Hurried and worried until we're buried, And there's no curtain call,
Life's a very funny proposition, after all. ~ George M. Cohan
Frustration is the experience of having one's path or access to a goal blocked. A goal may be blocked because an obstacle has been introduced to prevent access, as when a roadblock stops a vehicle from continuing to its destination. Alternatively a goal may be inaccessible because one lacks the resources to approach it, as when the vehicle is out of gas.
Psychologists have identified three general reactions to frustration: aggression, regression and nonaction.
Three General Reactions To Frustration
The classic reaction to frustration is aggression. Aggressive behaviour intends harm, in this case originally to the source of the frustration. For example, if a rival steals one's mate, the jilted lover will make the rival the target of aggression. Aggression can be displaced onto a safer, less retaliatory target. A student who is frustrated by having received a low grade on a test may express anger at his roommate rather than his professor. Finally, aggression may cause damage without alleviating frustration. Feeling frustrated because a vending machine has kept one's money but not produced the ordered soft drink, one may kick the machine in anger, leaving a dent but retrieving no reward.
Regressive behaviour reflects the immature tactics of an early age. A frustrated friend may whine childishly to get his or her way or win attention. A frustrated manager may bully his coworkers, arousing their fear but not winning their respect.
Finally, repeated frustration may result in nonaction, which may appear to be apathy, or a lack of concern. A more common explanation is that the frustrated individual suffers from learned helplessness. A wife who has been battered may fail to seek escape or help because she believes such efforts would do no good. A college student who has tried and failed to register for two closed classes may give up before attempting a third, although that one may well be open.
Research and therapy suggest that these unproductive responses to frustration can be modified through learning and changed reinforcement contingencies. Aggressive and regressive individuals can learn to be assertive and independent. Helpless individuals can learn to make efforts when their goals are attainable and rewards are immediate.
Let us open our natures, throw wide the doors of our hearts
and let in the sunshine of good will and kindness. ~ O. S. Marden
Conflict is probably the most common stressor. Conflict is the experience of incompatible goals or demands. Two people are in conflict when they seek the same limited resource: if one acquires it, the other will not.
Gestalt psychologist Kurt Lewin (1890-1947) described conflict as involving two kinds of forces between persons and goal-objects: approach and avoidance. Approach is the attraction toward a desired goal, while avoidance is the aversion felt toward an undesirable state or event. Given that conflict involves two or more incompatible goals, approach and avoidance combine to form various forms of conflict.
1. Approach-Approach Conflict
In approach-approach conflict, one must choose between two mutually exclusive attractive goals. For example, a college applicant may have to choose between attending a large university in an exciting urban setting or a small high-quality school in a beautiful scenic region.
2. Avoidance-Avoidance Conflict
An unpleasant experience is avoidance-avoidance conflict, where one must choose which of two threatening or unpleasant possibilities can be escaped. For example, one may have a severe toothache but fear the pain involved in visiting the dentist. Coping with such conflict usually involves choosing the 'lesser of two evils', as in facing brief dental treatment to prevent a worsening tooth disease.
3. Approach-Avoidance Conflict
The most difficult conflicts to resolve are approach-avoidance conflicts, where one is both attracted and repelled by the same goal. For example, a college student may want to marry rather than delay being with a partner, but fear the loss of freedom and the burden of responsibility involved in young marriage.
Approach-avoidance conflicts are complex and difficult to resolve, because both the attraction and the repulsion create tension, especially as the goal comes closer (eg. a deadline for making a decision approaches). Avoidance becomes stronger than approach, however, with the result that one often panics, pulls back, becomes attracted again, and continues in a cycle of vacillation until matters are otherwise resolved.