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14th Jan


Mixing Up How We Feel: Is it Anger or Frustration?

I have found many times in the scope of my practice – both in the school setting, as well as in the clinical setting that anger and frustration are used interchangeably.  I am quite fascinated to consider whether anger and frustration are the same, can be the same or quite different?

Let’s define our terms, for starters.  What is frustration?  Frustration is the feeling is often due to disappointment when an effort or observation does not work out as expected or anticipated.  When this occurs we can feel disheartened and annoyed that our time, efforts or feelings have been wasted.[1]  In other words, frustration is a natural reflex when you’re unable to fulfill a need.[2]  What is anger?  Anger is the feeling due to a perceived wrong towards oneself or an offense committed.  It’s an instinctive reaction to being hurt or threatened.  Seemingly the definitions are quite different; ergo the responses should also be different.

From the outset, it appears that anger invokes one set of proper responses, as opposed to frustration, which invokes a different set of responses.  For example, I had a client, who with his wife was seeing me for couples counseling.  The husband came home from Shachris (Orthodox Jews pray three times a day, this is the morning prayer) and found his wife getting ready to leave in a very gingerly, pedestrian kind of way.  He had been getting into trouble at work for not coming in on time.  (In previous sessions, we had devised ways for him and his wife to ensure that he gets to work on time.)  The strategy that was devised had worked for a few weeks already, so there was evidence that this element of their relationship was improving.  He comes home expecting to see one site – a sense of urgency on his wife’s end to make last minute preparations for the day and he didn’t see it.  So, how did he react?  He blew up at his wife.

Let’s take a step back.  Wife stated that everything was in order, so no need for urgency.  He demonstrated anger towards her, but totally miscalculated the situation.  At the very least, even if wife was doing something wrong, the response should have been frustration – they worked on solving a problem and the ‘wheels are falling off.’  (The rest of the story is not relevant, as he shouldn’t have even been frustrated since he should’ve asked his wife why there is no sense of urgency.  To which, he would get the accurate response that he got in my office.)  Yet, he responded with anger.

So, how can we help ourselves?  As with most other emotions, when we label our emotions, we automatically become more self-aware.  Once we’ve achieved this awareness, it will almost automatically cause us to have the natural response to the emotion – whichever it may be – anger or frustration.  But labeling our emotions alone will not bring great relief.  Verbalizing the label either to oneself or to others will increase the chance of relief.  This is most probably because if it is verbalized to another, that person is now positioned to move into “solution mode” – helping the person get out of the funk.  Even verbalizing it to oneself brings the emotion from the subconscious to the conscious.  These are processes that we don’t even realize, but once we become aware of it, it becomes an extremely powerful.  It’s a two step process – consciously labeling our emotion and communicating it verbally.  Additionally, when one knows that it is frustration that he/she is feeling, he no longer needs to direct it towards a person.  No person is causing the uncomfortable feeling, the situation is.  Whereas anger is directed towards someone, so when problem-solving, it needs to be directed towards that person in a socially accepted way.  Try it – let me know how it goes.

[1] http://www.angermanagementexpert.co.uk/frustration-anger-same-thing.html

[2] http://sfhelp.org/relate/anger_pol.htm

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