The gift of frustration

This whole move has been hard on some of the children. We have seen some pretty significant regression in several of them, as they sort out what has happened. You will probably not be surprised to hear that R. is experiencing the most significant regression. Because I think that so much of her functioning is encoded in the part of her brain which stores chunks of habits, we are now back at square one in terms of how to go about one's day. I'm sure she finds this upsetting, but if you were just to go by presenting behavior, the casual onlooker would never know there was anything wrong. Aimlessly happy... actually it's in reality vaguely disassociated.... is pretty much how she moves through her day unless I am actively making her think or do something other than sit and stare (or play with one of her three favorite activities for hours on end.)

I know a bit or two about frustration. As a highly competitive, recovering perfectionist, I have a fairly low frustration point. (You can ask my mother about my chemistry text book being thrown across the kitchen more than once.) It shouldn't surprise me, therefore, that some of my children also have fairly low frustration thresholds. I have never seen any of this as a positive trait; instead I tend to view it as something to be managed at best and avoided at worst.

While being so frustrated that it makes you throw a book is not desirable, I have come to the conclusion that, as long as you can step away from your frustration before the books start to fly, frustration is actually a good thing. Feeling frustrated is an indication that you can perceive greater possibilities. It means that you are aware when you do not understand something, and can spur you on to harder study. Frustration can mean that you have big ideas in your head, even if you don't always have the means to carry them out at that very moment. (Hmmm... that wouldn't describe anyone we know whose name starts with an 'L', would it?)

There are many moments throughout my day when I long for R. to feel frustrated. I would be thrilled if, out of frustration, if she threw something across the room. I great big noisy, limb flailing fit at the injustice of not being able to do something that is beyond her capability would truly be a joyful noise to my ear.

Instead, R. tries something (half-heartedly) once. Then when she doesn't succeed, she stops and stares at whichever adult happens to be in the room, and grins. It takes a lot of prodding (oh, I cannot tell you how much prodding) to get her to try again. It is the grin that causes me to physically bit my tongue... inside my head (which is exploding), I am having the great big noisy, frustration induced fit. I want to scream, "Look around you! See what everyone else is doing and enjoying. Want to do that, too! Try! Be a part of your own life!"

Now, before you jump to the comment section, I know this is trauma-induced behavior. I know R. has been so damaged by abuse and neglect that she is past frustration. She has ceased to think she can even try, no doubt as a result of being thwarted too many times when she was younger. It is now too scary to try. We are left with a shell of a child who is only comfortable inside her own head, though I'm pretty sure, based on my reading, that in her disassociated state, there is little to no brain function going on. R. finds it preferable to essentially to be unconscious, even when awake.

To see her experience frustration would mean that she is slowly coming awake, and feels safe enough to do the developmental work of a toddler of trying to do things for herself, even at the risk of frustration.

I do not know how to bring her to this point.

So the next time you or a loved one is frustrated, appreciate it, because I can tell you that the other possibility is truly not desirable.


LucyL said…
Ray Peat has an interesting article on Learned Helplessness "".
Unknown said…
I really enjoyed reading, found it to be insightful and thought provoking.

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