Frustration is a common emotion, and it’s one of the emotions that comes up most often in therapy. Feeling frustrated is consuming, and though we may not realize it, it is often a slow drain on our energy. On the surface, frustration might seem simple. We typically want something, whether it’s an outcome, an answer, or some cooperation, and we don’t feel like we’re getting it. We’re frustrated. Seems straightforward, right? Well, not exactly. Frustration is a complex emotions, because there’s so much more to it than meets the eye.
Frustration is a member of the anger family, which means we typically refer to it as a “secondary emotion.” In short, frustration is usually a reaction to another emotion. Initially, we feel hurt, scared, rejected, or dismissed, and because that’s either too intense, too scary, or too vulnerable, we flip the emotion, coding it as “frustration.” Feeling frustrated is a safer, less vulnerable experience, but it often keeps us feeling stuck. Frustration only scratches the surface; it doesn’t capture the depth of what we’re feeling.
In addition, feeling frustrated almost always involves some degree of helplessness. You’re frustrated because your doctor is running 30 minutes behind, your child is having a meltdown in the middle of Target, your boss doesn’t seem interested in listening to your perspective. Each of these situations is outside of your control; you can’t change it on your own. We humans tend to want control, and when we don’t have it, we often feel helpless. Like I mentioned above, this quickly gets flipped from helplessness to frustration, as helplessness is a scary emotion.
In this video, learn how to better understand your frustration, figuring out what you’re really feeling. You’ll probably want to reference this post as well, which comes with a downloadable emotion word list. This will help you begin to dig deeper, underneath the frustration, naming your primary emotional experience. I talk a ton on my site about mindfulness, and you’ll see themes of that in this video. If we can’t notice and name what we’re really feeling, our ability to deal with it is limited.
PS: Want another tip when you feel frustrated? Check out this video. It talks about how you can use gratitude, even in the most frustrating and difficult moments. Don’t miss it!