In his Power to Parent series, Dr. Gordon Neufeld teaches about the significance of frustration.
Frustration is an emotion you feel when something in your life isn’t working for you. When faced with frustration, there are several ways that this can express itself. The most healthy options are to 1) change the situation that frustrates you, or if you aren’t able to do something to change what is bothering you, to 2) accept that you can’t change the situation. In order to accept the situation as it is, it requires feeling the futility of the situation, feeling the sadness of wanting something and not having it. This is something that many of us find difficult because we have become defended from our emotions, meaning that we’ve hardened ourselves to a degree so as to not feel painful emotions, sadness about unmet desires being one of those painful feelings.
What happens when a person becomes emotionally defended? Since they don’t allow themselves to feel the sadness of the situation, when faced with frustration it manifests as aggression (towards himself or others). Dr. Neufeld teaches about how to help a person who is emotionally hardened find what he calls ‘tears of futility’; this is necessary for them to constructively deal with tough emotions and grow emotionally. He talks a lot about how to do this, and one possibility is to carefully touch on painful situations to bring them to tears. These tears are a sign of adaptive behavior and get something that can turn foul out of our systems where it can’t harm us.
Yesterday morning I was very anxious about Yirmiyahu being so sick, and as I started thinking about the possibility he’d need to be hospitalized began to tear up. I don’t cry often, but this past week and a half I’ve had my share of tears. I thought, “God, what do you want from me already?” And suddenly it occurred to me, maybe He isn’t demanding something of me but giving me an opportunity. Just as a loving parent may touch on painful topics in order to help a child experience his futility and grow, God is pushing me to find my tears. Tears of futility (this can also be the feeling of sadness of futility without the tears) release tensions, help us come to peace about all that we are going through, and increase our emotional adaptability.
Fully feeling our sadness is an important and powerful step in breaking down the internal barrier that separates us from our deeper selves, from others, and from God – so this is my impetus to embrace rather than resist the discomfort of the challenges I’m feeling right now.
It’s not fun but it’s good.