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Monday, September 21, 2009

Coping with Frustration

All of us have experienced times when we've either not gotten what we wanted or we've had to deal with something that we didn't want. When we're forced to deal with these types of situations, we often feel frustrated, annoyed and disappointed.

Frustration Can Be Overwhelming At Times

Learning to Cope with Frustration as Part of Personal Development:
Learning to cope with feelings of frustration is an important part of personal development. Without the necessary coping skills to overcome frustration and disappointments, we get stuck, and this adds to our emotional pain. So, how do people learn to tolerate frustration?

How We Learn to Cope with Frustration:
Ideally, we begin learning to cope with frustration as infants. Under normal circumstances, if we've had good enough parenting, we learn early on in small, manageable doses that we can't always get what we want and we sometimes have to do things that we don't want to do. If you've ever seen an infant who wants to continue playing when his mother says it's time to eat or sleep, you've likely seen an infant's reaction to frustration. There may be crying, angry flailing about, kicking, and screaming. It's a situation that certainly tests a parent's tolerance for frustration.

Over time, in small ways, if the baby is exposed to small doses of frustration, he learns that he's not always going to get what he wants but, under optimal conditions, he gets what he wants enough times so that he is satisfied.

However, if a caregiver is inconsistent and arbitrary, this can create confusion and even greater frustration for the baby. Or, if the parent doesn't set limits with the child and allows the child to have whatever he wants, whether it's good for him or not (perhaps because the parent is unable to tolerate the baby's reaction to not getting what he wants), then that child often grows up without the skills for coping with frustration. This creates problems later on when, as an adult, he has to deal with other adults who won't always accommodate him. Since he didn't learn to tolerate frustration in small doses as a child, when he doesn't get what he wants or gets what he doesn't want, it seems overwhelming. So, in other words, either neglect (and certainly abuse) as well as overindulgence can lead to low frustration tolerance in adults.

Of course, nobody can control what their parents did or didn't do when they were growing up. So, if you didn't learn to develop coping skills to deal with frustration along the way, here are some suggestions:

When something doesn't go your way, try not to personalize it:
Most of the time, when circumstances come up that frustrate you, it's not meant to be personal. So, if the grocery clerk packs your grocery in a way where the eggs break, they make a mess, and your bag breaks, most likely, he didn't do it on purpose. Or, if you're in a hurry to drive to an appointment and someone is taking a long time to cross the street, which is delaying you, maybe he's handicapped and not purposely trying to make you late for your appointment. Or, if a client is rude to you on the phone, maybe he's having a bad day that has nothing to do with you. Learn to step outside of the situation and consider that it's often not about you, even though it might be affecting you.

If you encounter an obstacle in your path, try to find another way to approach the situation:
Rather than giving up or taking it as a sign that you're a failure, try a different approach. Talk to other people who have gone through what you're going through. What did they do? Can you learn something from them? Think of it as a challenge rather than as a defeat. Think about other situations where you have overcome obstacles, recognize that you've had successes in the past, and you'll have successes in the future.

Learn to keep things in perspective:
When you're feeling frustrated, it can seem like a big deal at the time. But sometimes, depending upon the situation, a little light hearted humor can go a long way. Does it really help you to get angry, tense and miserable when things don't go your way? Usually not. So, learn to put things in perspective.

Learn to reframe the situation for yourself:
Often, how you perceive things and your attitude about circumstances can have a bigger impact on the situation than someone or something else. So, for instance, rather than feeling frustrated and fuming that your flight is delayed, take the time to do something that you wouldn't have had the time to do if the flight was on time: call your children, get caught up on your email, go to the gift shop and look for that birthday gift for your sister that you haven't had time to get yet. So, rather than seeing the delay as an obstacle, see if there are any opportunities that you can create.

Develop a sense of confidence in yourself:
If you lack confidence, this can be one of the more challenging steps, but it's an important step. Often, the difference between someone who is able to tolerate and overcome frustrating situations and the person who can't is a matter of confidence, optimism, and resilience. When you feel confident and optimistic, you're more likely to see setbacks as temporary rather than permanent obstacles in your way. Confidence and resilience can give you the extra mental, emotional and physical energy that you need to overcome a frustrating situation. If you read about some of our greatest inventors, like Thomas Edison, you'll discover that they were very persistent and resilient, overcoming one obstacle after the next to meet their goals.

Develop positive outlets to deal with stress and maintain emotional balance:
Tension and frustration are an inevitable part of life. Whether you choose to meditate, take a yoga class, go to the gym, take a brisk walk, talk to friends--whatever you choose to do, find ways to release tension and frustration rather than bottling it up, allowing it to build up, or losing your temper with the people around you.


Maintaining Balance

Learn to accept change:
Learning to accept change can go a long way to helping you to cope with frustration. (Of course, I'm not talking about accepting abuse or unhealthy situations.) There is very little in life that is permanent. Relationships change, friendships change, jobs change, almost everything changes. When it's a change that we like, it's easy to accept change. But when it's a change that we don't want, it's a lot more challenging. Change is a big part of life and learning to be flexible is important to coping with some of the frustration involved with change.

Learn to Accept Change
Learn to accept what you can't change:
Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, there are situations that are not under your control. If you know you've done your best, sometimes, you have to accept that there are some things that you just can't change, no matter what you do. This can be a humbling experience but, in most cases, it doesn't have to be devastating. Making peace with the things you can't change is far better than wasting time and effort railing at them in vain or continuing to make fruitless efforts when you could be directing your time and energy towards more attainable goals.

Getting Help:
Sometimes, despite your best efforts, learning to cope with frustration can be overwhelming. If you're inability to cope with frustration is affecting your relationships or getting in the way of your leading a fulfilling life, you might benefit from psychotherapy with a licensed psychotherapist.

I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist. I have helped many clients to learn to cope with frustration so that they lead happier lives.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist

To set up an appointment for a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006.

1st Photo:  photo credit: Luisus Rasilvi via photopin cc

2nd Photo: photo credit: stuant63 via photopin cc

3rd Photo:  photo credit: stuant63 via photopin cc

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