How frustration affects our emotions and behaviours

What is frustration ?

Frustration is “a deep chronic sense or state of insecurity and dissatisfaction arising from unresolved problems.”


Frustration may be environmental and outside of our control. For example, an illness may cause a state of insecurity and dissatisfaction. Frustration may also refer to an internal conflict. For instance, a desire to prepare for an upcoming presentation but also wanting to go out with friends may trigger a state of dissatisfaction with one’s self. 


However, frustration, to a certain degree, can be beneficial, it encourages putting in effort to face difficulties and therefore assists in building tolerance to demanding situations. Yet, dealing with continued, overwhelming frustrations over a long period of time with an unhealthy attitude can contribute to unresolved anger and become dysfunctional.

How is frustration different from anger?

While frustration is commonly misunderstood as a feeling, it is helpful to understand that frustration by itself is a very broad and vague term and can be described as discomfort of any kind. The term is often used in lieu of a specific emotion. A frustrating situation can trigger anger. Frustrations are generally a result of the meaning we attach to a situation. For example, a fight with a friend can trigger a feeling that the friend is ill-intended and purposefully wrongs others. In the above scenario, this reaction corresponds to the experience of the specific emotion, anger.

How does frustration relate to anger?

When it comes to understanding frustration, one of the most common questions that arise is “Why do I feel angry and frustrated?” The answer lies in understanding that anger and frustration are not synonymous, rather they are different. Frustration refers to the obstacle or the situational context, whereas anger is the emotional response to the said frustration. To be able to react helpfully to a given frustration, it is important to recognize the difference between an unhealthy negative emotion and a healthy negative emotion. In the context of anger, this can be referred to as unhealthy anger and healthy anger. Keep in mind, the situation or frustration that triggers the anger in both cases is the exact same. What differentiates the two can be best understood in the behaviours and thoughts that accompany healthy and unhealthy anger.

What is Unhealthy Anger?

Unhealthy anger corresponds with explosive behaviours in the form of lashing out. This can be accompanied by demanding and rigid attitudes such as “I should not have been treated this way.” Often,  the underpinning context that causes such behaviours is when one feels their goals are being obstructed or someone has broken a personal rule. For example, one’s significant other has lied to them about something important. An unhealthy response would be to focus on the fact that they lied and that they absolutely should not have, in other words, ‘placed the blame’. This may be expressed through outbursts, indignation, or physical or verbal aggression. Even releasing this anger on a child or another close person is a common but destructive behavioural response.

What is healthy Anger?

Healthy anger corresponds with a controlled expression of anger, such as assertively yet respectfully communicating wrongdoings. When one utilizes healthy anger, the focus is on problem-solving rather than berating or placing blame. For instance, a healthy response to a significant other lying about an important matter would be to understand the need for lying and bridging that gap, expressing displeasure about lying in a calm yet stern manner and conveying that lying is a non-negotiable boundary. By reacting in a constructive manner, the situation is contained, it doesn’t escalate and the focus remains on solving the problem, therefore yielding a helpful result.

The difference in the emotional response to a frustrating situation can determine whether one reacts helpfully and works towards solving the problem, versus reacting unhelpfully and potentially making a bad situation worse.

About Author – 

Hardika Zaveri - In Vivo Author

Hardika Zaveri – 

Hardika has completed her MSc. in Clinical Psychology from Erasmus University Rotterdam. She has been trained in REBT at the Advanced Level from the Albert Ellis Institute, New York. Hardika has previously worked with underprivileged children and cancer patients through various NGOs and also has prior experience working in a psychiatric clinic.