Low tolerance for frustration: how it appears and what to do with it

We can’t get all we want. This simple sentence expresses a fact that can be extremely harsh depending on what we want. Sometimes circumstances don’t help, sometimes we create overly demanding goals, or sometimes we are forced to reach a level that, at least for now, we cannot achieve.

It happens throughout the life cycle, from birth to grave, and is the source of different levels of frustration that we have to deal with. And the frustration can be difficult to deal with.

Each of us has a specific capacity to tolerate it, there are people who have a great tolerance for frustration and for whom this does not generate an obstacle but a simple nuisance and other people with little tolerance for frustration, paralyzed and abandoned at the slightest difficulty the action. This is the last of the cases that we will discuss throughout this article.

    A natural emotion

    Before assessing what low frustration tolerance is, it is necessary to consider what this concept entails. Frustration is a feeling or sentiment of an aversive nature in which a mixture of sadness, anger and disappointment arises when faced with failure to achieve a goal or the inability to achieve a goal or desire. It doesn’t have to be a desire in itself, but it is. it can appear when faced with a break with expectations and demands put on us.

    It is a natural sensation that is not pathological (although depending on how it can become pathological), and as we said above is present continuously throughout life whenever it is ‘a situation of denial and impossibility. In early and throughout childhood we usually have a very low tolerance for frustration, but throughout development we gradually learn to control it, manage it, and generate alternative responses. But what is a low tolerance for frustration?

    Low tolerance for frustration

    It is understood as a low tolerance for frustration or an intolerance to frustration in the absence or a low level of ability to withstand that set of events or circumstances that can frustrate us. Low tolerance for frustration means that we are unable to react to the onset of frustration, we give up our actions and are unable to persevere and struggle with difficulties. In other words, those with a low tolerance for frustration have great difficulty dealing with negative feelings such as stress, discomfort, or the inability to fulfill their own desires.

    In general, this inability to self-manage causes behavioral manifestations in the form of harsh, irritable and hostile behavior. They often see failures as caused by others or by circumstances, usually a tendency to feel victimized and to blame others. They tend to be people who usually give up quickly to perceive possible obstacles, focusing on the difficulty of things and not seeing or believing in the possibility of solving the problem and overcoming the difficulties on their own.

    They focus on emotion, suffering and pain and their avoidance. This can lead to the subject becoming impatient, dependent, demanding and even extremely passive. In some cases, it can trigger impulse control disorders, such as kleptomania, or aggressive and violent behavior towards those who do not satisfy or interfere with their own desires.

    A low tolerance for frustration also affects the ability to wait to delay gratification, which could be essential in achieving greater rewards than immediate rewards. It is therefore associated with the need to achieve the satisfaction of their needs at the same time as they appear. This makes it difficult, for example, to take on a necessary task behind the gratification generated by rest or pleasure. In turn, the difficulty of completing tasks and one’s own perception of this lack of ability can be seen as frustrating, worsening of the situation and increase in the person’s uncomfortable situation.

    A low tolerance for frustration also has major consequences for the subject in many areas of life: on the family and social level, personal relationships suffer, sometimes generating distances with others and boosting their relationship with their environment. At work level it is linked to the lack of flexibility and the response to unforeseen events, Which makes recruiting and productivity difficult. When it comes to self-actualization, a low tolerance for frustration tends to generate serious difficulties in achieving large long-term goals and this can also lead to a decrease in self-esteem and self-concept or to the emergence of utilitarian, narcissistic or histrionic. behaviours.

      The causes of this low tolerance

      We mentioned earlier that frustration tolerance is something that is learned throughout development, with almost all children having a very low capacity for this. Whether or not this tolerance develops properly can depend on a large number of variables.

      First and foremost and although it develops throughout life, there are differences at the biological level that facilitate this fact. This is observable at a capricious levelThere are young children who are able to bear the frustration and wait for a better future or even generate strategies to achieve their ultimate goal. Others become frustrated and give in at the slightest difficulty, and many even generate disruptive behaviors such as childish scolding due to their inability to control their discontent.

      Experience is one of the main factors explaining differences in frustration tolerance. To have high tolerance, it will be necessary throughout life that we have seen that our goals and desires are achievable but that it takes effort, have seen an association between effort and goal achievement both short and long term. Additionally, waiting and not seeking immediate pleasure can lead to greater rewards over time.

      Related to the above, one of the reasons that can lead a person not to tolerate frustration – even in adulthood – is the educational role models we have had. Overly permissive parents who respond quickly to any child’s requests encourage the child not to tire out and learn that the things we want get done quickly. Once this pattern has been defined, the subject will no longer be able to react to the presence of difficulties and what could be a simple inconvenience or an obstacle becomes an impenetrable wall which contradicts them and arouses their anger.

      Another reason for the low tolerance for frustration is the existence of too high expectations on the part of the subject to have the real possibility of meeting them, so that their efforts never reach the required or desired level and one learns that this is not possible. to achieve their own goals. A continuous fear of failure arises, and over time the ability to tolerate wears off. This can be the result of learning, either from hyper-demanding parenting models, or from excessive social demands.

      How to improve the ability to tolerate frustration

      As we mentioned, a low tolerance for frustration can be extremely limiting. Fortunately, we can train our endurance and our abilities to become more resilient and tolerant in the face of aversive and frustrating situations.

      The first aspect to work on is probably to analyze frustration in isolation, recognizing where it comes from and why it is so unbearable to us. Once this is done, we can use different methods to resolve the situation.

      One of the strategies is to restructure personal beliefs about demand levels and what we can achieve. It will be important to train yourself to propose realistic goals, Whether ambitious or not, and assess that in any case, it will be easy for them to appear unforeseen. It is also helpful that, if we have very high goals, we try to divide ourselves so that we make intermediate goals that lead us to the end goal, without trying to achieve our goal immediately from the beginning. the generation of alternative strategies to the original is also essential.

      Likewise, we also need to work on the relationship with failure and frustration, not seeing them as synonymous with expiration but as learning that will lead us to achieve our goals.

      Another element to train could be to submit to exposure to frustrating situations with prevention of responses. Stress and anger management training and problem solving training become essential. If the problems are related to the social sphere, it may also be necessary to work on social skills.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Jeronimus et al. (2017). “Frustration.” Encyclopedia of Personality and Individual Differences, Edition: 1. Springer, New York, Editors: Virgil Zeigler-Hill and Todd K. Shackelford, pages 1-8.
      • Miller, NE (July 1941), “Frustration-Aggression Hypothesis”, Psychological Review, 48 (4): pages 337 – 42

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