Why Mislabeling Frustration is Probably Slowing You Down

Helicopter Up, Frustration, Counseling, Emotional Health, Therapy

Frustration is like anger’s more socially acceptable cousin.

You don’t want to be a jerk so you say “I’m not mad, I’m frustrated”.

I like that you are trying to be nice.  That’s sweet.

But it’s really not helping you.

By labeling your anger “frustration”, you are missing out on the true message your emotions are trying to send.  In essence,  you are getting bad directions.  And that just takes longer.  I really don’t want unpleasant things to take longer.  I bet you feel the same.

This post is #9 in a series of 10: Ten Basic Emotions and their Messages.

[subscribe and make sure you don’t miss #10!]

Before we start, let’s quickly set the stage.

The human emotional system is built as a messaging system.

Each emotion has a general message it wants to convey.  Once that message is delivered (meaning you accept it that it is present and that its presence is OK) the wave of that emotion can be processed.

Sometimes there are multiple waves of the emotion. Sometimes it takes a little time for the emotion to process through the body, sometimes it is relieved right away.  It just depends.

It’s important to remember that there are nuances to the system. Each emotion also has a spectrum of how helpful it can be.

What is the message frustration wants to bring forward?

Frustration wants to let you know that something is blocking your way and you need to “helicopter up” to see the obstacle so you can remove it or find an alternate route.

We all want to get where we are going.  That’s why traffic sucks.

Frustration shows up like a Waze notification to tell you there is an incident ahead and wants to help you find a way around it so you can get to your destination without too much delay.  Except, you probably get caught up with complaining or getting mad about the obstacle instead of trying to figure out what it is.  I know I do.

What if you could use frustration to your advantage?  As it was meant to be used?

If you say you are frustrated, not angry, then you’re getting bogus directions from your internal GPS.

Remember, anger is telling you that a boundary of yours has been crossed.  Or, at least, you think it has.

Anger means you need to address the boundary crossing.  Frustration means you need to back up and find your way around or find a way to remove what is getting in the way.

Yes, anger and frustration can feel similar.  They can even happen simultaneously.  But they have different kinds of guidance.

How can you tell the difference between anger and frustration?

Both of them usually reside in the arms, hands, upper back, shoulders and jaw.  They both give you energy to address the problem.

However, frustration usually happens when you are trying to make progress toward a goal (which can involve a person in an interaction, but it can also be about a situation or thing–like traffic or technology).  Anger usually happens in relationship to others (or yourself).

Let’s look at an example:

You are discussing a problem with your partner.  You notice that you are having a hard time understanding each other so it is taking a while to solve the problem.  Frustration or anger?

During the discussion, your partner says “are you an idiot?” Frustration or anger?

If you are frustrated, you might get that signal in your body and pause the conversation for a second (or longer).  Usually this is easier if the frustration is not super high, obviously, and you are trying to practice being mindful.  You might helicopter up (get a birds eye view) and say, “I’m getting frustrated, I think we are missing each other here.  Can you tell me in a different way?”

If you or your partner are angry, you want to stop the conversation and let your partner know that is not OK to address you that way.  You probably both need a minute (or longer) to cool down and reset before you try again.

One requires looking for and figuring how to deal with an obstacle, the other is about holding a boundary or protecting yourself, if needed.

Try out this short cut and tell me your wins.  We all want to hear your wins!

It will make you look mature and smart and just awesome to be around. People will like you 😉

1 Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *