Responses to Frustration

>> Monday, April 16, 2012

Responses to frustration vary in character. They depend partly on the obstacles, and more on the make-up and past experiences of the organism thwarted. These are in three f’s: fight, flight or freeze.

The first thing the individual does when an operating motive is blocked is to develop emotionality about the situation. The emotions arising from frustrations are the angry variety. These emotional responses may serve to strengthen the motives and to redouble the efforts to get ahead with the blocked activity.

Individuals who keep the emotional responses under control and succeed in investing increased energy in the rational pursuit of the goal are said to have high frustration tolerance. A frustrated individual will demonstrate a variety of responses in a frustrating situation. Instead of using the old habits, one can reduce the trial and error approach to an old problem. The student who is frustrated by a low grade may revise his study habits and try a new approach to his goal. The scientific investigator, whose first idea did not work out, conducts a series of experiments that will shed light on the problem. Frustration can promote learning and lead to a highly successful detour behavior.

The tension produced by frustration or conflict is more severe if there is ego-involvement. Each individual has a concept of self. One tries very hard to maintain a satisfying and favorable concept of oneself; and whenever a frustration or conflict threatens the image of one’s self, tension becomes greater. An ego-involved situation can produce severe tension. There is a painful failure for the student who, perhaps because of the parent’s misplaced ambitions for the student, aspires to a medical course while lacking the aptitude to pass medical subjects. Personal frustration frequently builds up feelings of inferiority, which in turn, serve to increase the frustration.

In an effort to adjust to ego-involving frustrations, an individual may use defense mechanisms. These defense reactions may not resolve the conflict or satisfy frustrated motives but they defend the psychological system, to direct it into creative behavior. Defense mechanisms to frustration can be roughly classified into three of adjustive behavior: (1) aggressive reactions (2) flight or withdrawal reactions (3) substitute activities or compromise reactions.

Aggressive Reactions

Aggression, as an overt expression of frustration, can be directed at the source of frustration or can be displaced. The strength of the aggressive response to frustration depends on its previous reinforcement and punishments, the strength of the habit and drive being blocked, the intensity of the frustration, the number of immediately preceding frustrations, and the availability of a target for aggressive behavior.

Sometimes, the source of frustration is vague and intangible. The frustrated individual does not know what to attack; yet he feels angry and looks for something to attack. At other times, the person responsible for the frustration is so strong or powerful that to attack it would be dangerous. When circumstances block direct attack on the cause of frustration and the aggressive action is made against an innocent person or object instead, the act is called displaced aggression.

The practice if “scapegoating” is an example or displaced aggression. An innocent victim may be blamed for one’s trouble and becomes the object of aggression. Sometimes people use inanimate or fictitious objects as scapegoats. Another form of displaced aggression is “free-floating” anger. When a person develops a chronic reaction pattern of anger, the hostility becomes generalized or “free-floating” and even neutral situations are viewed in a hostile way. Severe and prolonged frustrations may lead to a spell of blind rage as when a person runs “amuck” and may even kill anyone who happened to nearby.

Withdrawal Reactions

One type of defensive reaction is withdrawal from the frustrating situation. Withdrawal may be in the form of physical flight retreating within a “shell” of psychological defenses.

Fantasy. When a person’s desires are frustrated by reality, the person may retreat into a fantasy world where the thwarted wishes can be satisfied. Daydreams can help overcome obstacles. They have been called the “nursery of accomplishment.” Daydreams mirror the change in motives that come with age. Themes dominating daydreams of children are the acquisition of desired toys and the enjoyment of amusements. As they grow older, their dreams become more socially oriented. They dream of becoming heroes and of receiving praises. For adolescent, daydreams are winning the affection of the opposite sex and achieving social position and wealth. Adults daydream of success in work, wealth and power and other goals society taught them to strive for.

“Beatnik” Reaction. The eccentric behavior of the “beat” generation may be regarded as a withdrawal reaction from the frustration of modern life. The “beatnik” stands apart from the society and avoids responsibilities. Special outfits and slang, certain rituals and the use of drugs can be the “beatnik” expression of rebellion.

Repression. Repression is the process of excluding from the consciousness a thought or feeling that causes pain, shame or guilt. When there is excessive psychological pain associated with a particular experience, the individual’s conscious memory of the event may be blocked entirely for a time. However, a deliberate effort to forget by turning to other activities, called suppression, lessens the pain and is therefore entertained.

Apathy. One response to a frustrating situation is the opposite of active aggression. Instead of being destructive and hostile, the individual may show apathy, indifference or inactivity. When one person reacts with aggression while another with apathy to the same frustrating situation, it shows that reactions to frustration can be learned in much the same become detached instead of feeling angry, especially when resistance seems futile and when frustrating situations are of long duration and there is no hope of escape.

Fixation. Another consequence of frustration is the tendency to become repetitive or perform stereotyped behavior. Persistent behavior, such as thumb sucking of stuttering, may become more firmly fixed because of punishment and repeated frustration and in an effort to get rid of them, have intensified the undesirable responses.

Identification. Similar to fantasy in nature, identification reduces anxiety through an escape into a dream world. One takes on the characteristics of another person and thereby enhances his self-esteem.

Regression. When a frustrated individual unconsciously seeks to return to an earlier, more secure period of his/her life, his response is called regression. The individual reverts to old habits of adjustments to flee from the painful situations and the realities of the present time. He/she way weep, run home or display emotional tantrums to solve adult problems. Regression can occur at any age level.

Compromise Reactions

In many life situation, frustrations cannot reduced by either aggressive or withdrawal reactions but only by compromise. Without relinquishing the blocked goals, an individual partially gives in to the threats that the frustrations imply. There is the lowering of ambitions of acceptance of symbolic and substitute goals. For instance, a student who is refused admission to a medical school may decide that his best adjustment is to become a veterinarian. Although some forms of compromise are healthy and adjustive, others are not.

Reaction Formation. People may disguise their motivation and conflict by believing that their motive is exactly the opposite of their real motive. This mechanism helps the individual guard against unacceptable impulses. For example, a daughter who unconsciously hates her mother may be over-solicitous of her mother’s health and comfort. Social crusaders who campaign vigorously against vices and loose public morals may be trying to battle their own unconscious desires.

Projection. Another common disguise that protects a person against anxiety-producing impulses is projection. When one finds their feelings and thoughts intolerable, they not only repress them but also convince themselves that other people have these thoughts and feelings toward them. The individual directs these aggressive feelings towards others rather than toward himself/herself. The unfaithful husband who accuses his wife of infidelity is an example.

Projections also enable a person to blame other people for failures that are essentially their own, as in a student who failed in a course and claimed that the teacher disliked him; or a driver who met an accident and blamed the policeman directing the traffic.

Sublimation. There are some needs where direct satisfaction is often impossible. In such cases, an individual may resort to indirect means of obtaining gratification. Although indirect goals never provide exactly the same satisfaction as the original goals, they provide an outlet for the expression of frustrated desires. The indirect expression of a need may be in the form of sublimation.

In sublimation, the drive is redirected towards socially acceptable forms of expression. This provides partial satisfaction that is free of guilt feelings. Intense aggression can be directed to acceptable modes of behavior through participation in competitive sports. Artistic activities may also be a result of sublimation.

Compensation. An attempt to disguise or cover up felt deficiencies or undesirable traits by emphasizing a desirable type of behavior is called compensation. A frustrated athlete may shift interests from sports to writing, where he finds relief and excellence. A homely girl may compensate for her simplicity by excessively studying in order to gain the attention and recognition in the classroom.

A peculiar form of compensation, known as over-compensation, is an attempt to deny a weakness by trying to excel where one is weakest. The weakness thus acts as a goal or motive towards superior performance. Over-compensation is an energetic and effective way of meeting weaknesses.

Rationalization. Another way to compromise with problems is to intellectualize them by rationalization. Rationalization is a process of interpreting our behavior in ways more acceptable to the self by using reasoning or ‘alibis’ to substitute for the causes. Rationalization may take many forms. There is the “sour-graping” attitude, where there is denial of the true motive. Just like the fox that tried in vain to reach a bunch of grapes and then decided they were too sour anyway; a frustrated lover may suddenly contend that his former girl is not the kind he intends to marry. And there is the “sweet-lemon” philosophy where the frustration is considered as a blessing-in-disguise. The individual makes believe or rationalizes that the thwarting of the motive was for the best.

Tags: psychology, article, frustrations, response, human behavior, attitude, sour grape


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