Life is meant to be a song of joy. Whenever we reach a goal, we feel elated; we feel in sync with the song of life. But whenever we are prevented from reaching our goals, we may succumb to frustration. We may feel annoyed and irritable. But since frustration negates happiness, it doesn't make any sense to give in to it.
Frustration is an emotion that can spiral downward. Here's what I mean. Larry graduated the university and got his first good job. Now he's looking for a girlfriend. He visits clubs and dance parties in the hope of getting a date. He's frustrated by his lack of success. The frustration he experiences drains his energy and puts him in a bad mood. The next time he goes to a club or dance, he lacks enthusiasm and is feeling negative even before he speaks. Not surprisingly, he meets with further rejection. Now he finds himself sinking into a downward spiral. Before long, he may find himself weighed down with anger, little confidence, and a sense of hopelessness.
If Larry experiences severe frustration, he may feel like a prisoner. The truth is, it is the ignorance of his own freedom that is holding him captive. What is the freedom that Larry is ignoring? The greatest freedom of all, which is the freedom of thought. Larry can change his thoughts. And if he does, it will result in a change in his feelings, behaviour, outcomes, and attitude.
Frustration has two meanings. One is the feeling of disappointment that some people get when they cannot have what they want. The second meaning is the obstruction of someone's plans or efforts. Frustration in the second sense is unavoidable. That is, some of our plans are bound to be thwarted. There's nothing we can do about that. It's the nature of life. For example, the same snow that covers the ski slopes may make the roads to them impassable. So, your skiing trip may be frustrated, but YOU don't have to be. You can just shrug your shoulders and say, "That's life." Accepting life is one of the secrets of avoiding frustration.
Let's return to Larry. He's still waiting for a date. How can we help him? Well, we can teach him the law of life that states: We have to give away what we wish to receive. What is it that Larry wishes to receive? He wants to be released from frustration. He wants a date! Everything will change for Larry when he stops thinking ME, ME, ME and starts thinking YOU, YOU, YOU.
He has to turn his attention from inward to outward. Why doesn't he use the pain of frustration and loneliness that he feels to empathize with the pain of others? The solution to his problem is pitifully simple. All he has to do is find the loneliest woman in the club or at the dance and ease her pain by inviting her to dance. Once he does so, the world changes. 1) Instead of spending another lonely night, he spends a pleasant evening with a lonely person. 2) Whether it develops into a relationship or not, he boosts his and her confidence. 3) He makes a new friend. 4) He develops a more positive attitude and grows more appealing. 5) As long as he continues thinking of others, he will continue to make new friends, eventually finding the woman of his dreams.
Let's see what we can learn from two more examples. Bob is speaking in a discussion group when he is suddenly interrupted. Bob says, "Excuse me, I get frustrated when someone interrupts me while I'm speaking." "Why are you angry?" another member asks Bob. "I'm not angry; I'm frustrated," Bob answers angrily. See how a little frustration can create tension?
I'm glad some people take assertiveness training. After all, no one wants to be manipulated or controlled by others. And once they learn how to defend themselves, they'll be able to defend the rights of others. That's the positive side of assertiveness training. But there can be better approaches. You see, assertiveness can reinforce one's feelings of self-importance. For example, although Bob worded his statement properly ("I feel frustrated when others interrupt me while I'm speaking."), the real meaning was, "Excuse me, what I have to say is more important than what you have to say, so please be quiet!"
But is anything I have to say more important than what you have to say? Even if what I have to say is worthwhile, it can't be so earth-shattering that it must be said NOW. Can't it wait for another moment? Even though it may not be proper etiquette to interrupt others, when viewed through the lens of compassion, disruptive behaviour may be seen as expressions of enthusiasm or a need for recognition.
So, when I'm interrupted, I can choose to grow frustrated or to grow. That is, I can choose to grow angry or accepting, impatient or understanding, and unsympathetic or compassionate. Why don't I reserve my assertiveness for defending the rights of others? Isn't that what Christ meant by meekness? He was meek when it came to defending Himself, but rigorous in defending others. When we take the meek approach, we not only help others, but we help ourselves, for in allowing them to speak, we give ourselves the opportunity to learn.
Let's look at a second example of how someone handles frustration. Laura's friend, Diana, called hoping to gain a sympathetic ear as she aired her problem. Laura was willing to help and listened as her friend poured out her feelings. Then along comes Timmy, Laura's ten-year-old. "Mom! Mom! Mom!" he says, interrupting. As Laura strains to hear Diana through the shouts of Timmy, she feels frustrated, and an urge to scold her son rises within her. However, being compassionate, she STOPS. Meanwhile, as Diana continues venting, Laura analyzes Timmy's situation.
Then, just as Diana ends a sentence, Laura says, "I understand how you feel. But Timmy is calling me now. Let me see what he wants; then, I'll get back to you. Talk to you soon." As Laura turns to face Timmy, she wonders why he interrupts her like that. That thought then triggers a possible explanation, for she thinks he may have learned that behaviour from her. So, rather than scolding Timmy and upsetting both, she does just the opposite.
"Timmy," she says, "I think every time you want to speak to me, I interrupt you. I may be busy or thinking of something important, but that's no excuse for me to ignore you. You must feel frustrated. I want to change, but I need your help because habits are difficult to break. So, every time I interrupt you, raise your palm, like this, to signal that I need to STOP and listen. Will you do that for me, honey? Now, what did you want to tell me?"
Laura's change of tactics and change of attitude led to a change of outcome. Instead of Laura and Timmy growing upset, they are growing closer together. And she taught him how to behave, without preaching or scolding. If Timmy does interrupt her in the future at an inappropriate time, all she has to do is hold up her palm as a signal, and he will understand.
Would you like to rid yourself of frustration forever? You can if you have a big enough dream. Mother Teresa's dream was so great it dwarfed the frustration normally associated with poverty, sickness, homelessness, suffering, and death. Isn't it interesting to look at things differently and reflect on our own behaviour? If you disagree, I'll try not to be frustrated.
© Chuck Gallozzi
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