One of the core ideas of REBT is frustration tolerance. Dr. Albert Ellis is the psychologist that probably introduced this important concept into psychotherapy and showed how nearly all of us have too little frustration tolerance about the important matters of life. Recently, the field of psychology has turned its attention to related concepts like self-control, grit, and willpower. These traits are probably due to a person having very high frustration tolerance. In any event frustration tolerance, self-control, grit and willpower all are important components to goal accomplishments.
REBT theory suggests that rigid and extreme beliefs interfere with frustration tolerance. When we set out to accomplish a personal goal it is inevitable that there will be adversity encountered along the way. To assist you in better understanding your emotional reactions to adversity I will use REBT's ABC model of emotion. Let us assign to these adversities the letter (A). In REBT we show people how the emotional consequences of encountering various adversities are self-defeating emotions like despair and anger to which we will assign the letter (C). Most people think that (A) adversity leads directly to (C) despair or anger. Ellis argued that rigid and extreme beliefs at point (B) come between (A) adversity and (C) our emotional and behavioral consequences. Appreciating that our beliefs (B) come between (A) adversity and (C) emotional and behavioral consequence can enable us to improve our low frustration tolerance at point (C). This is because low frustration tolerance at (C) is largely a result of rigid and extreme beliefs. Here are a few examples of beliefs that give rise to low frustration tolerance:
1. Life conditions absolutely must be as I want them to be. (Rigid belief)
2. I absolutely should not encounter such difficult adversity as I pursue my personal goals. (Rigid belief)
3. I absolutely should find solutions quickly and easily to those adversities that block me from achieving my goals. (Rigid belief)
4. I cannot stand to continue to test different ways to address the adversity that blocks me from achieving my goals. (Extreme belief)
5. It is awful and terrible to fail yet again at achieving my personal goal. (Extreme belief)
Ellis taught people to examine the beliefs that underpin their low frustration tolerance so they could see how these beliefs are unhelpful, illogical, and inconsistent with reality. In other words Ellis introduced reason into psychotherapy. People can be taught to change these self-defeating beliefs into self-helping beliefs which will give rise to high frustration tolerance. High frustration tolerance is helpful because when humans possess it they tend to persist at solving their problems and thereby achieve their personal goals. Here are five beliefs which could be used to replace the five self-defeating belies cited above thereby raising a person’s frustration tolerance:
1. I want life conditions to be as I desire them to be but they do not have to be so. I can cope with life as it is and not as I wish it to be. (Flexible, realistic belief)
2. It would be better if I did not encounter such difficult adversity as I pursue my personal goals but this never has to be so. Adversity exists and my rigid thinking about it only causes me to quit on my personal goals. (Flexible, realistic belief)
3. I wish I could find solutions quickly and easily to those adversities that block me from achieving my goals but such ideal solutions do not seem to exist and they do not have to exist. I will keep searching for solutions even if they are difficult and slow to be found. Too bad life is not easier. (Flexible, realistic belief)
4. I can stand to continue to test different ways to address the adversity that blocks me from achieving my goals. (Non-extreme belief)
5. It is bad but hardly awful and terrible to fail yet again at achieving my personal goal. Failure is as much a part of life as disappointment is and all humans fail and are disappointed at different times in their lives. (Non-Extreme belief)
Ellis pointed out that the human condition is such that we find it difficult to have beliefs which give rise to high frustration tolerance in matters that are important to us. When we deeply value a particular goal and we are blocked from achieving it humans quickly and easily think in rigid and extreme ways. Fortunately, as humans we also have the capacity to change our thinking but it is not easy for us to do. It takes a willingness to want to improve our capacities and rise above our challenges. It is easier to complain to ourselves and others about the adversities we face. We all have done this. Some of us complain silently and mope around about the things that get in the way of achieving our personal goals. Then some mental health professionals encourage us to vent our thoughts (B) and feelings (C) and explore the difficult conditions of our lives or the adversities of our lives (A) but never get to challenge the self-defeating beliefs we are venting about those adversities. People prefer to vent and vent instead of doing what does not come naturally or easily which is to think differently about their adversities. REBT is different. In REBT we tend to see venting as largely a self-defeating execise particularly when it goes on too long as we are merely reinforcing the self-defeating beliefs which lead to our emotional upset instead of questioning those beliefs and changing them to more self-enhancing functional beliefs.
REBT helps people develop strength, resiliency and persistence by encouraging philosophical change about the adversities, disappointments, and obstacles of life. When we have a philosophy of high frustration tolerance we can then persistently work at changing what might be changed. It is only through persistence that we discover what can and cannot be changed. It is only through persistence do we discover creative solutions to our most difficult problems. It is only through persistence that we increase the probability of finding ways to get what we really want. However, we need frustration tolerance to persist and REBT shows you the beliefs that interfere with your tolerance for frustration. More importantly, REBT challenges you go give up these self-defeating beliefs and adopt more flexible and non-extreme beliefs that lead to high frustration tolerance.
In closing I wish to leave you with this thought. If you really desire to achieve your goals work on the self-defeating beliefs which underpin your low frustration tolerance. All people who have managed to solve difficult problems have done so with high frustration tolerance. Unfortunately, there is no getting around this aspect of life. Once you see this then use REBT’s powerful philosophy day in and day out to build your frustration tolerance so you persist at your goals. You just may be able to pull off your dreams if you build frustration tolerance and try, try, and keep trying to find a way to solve your problem. Persistence prevails when all else fails!