What’s the relationship, if any, between boredom and sociopathy?
Can we can agree, for starters, that boredom does not cause sociopathy? Otherwise most of us would be sociopaths.
Can we also agree that a low tolerance for boredom, alone, does not cause sociopathy. Otherwise again, many of us with low tolerances for boredom (not that I include myself, but God, am I bored) would be sociopaths; and this isn’t the case, either. That is, even most of us with low tolerances for boredom aren’t sociopaths.
However, research suggests that sociopaths may require higher levels of arousal to escape conditions of boredom. So apart from being prone to boredom and finding it extremely oppressive, it may be the case that sociopaths tend to resort to high arousing, high risk solutions to their boredom.
I think we edge closer to a link between boredom and sociopathy when we note that, if nothing else, boredom seems to be a medium, a highly conductive state or field, for the emergence of sociopathic behaviors.
That is, sociopaths seem to find in states of boredom fertile play for their sociopathy. As noted, they seem at risk of solving their boredom sociopathically. States of boredom tend to elicit, coax into the open the sociopath’s sociopathy.
Why? What it is about boredom that makes it perhaps especially conductive of the sociopath’s acting-out? In point of fact, it is less the properties of boredom than the properties of the sociopath that answer this question.
The sociopath is, foremost, an outrageously self-centered specimen. His exclusive interest in his own comfort, gratification and entertainment (and cold uninterest in others’) compels, along with incredulity, a morbid fascination with his interpersonal perversity.
I’d suggest that among the last things the sociopath wants to face, besides extreme pain, is boredom. The sociopath wants to feel entertained, stimulated and comfortable; boredom provides none of these. Moreover, and consistent with his pathological narcissism, the sociopath feels he shouldn’t have to be bored. He feels absolutely entitled to relief from his boredom.
Now we might still say, big deal?…doesn’t this still describe many of us who aren’t sociopaths, yet for whom boredom makes our skin crawl?
What I think distinguishes the sociopath in all this isn’t his entitled claim to relief from states of boredom or even, by itself, his arguable gravitation to higher risk, higher arousing solutions to his boredom. Rather, I think it’s his entitled claim to relief from states of boredom with virtual utter disregard for how he achieves his relief.
In other words, for the sociopath, basically whatever it takes to solve his boredom, at whatever expense to whomever, is a go. Where the nonsociopath itching for escape from his boredom is chastened by a sense of accountability to others—by the implicit social contract to respect others’ boundaries—the sociopath is undeterred by, and abrogates, such social contracts. They are a joke to him.
Intellectally, he is aware of them and, when expedient, may play-act them. But he regards them, truthfully, as utterly controvertible anytime he finds it convenient to controvert them. Furthermore he harbors, secretly when not transparently, contempt for anyone dumb enough to be bound by such contracts. Certainly he isn’t.
And so the bored sociopath is dangerously poised to exploit. Unburdened (if not stimulated) by the prospect of his exploitation, he finds countless opportunities to gratify himself at others’ expense. He can rob someone, or cheat someone, or cheat a hundred people, or get plastered and drive maniacally; he can scare someone, or lie audaciously with convincing sincerity; and in so doing he can ignore the wreckage he wreaks because what matters, what only matters, is the satisfaction in it for him.
The sociopath’s deranged self-centeredeness protects him from the scourge of regret. Where regret may torture the normal person, keep him up at night, awaken him to troubled memories, reflection, and perhaps even a rethinking of his priorities, not so for the sociopath.
At most, regret has a superficial effect on him; he might regret, if anything, the inconvenience of his present situation; but not, it’s safe to say, the dignity, security and trust he robbed from the victims across his life.
(My use of “he” in this post is not meant to suggest that males have a patent on the behaviors and attitudes discussed. This article is copyrighted (c) 2009 by Steve Becker, LCSW.)