This article is about the emotional response of frustration. For other uses, see Frustration (disambiguation).
A frustrated man sitting at a desk
A woman who is frustrated

In psychology, frustration is a common emotional response to opposition. Related to anger and disappointment, frustration arises from the perceived resistance to the fulfillment of an individual's will or goal[1] and is likely to increases when a will or goal is denied or blocked. There are two types of frustration; internal and external. Internal frustration may arise from challenges in fulfilling personal goals, desires, instinctual drives and needs, or dealing with perceived deficiencies, such as a lack of confidence or fear of social situations. Conflict, such as when one has competing goals that interfere with one another, can also be an internal source of frustration and can create cognitive dissonance. External causes of frustration involve conditions outside of an individual's control, such as a a physical roadblock, a difficult task, or the perception of wasting time.[2] There are multiple ways individuals cope with frustration such as passive–aggressive behavior, anger, or violence. This makes it difficult to identify the original cause(s) of their frustration, as the responses are indirect. However, a more direct and common response is a propensity towards aggression.[3]


Frustration originates from feelings of uncertainty and insecurity which stems from a sense of inability to fulfill needs. If the needs of an individual are blocked, uneasiness and frustration are more likely to occur. When these needs are constantly ignored or unsatisfied, anger, depression, loss of self-confidence, aggression, and sometimes violence are likely to follow.[4] Needs can be blocked two different ways; internally and externally. Internal blocking happens within an individual’s mind, either through lack of ability, confidence, conflicting goals and desires, and/or fears. External blocking happens to an individual outside of their control such as psychical roadblocks, difficult tasks, or perceived waste of time.

Some people are predisposed towards feelings of frustration, indexed in terms of temperament (frustration), in adolescence and neuroticism in adulthood. Temperamental frustration is associated with perceptual alterations including changes in perceived relationship affection.[5]


Frustration can be considered a problem–response behavior and can have a number of effects, depending on the mental health of the individual. In positive cases, this frustration will build until a level that is too great for the individual to contain or allow to continue, and thus produce action directed at solving the inherent problem in a disposition that does not cause social or physical harm. In negative cases, however, the individual may perceive the source of frustration to be outside of their control, and thus the frustration will continue to build, leading eventually to further problematic behavior (e.g. violent reaction against perceived oppressors or enemies).

Stubborn refusal to respond to new conditions affecting the goal, such as removal or modification of the barrier, sometimes occurs. As pointed out by J.A.C. Brown, severe punishment may cause individuals to continue non-adaptive behavior blindly: "Either it may have an effect opposite to that of reward and as such, discourage the repetition of the act, or, by functioning as a frustrating agent, it may lead to fixation and the other symptoms of frustration as well. It follows that punishment is a dangerous tool, since it often has effects which are entirely the opposite of those desired".[6]

Frustration tolerance

Frustration tolerance is one's ability to resist becoming frustrated when facing difficult tasks. Having a low frustration tolerance is related to trait anger and a higher level of frustration tolerance is related to lower levels of anger and longer persistence on difficult tasks.[7] For example, a child with a high frustration tolerance may be able to deal with repeated challenges and failures without experiencing significant frustration. The child with a low frustration tolerance can be quick to experience frustration when asked to perform tasks of moderate difficulty.[8]

See also


  1. De Botton, Alain (April 2011). The Consolations of Philosophy. New York: Vintage Books, a division of Random House Inc. p. 80. ISBN 0-679-77917-5.
  2. "Frustration". Psychologist Anywhere Anytime. Retrieved 28 November 2016.
  3. Miller, NE (July 1941), "The frustration–aggression hypothesis", Psychological Review, 48 (4): 337–42, doi:10.1037/h0055861.
  4. "How to Overcome Frustration". Erupting Mind. Retrieved 29 November 2016.
  5. Laceulle, O.M.; Jeronimus, B.F.; Van Aken, M.A.G.; Ormel, J. (2015). "Why Not Everyone Gets Their Fair Share of Stress: Adolescent's Perceived Relationship Affection Mediates Associations Between Temperament and Subsequent Stressful Social Events". European Journal of Personality. 29 (2): 125. doi:10.1002/per.1989.
  6. Brown, JAC (1954), The Social Psychology of Industry, Baltimore, MD: Penguin, pp. 253–54.
  7. Szasz, P.L.; Szentagotai, A.; Hofmann, S. (30 November 2010). "The Effect of Emotion Regulation Strategies on Anger". Behaviour Research and Therapy. 49 (2). Retrieved 27 November 2016.
  8. Liden, C. "9 Traits You Should Know About Your Temperament". The Being Well Center. Retrieved 26 November 2016.

External links

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Frustration.


  1. "Frustration". Psychologist Anywhere Anytime. Retrieved 28 November 2016.
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