Unmasking the genius of apathy and boredom
We’ve looked at anger and shame, and this week, we’ll focus on what I call the masking state of apathy and boredom. Empathically, when I look at behaviors, I sense the emotions that underlie them. In apathy and boredom, I see a state that serves to mask fatigue and depression, certainly, but most of all, I see that apathy and boredom mask anger that can’t be dealt with openly for some reason. And this isn’t a bad thing!
APATHY & BOREDOM: The Mask for Anger
GIFTS: Detachment ~ Boundary-setting ~ Separation ~ Taking a time-out
ACTION REQUIRED: Apathy is a protective mask for anger, and it arises in situations where you cannot or should not (probably) express your anger openly. Apathy can give you an excellent time out, as long as you don’t let it take you completely out of commission. The questions for apathy will often unmask your legitimate anger (and other emotions), so be ready to work with those subsequent emotions as well.
THE INTERNAL QUESTIONS: What is being avoided? What must be made conscious?
From the Apathy chapter in The Language of Emotions
Repression in any emotion causes trouble throughout your psyche – but anger is so vital to your health that repressing it actually brings up a specific state in response. This masking state of apathy (or boredom) arises when you’re unable or unwilling to deal with your true anger.
Apathy is not an emotion, but it does protect you and set boundaries (which is anger’s job). However, since it stems from repression, it can lead to trouble if you’re not aware of it. It’s fine to feel apathetic, but it’s important to know what’s happening in your emotional realm when apathy appears. In unmasking apathy, you can learn about the anger trapped within it (and how that entrapment is sometimes a very helpful thing), and how to support yourself in addressing the true angers beneath your mask.
When you don’t have the time, energy, or ability to work with your anger properly – when you aren’t able to protect your boundaries or the boundaries of others, when you feel unable to speak out against the injustices you see, and when you feel incapable of affecting your surroundings – you’ll often fall into the masking state of apathy.
In a masking state, you cover yourself with a protective attitude that can distance you from uncomfortable situations. Apathy squelches emotions by affecting an “I don’t care, I can’t be bothered, whatever” attitude. Apathy sets a boundary, but it also shuts down communication and relationships. Apathy seeks distractions such as TV, fun food (as opposed to nourishment), new loves, travel, money, shopping, instant fame, instant meaning, and a quick and easy way out. Apathy is a dissociated state, usually related to being stuck in the wrong environment for your needs. Because it masks emotion, though, apathy doesn’t have much power – it longs for change, but it doesn’t have the emotional agility to make conscious change happen.
If you can let your apathy flow freely, you’ll let yourself take small vacations from focus and industriousness – you’ll be able to daydream, detach yourself with diversions or comfort foods every now and then, or plop yourself in front of the tube or a mindless book when you need a break. You won’t fight your movement into distractions by throwing yourself into overwork or hypervigilance. If you welcome your apathy, it will move on quickly; but if you inhibit it (or wallow in it), you’ll plummet into imbalance. Here’s how to maintain your equilibrium around your need to detach yourself and take a time out.
The message in apathy
Apathy often masks anger and depression, both of which arise in response to inappropriate environments and degraded boundaries. You can see apathy trying to slap some boundaries together – trying to define itself with sarcasm, distracting behaviors, material possessions, addictions, or dreamy perfect-world scenarios. Apathy points to a loss of boundaries, and to a distinct and urgent need for change, but it does so in an ineffectual and distractible way. Apathy chatters and gripes, but it doesn’t accomplish anything lasting. Conscious Complaining (see The Language of Emotions), then, is an excellent antidote for apathy, because it takes that griping and turns it into an intentional empathic practice.
Apathy and boredom can serve important functions in many situations where effective action cannot be undertaken. Adolescents, for instance – whose lives are controlled by schools and parents just as if they were still toddlers – are often plagued by apathy. Since we no longer have rituals for the complex transitions of adolescence, we don’t often notice or honor the ascent into adulthood, nor do we often honor the individual who’s trying to emerge.
The human trapped in adolescence is ripe for ongoing bouts of boredom and apathy; she’s in an environment too small for her soul, and she can do nothing but wait until trudging, stubborn, endless time sets her free. Apathy can help mask and staunch the incredible angers within her – angers that might incinerate the only home she has. Sometimes, boredom in teenagers can be seen as a very good thing.
Apathy and boredom in adults is another story, however.
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