Tolerating Frustration: Key To Mental Health
Posted by Dr. Vollmer on December 3, 2013
Being depressed, feeling blue, feeling anxious, all feelings which create unease, are part of the human condition. The meaning we give to these feelings, and the tolerance we have for these internal expressions, are one way of understanding the hierarchy of mental health. For some, uncomfortable feelings cause an immediate need to distract, by healthy means like exercise, or unhealthy means, like alcohol. Living with the feelings takes the courage, and the faith, that feelings are the journey of life, and like all journeys, the scenery changes, even if one is not sure when that will happen.
Stacy, twenty-four, comes to mind. She is a bright graduate student, enthusiastic, and well-meaning, and yet, when her match.com date goes South, she immediately feels the urge to call an old boyfriend and be reassured of her desirability. She knows that calling Ko, will ultimately lead to a battle where they both accuse the other of using them, but “I just can’t help it,” she tells me, again and again. “Maybe it is so hard to tolerate disappointment, particularly disappointment in the dating arena,” I say, helping her to be more conscious of her urge to call Ko. “Yes, I hate it when I get all excited for a date, and then the guy is not what I think he is,” Stacy says, with an endearing honesty. “Yes, I can see how hard that would be, but I don’t see how calling Ko helps you out.” I say, wondering aloud if she can see that short-term gain is not worth the long-term pain. “Yes, but it is hard for me to sit with the feelings that I may never meet someone,” Stacy says tearfully. “You are scared, and I understand that, but I wonder why you jump from a bad date to you will never meet someone.” I say, reminding her that the present disappointment does not necessarily mean future disappointments, but at the same time, understanding that given her family background, she has suffered so many disappointments, it is hard for her to have hope. ‘I think a bad date brings up painful memories of how your dad disappointed you, and that is why you feel compelled to call Ko,” I say, reminding her that her past upset with her father gets reignited with every unfortunate internet date. “Yes, I feel that,” Stacy says, “I feel that intensely.” “The more you can sit with your feelings, rather than taking action, the better things will be for you,” I say, in a clear maternal way. Stacy understands, but feels doubtful she can change. “See you next week,” she says, remarkably cheerfully. “Yep,” I say, heavy-hearted, but optimistic.