05 June 2015

On Frustration


This statement is in my journal, with even a page reference, but I don’t know exactly from whom the thought derives. But on page 19 from what might be Adam Phillips’ Missing Out, I read the following: “We never  . . . recover from our first fake solution to feeling frustrated.” I am intrigued. Now, I think that frustration might derive from a voiding of a demand that one makes on oneself. That is, we will something and the world does not respond according to our desire and what we ‘will’ is not realized. What we want to occur does not happen. To be frustrated is to experience a repudiation of our will. The OED defines will (in part) as a desire to do something . . . the idea of the will doesn’t include the power or the opportunity to effect any specific action. The will responds, I think, to desire and can lead to action, though it need not necessarily provoke any action at all. In fact, to be frustrated then is to exercise the will and in that demand to demand that the world accord with my wishes but not to get what we want from the world. I respond to the refusal with what is termed ‘frustration.’ We act and do not get the results we want, or we do not act and the world disturbs us nonetheless. But since I want the world to move according to my will, then when my will fails then I become frustrated; frustration occurs when I would change the world to suit my wishes but the world refuses my wishes. To experience frustration is to resist change. 
          So to return to Phillips: he suggests that we actually invent strategies to deal with our earliest frustration, and that we never quite get over those early solutions. This sounds a bit like Freud’s repetition compulsion: the attempt to repeat an event or the circumstances surrounding an event perhaps in order to gain some control over it or an attempt to remain in stasis. The exercise of a repetition compulsion seems to be the attempt to keep trying to make happen what failed originally or what succeeded so well th. Thus, to avoid frustration—an inevitability in our modern times when the roles that we fill are so contradictory and we cannot with any consistency fulfill those roles—we address not the present circumstances but those of our first experience of frustration and the strategies we then devised to deal with our feelings. And there seems to be two problems here: the first is that the first strategy was a phony attempt at the outset. We are doomed for the most part to the denial of our will. The second problem regarding the use of original strategies (false though they may even have been) is that since that first event everything has changed and what might have seemed to work then can only fail now in these altered circumstances. We experience frustration.
          But, I wonder, if a strategy seemed to have worked then, doesn’t that suggest that the strategy worked and that the frustration was relieved? Not exactly. Just because the strategy seemed to have then worked does not mean that the provocation for frustration was removed. Like self-medication, the fake solution obscured the root cause of the frustration; we probably never get over this first fake solution because it seemed to have worked—and Phillips likes this to the idea of addiction, the exercise of which obviates the necessity for change by masking the stimulus for change.
          But Phillips does assert that disillusionment--the experience of frustration--might lead the tolerant individual to reality, because when one doesn’t get what one wants, either one creates an unrealizable ideal, a subject who always gets what she wants; or the subject must approach reality that will always lead to an experience of frustration. In the former, the end result is remarkably spoiled individual with absolutely no tolerance for or with others; in the latter situation yields a pragmatic, even stoic remarkably liberal person. Thus, frustration seems inevitable, even necessary to lead us to reality.

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