I’m Not Bored. I’m Afraid of Myself.

Sam Gilberg
3 min readApr 25, 2022
Automat, 1927 by Edward Hopper

“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”— Blaise Pascal

Yesterday, after finishing dinner, I felt a moment of boredom.

Lucky for me, I know a magic trick for making boredom disappear:

I take my phone out of my pocket. I open up Instagram or YouTube, and within seconds, my brain slips into a bubble bath of dopaminergic bliss, my boredom flattened by a deliciously mindless lineup of dog videos, celebrity interviews and bite-sized hits of pseudo-therapy.

Do you know this trick, too? Do you also sometimes feel guilty about it?

As I felt my arm drift toward my pocket like a phantom limb, I made the earth-shattering choice to stop. I told myself: I should sit with this feeling of boredom.

In about 60 seconds, I was hit with a deeply unsettling realization:

I am not bored. I am afraid of myself.

And immediately, another realization:

Boredom is not an emotion I feel deeply. Boredom is the threat of feeling other emotions deeply.

And because of my pocket-sized on-demand boredom kill-switch, I’ve largely managed to keep it a threat, depriving that spark of boredom the idle time it needs to erupt into a full-on emotional forest fire.

To my surprise, sitting quietly by myself for one minute didn’t end with me setting my apartment ablaze.

What it did do was create an opportunity for uncomfortable feelings to arise. I began to understand that what I’ve habitually called “boredom” is, more accurately, the threat of feeling the difficult, more confusing emotions of uncertainty, loneliness and powerlessness.

It’s understandable that I should want to avoid or deny these layered emotions. But the fact is they are clearly alive inside of me, and are confronting me, every day, however unconsciously, whether I know it or not.

This got me thinking about the side effects of my magic trick for making boredom disappear.

By turning to my device the moment it appears, I am denying other emotions the opportunity to communicate potentially vital information about myself and the world.

I’m not saying we should needlessly expose ourselves to difficult emotions. Life is painful, and it’s essential that we learn how to soothe ourselves. For many of us, scrolling social media is how we unwind, and we shouldn’t be shamed for it.

But by regularly outsourcing our boredom, or other bleh emotions to our devices, we are, in a subtle but fundamental way, abandoning ourselves.

And if we abandon ourselves too regularly, we can begin to stop knowing ourselves. And I think that can sometimes lead to becoming afraid of ourselves.

Now when I feel bored, I try sitting with it for a minute. You might try it, too. Get to know the feeling. Where is it in your body?

And then perhaps, what might it be trying to communicate? Or perhaps, protect you from?

If you’re feeling lonely, maybe you need to call a friend.

What is your boredom threatening to reveal to you about yourself? And how is it telling you to change your life?

I’ve begun to think of boredom like a hot potato: The moment we feel it burning in our hand, we want to get rid of it.

The problem is, unlike a hot potato, boredom is sometimes (not always) a symptom of a deeper emotional truth.

The more we understand something, we might become less afraid of it.

If I understand my feelings of loneliness, of powerlessness, of anger, I become less afraid of them. They don’t suddenly become fun to feel, but they don’t have to force me into reactivity, either. They can suggest possible better uses of my time.

Maybe instead of denying them, I could do things that might help transform them. If I’m feeling lonely, I could call a friend. If I’m feeling powerless, I could do something I know I’m good at.

And maybe all you really need is to be soothed by social media, and it can be empowering to realize just that.

--

--