The patient comes in my office, sits down and directs her blank look at me. She looks depressed and, from her first words – lack of pleasure in life, thoughts wandering in the past, sadness – the diagnosis of depression seems obvious. Practically, in a couple of minutes, the diagnosis and the treatment plan is crystal clear in my head. Yet, this is not depression really… It’s boredom. It is rather a lack of meaning in life, lack of purpose and direction, in the context of terrible loneliness and in an under-stimulating environment. Her kids are gone abroad, have their families and their lives, her husband is dead for many years, she does not know what to do with her life… Gradually, the depressive triad of worthlessness-hopelessness-helplessness establishes in her life as a second mode of living. If she would be a TV set, she would be in the stand-by mode; no image but the red light active, showing that she is neither alive, nor really dead, but just breathing.
Waiting for what? Waiting for something or someone to happen in her life. Waiting for something or someone “out there” to come and rescue her, provide a solution, give her meaning and purpose, wake her up from the stand-by.
I look at her and remember that antidepressants provide energy and joy. It’s a chemical energy and an artificial joy. They, the antidepressants, work their way in the brain and fix some stuff here and there, but the problem in her case is mostly psychological. She needs psychotherapy but she can’t afford it financially. Therapy is for the rich ones and she is not. She desperately needs energy from outside, from drugs. For a moment I think that she will do great on amphetamine or cocaine… But the problem is somewhere else: she awaits energy from outside, while energy should come from the inside. And this inner energy can’t be accessed because of herself, because of the way she got used to think under the education provided by her family and the society in general. She doesn’t believe she can generate energy from inside; she is dependent on the outer world. Without a sufficiently stimulating exterior, she fears emotional or spiritual death. It’s ego death, but for a person in her situation it feels like genuine, real death.
People like my patient have what Eric Fromm calls internal receptive orientation towards life. Basically, they are like little birds just hatched in a nest, waiting to be fed, beak open. Or like babies who rely on their mother (the exterior) to satisfy their needs. They are people who aren’t grown up yet, despite their biological old age. They failed, until now, the opportunity to enter adulthood. They are not depressed; they are bored because the exterior does not stimulate them.
The solutions to boredom can be reduced to only two: you either initiate many activities to escape boredom – trying new things, keeping yourself busy in all possible ways – and there are many if you search for them (dancing, trips, extreme sports, all the possible ways of socializing, reading books, music, etc.) – , or you face boredom by changing your inner orientation, beginning with becoming aware that you are a little bird in a nest waiting for a food provider. First solution is temporary, the second one is much more efficient but takes time. Most receptive people use the first solution until they approach old age when they can’t get involved in too many things. At that point, they come depressed to my office and I give them antidepressants. The reason for this article is however to increase the awareness of younger people, so that they get out of this solution and proceed with the second one.
So how do you initiate the shift from receptive attitude towards a more productive attitude? First you become aware of what the receptive orientation means: a state of complacency where there is a sense that something is missing. Yes, you miss something, but it is not something you can find in the exterior. It is something from inside: the urge or the need to create – to create your life and make your own choices – regardless of the outer world. Follow your curiosity, follow your creativity, follow your inner values and what makes you enthusiastic, especially those things that are not done for a reason but for the simple pleasure of doing them! Choose to do things “due to” not “because of”; that is… “due to” your passion, not “because of” your fears! This is the way out of boredom!
Since we’re here, take a look at this article on character orientation. Resuming, there are 4 imbalanced orientations and a normal one.
1. Receptive Orientation is typical to peasants, slaves, families dependent on social/welfare services, migrant workers. The essential expectation is that “I will get what I want, and if I don’t get it immediately, I wait for it”. This orientation is typical in countries full of resources (like Romania, my country), where you can afford to wait because there is always something, somewhere, that can become available. It’s an incredibly passive attitude, masochistic, submissive and wishful. In relationships, a woman is often seen as some sort of gift from destiny and is rather “picked up” than “hunted”. Or, an incredible amount of time is spend while waiting for a suitable partner. For everything you could possible imagine, the solution is only one: Wait!
2. Exploitative orientation is typical to aristocracies and the upper classes of colonial empires (conquistadors that plundered and killed the indigenous populations in America, Englishmen that abused their colonial empire (see India), populations that raided eastern Europe throughout the Middle Ages (for Romania there were the Turks, the Tatars, the Austro-Hungarians, the Russians, and currently the foreign corporations). The essential expectation is that “I will take what I need, by all means”. “’By all means” means by aggression of any kind, stealing, sadism, even seduction. In a relationship, a woman is seen as a trophy and is purchased by all means. The solution for everything is only one: Get it! Take it! Just do it!
3. Hoarding orientation is typical to merchants, craftsmen, richer peasants or the bourgeoisie. Hard working populations in general. The essential expectation is that “the world means possessions or potential possessions that must be kept”. The attitude is the one of withdrawal or avoidance, coldness, perfectionism, stubbornness and criticism. In a relationship, the woman is a possession, a good commodity or investment. The general solution is only one: Gather as much as possible and keep it!
4. Marketing orientation is typical to the Western capitalist society, where the term “people” or “humans” has been replaced by “consumers”. The essential expectation is that “I am happy and successful if I sell”. What do I sell? Well, firstly, I sell myself! Surface is everything! I take care to nicely package myself, I advertise myself, I dress attractively, I pay attention to my CV and what companies I work for, I care for the “right” education of my children, I take care to have a beautiful marriage and an attractive partner. I am in sales! All the time! The attitude is highly opportunistic and full of conformity, advertising eternal youth, fashion, fitness, adventure, sexuality and continuous socialization. In a relationship, things change: “family” becomes “marriage”, which is a contract (you agree to provide this and that, I provide in return other stuff), love becomes a transaction, the good looking partner is a sign of success and if the agreement is not respected the separation comes quickly (no hard feelings, it’s just business, we can even remain friends). The general solution is one: Sell!
5. Productive orientation is quite rare. Commonly described as “a person without a mask”, it’s a healthy personality who transcended the “I have” (I have it – It has me) into “I am” (I am defined by my actions in this world). I am biological and social in nature, but I don’t avoid freedom and responsibility for my life. The foundations of my life are love, reason and free-will. At the social level, few countries display minor elements from this orientation, which should be translated by the term “humanistic communitarian socialism”. This means a society focused on human beings (not an entity like the State – see China or North Korea -, or God – see the Arab world), small communities (not government or corporations), where everyone is responsible for the welfare of everyone else. Early examples include some aspects of the Scandinavian model (remember Iceland), Switzerland, Austria or Canada (especially Quebec).
Take some time to ponder on this article. Then, make a decision. It might be a decission about you, about your relationship or about the country you’re living in. Countries and societies take years to change, relationships might not resist your atempt to change them.
But what about you?