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  • Zarmina Penner

Chronically Frustrated with Someone? Try this.

Updated: Sep 27, 2021

I’ve always worried about losing time. When I fled my civil war-rampaged country in my teens, I wasn’t worried about losing time, but I became concerned again as soon as peace settled in around me. Eager to resume my studies, I needed to figure out a way of learning the language of my new country, with no funds to spare. By chance, I received a gift of a precious dictionary (that I still have), and as there was nothing else to do, I studied it page by page. Whenever a term popped up in the evening news that I recognized, I felt overjoyed — a daily expanding treasure of words. (Potentially, I could have done nothing and still be where I am today. Who knows?) Nowadays, I think differently about time, having experienced its elasticity. It seems like there is always enough time to do whatever you need to do without stressing out as long as you stay present with the task. (Mostly, we overdo things anyway, the perfectionists that we are.) Also, time spent connecting with others is time best-spent and the most productive of all. Still, I remain somewhat time-sensitive.

Another thing I worry about is misusing my mind. I am incredibly cautious when my mind is distracted, agitated, or disapproving. This mind state creates thoughts and actions that don’t lead to anything good. By now, I know better than to entertain it. Sometimes I hear a voice in my head or notice a feeling in my body urging me to stop. Then I focus on any object in front of my eyes and observe it keenly until I am back, tricking my mind out with its unhealthy state, or I close my eyes and watch my thoughts till they subside. If I am in the middle of a conversation and notice my mind slipping into judgment, I sit back, say less, and start listening more carefully to the person in front of me and focusing on what I admire in them to change my mood. I see it as a form of active meditation, or maybe it’s also called mindfulness.

Whenever I notice unhealthy mental states, typically, the issues seem always related to universal human dilemmas. I know from experience such problems will not disappear unless we actively decide to do something about them. It’s a call for action, but what and how?

So the other day, I thought I’d start writing up the dilemmas I observe and the remedies I apply to them that have been effective.

One such universal dilemma is wanting someone to be different from what they are right now. It is a common theme for frustration — giving birth to millions of anecdotes shared daily. (Instead of venting, time could have been spent connecting, listening, supporting, creating, or just relaxing and being; anything more beneficial.)

Though logically we know we are powerless to change others, we still try and feel frustrated when it doesn’t work. It never does. We feel the urge to coax or nag others into a version we’d prefer for different reasons. It is human, yes, but a waste of time.

So here’s my write-up of this particular dilemma and its remedy. (I use my remedies myself, that is how I know they work.) Try it out if you feel inspired to do so.

Universal Dilemma: Wanting others to be different from what they are


Chronic frustration, preoccupation, oversharing, losing sleep trying to understand why this is happening, feeling powerless, etc.

Rule of thumb
 The more frustrated we are with others, the more the problem (cause of frustration) is directly related to us. Conflicts that are not associated with us in some way are easy to resolve.

Facts about us
 We can’t change others; this mission is impossible.

We can however

  • Change our perception of them.

  • reflect on why they bother (trigger) us and what we see that reminds us of bits of ourselves that we don’t like (mirror reflection). If we go in there, painful as it may be, we gain insight into ourselves.

  • Consciously direct our attention towards whatever we want.

  • Change our behavior and reaction style.

  • Choose those with whom we want to interact.

  • Choose not to engage in mind games (e.g., the victim, aggressor, lifesaver triangle) others might propose.

  • Choose to learn from every experience (growth mindset in action).

All “can” options are variations of “taking your power back.”

Facts about them

• Some people will never change (fixed mindset).

• Some want to change but don’t yet know how (growth mindset, in need of guidance).

• Some will change when we grant them room to grow by drawing our attention away from them and giving them positive encouragement (growth mindset, in need of space).

Universal Remedy

  1. Stop sharing anecdotes and grievances. Refuse to be a victim (nor an aggressor or a lifesaver.)

  2. Drop the dilemma like a hot potato. Accept the person as they are right now.

  3. Don’t allow yourself to go into nagging or coaxing mode. It’s a trap.

  4. Drop the thought that they will change. Ask yourself, can I happily deal with the current version?

  5. If so, take your gaze off of them and bring your attention back to yourself.

  6. Set your boundaries appropriate for your new decision, respectfully and kindly.

  7. Use the opportunity to self-coach and coax yourself quietly into a wiser reaction mode, softer speech, and gentler behavior.

  8. Evaluate your values, use your mind, now unclouded by projection and emotion, well in each interaction.

  9. If you are responsible for them, give them what they need to grow: space, guidelines, encouragement, etc.

  10. If not, make a clear decision to distance yourself from them elegantly and purposefully — without drama).

Expected Outcome & Benefits

1. Save time.

2. Save effort.

3. Regain the peace of a healthy state of mind.

4. Reduce “noise” by sharing fewer anecdotes with others or none at all.

5. Become a better version of yourself, a wise leader, and a role model for others around you.

Image: pexels, yan krukow, #4458420

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