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Member Poll – Let’s Talk About Frustration

Messy Paint and Pen

Dear Members,

I want your input! I’ve been doing research for a blogpost/ podcast and I’m looking for contributions from the Allies community. I’m in the process of gathering information to illuminate the experience of frustration, and the various (healthy AND unhealthy) ways that we each deal with it. If you have thoughts to share, please post a comment below answering the following two questions:

1. What is your definition of Frustration?  and…

2. What do you do to work your way out of it ?

There are no right or wrong answers here, it's personal and specific for everyone.

Thanks everyone! Stay tuned for my next post/ podcast on this topic…


Annie Highwater is a Writer, Speaker, Podcast Host and Family Advocate. She has a particular interest in family pathology and concepts of dysfunction, addiction, alcoholism and conflict. Annie published her memoir, Unhooked: A Mother’s Story of Unhitching from the Roller Coaster of Her Son’s Addiction, in 2016. Her story sheds light on the personal challenges facing the affected parents and family members, and illustrates how family dynamics both help and hinder the recovery process. Annie’s second book, Unbroken, Navigating the Madness of Family Dysfunction, Addiction, Alcoholism and Heartache was published in August of 2018. She resides in Columbus, Ohio and enjoys writing, long distance running, hiking, the great outdoors and visiting her son in California as often as possible.



In your comments, please show respect for each other and do not give advice. Please consider that your choice of words has the power to reduce stigma and change opinions (ie, "person struggling with substance use" vs. "addict", "use" vs. "abuse"...)

  1. Hi all, I know this is supposed to be a member poll, But I wanted to share some thoughts myself. Frustration is one of my go-to negative emotional states. I spend too much time in places of frustration.

    I think it’s helpful to keep in mind that frustration – a certain amount of it anyway – is considered to be healthy. Developmental psychologists underline that children need to feel frustration on a regular basis, in order to connect with the motivation to grow, learn, be creative, be imaginative. So it’s not actually a “negative emotion”… Unless, like I tend to do, you remain in it and return to it, almost like addiction.

    For me, frustration is a type of feeling sorry for myself. It’s also the feeling that comes up when I’m ignoring reality, trying to force things, trying to do way too much, focusing on what’s wrong. Frustration grows in that soil for me.

    In my body and mind, it goes hand in hand with feeling overwhelmed. Feeling powerless. It’s a butting your head against the wall feeling. And it’s a close (more politically correct?) cousin to anger, perhaps one that’s a little more acceptable when anger is something we don’t allow ourselves to express. It’s more of a quiet, ongoing “grrrrrrrr” vs. a roaring “RARRRRR!!” …but I think they’re more similar than we think.

    I guess the antidotes for me are trying to stay realistic about what is within the realm of what I can realistically accomplish, have power over, change. Also, frustration tends to be focused on what we imagine comes from the outside, from others. I think that the more we shift the focus back to ourselves, what we can do, what we truly want, letting some of the extra stuff fall by the wayside, we feel better aligned with ourselves, and less frustrated. Don’t know if this is helpful for anyone else, but as I form these thoughts, I feel it’s helpful for me.

  2. This is pretty raw: frustration for me is hearing my husband minimize his drinking, and to refer to the people who he drank with at bars and bartenders as his friends, to have him describe my anger and pain at his staying out all night and coming home drunk as abuse. To deny that his drinking had anything to do with his losing his job when I saw him go into work drinking day after day. I am grateful to CRAFT for guiding me toward regulating my emotions, but I am frustrated that the relationship seems so one-sided. Everything I do should be in response to his behavior. Frustrated that his drinking and other behavior has caused our daughter so much pain. The last is the hardest, she thinks I should leave. He had not had a drink in about four months, which is great but I am so tired. He still goes into bars daily, but drinks coffee.

    1. I plan to anonymously weave these responses into an article about frustration. But I would be dropping the ball if I didn’t respond and tell you personally this is something I get. I have walked it. A one-sided relationship is very lonely. It’s also aggravating and tiresome. I went through something similar years ago, and I never forgot it. I wore myself out trying to carry the whole situation myself. So many plates in the air without that burden too. We have enough to deal with!

      Eventually I let them all come crashing down in order to gather myself again. For me personally, I had to step aside and take care of me. I wasn’t doing either of us any good.

      When I am overburdened and overwhelmed I try to string together as many breaks in a day as I can, so the clouds can part and give me so peace, wisdom and clarity. Then I make decisions. And I’m kind to myself when I do! Do I need to take a long, hot shower? Or do I need to schedule an appointment for therapy and invite this person to participate. Do I need to go for a walk? Call a friend? Or set a boundary.

      After thinking a few things like that through, I might then try to get some work done, do some cleaning or take a nap. Some time later, I might pull out my phone to listen to short music or meditations (the Sanctuary page on here has some great ones, YouTube as well). Or maybe find a clip of my favorite comedian. And then back to what I need to do a little more.

      I love the analogy of the end goal being a touchdown. Even if I only get a few yards ahead at a time, I’m still moving forward, taking care of myself and being my own cheerleader as I go.

      Slowly, strategically and with lots of self- compassion was how I walked out of what felt like a whole WORLD of problems I couldn’t figure out.

      Much love and peace to you today…and the best news is – THIS day is the only one you have to make it through for now.

      Thank you so much for your contribution!

      Love and light,

      1. Thank you so much for this loving and encouraging post, Annie, and letting me know you get it. I was feeling a little bit exposed. But then I felt like it was okay to be honest with myself after reading your response. I appreciated this so much “Slowly, strategically and with lots of self-compassion was how I walked out of what felt like a whole WORLD of problems I couldn’t figure out.” xox.

  3. 1.) frustration for me is when my own worries/concern/boundaries and sense of urgency for my LO are met with indifference of my LO not wanting to work their recovery like their life depends on it.

    2.) I try to slow down my thinking, take a step back, look at things as being a marathon and not a sprint. but also try to frame my mindset around Module 3. Then I try to focus on why I love her. Then I try to do anything I can to not obsess

  4. Frustration raised its ugly head when I took relapses personally and made comments that triggered the kind of responses that made the situation worse. I unknowingly used some of the principles of the CRAFT program at some times however, and although it took many years, it led to my recovery in Al-Anon and my wife’s through her recovery in AA. Rewarding “good” behavior and detaching with love from unacceptable behavior finally led to our recoveries. Frustration is now a thing of the past.

  5. 1. Frustration to me is when I get so upset and annoyed with a situation that I feel I have no control over and there seems there’s no solution.

    2. I do a great deal of praying and going out to my favorite hiking area, take a long hike and think things out. When it is a good opportunity, I also try to talk with the person that has contributed to my frustration. I try my hardest to stay calm because getting upset just makes me look like the bad guy. I also tell myself tomorrow is another day and things will look better.

  6. 1. Frustration for me is the line that gets crossed where my emotions take over on their own without me being able to control them.

    2. It depends on the situation, but it is usually when I retreat, step back and analyze what is happening through using what I learned here. When I control my emotions, no one else can.

  7. Frustration for me is being responsible for —- but not in control of —-things/experiences/consequences in my life.

    I deal with it in various ways depending on how I am feeling (how much rest I’ve had, my current level of stress, how many negative outcomes I’ve had to deal with without adequate recovery): sometimes I feel hopeless and get depressed, sometimes I lose my cool and express powerful emotions, and SOMETIMES I take it in stride and am able to internalize the thought ‘this too shall pass.’ I have found that practicing that practicing that healthy coping mechanism makes it easier for me to choose that one more often.

  8. My definition of frustration is when my addicted to alcohol son who is in legal trouble does nothing to help himself or seek help. It is so frustrating to observe him letting his life dissolve around him. Fortunately the CRAFT approach has been paying off. He got a job interview today and he is looking for a sober living house to live in.

    To work myself out of it I meditate, do yoga, and seek solitude in my new home that is a great distance from him. We are in close touch, but I took myself out of the day to day observance of his problems. My home is now my sanctuary instead of a chaotic place.

  9. Annie,
    I hope my experience of frustration and how I dissect and analyze it, might help you on your podcast to put into words that will help someone or many.

    -from Latin frustrat- ‘disappointed’, from the verb frustrare, from frustra ‘in vain’

    The confusion is harmful in my experience. The enemy of confusion, my tool of health, is distinction. Differentiation of the components of the real and complex conditions surrounding around any situation. Many of them are internal and so making this a degree more difficult; we simply can’t read minds nor no implicit triggers inside people that bring up emotions. I think distinguishing between childish coping mechanisms and adult coping is vital in my experience.

    For example, my experience has taught me to distinguish between fear and my resistance to it. I think resistance to fear also precludes resistance to the facts causing the fear. Acceptance leads to energizing and exploring the situational context and imagining solutions. Denying the fear and suffering the consequences that they never go away, might be the definition many gravitate towards for frustration.

    On the surface there’s a resistance to something that leads nowhere. E.g. when I dread a negative consequence it is really the resistance to the energy that a fear really represents inside my body in the form of neurochemicals, namely adrenaline. The energy is meant to alert me to a situation needing my attention, yet if I turn away from that energy and cause and there’s no one to remedy the danger then my body will continue to drip adrenaline into my body until the threat goes away.

    Without accepting and trusting fear’s meaning(no harm yet has my best interests at heart), I can’t straightforwardly and relentlessly, detect the source of the fear and decide if its something I can change or something I need to walk or run away from or fight etc.

    When fear, isn’t distinguished from the pain of resisting the fear(that isn’t going away because I am the only one called to action by my physiology and perhaps morality), faulty logic continues to resist the source of the pain. This leads to the same outcome.

    This is FRUSTRATION.

    Looking at it from the physiology makes it clearer. If there is a danger, my senses(at the unconscious level), cause adrenaline to be secreted that causes my “experience” of fear, that is meant to breaks through my unconscious perception of “emergent danger”, to my consciousness. In order to energize me to act. The action can be to jump away or to think about the meaning of the emergent source detected that has caused my fear. Neurosis is resistance to fear; inability or conditioned “fear of fear” or dread, that causes a slow drip of adrenaline until we accept the fear and use its energy to explore the source.

    The reason for learning such a faulty manner of dealing with fear can be traced back to childhood; I believe. As a child ,if a danger is detected, I will experience fear. Within the family unit, the parents are experienced and capable to deal with the source of danger, they detect as well as you, in an adult way. I child may be told to “be quiet” since a child isn’t competent to deal with the source of the fear. Children takes things very personally and might imply and create a belief that “my fears should be resisted and not communicated either with my parents or my own consciousness; repressed.” The parents then deal with the source and tell the child that “see, there’s nothing to be afraid of.” Later in life mommy and daddy aren’t there and if we repressed the danger doesn’t get taken care of.

    When our body wants to energize us its because there’s something we need to do. That is why I am a big fan of the slogan, “control the controllables”, because this gives direction to the energy of fear. We can reference CRAFT for a big list of “CONTROLLABLES”. Another reason I believe CRAFT is valuable.

    I think there are many more examples of coping mechanisms from childhood, that functioned in a family, yet that don’t work anymore as an adult that no one else is taking care of. Repression of signals that we “tune out” in the same way that is a childish remnant brought into adulthood leading to frustration.
    Thank you Annie. Hope this helps.

  10. Frustration is a build up of tension, anger, stress due to not being in control of a situation. Blocking MY goals and aspirations.

    I write or journal. What is causing the frustration? Do I have unreasonable expectations around the cause. For example, am I frustrated that my son hasn’t contacted me in days? What’s unreasonable is that my expectations become dark and worst case scenario.
    If I can get a glimpse of that, tell myself that maybe he needs some distance from me for awhile, I can change my expectation (a little) to my positive thoughts; he has his own highest self, just like I do. Pray that his strength and resilience (that I am modeling thanks to AIR) will hold him. Not to see him as weak or an addict, but as his own person.
    I also reach out to the support on this website, listen to the podcast and other forms of peace and support.
    Thanks for all you do!

    1. I love this! And it makes me think of another thing that ignites my own frustration – UNANSWERED questions. I can feel the burn if I allow it from that. When I am going down a rabbit hole for answers and seem to be finding none, nor are things making sense I have to “drop the rope” so to speak, and redirect my thoughts. Yes, coming to the Air site, podcasts, etc. are a wonderful remedy for those moments!

      Thank you so much for your input, I have received some profound responses and emails on this subject, I can’t wait to stream it all together!


  11. These are great responses. I hadn’t put language to how vital self-care is when it comes to frustration. Wow, this opens up a whole new area.

    One person wrote to me and said “I know how I respond to frustration, I don’t believe it’s possible to prevent it.” I believe self-care may actually be a way to do that…or at least reduce it’s ability to consume us.

    AMAZING insight here!!!

  12. Frustration to me really goes hand in hand with control. If I look at a situation where I am frustrated I can see the root is at the lack of control. I deal with this many ways but usually I try to get some distance or pause so I can really look at what the problem is. I don’t always succeed at this but this is what I try to do. Remaining calm is probably my first goal with any conflict. I think the better my LO is doing the less I want to control her. The more I trust she is doing the best she can and it is her life. She will enjoy or suffer the consequences of her choices. I think looking at myself first I can see where the frustration is coming from. I am more of a planner and like things organized but my daughter is more spontaneous and impulsive….there isn’t a wrong or right way to do things and that is what I say to myself.

      1. Yes! I really don’t want to be in charge of the universe but when it comes to the health and safety of a loved one, I can get pretty forceful and domineering, always pushing toward the dream sequence at the end. Too bad it never ever works.

        Facing the reality of the situation is what actually starts to break up some of the frustration. I am forced to accept my limited influence and I have to back away from my loved one’s disorder. It’s the whole self-care mantra that I run through my head. Back away, don’t apply too much pressure, avoid assigning guilt trips, don’t argue or create drama, take care of myself – take care of myself – take care of myself. In taking better care of myself I can create a cocoon of peace under pressure. I’m still learning but that’s the gist of it.

    1. I really like what shelleybobelly said about frustration and as I reflect on my own behavior, I can see that I have the same relationship between control and frustration.

      All we can really do is control what we do and how we react, but this is the hard part, right? I noticed that when I started to focus on my self care, I started to be more mindful of how I feel in difficult situations and I’m in a better position to catch myself from doing or saying something I regret, which prevents me from feeding the cycle of frustration. I’m also less likely to get into my head too much and overthink things that also leads to my frustration, which I guess goes back to a sense of loss of control.

      I notice if I start slacking off on my self care that my irritability and frustration start to spike, which is a red flag for me that reminds me to take care of myself as much as I try to take care of others