I Can’t Stand It!  It’s so FRUSTRATING!

I deal with so much frustration that I sometimes think a heart attack would be a good thing.

But I don’t want a heart attack.  I need to learn how to deal with my frustration in a way that doesn’t cause bodily injury, mental torture or a cranial explosion.

I admit I’m not good at dealing with frustration.  In fact, I don’t know a lot of people that deal well with it at all.  But I know more people that simply don’t deal with it, period.  I’ve seen what it does to them.  But what is it doing to me?


Feeling a Little Crunched?

This picture certainly illustrates how I feel when frustration slaps me down.  That’s what it does.  It begins pumping your heart faster, dumping nasty hormones into your body, igniting a host of responses that all, unfortunately, bring you closer than you’d like to a hospital gurney.

My personal go-to response — irritation — is just the tip of the iceberg.  I thought I understood the word ‘curmudgeon’ until I became older, ill and aimless.  Being a curmudgeon isn’t something I wanted in my life trajectory and that, too, causes me frustration.

What kind of thinking creates frustration?  I didn’t get what I needed.  I wanted to have a better outcome.  I hate what’s happening to me.  I don’t understand why.  I have to make things better.  I need income, stability, functionality, spirituality.  I must, I should, I would, I could and if I don’t, I fail, stumble, fall, crash, and make a fool of myself.  All of the above, and much, much more.

One of the most important reasons for my being in therapy is learning how to cope with frustration.  I’m not very good at it, to be frank.  I’m a person that always did things immediately and had, most of the time, immediate results.  But what happens when all of that is no longer the case?  What do you do?

Well, under the assignation ‘curmudgeon’, you become the Master of Cranky.  You turn yourself inside out trying everything in the book to prevent that outcome but you’re going to be one bitter, horrid person if all you can concentrate on is being upset.

So here are some steps to take to prevent losing out to frustration.  For me, these are supposed to be daily exercise and it’s too bad I can’t master them immediately.  In fact, it may take forever before I get them down (i.e., never).  Still, I work at it as much as I can, and working with my therapist on this issue is, well, frustrating!


The Four Steps to Prevent Painful Hair Pulling

1.) Lower Your Expectations


As a person with very high expectations of myself and others this is the hardest rule for me to learn.

When you lower your expectations, I have found that something really remarkable and wonderful happens; you come to realize that others are fallible, that their performance or lack thereof is not your responsibility, and that you can prevent a great deal of disappointment if you don’t assign an emotional importance to other’s actions.

Now, you might say that’s impossible.  In many ways, you have to have some level of expectation.  For example, say the person in which you have an expectation is responsible to you for some important function.

Is it your fault if they do not perform to your level of expectation?  No (especially if you don’t have those expectations to begin with).  Their personal performance is theirs to own.  But it can be disappointing   when someone from whom we have an expectation doesn’t deliver.  It’s annoying, makes you angry, makes you unhappy.  And not to mention frustrated.

But those reactions come from your unrealistic expectations.  You can always hope for a positive outcome but that may or may not happen.  Therefore, it’s a good idea to let other people fail or shine on their own, and you must do the very same.

Like I said, this is much harder than you think.

2.)  Accept Life as it Is


Acceptance is the hardest act.  It means letting go of attempting control of others, allowing things to unfold of their own accord and realizing that this is the way it is.

What if you don’t like the way things are?  What if you don’t like where it’s going?  As I learned from my therapist, you have three options: do nothing about it, change it or accept it.

You can do absolutely nothing about it and the problem stays right where it is, forever and ever, stagnant and more than likely causing you a great deal of frustration and of course, abject misery as a result.

You could take the situation and/or your response to it and change it.  Mind, you can only change what you can change because you can’t change what you can’t change, do I get an amen?  Right?  But you don’t have to be accepting of  frustration.  You can take steps to alter the situation and make sure that you move it — or yourself — into a position where that frustration is not going to return or is resolved in a more satisfactory manner.

Or, you could accept it.  Radical Acceptance says that deciding to tolerate a situation in the moment is acceptance.  Intolerance causes frustration.  Acceptance of something is not the same as judging it good.  An example is: you can’t change people.  They only change when they see the need or benefit to change.  Change is not altruism.  It’s selfish, and you do it if you have a result of a benefit.  So, why become frustrated with people?  You can’t change them, you can’t have unrealistic expectations of them, so the only option left is to accept them.

It’s easy to write this, to tell you that this is the way to deal with frustration.  In fact, I believe wholeheartedly that these three tenets, to do nothing about your frustration, change it or accept it, are true.  They could be the only outlets we might have for dealing with frustrating circumstances and the things, situations or people that cause them.

However, this does not mean that I can easily do any of the three.  I’m still trying to figure all this out.  But when you’re unable to deal with frustrations (long-term frustration in particular), you might just ‘freeze’ in the situation, i.e, taking the first route.  Do nothing and by doing so you crush your long-term frustration into a gigantic ugly fuzzy ball of churning, stomach-knotting electricity.  Not fun, or healthy.

3.) Don’t Take it Personally


I see this sign and I think, ‘Oh, yeah, of course I won’t take it personally’.  What a load of bull-crap.

Of course I take things personally.  When last I looked, I was a human being (although the opinion poll isn’t so supportive of that statement).  I work hard to make things happen and when I fail or things don’t work out, I sometimes take it personally.  Very personally.

But does rejection and failure mean that I’m a ‘bad person’?  No, it does not.  I can’t have any real impact on the opinion of others, so rejection is something I must accept and I have little hope of changing someone’s decisions or opinions.

And when I fail, it isn’t for lack of trying or of effort.  I usually do my very best because that is the way I’m built.  I am most comfortable about things when I know I’ve done my best and, of course, doing my best is different all the time, each and every day.  Doing my best depends on a lot of factors.  Still, if I know I’ve done my best, then why do I beat myself up?

Because I take it personally, that’s why.

Since we’ve establish that I’m human (to within a range of +/- 3 percentage points) then this result is not really a very big surprise.  But is it necessary to beat myself up?  No, of course not.  Why not?  Did I not just say I do my very best?  And if I’m frustrated and a mess about it, am I not internalizing and personalizing my supposed ‘failure’?

Question: isn’t ‘failure’ the method with which people learn?  Try, try again and all that?

I strive to do my best (of course) not to consider myself a ‘failure’ if things don’t go my way.  It’s hard to accept that it’s not necessarily my fault and, if I think it really is my fault then what’s the valuable lesson I can learn?  What can I change about myself or the situation so that I don’t internalize failure again?

What I can do is to learn this lesson.  And try to change.  That’s all I can do about it.

4.) Put the Situation into Perspective.


That’s a pretty powerful statement (above) about perspective.

Perspective is what you lose if you don’t work toward seeing things in many ways, in many facets.  If you don’t find a point of view in which others might see things and learn alter the way you think you’re going to believe it.  And false belief and distorted thinking is something that can happen when you have a mental illness such as bipolar disorder.

If you believe that your perspective is the only one or worse, the only one that’s right, then you have what is known as a cognitive distortion.  You’re not seeing valuable viewpoints that could contain an answer to your problem, help you understand where you are or what you need to change succeed.

Refusal to change your perspective means that you will never change.  If you refuse, you’ve already made the decision on how you’re going to behave or think and whether you’re going to engage or not.  You can just sit there waiting for things to change on their own, but face it — things won’t change unless you change perspective first.

It’s the way you look at things that decides all that and more.  And if you have a fundamental distortion then the only way you can change that distortion is with the help of others, like parents, friends, counselors, psychiatrists.  You need to be willing to make the change or the show’s over.

When I first began the Partial Hospitalization Program, I had absolutely no perspective other than the wicked internal mess I had created, this faulty constructed reality that festered within my brain.  That festering mess was driving me to suicide.  I was convinced that I was right, that there were absolutely no other possibilities or options and that hope was therefore impossible.

And how much cognitive distortion and negative thinking is in that paragraph?

I found that over time and with therapy and medication I changed perspective.  I still sometimes reject things and I do not like, certain suggestions or tasks.  I found that, in the end, I can step back and take the time to think about it.  When I do, my view will usually change for the better and become a more realistic mindset.

By changing the way you see the world you change the importance value of your views, and the things that are critical in one mindset become less significant in another.  In fact, I find that most problems or issues simply become less intense as the prioritization of your problems changes.  That is, once you have stepped back and seen them a little more realistically.

If you take the time to learn how to see, that is.

There are no hard and fast rules on how to do this.  Changing the way you think takes time and effort.  It sure does with me, anyway.  And this is a work that is always in progress, too, but think about it — changing the way you think for the better is progress.

I’m no expert on the subject of frustration; let’s just say I have a vast working knowledge of my own frustration and I’m working on solutions all the time that just might change the way I see things.  That means that if I keep using these four suggestions, I will change my thinking enough so that frustration is brought to heel and becomes a manageable and less potent and negative emotion in my life.  I think those around you benefit as well since you stop trying to change what you cannot and become more focused on what you can change, and where you are.  What you’re doing and need to do.  What your real goals are.

And I like that word, goal.

ImageIt’s all about balance, and finding balance is not an easy thing to accomplish for someone like me.  But I’m committed to keeping up the effort.   I’m going to lower my expectation of others but maintain hope.  I’m going to make it a point to learn acceptance.  I’m going to do my best to not take things personally and move forward with what matters.  I’m going to work to change my perspective in positive ways and therefore change my attitude with the goal of finding balance and reducing stress, frustration and misery as a result.

However I have decided not to use the method illustrated below.  I’d have no head left to bang, not to mention the damage to the furniture, walls, sidewalk and dining room table.



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