Managing Ourselves – Frustration!


I spoke to my oldest daughter recently.  My one year old grandchild has been testing her limits.  From time to time the child will demonstrate her dissatisfaction by swinging at or biting her mother.  I’m proud to say that my daughter has found this behavior unacceptable and has taken steps to deal with it.  She tells me, “I think she is just frustrated.  It’s okay to be frustrated, just don’t bite or hit mommy in the process!”

Frustration is not a disposition held exclusively by children.   The prerogative to get frustrated is non discriminant.  Sooner or later – given enough time – all of us are going to get “frustrated”.  Someone or something is going to push against our preferred trajectory and then it begins to happen – the slow burn – the simmering pot – the boiling over.

So – frustration is coming.  But here’s my question – is it okay to hit or bite in the process?

If I were asked this question I’d probably need some clarification.  For instance…define “hit” or “bite”.  Are you talking about “biting” words?  Are you talking about blows?  Are you talking about something more than that?  And “what are the circumstances?”  I’m sure that some of us would feel quite justified in “hitting” and “biting” if we felt our lives were in danger.  For instance, if someone broke into my home and threatened myself and/or my family – I would feel pretty frustrated (to say the least).  Is it possible that this frustration might justify blows or biting (or more)?

I certainly don’t dispute that desperate times may call for desperate measures or that force might even need to be met with force.  But what I am pondering today is the possibility that most of our frustration doesn’t necessarily fit into life or death scenarios.  Most of it fits into the world of inconveniences, misunderstandings and real disagreements that need to be worked out.  In other words – all frustration is not created equal and, as a result, they need different tools for progress.

Going back to my earlier story…often, when I see my granddaughter beginning to act out she will reveal herself with screams (not playful) and tantrum-like behavior – throwing herself on the floor and breaking into an angry cry.  Yes – it happens.  Sometimes my daughter will respond to her with “Use your words.”  You might say, “She’s only one – how is she supposed to use words?”  Fair enough – but in my daughter’s defense she will often offer suggestions in an effort to teach.  “Are you frustrated?”  We might say – “Of course she is frustrated!  Why else would she be acting out?”  Bottom line – I feel like my daughter is trying to teach her something.  It will take time…it will take some learning and maturing…but she is teaching.

I’d like to think I’ve already learned this lesson…using my words.  Isn’t it obvious that this should be part of a mature response to frustration?  Based on what I see in my life and the responses of others – I wonder.

As I watch the evening news I seem to see a whole lot of biting and hitting.

A couple of thoughts.  I think frustration often comes when we don’t feel heard.  If others would just listen – then my frustration wouldn’t be happening!  So it’s their fault.


Or could it be that we need to learn to use our words and manage ourselves in a way that help others understand.

A foundational piece of the work of words is that somewhere inside of us…and inside of the others that we are speaking with – there needs to be a sense of value for one another.  I didn’t say agreement – just some respect.  When that is missing it can seem that the only options are biting and hitting.

So – what do we do when there is no respect?  No value?  No listening?  Whose work is it to either work harder at bringing it?  Or, at what point, to declare that “We’re done talking – I no longer value or respect you – let the biting and hitting begin!”?

Does this sound messy? Is this hard work? It is!!!  Sometimes it can feel like impossible work – that’s when things get frustrating.  That’s when we can begin to disconnect – to blame – to assume – to justify hitting and biting.

So what are we to do?  I want to propose a starting place.  Responsibility for our frustration begins with you – with me.  I’m not saying we are the only ones to blame.  I’m just saying that progress has to start somewhere – and that somewhere has to do with managing ourselves.  The next time you are feeling that simmering feeling consider asking yourself some questions “Am I frustrated?”  “Why am I so frustrated?” (use your words with yourself)  “Is any part of this frustration my problem? (be honest)  “Who am I wanting to blame for this?”  “What am I really sure about?”  “What am I really not sure about?”  “Does the other person have any value at all in my mind?”  “If not, what has brought me to remove all of their value?”  “Is that really who I want to be?”

You might say – this will take too long!  I don’t have time to think through all of this.  I already know the facts.  I’m right – they are wrong.


As I have stated in earlier writings, all of us have grown up using tools and honing skills that are undergirded by a worldview and values that (we feel) totally justifies our actions – all of us.

Even my granddaughter.

I wonder sometimes – as I wrestle with my own frustrations – if the fifty-two years that separate us has really made me as significantly more grown up as I would like to think I am.

That thought frustrates me.  : )

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