Low Frustration Tolerance – 04 May 2010

Sameer was in a hurry to rise up the ladder. He had just graduated in engineering three years ago. He was however from a semi-rural background and always found himself falling short of his own expectations and that of others. He was sensitive about criticism which his boss was unfortunately in the habit of doing so at every opportunity. He felt miserable with his life and moreover with himself. Will he ever improve and will he ever make it big were haunting questions with which he was becoming sort of obsessed. That made him even more miserable. He did contemplate suicide once but soon gave up the thought. He would not think of that drastic a measure after what his parents had helped him achieve. He was an engineering graduate and he did have a job though not satisfying enough. That perhaps was the source of his misery he would think. Sameer was often thinking about the negatives in his life and spent more time on brooding rather than focusing on his performance at his job. His boss was getting nastier and he was now afraid of losing this job too which he desperately needed. So he came for counselling.

On analysis we found what we psychologists call ‘low frustration tolerance’. Besides the few skills that he needed to develop such as English speaking, proper presentations in front of seniors, better body language, assertive behaviour and some brushing of social skills, what he needed was to develop ‘high frustration tolerance’ with a positive mind towards long term goals. Often people with low frustration tolerance get embroiled in their own negative emotions on a daily basis and lose vision of the long term perspective. It also could be true that they have yet not developed a long term plan and have no idea of how to pursue those goals. Naturally if the goals are unstated they cannot be visualised and followed.

You will see people around you who start cribbing about small issues making mountains out of them. ‘Making mountains out of molehills’ is an old adage and is full of wisdom. They get frustrated very soon with little things and start thinking as if ‘life is terrible’. Their vocabulary is replete with words such as ‘horrible, terrible, should not be, should be, must be, must not be’, etc. Their definitions of life situations are always in the extreme and they psyche themselves into thinking in such a fashion. They do not realise that frustration is part of life and people should accept it with equanimity. They do not realise that by not accepting it and instead negatively reacting to frustration they make their lives miserable. By wanting to run away from frustration they add to their problems and in turn become emotionally stressed.

Sameer was habitually comparing himself with other colleagues and class mates who were doing better than he was doing and who were drawing better salaries than he did and felt inferior about it. He mind was always focused on money, salary and position and not on the job tasks thus affecting his performance. He does not realise that he is making a mistake by comparing himself with others. He does not realise that by himself he has done well enough for him to be happy enough. Only when he compares he falls short.

He does not realise that the road to success is long and arduous. There are no short cuts to it and there are no standard definitions of what success is. Each individual gets defined by his/her own life circumstances which may act as strengths or weaknesses which they have to face and fight. Some may have good starts in their career and some may not. But this does not mean that the late starters have no future or that they may never overtake the early starters. We may feel that some people have a smooth ride to success but it is not a fact. It is at best a hypothetical situation not reality. The road is always bumpy and jerky full of challenges and the person with high frustration tolerance has mental toughness and power of resilience to overcome frustrations. Frustration, anyway, is only a temporary phenomenon and can be mastered by poise and purpose.

Published in The Hitavada – Future Work behaviour – 04 May 2010.

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