On Learning to Tolerate My Own Frustrationby Gibbs Alan Williams, Ph.D
My experience and attitude towards frustration has been a life long concern for me. For a long time, into my thirties, I of course, knew what frustration was and how it felt. However, when caught up in it I felt it impossible to do any thing about it except to react as if I was drowning in an emotional flood unable to hold onto anything substantial. During these “frustration attacks” I would lose whatever center I had, often lashing out in anger, or withdrawing either literally or physically from the scene of the moment or cutting myself off emotionally by numbing my feelings.
It was only in my third psychotherapy experience that I began to learn the general and specific facts of myself in relation to frustration. I learned, contrary to my conscious and unconscious fantasies, that a certain amount of frustration is inevitable whether I personally like it or not. Given its inevitability a healthy (realistic) attitude would be to learn to bear it rather than to fight it. That in bearing it I woul d not die. That choosing to bear increasing dosages of it would automatically lead me to feel increasingly more in control of my own fate by virtue of growing a strong inner core which is able to remain relatively calm and secure in the midst of internal and external confusion.
I saw how my frustration about inevitable frustration led me to feel chronically disappointed with myself and others which in turn led me to react in extremes of anger and defiance on the one hand or with a sulking pessimistic cynicism on the other. This automatic habitual flow of negative feelings and attitudes led to my experiencing a generalized sense of global inadequacy characterized by a lack of self confidence which in turn generated a fear of extending myself in action due to an inordinate fear of rejection. This automatic process which happened without my direct knowledge of it (unconscious) resulted in my experiencing myself at root as suffused with low self-esteem.
Before my psychoanalysis a disappointment (frustration) was often not simply a disappointment to be endured but was instead a catastrophe highlighting a personal indictment of my ineffectuality, and powerlessness.
Knowledge about the true facts about frustration, how it feels, how it is connected with a psychological process of self esteem deregulation or regulation, and that I have choices with respect to what to do or not do about it has made a substantial difference – for the better – in my personal and professional life
I have learned that when becoming unbearably frustrated to:
- Name it
- Accept my discomfort
- Attempt to identify specifically what it is that I am frustrated about. (An operational definition of frustration is the disappointment felt as a result of missed expectation.)
- Test reality by asking myself how realistic is my expectation of the moment?
- Am I able to give myself more time to attain it?
- Name the disaster that will occur if I don’t obtain my expectation at all or don’t obtain it in the time frame I have set for myself.
- Consider lowering my expectations.
- Am I fearful of acting?
- Am I possibly fearful of success? Be careful of what you want – you might just get it.
- I can give myself time to consider if and when I had ever been in a similar situation before that is parallel to this present time. If so, I can ask myself what I expected to occur, comparing it with what actually did occur a few months later. This allows me to use my hard won experience as a guide to potentially making more effective choices in the present.