Low Frustration Tolerance: Why Our Ability to Withstand Frustration is Telling

Managing anxiety, cultivating patience, and developing the ability to tolerate frustration are pivotal to mental and emotional health. Yet we see ourselves living in an increasingly impatient society with anxiety running rampant amongst people of all ages. As a counselor, I frequently see a low frustration tolerance present in clients. People with a low frustration tolerance struggle to tolerate unpleasant feelings and stressful situations. Unfortunately, if you struggle with a low frustration tolerance it will lessen your ability to effectively manage your life and relationships. Whether you suffer from an anxiety disorder, social phobia, or panic disorder, many times it is important to work on being mindful and slowing down. People with anxiety are especially apt to struggle with patience, uncertainty, tolerating discomfort, and negative emotions. Developing a high frustration tolerance means not going from 0-60 in a situation. It means learning it is best to respond, not react.  People with a low frustration tolerance struggle with managing the daily frustrations we all will inevitably experience in life. Frustration tolerance is the ability to overcome obstacles and withstand stressful events. Thus a low frustration tolerance is often a result of when a person feels what they want to see happen is being delayed or thwarted. This can be an external circumstance (experiencing a rainstorm during your beach vacation) or another person (your boss who keeps passing you over for a promotion). The resulting feeling is dissatisfaction from unmet needs or unresolved conflicts. Often our ability to tolerate frustration reflects our maturity. Personally, I expect to encounter some frustrations in day to day living (traffic, rude people, waiting on hold trying to get a customer service rep on the line, being told things I don’t want to hear, waiting for a table at a restaurant, etc.). I find many people struggle to accept these as just realities of modern life. None of us are immune to unpleasant experiences. cbt-vbk-12-638 In order to feel less aroused by stress, you must accept that problems are a part of life.  None of us are exempt from facing challenges and difficulties. Accepting this truth allows you to let go of the notion that something must be wrong if you’re feeling unhappy. Our feelings are fluid and fleeting. Just as we will feel positive emotions, negative emotions are inevitable. Sometimes the only way to get to the other side of negative feelings is to ride out the uncomfortable emotions. Frustration tolerance is a cultivated skill. We often encourage our children to develop grit and patience. Most children start out with a low frustration tolerance.  During the developmental and learning  process, they acquire the ability to face situations where they don’t always get what they want, whether it’s wanting to play with another child who does not want to be their friend, wanting cookies at the grocery store but their mother says no, or whether their ice cream has fallen and their parent doesn’t want to buy them another. However, as adults, many times we ourselves do not exhibit such patience and the ability to tolerate frustration. Some people struggle with accepting their desires will not always be met. They may be unable to take the wishes and desires of others into account. These people struggle to deal with uncontrollable setbacks. a1 We see people with a low frustration tolerance react with anger, rage or excessive melancholy, in situations that most people can solve internally and move on from. The ability to tolerate frustration is an important part of psychological well-being. If you find you are struggle with a low frustration tolerance, it may be beneficial to seek out counseling. frustration If you are struggling with frustration in your life and would like to schedule a counseling session with me (AND if you are a reader who lives in New Jersey): https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapists/erin-doyle-theodorou-nutley-nj/243617 Erin Doyle Theodorou, M.Ed, LPC, NCC

Theodorou therapy, LLC

590 Franklin Ave. Suite 2 Nutley, NJ 07110 973-963-7485

It’s NOT Me, It’s YOU: The M.O. of People Who Project

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Have you ever found yourself in a conflict with someone who puts their negative qualities on you? A person who describes you in the way that they themselves ARE? Have you ever asked someone to stop projecting their feelings onto you?

Or maybe you heard someone talk about someone they dislike; listing all the traits and qualities this person has that they cannot STAND. And you found yourself thinking hmmmm sounds a lot like you are describing YOURSELF. It is funny to me how often people cannot stand qualities in another person that they in fact possess.

Psychological projection is a common defense mechanism where people distort reality for their OWN benefit. Like a lot of aspects of human behavior, projection comes down to self-defense.

The truth is the problem is sometimes you, it is not ALWAYS someone else. For some of us this is just a given. We are all human, we are all flawed, we all make mistakes. I know sometimes I can be the issue or cause of a conflict I have with another. Yet some people can NEVER see themselves as the problem because this would be to threatening to their sense of self. A person who never developed a strong sense of self struggles with vulnerability which includes being able to admit to faults and mistakes.

I have found our coping strategies reflect our emotional maturity. Projection is an immature defense because it distorts or ignores reality in order for us to function and preserve our ego. It’s reactive, without forethought, and is defense children use.

Yet most of us would be hard pressed to think of people we know who don’t blame and project. Most “venting” includes a fair amount of blaming and projecting. We seem to be a society of complainers. There is nothing more American than complaining and blaming! Many people appear to do this habitually. Everyone does it from time to time. Rather than admit to a flaw, we find a way to address it in a situation where it is free from personal connotations.

Projection is part of our daily interactions. A common example is a person who gossips who accuses other people of gossiping. Or says things like well EVERYONE gossips. Instead of acknowledging their own character flaw, they transfer, or project, this behavior onto other people. The truth is everyone does not gossip.

The fact remains people tend to feel more comfortable seeing negative qualities in others rather than in themselves. Projection is a common defense mechanism used by people with personality disorders, addicts, and abusers. But all of us are guilty of it from time to time. Many of us get defensive when we are criticized. We all want to be self-aware, but some of us struggle to remain self-composed when we feel vulnerable. Projection is one way we may inadvertently react when we feel threatened by criticism.  Psychological projection is a defense mechanism people subconsciously employ in order to cope with difficult feelings or emotion.

For instance, you might tell yourself, “She doesn’t like me,” when actually you don’t like her. We might accuse someone of being angry and judgmental, being completely unaware that in fact we are. I have often found that in conflict, as in life generally, people so easily project their own shortfalls onto the other side. You effectively trick yourself into believing that these undesirable qualities actually belong elsewhere – anywhere but as a part of you.

Similar to projection is the defense mechanism of externalization, in which we blame others for our problems rather than taking responsibility for our part in causing them. It makes a person feel like they are a victim instead of looking at their role in creating the problem.

Take a moment and ask yourself: how does your world look to you? Is it hostile and anxiety producing? Filled with people who complicate your life and make it harder? Does it leave you with a sense that something’s missing? Or is it friendly and welcoming? Do you see the world as filled with opportunities for happiness and joy?

Your answers have nothing to do with the world.

Our worlds are a projection of our inner state. That’s right. As Wayne Dyer famously said, “The state of your life is nothing more than a reflection of your state of mind.” There is no objective reality which is why our perspectives and personalities are so vastly different. Take two people with two different histories and two different perspectives. They’ll see the exact same situation in two completely different ways.

If you find you are struggling with the state of your life or find yourself struggle with projection, counseling can be a great avenue to pursue. Understanding human conflict requires us to understand human psychology. And it is only when we understand the psychology that drives conflict that we can take intelligent steps to address it.

If you are unsure if this is an issue for you a good place to start is to examine the negative relationships in your life. Who don’t you get along with at work or in your family? Do you feel as though someone is out to get you? Try to determine where the animosity began. The truth is it is okay not to like everyone we meet. That isn’t realistic. It also isn’t realistic to expect to live a life free of conflict. Becoming more self-aware of how and when you are projecting can help you have less conflict in your life and better relationships. In some cases, you may find that speaking with a therapist will help you examine these relationships more honestly and openly than you are able to do by yourself.

To schedule a counseling session with me (AND if you are a reader who lives in New Jersey):

Erin Doyle Theodorou, M.Ed, LPC, NCC

Theodorou Therapy LLC

590 Franklin Ave., Suite 2, Nutley, NJ 07110

(973)963-7485

etheodorou@theodoroutherapy.com

How to Become Less Reactive: A Family Systems View

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The best way to not BE alone is to stand alone.

What do I mean? So many clients come to me and have experienced dysfunction in their childhood and felt lonely all their life. They haven’t had a chance or an opportunity to learn much about self-differentiation. In fact, they learned enmeshment, worried states, anxiety, trauma. Thus, being able to stand alone, which is so important for self-differentiation and relationships, is a must. It becomes a treatment goal.

Many people come into a counseling session and say, “I don’t want to focus on my past I just want to move forward.” 

From my perspective as a clinician, it is VERY difficult to move forward with one or two hands tied behind your back. I think a lot of folks who try to put their past out of their thinking or state it is of no value or no importance to be bothered with are actually trying to grow and chance it with one handed tied behind their back (or for some people with BOTH hands tied behind their back).

Clients may respond, “But isn’t that just in the past? How is that affecting me now?”  Maybe you don’t live with your family of origin now or may only see them but once or twice a year. Perhaps you have own children and are focused on the family you have created. Or maybe your parents are dead so in your mind, no need to bring up things from one’s childhood. Maybe you don’t believe in blaming your parents for what your current troubles are so you don’t even want to talk about them.  Or perhaps you believe you came from a wonderful family, so why bother looking at the past. The reasons go on and on for why clients do not feel the need to discuss the past.

So why is the past important? Because it IS the present. It is STILL in US. In a way we have a lifelong dialogue with our family of origin in us. If you don’t believe that, you don’t have to. Yet most people I know are prisoners to their past or rebelling AGAINST their past.

They have not found a way to neutalize or detach from their past. Neither being a prisoner to one’s past or rebelling from it is FREEDOM. 

I believe learning from and healing from our past is a way to navigate knowing yourself and how to interact with others.  Working through your past is how you become free from the emotional traps that are playing out in your present life. I have seen it happen time and time again. I believe dealing with the past is the way to REAL change. It leads to self-differentiation, something most of us don’t have enough of, which causes most of our problems in life.

The past IS present and IN you. Most people try to move away from their past, yet the best way is to move THROUGH the past and BEYOND it.

Many people grow up and develop an addiction to love and approval. Whenever we have an addiction to something, we never can achieve it or have it. We are always just searching for it.

Remember, loneliness is a result or symptom of unresolved issues from childhood. I try to show clients that the solution is often NOT near the problem. So, when people try to solve the problem of loneliness, they often get stuck onto other relationships that end up falling apart leading them to feel abandon, left, and with the scars of broken relationships. Thus what they seek after doesn’t happen.

Many of us fear being lonely and abandoned. Often those of us fear being alone, already experience it. Our fear pushes us into unhealthy relationships where what we fear comes upon us.

It is often our own insecurity that causes our relationships to fail. We are enmeshed, we are reactive.  We must resolve and deal with our fears to be healthier and have healthier relationships. This is a pivotal part of self-differentiation.

Standing alone with one’s self and giving up on one’s neediness for approval will result in true intimacy, true connectedness, and lifelong relationships. Self-differentiation is the key to connectedness.

The paradox of love and approval is if you need it you will not get it.  If you let it go, it will come to you. If you really want it then don’t need it. It needs to become internalized to us.

Remember, standing alone is NOT the same thing as BEING ALONE.  I believe the best way to be alone is to not stand alone. Self-abandonment is the root of all adult abandonment issues.  We were abandoned when we were young and then we continue that abandonment and we continue that abandonment of ourselves–we then look for someone to fix that abandonment when that fix is inside us.

When we learn connectedness with ourselves, we can then in turn connect with others.

You must be a self to have healthy relationships. You must be able to stand alone to be with others.  You need to be okay with yourself.

The goal in developing healthy relationships is to learn how to stop being so reactive. Our reactivity is what causes us to enmesh with those unhealthy people. Learn how to use your reactivity to learn new things about yourself and the relationship. Your reactivity can tell you a lot about how to proceed, what to do, and what to do with yourself. When I’m being reactive, I know it is not healthy and I am being immature. There is something deficient in me that causes this reactivity and I want to learn something about that.

How does one become less reactive and more self-differentiated?

To clarify, reactivity, as it relates to family systems theory, is when the emotional field of the relationship system “pings” one another and we become reactive as a result of it.

It is our deep emotional system that we often inherit from family of origin. It is often deep inside us.

Often it is subconscious and can be traced back to the pinging that went on within our family of origin. Now we can then in turn have conscious feelings that come as a result of being “pinged” but often how we act in relationships is automatic, subconscious, and reactive ways.

Therefore, it is important to explore this and work on becoming less reactive. Rather than dealing with feelings, which are important, we must focus on the primitive part of our emotional field that formed during our early years. It is here that our reactivity should be dealt with and resolved. If we want to have healthy relationships, we must do the work of working on our self and self-differentiation. We need to look at the underlying emotional field.

This emotional field is always working within us and is tricky. When it is triggered, we feel feelings and often “react” as opposed to “responding.” Often in counseling, a therapist will address a client’s “presenting” feelings but not address the client’s deeper “lizard brain” part of them–which is part of this emotional field. The lizard brain is the most primitive part of our self where we process feelings and emotions. If you change that lizard brain, you change that emotional field and you will change your sense of self.  Basically, Bowen Family System theory is this view that the deep emotional part of us, the limbic part of us i.e. the lower brain, needs to get changed and it in turn we can feel more mature and less reactive.

Changing the emotional system is the way to make meaningful change as adults—emotionally, behaviorally, and in relationships. Yet oftentimes in our family of origin we have a “fixed role.”

This fixed role is the way we are expected to function and perform in our family. If we don’t comply, we are often made to feel guilt, shame, fear. If you don’t do way your family system wants, you may find your mother, father, etc. are disappointed in you and in turn they withhold their “conditional” love.  With this conditional love being withheld,  you will in subsequently feel abandon. Thus, oftentimes, we take the path of LEAST RESISTANCE—we continue to stay in these fixed roles despite it not making us happy.

Our choices often are a fight or flight response. We can come and be mad at our family. Or we can withdraw in reactivity and not come around anymore because we don’t want to confront everybody.  One is too aggressive; one is too passive. We all find ourselves falling between those two sides when we can’t deal with the emotional minefield within us or playing out in our family of origin.

What do we do to become less reactive?

1)Observe. Work on observing not absorbing. We often absorb other people and relationship systems and then our functioning remains immature and the same.  Observe the pinging rather than think “I’m JUST my feelings and you are JUST your feelings.”

2)Listen more. Listen to you, listen to others. Resist absorbing the other person and their feelings, take a think more and feel less focus, identify and break the family of origin beliefs/values/rules AND roles. We challenge those innately when we become self-differentiated. Our authentic self may go along with our family of origin’s values, rules, roles, etc. If it doesn’t, we begin to resist it, slowly, calmly, and maturely. Over time that changes our lower brain and our functioning, and we begin to become less reactive.

3)Focus on deep change and the hard work of changing your INSTINCTIVE brain to raise your level of self-differentiation. Change your emotional functioning position in your family of origin. Bowen always talked about our family of origin imprinting on us the most–that deep level, that family brain. When we begin to change how we function there it will begin to change how we function in every other relationship. Increase your awareness when you are pinged and function more independently. Meaning if I am pinged, I need to resist doing what the other wants me to do and be my authentic self.

4)Act to be more of a separate self. Embrace your emotionally reactivity and embrace your patterns of distancing, over focus on others.  Remember it takes work to increase your emotional backbone and go without love and approval.

5)Deal with and resolve with your resistance to becoming a self. Oftentimes we have so many anxieties, fears about becoming our real self and we need to work on those. We need to work on those downsides of what we believe when we become a true self. If you can learn to resist the pull and push for you to remain in your allotted role in your family of origin and the powerful forces that want you to function as you always have, the system will eventually recalibrate to a higher level of functioning. This is best for everyone and will result in more authentic, healthier relationships.

If you are able to function at a higher level and be the more authentic you, many will not like that at first, including members of your family of origin. People find comfort in the familiar and may fight to keep you in the box they put you in. The key here is to allow the resistance phase and your family wanting you to change back. Eventually this will recalibrate your family and the relationship system. You will be more accepted–the newer you, the higher functioning, more authentic you.

6)Become more aware of your programing and emotional circuitry as you are connected to others—you ping them, they ping you. This holds true in all family systems. Begin to learn that system. You can then begin to make changes in it.

7)Define yourself—WHAT DO YOU WANT? WHAT DO YOU NEED? WHO ARE YOU? WHAT DO YOU PREFER? WHAT DO YOU CHOOSE? WHAT IS YOUR TRUE, AUTHENTIC SELF? That is who we want to be–it will calm our system down the more we choose to be that true, genuine self.

To become your true self requires strength of conviction, an understanding of the way family systems are organized, a sense of humor, and an ability to become more objective and strategic. 

Start small in defining yourself with others and your family of origin. Become more authentic in small ways that don’t challenge the system so much while staying confident you. You want to choose you while also not rejecting them. Watch and observe resistance in the relationship system. You will get pushback. Either ignore or say WE ARE JUST DIFFERENT or that is what I choose.

7)Become more of your true self with each person in your life. Do more self-care. Become more authentic in relationships. Work on discovering the difference in your life between fact and feeling. Many of us feel/think. We just have those feelings and it causes us to think in a certain way. We want to be able to separate what is feeling as opposed to what is thinking.  If we can separate our feeling and thinking processes, we will feel much more self-differentiated, calm, less reactive, etc.

8)Grieve the loss of love and approval. If we are addicted to love and approval, we need to grieve that because when we are being reactive, we are trying to get our “fix” of said love and approval.  Visualize being supported by you. Give to yourself what your family of origin was not able to give to you. If I am behind me, then others don’t cause all these reactions in me as much. I can stand there and be me with other people.

Self-differentiation is achieving the balance of staying connected while being yourself.

9)Think about this is–if everyone left you and you were left alone, what would you choose to do? If I didn’t need the love and acceptance of others, what would I choose to do?

10)Work at being or standing alone when interacting with others. Is it okay to be an island? Some people say nobody is an island, but I say everyone is an island! The healthy ones have bridges, walkways, and ferries that bring people in and out of your life. Every healthy man or woman is. I don’t mean a cut off island but an interconnected island.

If you find you are struggling with being reactive, consider seeking out counseling to help you better yourself and form better relationships in your life.

If you find you are struggling with reactivity in YOUR LIFE and would like to schedule a counseling session with me (AND if you are a reader who lives in New Jersey):

https://anewcounselingservices.com/erin-theodorou%2Cm-ed-%2C-lpc

Erin Doyle Theodorou, M.Ed, LPC, NCC

Anew Counseling Services LLC

617 Oradell Avenue, Suite 3, Oradell, New Jersey, 07649

(551) 795-3822

etheodorou@anewcounselingservices.com