Things must be the way I want them to be - otherwise
life will be intolerable.
We all want life to be organised according to our preferences.
This surely makes sense! What then is the problem? Unfortunately, we often
go beyond just wanting - we believe that things must be our way. This
reflects a human tendency called 'low frustration-tolerance'.
I suspect that this tendency is one of the most common,
underlying causes of distress in human beings. Paradoxically, it seems
to be the one of which people are most unconscious! A concept developed
by psychologist Albert Ellis, low frustration-tolerance (LFT) arises from
believing that frustration is unbearable and therefore must be avoided
at all costs.
What is low frustration-tolerance?
Low frustration-tolerance (LFT) is caused by catastrophising
about being frustrated and demanding that it not happen. It is based on
- The world owes me contentment and happiness.
- Things should be as I want them to be, and I cant stand
it when they are not.
- It is intolerable to be frustrated, so I must avoid it at all
- Other people should not do things that frustrate me.
LFT is closely related to low discomfort-tolerance
(LDT), which arises from catastrophising about discomfort (including the
discomfort of negative emotions), with an internal demand that it be avoided.
The two types are similar and closely related. Frustration is uncomfortable,
and discomfort is frustrating. Often one expression is used to refer to
Low frustration-tolerance arises from demands
that things be as we want, usually coupled with awfulising
and discomfort-intolerance when this does not happen.
The problem with low frustration-tolerance
Low frustration-tolerance creates distress in many ways:
- Anxiety results when people believe that they should or must get what
they want (and not get what they dont want), and that it is awful
and unbearable (rather than merely inconvenient or disadvantageous)
when things dont happen as they must.
- Short-range enjoyment, a common human tendency, is the seeking of
immediate pleasure or avoidance of pain, at the cost of long-term stress.
Examples include such things as alcohol, drug and food abuse; watching
television at the expense of exercising; practising unsafe sex; or overspending
to avoid feeling deprived.
- Addictive tendencies. Low frustration-tolerance is a key factor in
the development of addictions. To resist the impulse of the moment and
go without is too frustrating. It seems easier to give in
to the urge to misuse alcohol, take drugs, gamble, or exercise obsessively.
- Negativity and complaining. Low frustration-tolerance may cause you
to become distressed over small hindrances and setbacks, overconcerned
with unfairness, and prone to make comparisons between your own and
others circumstances. Negativity tends to alienate others, with
the loss of their support.
- Anger. LFT leads to hostile anger when someone
does something you dislike, or fails to give you what you want.
High frustration-tolerance means accepting the reality
of frustration and keeping its badness in perspective.
To accept frustration is to acknowledge that, while you
may dislike it, there is no Law of the Universe says you should
be exempt from it (though you may prefer to be). You expect to experience
appropriate negative emotions like annoyance and disappointment. But you
avoid exaggerating these emotions (by telling yourself you cant
stand them) into depression, hostile anger, hurt, or self-pity.
Changing what you tell yourself about frustration
See the list of typical frustration-intolerance thoughts
below. Alongside each is a more realistic alternative.
|It is awful and intolerable to be frustrated
from having things the way I want.
||If I tell myself that frustration is awful,
Ill only set myself up to get anxious when I think it's coming
- and bitter and twisted when it does happen.
|I cant stand it when people dont
act as they should.
||I dont like it, but I can survive
it - and survive better when I dont lose my cool over it.
|My circumstances have to be right for life
to be tolerable.
||It is disappointing when things arent
the way Id like them to be, but it is not awful and I
can stand less than the ideal.
|Because I cant stand being frustrated,
I must avoid it at all costs.
||Total avoidance would mean a very restricted
life. Though I dont like frustration, I can tolerate it.
How to raise your tolerance for frustration
- Know when you are engaging in LFT behaviour. Keep a log of such behaviour
for several weeks or longer. Watch for things like overusing drugs or
alcohol, compulsive gambling, shopping, exercising, or bingeing on food,
losing your temper.
- The technique of exposure is an important
way to increase your tolerance. Make a list of things to which you typically
overreact - situations, events, risks and so on. Commit yourself to
face at least one of these each day. Instead of trying to get away from
the frustration as you normally would, stay with the frustration until
it diminishes of its own accord. You might, for instance, go without
desserts for a while, have two beers instead of four, leave the children's
toys on the floor, or the like.
- Another useful technique is rational self-analysis.
Analyse your frustration - while you are feeling it, if possible, otherwise,
as soon as possible afterwards.
- Other techniques you may find helpful are rational
cards, the catastrophe scale,
Other helpful resources
Links within this programme
- Paul Hauck, Overcoming Frustration and Anger (The Westminster Press,
Moving from LFT to high frustration-tolerance
To raise your tolerance for frustration, change your view
of it. Here is a new belief do help you do that:
'There is no law which says that things have to be the
way I want. Its disappointing when they are not, but I can stand
it especially if I avoid awfulising about frustration and demanding
that it not happen.'