How to Manage Out of Control Frustration

It was one of those mornings. My car has this fancy gauge that tells me how many miles left ’til the tank is empty. When I left my house it read 9 miles. When I pulled into the gas station the gauge said 4 miles. I jumped out, reached for my pocket only to find no wallet. Oh no!

OK, what are my options here? No wallet. I had no cash in my car. I wouldn’t make it to work with this amount of gas. My wife is at the Y about 5 miles beyond my house. My house! I couldn’t find my keys this morning…the key ring with my house key on it. So I drove off with the spare car key and no way of getting in my house. Ah, but we have a house guest. Sad, but I’ll have to wake her up and ask if she has any money. And not to forget the 5 mile drive home on the tank that says 4 miles to empty.

OK, another option is just blind fury. That is what I felt. Every strike against me—about to run out of gas, my wallet in my other jacket in the other car with my wife farther away, no keys to my house. Frikin’ great! I can’t believe this. And the song on the iPod is Counting Crows…who are always depressing. What a morning!

Some days the only option is frustration for me. I hate to admit I have a low boiling point when it comes to frustration. And when it boils it can derail my morning…my whole day. I hate feeling hijacked, but that is what happens on occasion when my emotions get the best of me.

My son watches Daniel Tiger and there is an episode where they sing “When you feel so mad that you want to roar, take a deep breath and count to four.” Nice strategy when you are five, but it doesn’t quite do the trick at 48. So what can I do now so my day is hijacked by seething anger and frustration?

My counselor and I talked through these steps. He calls it FTAR, but admits he got that from someone else. But these are the steps in the process.

1. Feel it.  If you notice a strong feeling going on, stop and ask yourself, “What am I feeling?” Actually being able to pinpoint the feeling and name it is such a gift. If you have trouble with this, find a feelings list online to give you options to choose from. When you can identify the feeling and recognize it you are validating what is going on inside you.

Validating that feeling gives yourself dignity and grace. Telling yourself you shouldn’t feel that way does the opposite and removes dignity. You have a right to feel. You may also need to remind yourself that it is OK to feel that way. It is so freeing to just say it, “I’m so angry!” And then you can move forward.

2. Think about it. This feeling is an invitation to dig deeper into your heart and mind. What does this feeling invite me to notice that I haven’t noticed before? Do I have a value in life that I feel is being violated? What is that value? How do I feel like this value is being violated?

Also, painful to admit is that I think the world should just work and there should never be any problems. Who else thinks like me? My wallet should have just been in my pocket. My car should have not been running low on fuel. I should have easily found my car keys this morning. My value is that nothing should ever go wrong. Kind of easy to get violated wouldn’t you say? I know, I need to work on changing that expectation too.

So my value of “nothing should ever go wrong” was violated and there wasn’t an easy solution. It’s easy to see why I got frustrated and angry.

My violated value is admittedly a pretty shallow one. Much bigger values like injustices in the world—children shouldn’t have to suffer, sex trafficking is evil, and racism is a problem that must be dealt with—make it easy to see why people get so angry. Anger is a good thing in that it spurs action. So identifying what value you may have and how it is being violated actually could help you decide to do something about the violation if you want to. But it starts with thinking about how you came to this feeling.

3. Accept it. Once I have felt it and validated to myself that it is OK to feel this way, and I have thought through and understood why that feeling is there, then I can acknowledge it makes sense why I feel this way. This is a higher level of giving yourself grace and showing yourself kindness. Telling yourself you should feel this way is plain treating yourself badly. It’s like your parent telling you to stop behaving that way. You are being parental with yourself.

Accepting that you are feeling this way IS NOT accepting that something is wrong or right. I’m not talking about acquiescing or resigning yourself to no other feeling about this violation. I am talking about acknowledging that it makes sense that you feel this way. I am frustrated about how my morning went, and after thinking through it, it makes sense why I would feel this way. It doesn’t mean it’s right to feel frustrated about how things went and to start slamming doors and throwing stuff. But giving myself the dignity of acknowledging that I do feel this way allows me to move through and be productive and not hijacked.

4. Release it. This is the hardest part for me, because it feels like injustice to myself to let it go. Feeling angry feels right, but it also has a way of controlling you. Not in a good way. The anger or frustration controls you to the degree that it affects how you do life, how you treat people, how you interact with your world. Releasing the feeling actually allows you to regain control of how you behave.

Remarkably, it is a gift to release the feeling. I often have to reframe my thoughts on this by offering myself the gift of letting go of the intense emotion. Hanging on to this feeling does not benefit me or others. It stands in the way of loving others and treating people, including myself, well.

When I step back I can recognize that this feeling is there for a reason. I need to remember my “think about it” conclusions about what value I have that has been violated. Sometimes the violation may be something someone has done to me. Would you agree with me that not forgiving that person will affect how you treat them? But if you do release what you are feeling, you may be able to come back to that person and have a constructive conversation about how what they did affected you. This feeling then led me to take action of having a conversation that perhaps leads to deeper relationship.

Sometimes releasing the emotion is too difficult. I can’t tell you how many times I have asked for God’s help to release something I can’t seem to accomplish alone. Maybe even telling God “I release this into Your hands” because it still seems too big a violation of my value to deal with. But there is deep freedom in releasing it into the Father’s capable hands. And great value too, because I can regain my ability to love people and cast aside my day being hijacked.

This process isn’t always fast. It could take a few hours to mentally go through this and calm down. It probably took me about an hour this morning to get to a more peaceable frame of mind. It is no “Daniel Tiger solution” but then again we are dealing with much more complex situations than someone taking the instrument I wanted to play. But I am more than glad to regain composure and not take my frustration out on people who had nothing to do with my crummy morning.

If you think this FTAR process is helpful, or would like something handy to help you remember the process, I made a handy dandy reference card just for that purpose. You are welcome to download it if you like and use it to help you in a moment of intense emotion. I keep one in my car just for that purpose.

My featured image was taken at the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland. I like how it symbolizes how our emotions can put us in a precarious edge of the cliff situation where we don’t know what could happen. But we can also choose to walk to worn path safely if we regain our composure.


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