We like to try to control situations. Watch children playing, and you will see that , even at an early age, they try to impose order on their environment. ‘You go there,’ they will say. They will make up rules, designed to make their environment understandable.
Some children will have a tantrum if their desire for control is not fed. This can be pronounced in children who are not neurotypical, and can result from their wishes not being met (see for instance this link from the Autism Awareness Centre).
A tantrum is a behaviour of frustration. Three things are necessary:
- A wish
- A block
- An inability to channel the negative energy the block creates
Do we need to control situations to relieve ourselves of our frustrations? No. We have several alternatives, and as children get older, they work this out (usually). For instance:
- We can seek alternative expression (e.g. in art) – this is sublimation (see this link)
- We can move away from the situation and seek another situation – this is escape
- We can seek and accept the help of others – this is negotiation
- We can change the way we behave – this is adaptation
- We can simply accept the situation – this is surrender (see this link)
The above represent five ways to find peace in any situation. We can make art about it; we can walk away; we can negotiate; we can adapt; we can surrender.
None of these things involves control over our environment, although each one involves skill. It is when those skills are missing that individuals become unhappy, inflexible, and ill.
GIVING UP CONTROL
You can tell the conversation made by people who haven’t worked this out yet. Their whole focus is on their wish, the block to their wish, and their frustration at the block. That’s it. Over and over again. There is an inability to learn from experience, to learn sublimation, negotiation, adaptation or surrender. Escape is sometimes used, but even then they dwell on the original frustration, and can’t let it go.
Sometimes clients who come to counselling are stuck in cycles of frustration. Round and round we go, frustrated, without resolution. However, slowly, but surely, we begin to learn alternative responses. For example:
- SUBLIMATION – A client may begin to find solace in writing a journal, a novel, or poetry about their situation, or just get better at talking about it creatively and humorously.
- NEGOTIATION – A client may practice the give and take of negotiation with me. This acts as a kind of practice negotiation. When confident, those new ways can be taken to the outside world in the form of real negotiations.
- ADAPTATION – A client may try various adaptations to their practices and behaviours. Such techniques enable them to handle their day with better flow, and less frustration.
- SURRENDER – Eventually, a client may choose to accept situations without constantly needing to resolve everything. They become good at sitting peacefully, and life becomes restful.
A brief note about ‘surrender’. Some people don’t like the concept, because it seems to imply giving up. This is not the case. Surrender is achieving mastery over enormous internal tension. Even good fighters need to surrender to the present moment first, and accept what is, so that they can then focus their attention and their energy efficiently.
COUNSELLING OR JOURNALLING – A GOOD PLACE TO START
Sublimation is a good place to start. Try converting your frustrations into a flow of conversation with a good counsellor, or a flow of words into a journal. This will help you to channel the energy you may otherwise spend on being frustrated.
At first, it may be difficult. You may find yourself arguing with the counsellor or therapist in the same way in which you argue with other people. But, slowly, you may find yourself developing new vocabulary, new ways of expressing your situation. This can be a way in to new negotiations with others, or the creation of adaptive behaviour.
In short, sometimes our mental health problems are caused by a wish, a block, and a resulting frustration. By attending to that dynamic, ways can be found to channel the frustration, and empower us. It takes time, but I’ve seen it work time and time again. It’s always worth a try.