Frustration is a complex emotion. A cocktail of anger and exhaustion; a fiery sedative. When something is just not going right, someone is just not understanding the point, when you can’t quite make something work. It’s scraping past a satisfying conclusion and just missing it; stopping short of the finish line by two inches. It’s an amalgamation of uselessness and pent up energy, like a car full of gas with no wheels. It’s knowing what you want to say to someone, and feeling unable to say it.
Frustration has come to me at many times in my life. Mostly in the form of helpless uselessness, sometimes in relation to anxiety, and these emotions can often be served alongside a scoop of self-hatred and a modest helping of negative thoughts.
There was that time I spent over three weeks devoid of sleep and full of tears because of an upcoming presentation to my English class at college. The perfect stage set for social anxiety to thrive: standing in front of a high-achiving group of people that at the time felt overwhelmingly crammed with extroverts (looking back it wasn’t quite that skewed, but anxiety can drastically change perceptions like that). The evening after my presentation, I tumbled into bed utterly drained yet somehow brimming with frustration at myself. Why was I like this? Why did I let these things get to me? Why couldn’t I keep things in perspective?
Or we could talk about the moments in which I’ve tried and tried to think about my future and been completely unable to make any decisions. The nights spent brainstorming, googling, talking to my family… Pages of scribbled notes scrunched up and thrown into a pile of scattered thoughts with a frustrated groan. How is it possible to not really know myself and what I want? Why can’t I just make up my mind and have a clear goal?
Reoccurring moments of frustration in which I feel inadequate in social interactions also come to mind. For example, talking to a colleague and suddenly becoming aware of every word, pause, eye movement, and hand gesture I do; this making the whole process of conversation, so natural and unthought about by others, into a complicated collection of simultaneous actions, causing me to feel unable to continue with such a shoddy performance.
In my life, frustration has inexplicably been linked to guilt and shame. Every time I’ve ‘failed’ to socialise, or fallen short when interacting with others, or even when I’ve been successful but had to put a crazy amount of mental strain into preparation and survival, I’ve felt frustrated. Each day that I’ve felt lost with no direction, like I’m trying to find a sheet of white paper with life instructions on it pasted to the floor of a snowy tundra, I’ve felt frustrated. Frustrated because I feel inadequate, incapable, pathetic, ridiculous, abnormal… One emotion that splits into a hundred pathways towards self hate.
But seeing frustration in this way doesn’t help anything. Just because I find speaking in front of a group hard, it doesn’t mean my voice can’t be heard: blogging is a great example of an alternative way to put yourself out there. Even though socialising tires me out, the flip side of this is that I’m better at focussing on independent tasks. And just because what seems simple for others is incredibly hard for me, doesn’t mean I don’t have other strengths.
Yes, frustration is extremely negative if dwelled upon and used to fuel self-hatred. I get frustrated when I can’t do, say or be things, and even when I can, that I get so worked up over them. I get frustrated thinking that perhaps I’m not enough. I’m not strong or brave enough, social enough, creative enough, loud enough, motivated, inspired, happy enough. This seeming inadequacy frustrates me.
Yet frustration doesn’t have to always be negative. Are all those statements true? Am I really not enough? Whatever ‘enough’ means. Despite all the negativity surrounding frustration, it can be helpful to acknowledge its uses too. Like any powerful emotion – anger, fear, grief – it can be harnessed for positive gain. Frustration can highlight where you need to focus your energy, make visible to you things that you need help with, and motivate you to try harder or try something else.
I’m not too sure where this post was meant to be going, but if there is a message to come from it I’d say it’s this: acknowledging your frustration at your limitations is important, not so you can build a wall of self-hatred in your mind, but so you can pave a path forwards with better knowledge about yourself.
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