Low Frustration Tolerance
What is LFT?
One of my main goals when practicing Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) is to help clients address low frustration tolerance (LFT). One source defines LFT as the “inability to tolerate unpleasant feelings or stressful situations.”
I reject this description, because an inability is the state of being unable to do something. LFT relates to one’s perceived inability to tolerate distress, not a literal inability.
Sometimes referred to as discomfort disturbance, or by REBT practitioners as “I can’t-stand-it-it is,” LFT is often preceded by specific narratives we tell ourselves. Here are some examples:
· “I can’t stand when this happens.”
· “I can’t even!”
· “I can’t take this!”
· “I can’t handle this anymore.”
When the mind convinces itself that some event cannot be tolerated, and there is no counter narrative available, the unhelpful or unhealthy belief sends a message that impacts the physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral aspects of a person’s being.
This process is known as dysfunction. As such, LFT is the byproduct of the things we tell ourselves and this impacts our ability to function in a healthy manner.
Should we actually stand it?
It may be worth considering, as one source questions, “Even if the client can stand it, does he or she really need to? Is it necessary to have to ‘stand’ every frustration that comes our way?”
I’m reminded of a quote from fictional character Dr. Ian Malcolm of Jurassic Park who remarked about the moral and ethical implications of recreating dinosaurs. He stated, “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”
When working with clients, I use psychoeducation to demonstrate how should, must, and ought-type narratives impact rigid belief systems. Here are some examples that may impact LFT:
· “I shouldn’t have to deal with this, ‘cause I can’t even!”
· “I ought not to be offended, otherwise I can’t take it.”
· “Others must not challenge me, because I can’t tolerate when that happens.”
· “Life’s gotta’ be easy, or else I can’t stand it!”
· “You better not disrespect me, because I can’t accept you if you do.”
It’s worth noting that not all should, must, or ought-type statements are equal. For instance, if I maintain that I should not intentionally harm others this may be a rational, helpful, or healthy rule by which to live.
I can determine appropriate should, must, and ought-type narratives for myself. However, if the script I use for myself is then thrust upon others and the world, I may want to stop and consider whether or not I ought to use demandingness towards others.
Likewise, simply because I may be able to tolerate something I find annoying, unpleasant, frustrating, or displeasing doesn’t mean I must subject myself to the experience. Using Dr. Malcolm’s logic, just because I can doesn’t mean I should.
The curious case of Bizney
Suppose there’s a hypothetical child-focused company name Bizney. Among other functions, Bizney creates entertainment shows and films for a diverse audience.
Imagine that Bizney officials one day determine that there aren’t enough characters in their content that are left-handed. Using flawed logic, Bizney determines the following:
Premise 1: Overrepresentation of right-handed people is oppressive towards left-handed people.
Premise 2: Bizney over-represents right-handed people.
Conclusion: Therefore, Bizney is oppressive towards left-handed people.
The logic is sound, though it’s based on a flawed premise that implies a should, must, or ought-type narrative. The notion that Bizney ought not to be oppressive towards a particular group of people seems honorable.
However, the moral and ethical rationale underlying the assumption about overrepresentation is amiss. If roughly 90 percent of the world’s population is right-handed, it would make sense as to why righties would be overrepresented.
Staking a moral claim relating to good, bad, right, wrong, or otherwise based largely on a statistical observation is where the premise falls apart. From the illogical conclusion flows irrational behavior—in this case, company action to represent more lefties.
To correct a perceived problem that isn’t actually worrisome to begin with, Bizney begins inserting more left-handed characters into its programing. In fact, it does so to such a degree that lefties are then overrepresented far beyond statistical relevance.
Along comes John Doe. John notices that lefties are being displayed in film far more than righties. As well, he notes that righties are even demonized in Bizney’s content, often playing the role of villains.
John says to himself, “I can’t stand to see what Bizney has become,” and, “Bizney shouldn’t ability-swap characters.” From an REBT perspective, John’s belief system could be addressed using the ABC Model:
(A)ction – Bizney inserts more left-handed characters into its content than actually exist in reality.
(B)elief – John says to himself, “Bizney shouldn’t ability-swap characters, and because they do, I can’t stand to see what Bizney has become!”
(C)onsequence – Due to his irrational demand and LFT-inducing narrative, John disturbs himself into anger. He experiences tightness in his shoulders, grinds his teeth, and clinches his fists. John then takes to social media and shitposts about Bizey.
There are a number of approaches I could use with John if he sought treatment regarding this matter. To keep things simple, I’ll address three options.
First, I could disrupt the formula John uses which leads to dysfunction. This would entail disputing John’s unhelpful or unhealthy belief.
I’d ask where it was written that Bizney should, must, or ought to comply with John’s demands. I’d also question whether or not it was literally true that John couldn’t actually tolerate to see what Bizney has become.
This method of disputing would be aimed at getting John to question his own flawed premises, irrational beliefs, and inaccurate assessment of his ability to tolerate discomfort. Primarily, this is what I hear many people say they expect when seeking REBT—challenge.
Second, instead of challenging John I could discuss unconditional acceptance. This approach would involve John’s familiarity with the circles of control, influence, and concern.
Due to the fact that John has little influence and zero control over Bizney, John’s issue operates in the sphere of concern. Matters which are beyond our ability to impact can simply be accepted for what they are.
This doesn’t mean that we agree, promote, or appreciate matters outside of our influence of control. Rather, we simply acknowledge to ourselves how little we can do about these issues so that we no longer disturb ourselves concerning what we think should, must, or ought to be.
Finally, I could address the Dr. Malcolm conundrum. Even if John could stand exposing himself to Bizney’s content, does he really need to? Is it necessary for John to stand shows or films simply because he can?
Using REBT, John can disturb himself less by understanding his belief system is what leads to consequences. Still, focus on whether John could tolerate Bizney doesn’t override an assessment of whether or not he should do so.
I would explore with John the possibility of self-disturbance that leads to self-sabotage of John’s interests and goals. He could build frustration tolerance, though is it necessary if he doesn’t agree with Bizney’s principles as is?
Herein, I’ve described LFT, assessed whether or not one should tolerate some things, and provided a fictional example of how to address LFT from an REBT perspective.
Once we understand what causes LFT, we can begin working on how to build our frustration tolerance. For more information about how to build your tolerance level, I invite you to read Chosen Suffering.
If you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of your life, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.
As a psychotherapist, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues ranging from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.
At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!
Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW
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