Frustration is a negative feeling that arises from a perceived failure to fulfil a goal.
This is related to every part of a person’s behaviour-orientated life. Everything people put effort into achieving is a potential frustration, such as academic qualifications, continually failing to score a goal, or not being taken seriously when persistently adamant about an issue.
Frustration happens where a perceived goal is sought and attempts to achieve that goal end in failure. The goal could be practical or very academic, such as a ball that continually misses or a high-minded theory that eludes comprehension. Frustration happens to us all. It has very real biological effects.
To a greater or lesser degree, people realise they have goals, and when their goals are not achieved, they feel disappointed or sad. If they feel cheated, they will naturally also feel anger. Because plans can be disrupted, disappointment can accompany frustration. Because things can be lost due to failure, sadness can accompany frustration. Because people can be cheated out of success, anger can accompany frustration.
The hard-wired goal-orientated aspect of frustration gives it much background radiation over people’s lives as everyone has goals, whether they realise them or not. Yes, people can become frustrated about not being able to read the daily newspaper as it’s continuously thrown in the puddle, by the door, by the paper boy. It is true and irritating. More so for the fact that he has been told not to by his boss three times. The frustration of not being able to read the newspaper is now compounded with the frustration of not being able to stop the paper boy throwing it in the puddle.
People can have their instincts frustrated too, but it’s more difficult to notice when this happens. Even though, the consequences are far more serious for self-esteem than not being able to read the daily newspaper. If continually picking a soggy wet newspaper out of a puddle is having a negative effect on mood, start to imagine the effects of not fulfilling basic instincts over a prolonged period. Mood changes can reach out from the core of one’s being. The resulting failures would be felt as very serious things in life not going properly. A serious change in mood accompanies instinctual frustrations.
Nevertheless, it’s common for people to attribute no significance to their instincts when they realise they are not feeling good about life. Self-esteem and self-confidence are highly related to these intrinsic goal-orientated motivations. Instincts are goals in themselves, and failure to fulfil them will lead to the same sort of bad and sad feelings people get when they fail at anything else. Only the feeling will be more consequential – more intense. Because instincts have proven to be beneficial for success over hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of years, they can create deeply disturbing feelings.
The problem is that people do not think about instinctual drives in everyday life. Why would people necessarily associate importance with instincts when considering their emotional and psychological health? Rather than being thought of as primary sources of strong feelings to motivate people to keep clean and dry, fit and healthy, provide for children, keep children safe, and stay out of harm’s way, instincts are often thought of as fight-or-flight type responses to physical threats. Whether people realise it or not, they all have instincts. If they do not attend to them, there are serious side-effects on mood and self-esteem, for instincts evolved to aid the animal in which they reside.
People can be fulfilling most of their instinctual drives, and so be feeling pretty good with life. They may not be fulfilling quite a few instinctual drives, and so feel distinctly under-par. There are different aspects to every individual; there are many things that people feel they must do. Not doing one of them is not going to be devastating to their lives for the most part, yet if the frustration is stemming from the failure of an important motivation (such as providing for several children), then it’s not unreasonable for a person to experience a massive loss in self-esteem, episodes of depression, and despair, in any combination. This means that frustration can lead to lethargy and long periods of stress that could be reinforced by increasing anxiety. In addition to the initial frustrations, these stresses lead to new behaviours aimed at coping with stress.1 While causing people to have less energy to work with, the neuro-chemical reactions from these negative emotions slow people’s bodies down, and even reduce their biological ability to fight infectious diseases.2
Whether people admit it or not, they will perceive viscerally a need to support the children they have. These perceptions stimulate the innate instinctual motivations that are part of being a parent. If people fulfil them successfully, they enjoy the joys of parenthood. If their attempts to fulfil parental goals fail, they will have to live with the frustrations of parenthood, and its associated negative effects on self-esteem. There are of course several aspects to being a good parent. Providing money, shelter and food is only a part of the overall bundle of responsibilities.
There are core frustrations and surface frustrations. The surface frustrations are more easily identified than the deeper sort despite having less of an effect on mood. When core frustrations have been endured over long periods, however, previously minor surface frustrations can cause a person to have intense emotional and physiological pangs, such as sudden outbursts of anger that are seemingly out of proportion to the issue at hand.
Anger and frustration are often intimately linked to one another. When people perceive they have been cheated out of fulfilment, they naturally feel angry.3 These feelings of anger may be mixed with jealousy when they blame a rival for their loss. When the person blamed is significant to them, feelings of betrayal are mixed with anger, jealousy, and perhaps sadness. People might normally feel only annoyed or moderately angry towards someone they don’t know. Nevertheless, in the same situation, when someone they know is perceived to have cheated them, the feelings are intensified with a sense of betrayal that can make people furious. The intermingling of several intense emotions makes it incredibly difficult to decipher what they are actually angry about. People only have to perceive that someone close to them is cheating them, and be tired, for accusations to start flying. The perception may be completely inaccurate, but if they believe the perception, they feel the associated emotions towards the person as if it were true.
This can be an awful scenario for people living under pressure with core frustrations. Split-second decisions based on inaccurate perceptions can release spikes of intense anger, spite, resentment, and even hatred towards others. People may be left with a sense of being out of control and unable to manage their feelings, which increases stress.4 People commonly don’t know why they are feeling such strong emotions, and put the whole unpleasant experience down to stress. Stress is a fundamental factor, and it’s a fitting description of the feelings being experienced, yet still there’s no explanation of why the stress is there.
Let’s take a real scenario of a man with four children who, for confidential reasons, is called Mr Nice. Core frustrations once turned Mr Nice, a good-natured Christian father, into an angry man who became verbally abusive towards his children for a year or so. It was disturbingly unpleasant to witness for everyone concerned. The job that he had taken was far from home. It required a lengthy commute which took virtually all of his free time – important time he had previously spent with his family. Mr Nice took the job to improve his family’s happiness and prosperity, but over time he came to resent the work for taking away a cherished aspect of his family life. The thought that he was doing it for the family morphed into blame and resentment towards them. Unknowingly, he began to see his children as responsible for his decision.
During the next year, when one of his children would make a typical childish mistake that further frustrated him, Mr Nice would swear and curse abusively at them. Mistakes that would normally only of irritated Mr Nice were transforming him into an uncontrollable verbal brute. It was not until Mr Nice found a job, which paid less and was closer to home, that he had more time to spend with his family. His temper, mood and attitude returned to normal. This return to normal life was also a relief to his wife who had been despairing with how her husband’s behaviour had transformed. Working closer to home and having more time with his children proved more valuable and less frustrating than having more money in this case.
Frustration can be a perceptually elusive part of a person’s makeup. When seen as a surface psychological experience, its effects on morale and general wellbeing are underestimated. It’s hard-wired to core experience. If people are generally fulfilling their core motivations, surface frustrations will be pretty much the only frustrations they encounter. They will be little more than irritating stumbling blocks or paper boys.
Latin. Frustrationem = a deception, a disappointment.
1. To be deprived of effect, the feeling of being ineffectual.
2. Psychol: (a) the prevention or hindering of a potentially satisfying activity; (b) the reaction to such prevention that may involve aggression.