What Can Our Frustration Tell Us About Our World?

Frustration can be a very challenging emotion for many of us. Chances are, it’s a feeling that you’re all too familiar with (because you are human).  It’s been a part of our emotional repertoire since the moment we were born: we enter the world kicking and screaming and seeking something even close to the comfort we grew so accustomed to in the womb. For many people, this is the essence of frustration… to have a want, need, or longing for something that cannot be attained in that very moment. A lot of people seek counseling in order to address their experiences of frustration. They might feel like they have a low threshold for getting frustrated, or they may not like some of the things they do when they feel that way.

In this post I want to outline the practical reasons we experience frustration, and some strategies for keeping it under control.

-Why We Feel Frustration

As far as our range of emotions is concerned, frustration generally does not feel all that great, since it is inherently tense and unsettling. We experience feelings for very important and specific reasons. Emotions tell us about the world around us, and vary depending on the meaning we attribute to different experiences we have. Frustration is no exception to this.  Although it may not feel comfortable in the way more pleasurable feelings do, it alerts us to the reality that things are not how we would like them to be. It can point us in the direction of what is important in our lives. Frustration points to important things that need our attention, but which also require some effort to change.

-What Determines Your Level Of Frustration?

The bigger the meaning, the bigger the feeling. The more we care about the object of our frustration, the more frustrated we’re likely to feel. For example, we might feel only slightly annoyed if we misplaced something of little significance and couldn’t track it down. We are likely to feel far more frustrated if we misplaced our car keys and couldn’t find them anywhere, increasing if we need to be leaving the house in a couple minutes to get to work on time. The intensity of that frustration would reflect the level of importance to each person to be able to get to work on time. Again, frustration points to a longing for an outcome that just isn’t happening.

That last example also illustrates another factor that can have a whole lot to do with how you experience frustration: how urgent something feels.

-Is Frustration a Problem?

Something only becomes a problem when it interferes in our lives intrusively or stops us from achieving something that we want to achieve, so it is based on the individual. The feeling of frustration, although uncomfortable and stressful, it is often totally understandable when looked at in context.  Frustration, as with any emotion is the price of admission we pay for being human and living rich and meaningful lives. What we choose to do with our frustration (externalizing and taking it out on others, internalizing with negative self-talk) is often the determining factor in how much frustration poses a barrier to our lives (interpersonally or intrapersonally).

-Problematic Feelings or Problematic Actions?

Some emotions have a bad reputation because of how people behave when they’re feeling certain ways.  Anger is a good example... it’s very common for us to think that it’s bad to feel angry because we associate it with violence and other problematic kinds of behavior. This leads to classifying emotions as bad or good, positive or negative… then leading us to want to resist any kind of discomfort and emotion that brings it on. Frustration is not exempt from that list of blacklisted emotions. Some people do and say unkind things, which only adds to the negative reputation frustration carries. Contrary to popular belief, I think that all emotions can be helpful.  While it may not feel great to be frustrated, the emotional experience of frustration can tell us a whole lot about ourselves in relation to the world around us. In particular, the context in which we experience frustration can tell us:

  • What kinds of situations we feel challenged in

  • What really matters to us

  • Different aspects of our lives that may or may not be working for us

Not unlike other emotions, frustration can say a whole lot about our position on things in our lives.  From my perspective, this makes it a helpful thing to pay attention to, just like the sensations we experience when we’re hungry or thirsty. The dark side of frustration hinges on how people respond when they feel that way. In my therapy practice, people share stories of punching walls, destroying property, throwing and breaking things, putting others down and being aggressive, and even hitting other people. These are the kinds of actions that people take issue with when they say they have a problem with frustration.

-Responding to Frustration in Preferable Ways

In my practice, many of the people I’ve seen turn things around when it comes to their expression of frustration have had a few things in common when they first set out to make that change:

  1. They wanted to avoid behaving in those ways. This may seem obvious, yet not all of us recognize the impact of our actions on others.

  2. They realized they’ve been “bottling up” their frustration and not expressing it closer to when they first felt it.

  3. They believed that the fact that they sometimes felt frustrated was evidence of a serious character flaw. Often taught from their upbringing, being told that they are a problem or something is ‘wrong’ with them for feeling (frustration or any emotion).

They generally saw a meaningful improvement when:

  1. They realized there are alternatives to the responses they have used to achieve short term relief from frustration.

  2. They express themselves more calmly and closer to the time they first felt frustrated.

  3. They accept that frustration is an understandable response in the contexts they experience it, and they can accept frustration as a part of being human (as are all emotions).

As with any change away from a repetitive (and reinforced) behavior, it requires accountability and intentional effort from the person striving to do things differently when they feel frustrated.  However, acceptance of the emotion and commitment to respond in preferable ways allows the change to be made (we become more powerful than the automatic program we have grown into).


Frustration can tell us when there are factors in our life to be concerned about, which puts you in a better position to address those things. If left unaddressed, some people find their sense of frustration to grow and become increasingly distressing. This is partially why frustration has developed a bad reputation, along with the fact that some people take up problematic behaviors when they feel frustrated. By acknowledging frustration as valid and expressing it in more preferred ways, it can really become a spotlight directed on those aspects of ourselves and our lives that are important to us.

What are some preferable ways you express frustration?

When has it been helpful to recognize the source of your frustration?

If you, or someone you know, is struggling with frustration and want help in working through the process described above, consider contacting me at (717) 288-5064 / and schedule an appointment today.

Depression: Why We Struggle to Trust Moments Of Happiness


When we have depression, especially when we’ve had depression for a long time, it can be hard to trust any improvements in our mood.  Over a period of long term depression, happiness can essentially become unfamiliar to us, which leads to it feeling scary and unpredictable. We might not know how to cope with it, which is ironic because we long for it so much. I’ve put together some of the reasons that happiness can be hard to trust and some ideas for managing these feelings.

1) There is Comfort in the Familiar

As awful as depression can be, it can be comforting in some ways, because it’s familiar. Depression is a known and can feel almost predictable at times. As odd as it sounds, beginning to feel a sense happiness or lessening of the heaviness of depression can be unsettling, unfamiliar and overwhelming. It’s absolutely okay to feel scared and want to retreat back into depression… change is scary.

2) It Can Feel Like a Balancing Act

Feeling happiness can feel like balancing on a tightrope. When we have depression, we might become hypersensitive to any change in our mood, just waiting for things to go wrong again. This can lead to a self fulfilling prophecy occurring (when our own expectations lead to changes in behavior, bringing about the expectation). Recovery isn’t a linear process and we will have good and bad days. We might find that our bad days can feel a little more tricky than those of people without depression and fear can set in quickly when we experience an all too familiar state of mind.

It’s important to remember that it is okay if we’ve been getting better for a while and suddenly our recovery halts, or we begin to feel worse again. Keeping a sound foundation of self-care strategies and applying skills through both ups and downs is key to finding stability. Tracking moods can be helpful and there are many free phone apps that make this easier to do. It can be effective in allowing us to recognize when our mood is actually improving and may help in being able to trust the improved mood.

3) We Might Not Know Who We Are Without the Depression

Depression can creep into every part of our lives and it can begin to feel like it is almost part of our identity. Emerging from depression and beginning to feel happiness again can be confusing as we almost have to rediscover ourselves again.

4) We Want to Do Everything All at Once

We are tempted into doing lots of things the minute we begin to feel better because of the increase in energy or hopefulness. We doubt it will stay, so we may try to make the most of the improved mood while we have it. If we run head first into everything too quickly, it could become overwhelming and we could run out of steam very quickly, cueing a change in mood based on the belief that depression is ‘back’ when physical lethargy may be what we are experiencing. It can be healthier to spread the activities out and plan in some important down time.

5) It Can Be Hard to Plan

Once we feel a little better and can begin look towards the future again with hope, we are often unable to trust our mood enough plan things in the future. We might want to move forward with our career or relationships, but we don’t know whether our mood will dip again. Out of fear, we may choose to ‘wait and see’ leaving us consistently in a holding pattern, which can lead to depressed mood returning. It can be helpful to take some time to consider the things we’d like to achieve and the steps involved in getting us there, bringing in the support of those in our support system to plan contingencies if depressed mood returns.

6) The Support We Have Might Change

When we are depressed for a long period of time, we may get support from a variety of people. We might worry that once we begin to recover and feel happiness again, we could lose some our support. It can sometimes feel as though others see our mood improve before we do, and remove the support too quickly. At other times, we might be okay, but worry that if we begin to feel worse again the support we need might not be there any more.

7) We Might Not Feel We Deserve Happiness

Depression can rob us of our self-worth. It tells us that we don’t deserve to good things including happiness. Depression is lying to us...we absolutely deserve to feel the whole range of emotions. It’s our experiences in life and the ways we interpret them that lead to the belief that we are different from everyone else, but it can be important to remember we are simply fallible human beings deserving of all that life has to offer to us.

If you are struggling with depression (or you know someone that is and can benefit from the help of a professional), feel free to contact me at (717) 288-5064 / and schedule an appointment today.

Is Change in Your Life Bringing Up Anxiety in You?

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We choose to quit jobs, get married, move to a new home, adopt a pet, but, of course, there are many life events we don’t choose—being laid off at a job, flooding, disease, an accidental pregnancy, or the death of a loved one. Yet we can still choose how we deal with and react to these occurrences in our lives.

During very tough times, our emotions run the gamut: denial, anger, rage, despair, numbness, isolation, desperation. In order to heal, we must feel. But we have a say in what we do with our feelings. There are no right or wrong reactions, only what serves us and what doesn’t.

It may feel helpful for you to be angry and express your rage; it may feel helpful to be alone for some time. What is crucial when moving through a crisis is maintaining your self-awareness.

Check in with yourself daily, possibly through meditation or journaling, and ask yourself:

“Where am I today? Is this helping me?” This act alone can bring about anxiety as it causes use to sit with emotions that we do our best to avoid, because they cause discomfort, but again, growth comes from moving through discomfort.

I think one of the best examples of how discomfort allows for growth and strength comes from an experiment run in the early 1990’s that was called Biosphere 2 (not to be confused with the Pauly Shore movie “Bio-Dome”!!) in which there was an attempt to determine if a closed ecological system could support and maintain human life in outer space. Researchers couldn’t determine why the trees that were growing in the system were limp and laying over on their sides… eventually, they figured out that, because there was no wind in the sphere, the trees remained limber and limp, because they did not have to resist pressure and adversity, which leads to them growing strong in our environment. Adversity leads to strength.  

Whether we like the situation or not doesn’t really matter—life-altering events will change us, in one way or another. Instead of tuning out to avoid the pain, dealing with and even embracing misfortune and its consequences gives us an active role in guiding our own change and growth.

Transitions from misfortune to growth can be alternately exhilarating and difficult, but it  will bring beautiful changes into our lives.

What change are you dealing with now, and how are you responding to it?

Post a comment (click on the blog title to enter a comment): How have you grown from a difficult experience? What was your biggest lesson?

Your challenge: Consider a difficult period in your life. List the ways you grew as a person or how people came together to help you. Can you feel some gratitude for that difficult experience for making you a stronger person today?

Navigating through change can be daunting and sometimes seem impossible. If you’re struggling to move through the anxiety of change, consider talking to someone.

For anxiety counseling, please contact me at (717) 288-5064 / and take the opportunity to make change a lot more comfortable!!