The Value of Frustration: Psychoanalysis on the Street Meetup
"I think the problem is having the illusion that one knows what one wants. And the reason that frustration is important is because frustration contains the possibility of discovering a new want. What usually happens is because we can’t bear frustration, we fill it with a known want. This has to do with the repetition problem. It’s very, very difficult, actually, to be surprised by one’s desires.”
“Frustration is always, whatever else it is, a temptation scene; something we are tempted to get rid of, something we crave false solutions to, something that lures us into the more radical self-deceptions."
- Adam Phillips, first excerpt from an interview bearing the same title as this open discussion, second from his book “Missing Out: In Praise of the Unlived Life”
What happens when the objects of our desire are absent or recalcitrant - that is, they resist our proximity? What do we fill our time with when we’re feeling frustrated? What if it lasts - do we become neurotic? What if it’s short, are we sure we’re over it? Can we, and if yes, how do we remain within a state of feeling fulfilled if our wants and desires are always hitting up against obstacles, knowing that these obstacles are always circumscribed by the existence of others like us, filled with wants and desires?
In his Types of Onset of Neuroses (1912), Freud distinguishes two main causes of frustration: first, a failure to receive gratification from an external object that has proved to do so in the past, but no longer does, necessitating a need in the individual to find a substitute, or else neurosis sets in (change in reality, experience). Second, a conflict resulting from within the psyche, a tension between the dammed-up libido and demands of reality, resulting in an inner struggle to maintain the equilibrium between the two (accent falls on an internal change). In Freud's words: ”Reality does not frustrate every kind of satisfaction, but it frustrates the one kind of which the subject declares is the only possible one.”
Major psychoanalytical theories of development since Freud equate the capacity to tolerate frustration as central to the development of the capacity to think, imagine and play (Klein, Bion, Winnicott), along with the capacity to adapt to the world around us.
A child - and later adult - who is unable to cope with reality is usually one who does not know why can’t she have it all!
As adults, we might not always want it all, but we often want specific objects, most of the time, in our own way. If we don’t get what we want, or think we want, we end up in that jittery state called frustration. The energy we spend to avoid frustrations - to eliminate obstacles to our satisfactions as it were - is often understood, in our contemporary culture at least, as justified attempts to be happy.
However, we might add with Adam Phillips, that to bear frustration is to open oneself up to the possibility of discovering other kinds of pleasures and desires within ourselves and with others around us, as well as resisting and transforming existing narratives of satisfaction as sanctioned (and fabricated) by culture passed down to us through society and education as the only worthwhile or fulfilling kinds of satisfactions and forms of happiness.
Join us on Wednesday, 20th September 2017 at 20:00 for our monthly Psychoanalysis on the Street Meetup to participate in an open discussion where we will explore together the topic of frustration.
Facilitated by Sokol Ferizi, a writer and community facilitator at Stillpoint Spaces Berlin.
About the format:
Psychoanalysis on the Street is an open-discussion meetup for people interested in psychology, culture, and the arts. Our aim is to bring psychoanalysis out of the consulting room and to give individuals from all walks of life an opportunity to engage with the exploratory energy of depth psychology. No background in psychology is required.
Image credits: "Whole Earth/All You Can Feel" © Sarah Schönfeld