Artist Therapy: Frustration

Artist Therapy Posts: Where we face the feels all artists struggle with.

Frustration is a funny thing. It’s kind of the ugliest possible child of disappointment and fear. And there’s usually a tinge of self-righteousness rolled in as well. In simple terms, it’s the feeling we get when a plan we have made runs into an obstacle we weren’t expecting and our response is something along the lines of an indignant How Dare This Get In My Way feeling. Frustration is linked intimately with our sense of fair and unfair. We don’t get frustrated with something in our path that we feel has the right to be there — it’s the unfair roadblocks that frustrate us.

Frustration also grows exponentially with time. The longer you are frustrated the more the feeling multiplies — frustration doesn’t just fade away. And often, even when we finally get over the roadblock, we still have a hard time dispelling it and returning to normal.

Frustration leads to two places: Anger and Despair. You’re angry for a while, but when you finally give up hope of getting over the obstacle, then the anger congeals into despair. Did you know one of the #1 reasons employees give for being unhappy at their jobs? Not salaries, not perks. Frustration. Being frustrated that you’re being held back or can’t improve. Frustration that turns into despair and acceptance that you’ll never make the situation better.

The funny thing about frustration is…how much we are in control of it. I’m not saying we’re in control of the actual obstacles that cause the frustration. But we are in control of our mindset about those obstacles. And frustration is actually one of the feelings most susceptible to a mindset shift (as opposed to Fear, which is a bit more stubborn), so it’s a good thing to practice on. It all comes down to visualization when you are in planning mode. Now this exercise is going to be wildly affected by whether you’re a natural optimist or pessimist. Frustration happens to both sides, so you have to try to walk a balanced line down the middle. Optimists don’t expect ANY obstacles in their path when they plan, so they get frustrated very quickly when something unexpected pops up in their way. Pessimists, on the other hand, expect everything to go wrong, and are extremely sensitive to frustration because they are looking for any excuse to despair and thus give up. The key is to visualize like a pessimist, act like an optimist. When you’re in planning mode, try to visualize all the things that might go wrong, and also visualize what you’ll do in response. Then when things happen, you can respond confidently and without surprise. It’s hard to get frustrated by things you expected and planned for. I’m an optimist, and it’s really hard for me to stop myself from just imagining an ideal case and running off to get to the DO stage. But I’ve learned that nothing in life goes exactly as planned, and it pays me back in triple if I take the time to let my quiet pessimist have the stage for a few minutes and think about everything that could go wrong.

When you’re planning live by the saying “No battle plan survives contact with the enemy” — if you are expecting to have to react and adapt your plans, you will rarely be stymied by frustration, and you will much less frequently fall into despair, allowing you most of your energy to figure out a way around that obstacle, rather than dig down into the mud.



4 thoughts on “Artist Therapy: Frustration”

  1. I’m really glad this came up. I’m about to go into my first illustration class in the fall and I’m glad I now know the best way to look at it while approaching a project. And I need to instill this into the work I do now because there are times I’m pretty irritated by the final piece when it’s done. VERY HAPPY you wrote this! This helps tons! Thank you so much! ???

  2. I really love how you describe frustration here. I struggle with it a lot and this helped me understand what’s really going on when I get frustrated. Thank you!


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