thorough gentleman, weary of everything. [Br. Lit.: Hard Times ]
  6. Oblomov, Ilya Russian landowner; embodiment of physical and mental sloth. [Russ. Lit.: Oblomov ]
  7. Povey, Constance Baines uneventful thoughts, marriage best described as routine. [Br. Lit.: The Old Wives Tale, Magill I, 684686]
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bores collectively, 1883.

Example: boredom of briefs [modern pun on legal briefs].