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November 17th, 2022


What is frustration and what does it look like? What’s it’s aim and it’s source?


Frustration is an anger that is born when something doesn’t work. You get frustrated when you can’t get the computer to do something. So, is it that you’re frustrated at the co outer? Or is the frustration directed at one’s self? 


If this frustration is interpersonal, say, during a conversation, then there’s an additional problem. Even if the frustration is intended to be directed solely inward, at one’s self, the effect, or rather, the external appearance is one of anger. And in practice an angry person in conversation can easily be misconstrued as disrespecting, even rude, and such things  can appear to be directed at the other person.


So where is the root of frustration? It’s quite clear what’s going on when angry at someone else. But frustration is a bit more diffuse. Frustration can be directed, just like anger.. or at least it can feel like that. I’m frustrated with the computer, for example. But where does the error lie that causes the disappointed expectation. In the case of not getting something like a computer to work, the cause is the user - it’s the frustrated person who simply lacks the knowledge and know-how to achieve the desired effect.


Frustration is inevitably an anger regarding a lack of agency. It’s a snap recognition of an ability absence - the ability to do something particular is absent. 


Therefore, frustration occupies this strange Venn diagram in the world of emotions. It’s primary direction and source is inward, but externally it can be interpreted as an outward anger directed at some object or person. Frustration is a recognition of our current incompatibility with some detail of the world.


Similar to confusion, it is often a first step involved in learning. The real trick is to first realize that confusion, and even outright frustration can be turned into curiosity. It can be difficult. It can require a few slow breaths, but often it just requires: a good question about exactly what isn’t working.

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