Well, if I had a nickel for every time I have asked a client how they were feeling and their response was “frustrated,” I ‘d be able to purchase the naming rights for the Mariners’ home field and change the name from T-Mobile Park to Mediation and Counseling Offices of Joseph Shaub Stadium.
I practice Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy and as the first word would suggest, we are always exploring for the feelings that lie under the initial (and understandable) flash of anger when one feels unimportant, ignored, judged or criticized by their partner. So often, though – it’s almost universal – the reply comes back that the person is “frustrated.” For years, I have thought of this as the first step to exploring one’s emotion. Hanging out with those feelings will often bring us to something a step deeper, like “fear,” or “sadness/grief,” or “shame.” Those are heavy and we don’t show our emotional underbelly unless we know we are safe. We’d be kind of nuts not to. So we start with the safest, closest disclosure: Frustrated. So, when I hear that, I have been inclined to dig deeper. I still am inclined to do that, but…..
Something happened not long ago in a session that really shifted the way I think about that word. Here is the thinking that followed:
What is “frustrated,” after all? It is the desire to reach a goal and to somehow be thwarted. I once wanted to open a door and for some reason, the handle wasn’t working. I tried a few times to solve the problem in the most intuitive way and it just didn’t work. I wanted to achieve a goal (open the door), but I was being frustrated in the attempt. When I considered the word in that light, I began to wonder, “What is the goal you want to reach but feel you can’t?” That answer, with the emphasis on the goal and the de-emphasis on what they believe their partner is doing to keep them from the goal, has been a real help in figuring out what’s bugging people in their relationship sometimes. What I like about that exploration is that it often results in a healing message to our partner, which is the goal, I think.