A few days traveling, waiting in airports, dealing with
lost luggage and unfamiliar highways, looking in vain for internet connections
in hotel rooms, trying to find decent coffee in rural Georgia.... and it was
pretty easy to find situations involving this common condition….
Low frustration tolerance
LFT often underlies substance abuse and compulsive
behaviors, since it causes stress, anxiety, and anger. Dealing with the
incremental effects of minor irritations is the key to daily serenity. It’s
surprising how important managing this can be to avoiding the ‘need’ to alter
our minds. The reward psychology of substance use is common in the
advertisements for beer and wine.
Low frustration tolerance is often characterized by...
on pursuing immediate pleasures, in spite of known costs.
awfulizing, and engaging in self-pity.
absolute conditions to situations and predicting dire outcomes.
discomforts that are known to be temporary.
discomforts even though they are temporary.
that is out of proportion to the situation.
behavior to ‘correct’ a situation which might simply have corrected itself with
due to an inability to choose between outcomes.
Low frustration tolerance beliefs usually include…
‘I can’t stand it. I can’t bear it. It’s intolerable. This
is unfair. She always does this. He never does that. I shouldn’t have to do
this. He shouldn’t do this to me. Everybody thinks this about me.’
They are often predictive: ‘Everyone will think this.
Nobody will be there. We’ll have to do everything. I won’t be able to stand
this (because I couldn’t stand it before).’
Of course, they often lead to self-fulfilling conditions
as we exaggerate the outcome: ‘Today was awful. Everyone was unhelpful. Things
were unfair.’ And the solution? ‘I need a tall, cold one.’
The general attitude is that I, or things, or events will
fall apart. Life will never be happy or comfortable again.
Disputing these beliefs?
They are irrational, either because they are incorrect,
unprovable, or grossly exaggerated.
The beliefs may be provably false, though persuading
ourselves or others of this can be surprisingly difficult!
More to the point, dwelling on whether or not the beliefs
are true can be unconstructive—focusing on the condition and how ‘bad’
things are interferes with taking action or developing acceptance.
An accurate description which separates the situation from
our emotional condition can be useful.
Example: The line may in fact be slow, and the clerk may
be tedious. But the line and the clerk aren’t irritating; we are irritated—this
is an important distinction!
Recognizing that we are responsible for our own emotions is
a crucial step towards taking control of them.
Developing high frustration tolerance:
towards beliefs that are flexible, not absolute, and not exaggerated.
absolute words and assertions.
that there may be things that you very strongly prefer—to the point that
you might describe your preference as a need. But the fact that you have a
strong preference simply makes it more difficult—not impossible—to
tolerate a situation in which that preference is not met.
a plan for effective action when the situation can be changed, or
to recognize when a situation cannot be changed at this time, and adjust to
Practice on small irritants first. ‘See the spark before
the flame’ by noticing when you are beginning to be irked by some behavior,
some delay, or some repeating condition in your daily activities.
Develop a sense of humor about the things that frustrate
you. Irreverence can be a useful coping strategy.
Get an outside perspective. Others can often help you
understand how you are exaggerating how dire the situation is, or can give you
another viewpoint—constructive suggestions for action to change the
Pursue optimism! Seek optimistic people, and avoid the
toxic negativity of angry and passive-aggressive people.
If certain people are a daily problem, develop a conscious
strategy for minimizing their effect on your mood.
Remember the famous expression, ascribed to Abraham
“This too shall pass.”
Though he was describing the Civil War, it applies as well
to the line at the airport....or a kidney stone, for that matter.