Low Tolerance for Frustration: An Emotional Time Bomb

Tolerating frustration means accepting that you won't always be able to obtain what you want. This shouldn't cause you any suffering.
Low Tolerance for Frustration: An Emotional Time Bomb
Elena Sanz

Written and verified by the psychologist Elena Sanz.

Last update: 21 December, 2022

Life isn’t perfect. Nor is it controllable. It’s full of situations and outcomes that are often far from what you expected. However, it’s a part of your maturing process to learn to accept and manage this reality. If you don’t, you grow up with a low tolerance for frustration and have to face a great deal of suffering.

When something doesn’t happen as you expected, you have two options. You can either accept it and move on or stay feeling negative and put yourself in the role of victim. In neither case is changing what happened an option. Nevertheless, what you decide will bring different outcomes. Rigidity brings discomfort, while flexibility brings opportunities.

Frustration tolerance in childhood

Children haven’t yet fully developed their cognitive abilities. Consequently, they’re impulsive and impatient. In fact, they find it difficult to delay gratification.  In other words, when they want something they want it as soon as possible. Faced with a denial of their desires, they can react with anger, crying, screaming, and bad behavior.

Teaching children to tolerate frustration is one of the most complicated tasks in education. However, it’s absolutely necessary. Because they must learn it’s not always possible to obtain what they want and this shouldn’t cause them any suffering. On the other hand, when a child isn’t denied anything during childhood, they’re deprived of the possibility of developing this capacity.

Some parents, in their eagerness to protect their children from pain and disappointment, grant their every request. They give in and try to work out, in advance, every need and want of their child. In fact, they don’t want them to have to face any kind of discomfort.

These are acts that start from good intentions and loving thoughts. Thoughts like “They’ll have plenty of time to suffer when they grow up”. However, it’s necessary to face frustration in childhood in order to learn to tolerate it. Otherwise, in adult life, when it appears to a much greater degree, they won’t have the necessary tools to deal with it.

Overcome difficulties

How to improve a low tolerance to frustration

Having grown up with overprotective parents usually marks the starting point for a low tolerance to frustration. Nevertheless, it can be overcome. Indeed, as an adult, you can make the decision to change your attitude and work on any areas in which you’re lacking. Therefore, if you find it difficult to face adversity and perceive it as an enormous injustice, or if you feel great discomfort when your wishes aren’t fulfilled, remember that you can change.

  1. Stop wanting to control everything. Don’t try to predict every little event in your life. Don’t try to control what happens. Stop being afraid of uncertainty or change. Allow everything to take its course without becoming attached to the outcome. As a matter of fact, the need for control doesn’t give you the ability to modify what happens, but it does deprive you of your peace of mind.
  2. Set realistic expectations. It’s naive to believe that you can get everything you want all the time and that you’ll never face any adversity. Neither people nor events revolve around you and you must be mature enough to accept this fact. Therefore, when generating your expectations, try to adopt a broader perspective, one which takes into account reality and not just your ideal of it.
  3. Be flexible. It’s completely natural to have dreams and desires, to want them to come true, and to work to achieve them. However, you also have to understand that circumstances are changing and that you need to know how to adapt to these changes. If the scenario changes, it’s important that you’re also able to change your thoughts and actions. Don’t remain rigidly stuck in how you thought everything would happen. Find an alternative in light of the new information that your environment offers you.
Woman breathing at her workplace

A matter of trust

Finally, in the face of any adversity or setback, you must learn to accept and trust. Low tolerance for frustration hides insecurity, the fear of not being able to face the negatives that life throws at you. For this reason, you must trust yourself and your ability to manage your emotional discomfort and get ahead. Trust, too, in the process. Maybe not everything is going as you expected, but perhaps you’re heading in a better direction. Remember: accept what is, adapt to change, and trust. You’re not a victim, you have the power to decide how to react.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Muñoz, A. (2005). Baja tolerancia a la frustración. Extraído el20.
  • Canet-Juric, L. (2015). “Mejor dos para después”: Herramientas para fomentar el autocontrol y la demora de la gratificación en los niños. Secretaria de Extensión y Transferencia Facultad de Psicología Universidad Nacional de Mar del PlataCONICET, 10.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.