Frustration: Meaning And Reactions To Frustration

Table Of Contents

  • Meaning Of Frustration
  • Reactions To Frustration

Meaning Of Frustration

Frustration is emotional reaction to failure or obstacle toward a goal. Thus, frustration occurs when there is a blocking of or interference with goal-directed activity or the absence of reward being expected; i.e. disappointment in the face of expected reward.

A wide range of obstacles and disappointments, both environmental and internally inherent ones, abound in our ways of social interaction and adjustment to life situations. Socio-cultural handicaps, group prejudice and discrimination, inflation, death of loved ones, war and irresponsible and insensitive government, are common sources of frustration stemming from the environment. Physiological (Physical and Mental) handicaps, lack of or inadequacy of needed competencies and lack of self-discipline and self-control, are sources of frustration that can be traced to the individual’s personal limitations.

According to James D. Page (1984), ‘competition’ in the face of inequality in terms of heredity, family backgrounds, intelligence, physical and social charm, are insurmountable conditions, which can lead to frustration. Besides, too high goals, in which case individuals place their ambitions beyond their physical and mental abilities, are obvious sources of frustration. Page also mentions “social obstacles” in form of societal norms, values and such other moral and social codes, constitute sources of frustration because they create obstacle in pursuance of our manifold desires. However, the latter may only serve as a check to the raw nature of man and not necessarily a source of frustration in as much as it is fair and just to all.

Reactions To Frustration

As we have seen from the preceding discussions, frustrations create uncomfortable emotional tensions that operate as insistent drives, therefore motivating the individual to engage in various tension-reducing activities. The variety of reactions to frustrations is practically unlimited and this varies from individual to individual. The reactions may range from the constructive direct approaches of normal individuals to the mental symptoms of the psychotic patients.

1. Direct Approaches

The very first step in direct approach aimed at finding solution to frustration is identifying the source of frustration. It is after identifying the problem, which has brought about the frustration, that one can effectively apply certain measures to find an end to it.

According to James C. Page, the two principal direct methods of overcoming obstacles are through:

1. Increased effort and
2. Variation or change in manner of action
3. Another direct method when the above two approached fail is changing the goal to a more attainable one in accordance with the person’s capacity and means available to him.

However, this still depends on the source or type of frustration. But taking for instance, a premedical student doing unsatisfactory work in his course, and is feeling frustrated about his performance. His first approach will be to know what had gone wrong. The next wisely step is to devot more time in his studies for improvement. If this does not pay off, he may decide to change all his study plans and habits, employing a private teacher, or selecting easier courses. If all these fail him, he wil come to know that he does not possess the required intelligence level to become a professional medical doctor. He would rather transfer to some other field more in keeping with his ability.

2. Feelings Of Inferiority

When increased effort and variation in action fail and substitute goals are either unacceptable or unavailable, individuals often react by developing feelings of helplessness and inadequacy. This emotionally distressing state of mind, known as inferiority complex, is more prevalent among individuals who attribute their failure and frustrations to personal inadequacies and weakness.

An inferiority complex is a form of self-criticism usually involving fear of social disapproval. Some of the common characteristics of people who adopt this approach of reaction to frustration include: extreme sensitiveness to criticism, suspiciousness, envy, expensive response to flattery, fear of competitions, tendency to disparage others, accentuated self-consciousness, proneness to worry and excessive self analysis.

Feelings of inferiority bear no direct relationship to actual ability. As a matter of fact, inferiority complexes are much more common among persons of high than low ability. In general, the degree of inferiority feelings experienced by an individual is determined by the amount of discrepancy between his ambitions or goals and his actual achievement. Persons with simple goals that are easily attained are rarely troubled by inferiority. Most of the time, the feeling of inferiority becomes a challenge to some people which makes them have some surprising leap in life to a great height; particularly when the inferiority feeling is the outcome of prejudice and discrimination.

3. Aggressive Behaviour

Many individuals vigorously attack or develop hostile attitudes toward the source of their frustration, instead of adjusting passively to obstacles by developing deficit attitude. We are always vindictive or dislike people who humiliate or prevent us from attaining our goals. Aggressive behaviour is most common when some external obstacle causes frustration, but frustration due to personal faults may also evoke this reaction.

The aggression may even be directed against some other person or object and the intensity of the aggression varies with the amount of frustration. For instance, in the case of children, when their motive is obstructed by their parents, they frequently turn upon their parents, and either express their hatred outright or indirectly punish them by engaging in some destructive, defiant or annoying behaviour.

Sometimes, too, this aggression is directed toward oneself. Many individuals kick themselves when certain motives are not realized. Mental depression, sukiness, feelings of guilt and suicide, are essentially aggressive behaviours toward self.

In fact, prejudiced people always employ the aggressive approach and inferiority complex in dealing with the group that prejudice against them.

4. Mental Mechanism

Under such circumstances when positive and good solutions to conflicts frustrations and inferiority attitudes are not available, most individuals seek partial relief through unconscious recourse to mental mechanisms, some of which may have some protective, alleviating or escape value.

5. Mental Symptoms

The symptoms of the neurotic and the psychotic usually serve almost the same general purposes as those served by mental mechanisms of the normal individuals; that means they help the mentally ill to adjust or cope with their inner conflicts and to the demands of their external environment. Through loss of memory, the neurotic escapes from distressing life situations. Similarly, the Psychiatric individual indirectly satisfies his frustrated ambitions by developing delusions of grandeur, and protects himself against harsh realities by withdrawing into his own private world feeling satisfied and unbothered.

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