Zen Buddhist monks train for years in order to master the art of seeing the world without distortions created by their own mind, as well as aligning their body and mind. I have seen a growing trend in the west of incorporating some of these Zen-Buddhism ideas in the form of mindfulness-based practices. I believe this is with good reason, as our mainstream consumerism has begun to reach shorter and shorter half-lives in order to keep us aroused. In other words, in order to maintain a constant state of interest or arousal - corporations are quick to release new and upgraded products on to the market, ads are marketed in vibrant displays of color and world event news is delivered in bursts of 5 minute videos that you can share on social media. I admit, I too am guilty of indulging in the convenience of bite-size clips; my concern however, is the way in which this constant state of arousal can impact our frustration tolerance.
Being able to deal with a certain amount of frustration is an important coping tool that can benefit everyone. Life-lessons will teach us that our needs will not always be met and an extensive amount of literature discusses coping styles that are correlated with ways in which we deal with not having our needs met - some healthy, some not so much. Therapy can provide a great way to examine frustration tolerance, and often it's a skill that many of the clients I see wish to see improve. In this article, I'll touch on some of the types of frustration-intolerance styles that REBT therapists tend to acknowledge as most salient.
According to Neil Harrington's frustration discomfort scale, the four types of frustration-intolerance are achievement-intolerance, discomfort-intolerance, emotional-intolerance and entitlement-intolerance. Achievement-intolerance describes difficulties in dealing with failure, or not being able to achieve goals. Often this type of discomfort results in self-loathing and is relieved by a reliance on achievement. Individuals with high expectations of success may eventually immerse themselves in work in order to avoid this discomfort.
Discomfort-intolerance refers to the idea that life should be easy and hassle-free. This type of intolerance is correlated with avoidance of responsibilities. Individuals within this category may often neglect difficult tasks or disguise their anxiety with passivity or low-expectations. Next on Harrington's scale is emotional-intolerance, which refers to an inability to sit with emotional distress such as anger or sadness. The general rule of homeostasis indicates that an organism has a tendency towards equilibrium or a balanced-state and often these individuals are unable to self-sooth themselves, leading to external methods of regulating their emotional discomfort. Although there are many healthy ways of dealing with emotional distress, some individuals can turn to unhealthy habits such as the use of drugs or alcohol. The final category on the scale is entitlement-intolerance, which refers to an intolerance of unfairness and tendency toward immediate-gratification. Often this category is associated with rigidity and anger when their needs are not met. I recall a quote by actor Al Pacino which resonated: "I asked God for a bike, but I know God doesn't work that way. So I stole a bike and asked for forgiveness.".
Many of us exhibit an overlap of the types of discomfort presented by Harrington's frustration discomfort scale. Therapy can provide a great forum in learning to deal with and build up frustration-tolerance. Through examining how we speak to ourselves, we can trace the rigid demands we make of others, the world and ourselves. Through examining these demands, we aim to dispute the helpfulness of holding on to these thoughts and develop new ways of responding to frustration. In doing so, we build resiliency and a more adaptive style of responding to stress. We also are better able to self-regulate without the need of being in a constant state of arousal - freeing us to enjoy the little moments in our lives that matter most.