Conflicts and Frustration
By Jeffrey Rubin, PhD.
Please consider the following parable:
THE MARTY AND LENA PARABLE
Marty got stuck at work. He calls his girlfriend, Lena, to let her know he’s going to be late for their date.
When Marty finally arrives, it’s apparent that Lena has a conflict with him. That is, she desires he be on time. When Marty arrived late this interfered with this desire. She believes Marty is guilty of being wrong for arriving late.
As Lena makes her frustration known to Marty, she does so by shouting and calling him selfish and a stupid jerk. Now Marty has a frustrating conflict with Lena. He desires to be treated respectfully and Lena’s tone of voice and her name calling interferes with his desire. Marty believes Lena is guilty of being wrong for treating him disrespectfully.
We experience frustration when someone or something interferes with any of our desires. It is the nature of conflicts to be frustrating since a conflict occurs when people have a desire, they believe someone will be interfering with their desire, and they believe someone will be guilty of doing something wrong if the person does interfere with their desire.
When people become frustrated, their attention becomes so narrowly focused that it becomes difficult to focus on anything other than their own immediate frustration. Keeping this in mind, we can plainly see why it is challenging for Lena and Marty to successfully deal with their situation. Lena is frustrated because she wanted Marty to arrive on time. Her frustration leads to her narrowly focusing on Marty’s lateness. Any effort by Marty to convince Lena that he is not guilty for arriving late is made harder because of Lena’s narrow focus on the fact that he arrived late.
Meanwhile Marty suddenly becomes frustrated when Lena begins to shout and call him names. Now Marty becomes narrowly focused on his own frustration that he has been treated disrespectfully. Therefore it is very difficult for him to broaden his focus so he can understand Lena’s frustration. As long as Lena’s and Marty’s frustrations remain high, their narrow attention will lock them into their own narrow personal frustration and interfere with resolving their mutual conflicts.
To get a sense of how very difficult it can be to reason clearly when frustrated, consider what has happened when fires have flared up in buildings. Naturally, at such times people indoors want to get out. If they come to a door leading outside and they push on it, if it doesn’t immediately open, oftentimes they become very frustrated and this narrows their reasoning ability. This narrowing leads them to push harder and harder, and they never come to realize that the door may be open but that they need to pull on the handle instead of pushing. Because many people have died desperately pushing and pushing, many cities have passed fire laws that require all doors that lead outside to open when pushed.
To become a master at dealing with name calling, insults and teasing, we must learn a skill that is so well practiced that even when we are embroiled in frustrating experiences we can carry it out in a wise manner. In the next blog post we will begin to take a close look at this skill.
Some people will enjoy reading this blog by beginning with the first post and then moving forward to the next more recent one; then to the next one; and so on. This permits readers to catch up on some ideas that were presented earlier and to move through all of the ideas in a systematic fashion to develop their emotional intelligence. To begin at the very first post you can click HERE.