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Frustration and Aggression

Frustration and Aggression

Author: Erick Taggart

Identify the causes of and typical responses to frustration. 

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Hello, class. So the body reacts to negative events and things within the environment in different kinds of ways. For example, stress is a reaction that a person's mind and body have to sudden changes within a person's environment, where they become excited and prepare for some kind of fight-or-flight response because of something that suddenly change within their environment. Now, these reactions are normal and helpful in some kinds of ways, for example, if you need to get away from something dangerous. But they can also be harmful particularly to a person's mind and behavior.

So we're going to be looking at another reaction to a person's mind and body as well. And that reaction is frustration. Now, frustration is an emotional reaction that occurs when a person can't do something that he or she wants, or they can't reach his or her goal in some kind of way. In other words, the person is blocked in one way or another.

Now, there are different factors that affect the feelings of frustration that a person might have. For example, the obstacles or the things in the way of a person can either be external, which is to say something like, say, a broken down car, so something physical in your environment that stops you from getting somewhere. They can be social-- for example, a guard or a bouncer or somebody that refuses to let you into someplace. Or they can be personal-- for example, being physically unable to perform a task. So you're in your own way in some way.

And there are other factors that can increase the feelings of frustration and those sorts of levels of it. For example, there's the strength of the barrier itself. So if you're taking a particularly difficult test, you might feel even more frustrated about it. There's also the urgency of the goal itself. For example, if your wife is pregnant, then you feel a much greater sense of frustration because of that urgency of that goal itself.

Also the importance of that goal to yourself-- so for example, if your parents are losing their house, then you might feel particularly frustrated at being unable to assist them because that's an important thing to you. And also, how often that barrier has occurred as well, the regularity of the thing that's blocking you-- for example, if you see the same error message over and over, 10 times in a row on your computer, then you're going to get even more frustrated, even though it's a relatively small barrier.

Now, because of all of these kinds of things, frustration can lead to stress and anxiety within a person and can increase instances of either mental health-related issues, also can lead to stress, can lead to physical issues as well, because of the effect that stress can have on a person's body. Now, there are several typical reactions that a person can have to frustration. The first two that we'll look at are mainly positive reactions, which is to say there are good ways that a person can deal with frustration. And these are ways that frustration can actually be beneficial to a person. The first one is persistence, which is to say you continue to work towards your goal, or even you work harder or you increase your efforts to try to reach that goal. So the frustration motivates you to work harder in some way.

Another positive way you can react is through variance, or you can vary up your attempts to reach that goal. In other words, you're going to try something different, or you look for alternatives. And this is important because maybe that barrier that you're hitting is insurmountable. So you need to find another way to your goal, OK?

Now, the other ones are a bit more negative in their approaches. The first one and probably the most recognizable approach to frustration is aggression. And aggression is a response of frustration where a person attempts to harm someone or something else. In other words, they try to damage or hurt something.

Now, aggression may have been helpful in earlier times. And there are even situations where it is helpful now-- for example, if some animal is threatening you and your family, having an aggressive reaction in fighting it off would be a good thing. But generally, aggressive behaviors today are considered to be either unacceptable or, at times, even illegal. So it's important to understand that this is not necessarily the best adapted reaction to frustration within our world.

Also, aggression can become more frequent the more a person engages in it as a reaction to frustration. For example, studies of things like violent movies or video games have shown that when a person is faced with something that's frustrating, they're more likely to engage in aggressive behaviors if they are exposed to more movies or games that are violent. In other words, it either becomes more acceptable to them because they've seen it more, so they think, oh, that's an OK response, or it's easier for that person to think of those things. It's just readily available to them to react in that kind of way because they've seen lots of reactions like that. Either way, a person that acts in an aggressive way can definitely harm people, either physically, mentally, or emotionally. So it's an important thing to note.

You can also have been displaced aggressive reaction towards frustration, which is to say, especially if direct aggression is discouraged, like within our society today, you might take out your frustration on something that's completely unrelated. For example, when you get really frustrated at something that happened at work, you might turn around and kick your chair. So that's displaced aggression.

Now, a related term is that a person can also resort to scapegoating. And scapegoating is when a person or a group of people that are not at all responsible for a situation are blamed for it, and some kind of aggressive action is taken towards them. For example, if a person loses a sports game, then they might blame the fans, even though the fans had absolutely no effect on the outcome of that game. So you can see how displaced aggression can lead to some really harmful responses to both the person as well as, obviously, the groups of people or even the things that are being aggressively acted upon in some way.

The final response that a person can have towards frustration is escape, which is to say moving away from a obstacle and the goal itself. So you're abandoning what is causing the frustration, either psychologically or physically, depending on what you're talking about. So you can either withdraw mentally, or you might literally walk away from the thing that's blocking you.

Now, this can be positive if the goal is impossible or if an obstacle is insurmountable. So it's just a natural reaction to something that you just can't do. But it can also be negative if you give up or abandon something that's very important to you. And it can also lead to ineffective ways to escape things that might cause destruction or it might have harmful effects on the person as well. Things like drugs or alcohol are ways of escaping from frustrating situations that are definitely not healthy to a person.

Terms to Know

A response to frustration where a person attempts to harm someone or something.

Displaced Aggression

A response where a person takes out frustration on something completely unrelated.


Moving away from the obstacle and the goal; abandoning what is causing frustration.


An emotional reaction that occurs when a person cannot do what he or she wants or reach his or her goal.


When a person or group of people that are not responsible for a situation are blamed.