Understand Bullying: the Frustration Factor

John Bailey
4 min readMay 18, 2021

If you’ve been following the series, you may remember how action-and-results-focused other installments have been. I’ve mentioned how things like reporting (statistics), judging (labeling), postering (kitschy sayings), and punishing don’t create real and useful change.

Anything that doesn’t build coping skills or shift culture isn’t going to make real change.

To achieve real change, we must understand the mechanics, and then commit to doing things differently. Adults must come to talk differently, to act differently, and to expect different behavior from our own children. That’s the definition of “shifting culture”. It’s not immediate; it’s not effortless; but it does pay huge dividends.

The change you want to see is waiting — for you to make it happen.

Remember that every action is an attempt to escape an emotion — or to create another. Emotions operate in relationships and patterns to form systems.

This time, we’re going to look at FRUSTRATION and how it operates with other emotions to encourage the three actions of the bullying system:

  • taking Advantage of power
  • using Aggression
  • and Accepting mistreatment

Last time, I also promised to reveal how completely necessary frustration is to our mental health, overall well being, and success — and to show how you should be facilitating healthy doses of frustration often.

Think about an achievement you are proud of — something you really feel self-esteem over having accomplished. Chances are you didn’t achieve it on your first try. It probably took focused effort over a period of time, and the overcoming of obstacles. Some of the obstacles probably took more than one try — and some learning of skills or growing of strength along the way.

Now, think about something mundane you do all the time — some boring chore, for instance. Do you feel much self-esteem over that? Why not?

True achievement means overcoming challenges and obstacles. And, the proof that an obstacle is a worthy challenge is that it takes effort — probably repeated effort, learning, and personal growth. Not getting what you try for the first time is called “frustration”. So, the process of doing something to call an “achievement” means navigating frustration with some tenacity:

All roads to achievement and self-esteem run right through frustration.

Frustration is inevitably between you and any worthy achievement. In fact, you can’t even get to determination without going through frustration first — to build up the necessary intensity by testing commitment.

Motivational Literacy calls frustration a “worthiness test”: If a challenge isn’t enough to frustrate you — at least at first — it isn’t really worthy to help you build self-esteem. And it’s likely to bore you pretty soon.

Unfortunately, we’ve allowed marketers to convince us that frustration is intolerable, and our children are getting better at avoiding it than at coping and growing through it. The result is that frustration builds bullying behaviors in ways very similar to the ways fear works. Remember this map from last time?

When a person navigates from frustration to shame because they think feeling frustrated means they are incompetent, they are primed to conceal that shame by abusing authority or acting aggressively.

When a person navigates from frustration to surrender and submission they are more likely to accept mistreatment.

Any of these things can happen when someone is frustrated beyond their ability to navigate to more useful emotions.

Frustration can build into monumental determination when youngsters learn that navigation. Frustration can also inspire groundbreaking creativity if a person learns to choose that course.

These navigational choices can only be made — and can only become the habitual choice — if the child understands the emotion is normal (not shameful). While learning to navigate frustration, the challenges must be appropriately-sized, and the student must plan and rehearse the direction they want to go — by applying what we call the “measure of measures”…

Well-managed martial arts classes usually follow these guidelines, allowing children to face a frustrating challenge repeatedly, and to deliver rehearsed responses to develop positive navigation of frustration. This can also be true of team sports and most forms of artistic expression.

Parents should model the understanding of frustration as normal — and a signal that they have stumbled upon a worthy challenge for their next achievement. Acknowledge frustration as the opportunity to learn and overcome rather than being something intolerable, shameful, or helpless-making.

Parents should be creating frustrating experiences of the right size for their children, and insure they are having them regularly. And, don’t rescue them or give in when the child navigates to surrender or even anger. Those exits lead a child to be vulnerable to either being bullied — or to bullying.

Facilitate frustrating experiences in both the physical and mental aspects of life, modeling and encouraging creative and persistent strategies to overcome challenges.

If you check your personal history, you’ll find this is the pathway you took to most of your own best achievements. You can install that effective strategy into youngsters with your modeling and orchestrating of learning experiences that are challenging (frustration in the right dosage) that culminate in achievement and self-esteem.

In the next installment I’m going to reveal how anger can turn dangerously into a self-sustaining system that works almost like an addiction — and what you can do to prevent or escape it.