The Emotions Series - Frustration

Frustration is one of the "bad" emotions.  It is one we don't like admitting to and are often told we "shouldn't be".  At least that is how we generally treat it.  In essence we deny or dismiss it and with it any useful message it is trying to tell us.  

What is frustration?  According to the interpretation I have been using (see earlier blogs) it must have a core meaning, a predisposition and take care of us in some way.  Sometimes, with emotions like frustration, those are difficult to see because we get caught by the energy of the emotion and are unable to listen and reflect.  

The story frustration is always trying to communicate is "I am trying to do/achieve x and I believe it should have already happened".  Whenever we encounter the word "should" it is a red flag for something unseen.  There are generally two sources for the belief that something "should" be a certain way.  The first is that we have been promised something that didn't happen by the time it was promised and we legitimately believe it should have happened.  The second is that we have an expectation that something should occur in a particular way at a particular time and when it doesn't we feel frustration.  Notice the difference.  In the first case there is an unfulfilled promise in the second an unrealized expectation.  So what is an expectation?  If we take a look we'll see that an expectation is nothing more than my story about how life will unfold.  It may be based on past experiences of course but no one promised me it would be the way I expect it to be.  

The majority of frustration that I encounter in my own life and in my coachees is the second type.  The first type is easy to resolve.  A conversation with the promisor to see if they will fulfill their promise and when - in other words an update of the promise - will take care of it.  But the frustration built on expectation is more difficult because we need to be able to step back and see that the cause of our frustration is not the other person or the situation but it is our own story that we are holding as if it is real.  That requires confronting our own way of being.

So the story of frustration is that "it should have already happened".  Generally we use this energy to punish the other person or persons but frustration wasn't designed as a tool of punishment.  I believe we developed it to give us the energy to push on and find new ways to get things done in life.  If we didn't have frustration as an emotion we would stop at the first small barrier and stay there in complacence.  But this isn't the way we listen to frustration most of the time.  We waste its value and energy in blame when we could use it to reconsider how we are thinking about the way we are moving through life.  If we could hold it more lightly we could see that it can be a bit like the bumpers in a pinball machine and can energize us to bounce in a different direction that may be more fruitful.  

Emotions all developed to take care of and inform us.  Learning to listen to them in new ways is the essence of emotional intelligence.  And it can be a challenge as the old interpretations that come to us are the ones we've been steeped in for years and the ones we encounter everywhere.  This is where the emotion of healthy skepticism might be useful to help us see and practice differently.

Dan Newby