When things don’t work out for you, do you scream with frustration or stamp your foot? Or perhaps you roar out loud like I did recently. The football team I support were losing in a match against a far inferior side. Feeling really vexed, and for no good reason, I yelled at the referee to give us a penalty kick. I later realised, to my embarrassment, that I had worked myself up over a trivial thing. There are a lot more serious matters in life than sport; for example difficulties at home or at work which would try the patience of a saint.
I’m pretty sure life never runs completely smoothly for any of us. Someone throws a spanner into the works to stop something going well, to prevent progress, or hinder the fulfilment of our hopes.
So how can we deal with this sort of thing? Is there any way of coping without getting steamed up with frustration?
Expectation and frustration
Let’s just consider those people we may know who regularly express frustration perhaps in the loudness of their voice and in what they say. It’s not that things go wrong for them, for things go wrong for all of us. Rather, it is as though they expect reality to conform to their wishes. And when it doesn’t they feel emotionally overwhelmed. They want to shout out their complaint. They believe that they cannot bear what is going on.
If you suppose you will inevitably rise steadily to the very top of your chosen profession, how will you feel when you don’t achieve your goal? If you expect to have a calm and peaceful workplace, then you are bound to be frustrated by stress sooner or later. If you assume you are entitled to fairness from people, you are probably going to end up feeling disappointed with them.
Albert Ellis – the originator of a form of cognitive psychotherapy known as REBT – suggests that we would suffer much less sense of frustration if we did not try to impose our expectations on the real world. Yes, hope for a sporting victory: but to expect it as a certainty can only create a huge sense of frustration when the opponents do well.
Disbelief and frustration
Psychologist Neil Harrington mentions a scene in the film Zulu, in which a small group of British soldiers, surrounded at Rorke’s Drift, face being killed. A young private voices his fear and disbelief: ‘‘Why is it us, why us?’’ A sergeant looks over, and replies, as if this were self-evident: ‘‘Because we’re here lad.’’ The experienced man was not asking for passive resignation but implying that, when we are realistic about what is going on, then we give ourselves some sort of chance to make the most of the situation by taking whatever action we can.
I would say that in having to face what he saw as an intolerable event that should not be happening, the younger man felt himself to be the victim of a terrible injustice. This emotion would have stopped his ability to think clearly and function as an effective member of the fighting force.
We frustrate ourselves when we assume that we should be spared any experience of things going badly wrong. Join the army and you must accept you risk your life in combat. To not accept this is a case of expecting reality to conform to one’s wishes.
Better to prepare for the worst whilst hoping for the best. In that way we retain the energy for fighting for success whilst avoiding the frustration associated with an unreasonable expectation.
Selfish attitude and frustration
Spiritual philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg describes a social sphere of selfish individuals who want to thwart the plans, hopes and ambitions of each other present there. So after a while nobody ever gets what they want – whether it be pleasure, status, power. All want to prevent others getting their own way. Anyone’s desire to be top dog is foiled. As long as the people present insist they deserve to have what they want, they will be continually frustrated.
He contrasts this dreadful scenario with a happy picture of peace and harmony. It may sound idealistic but it is not too difficult to imagine a community scene where people want what is good for others rather than striving to get what they want for themselves. In other words we can learn better patience for getting what we ourselves need if we are more mindful of the needs of others. A sense of frustration can only come about when I unreasonably expect to have what I want for me.
Divine Providence and frustration
I have a trust in an infinite love behind life that is providing for my deeper needs. This belief helps me to try to see the larger picture when things are going wrong. It helps me to think that if something is not going smoothly this may be a blessing in disguise. To go with the flow without kicking against the bricks.
You may also be interested in this possibility of a hidden Providence providing for our deeper happiness. One that tries to compensate for what is bad. In other words within the set-backs, hardships and sufferings of life which we all endure to some extent or other, something good is operating to help us learn to live in a more deeply happy way. In other words Providence works within the facts of life to teach us a better way. Without experiencing frustration how else could we learn patience?
I would say that trusting in Providence gives a deep attitude of contentment with the underlying basis of life. This trusting attitude prevents frustration that would otherwise arise if we unrealistically were to expect everything to go perfectly smoothly and if we were to indignantly dwell on the frustrated desires of ego.
‘Copyright 2017 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems