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Low tolerance for frustration: how it appears and what to do before it

Low tolerance for frustration: how it appears and what to do before it

August 10, 2022

We can not get everything we want . This simple phrase expresses a fact that can be extremely hard depending on how much we wish it. Sometimes the circumstances do not help, sometimes we create excessively demanding goals or even sometimes we are required a level that at least for the moment we can not reach.

This happens during the whole life cycle, from birth to the grave, and is a reason for different levels of frustration that we have to face. And frustration can be difficult to face.

Each one of us has a concrete capacity to tolerate it, there are people who have a high tolerance to the fact of being frustrated and for whom it does not generate an impediment but a simple annoyance and other people with low tolerance to frustration who, at the least difficulty, paralyze and abandon the action. It is about the last of the cases that we are going to talk about throughout this article.


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A natural emotion

Before assessing what is a low tolerance to frustration, it is necessary to take into account what this concept implies. Frustration is a feeling or feeling of aversive character in which a mixture of sadness, anger, and disappointment in the absence of an objective or the inability to achieve a goal or desire. It is not really necessary that it is a wish of one's own, but also may appear before the break with expectations and demands put on us.

It is a natural sensation that has nothing pathological (although depending on how it can become pathological), and that as we said before is present continuously throughout life every time there is a situation of denial and impossibility. At the beginning and throughout childhood we tend to have a very low tolerance for frustration, but over the course of development we are learning little by little to control it, to manage it and to generate alternative responses. But what does a low tolerance for frustration imply?


The low tolerance to frustration

It is understood as low tolerance to frustration or intolerance to frustration to the absence or low level of ability to withstand that set of events or circumstances that could frustrate us. The low tolerance to frustration means that before the appearance of this we are not able to react, let's abandon our actions and be unable to persevere and fight against difficulties . In other words, those who have low tolerance for frustration have a great difficulty in managing negative feelings such as stress, discomfort or not achieving their own wishes.

Generally, this inability to self-manage provokes behavioral manifestations in the form of sullen, irritable and hostile behavior. Failures are often seen as provoked by others or by circumstances, usually a tendency to feel victimized and to project blame on others. They tend to be people who tend to surrender quickly to perceive possible obstacles, focusing on how difficult things are and not seeing or believing in the possibility of solving the problem and managing to overcome the difficulties by themselves.


They focus on emotion, suffering and pain and avoidance. This can lead to the subject becoming impatient, dependent, demanding and even extremely passive. In some cases, it can trigger impulse control disorders, such as kleptomania, or aggressive and violent behavior towards those who do not fulfill or hinder their own desires.

A low tolerance to frustration also affects the ability to wait to delay a reward, something that could be essential to achieve rewards greater than the immediate ones. It is therefore associated with the need to achieve the satisfaction of their needs at the same time they appear. This makes it difficult, for example, to start doing a necessary task in pursuit of the gratification generated by resting or having fun. In turn, both the difficulty of completing tasks and the perception of this lack of capacity can be perceived as frustrating, worsening the situation and increasing the situation of discomfort of the person .

The low tolerance to frustration also has great consequences for the subject in multiple vital areas: at a family and social level personal relationships are resented, sometimes generating a distancing on the part of the rest and dynamiting their relationship with their environment. At work level is linked to a lack of flexibility and to respond to unforeseen events , something that hinders hiring and productivity.With regard to self-realization, a low tolerance for frustration tends to generate severe difficulties to achieve great long-term objectives and this can also generate a decrease in self-esteem and self-concept or the appearance of utilitarian, narcissistic or histrionic behaviors.

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Causes of this low tolerance

We have mentioned previously that the tolerance to frustration is something that is acquired throughout the development, having almost all the children very low capacity for it. Whether or not this tolerance develops correctly can depend on a large number of variables.

In the first place and although it develops throughout life, there are differences at the biological level that facilitate this fact. This is observable at a temperamental level , there are young children who are able to endure frustration and wait for a better future or even generate strategies to achieve their ultimate goal. Others are frustrated and surrender to the slightest difficulty, and many others even generate disruptive behaviors such as childhood tantrums as a result of their inability to control their displeasure.

Experience is one of the main factors that explain differences in tolerance to frustration. To have a high tolerance will be necessary throughout life we ​​have seen that our goals and desires are achievable but that requires an effort, having seen an association between effort and achievement of goals both short and long term. Also the awareness that waiting and not seeking immediate pleasure can lead to greater rewards over time.

Linked to the previous one, one of the reasons that can lead to a person is not tolerant to the fact of becoming frustrated, even in adulthood, are the educational models we have had. Excessively permissive parents who respond quickly to any demand from the child encourage the child not to struggle and learn that the things we want are quickly achieved. Once this pattern is fixed, the subject will not be able to react in the presence of difficulties and what could be a mere discomfort or obstacle becomes an impenetrable wall which contradicts them and which arouses their anger.

Another reason for the low tolerance to frustration is the existence on the part of the subject of too high expectations to have the real possibility of fulfilling them, so that their efforts never reach the required or desired level and it is learned that it is not possible to reach the own goals. There is a continued fear of failure, and over time the ability to tolerate it is extinguished. This can be derived from learning, both by hyperexlective parental models or excessive social demands.

How to improve the ability to tolerate frustration

As we have mentioned, the low tolerance to frustration can be enormously limiting. Fortunately, we can train our endurance capacity and our abilities to become more resistant and tolerant of aversive and frustrating situations.

Probably the first aspect to work is to analyze the frustration in an isolated way, recognizing its origin and why it is so unbearable. Once this is done, we will be able to use different methods to solve the situation.

One of the strategies involves restructuring personal beliefs regarding levels of demand and what we can achieve. It will be important to train in proposing realistic goals , whether or not they are ambitious, and assess that in all cases it will be easy for unforeseen events to appear. It is also useful that if we have very high goals we try to divide them in such a way that we make intermediate objectives that will lead us to the final goal, without pretending to achieve our objective immediately from the beginning. The generation of alternative strategies to the original is also paramount.

Likewise, we must also work on the relationship with failure and with frustration, not seeing them as a synonym of expiration but as a learning that will lead us to achieve our goals.

Another element to train could be to undergo Exposure to frustrating situations with prevention of responses . Training in stress and anger management and problem-solving training are essential. If the problems are linked to the social field, it may also be necessary to work on social skills.

Bibliographic references:

  • Jeronimus et al. (2017). «Frustration». Encyclopedia of Personality and Individual Differences, Edition: 1. Springer, New York, Editors: Virgil Zeigler-Hill and Todd K. Shackelford, pp. 1 - 8.
  • Miller, NE (July 1941), "frustration-aggression hypothesis", Psychological Review, 48 (4): pp. 337 - 42

Understanding ADHD- #5 ADHD & Low Frustration Tolerance (August 2022).


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