I have tried to tell the story of frustration in a one-day seminar, a two-day course, and even a three-day course, but I remain unsatisfied that the story has truly been heard. If one is to believe Chris Anderson, the curator for TED Talks, my problem has been too many words. According to him, the magic limit is 18 minutes (about 2500 – 3500 words) which he claims is “short enough to hold people’s attention, including on the Internet, and precise enough to be taken seriously. But it’s also long enough to say something that matters.” More words are counterproductive as far as he is concerned.

Even my daughter Tamara Strijack – the producer of my courses for the Neufeld Institute – has gently chided me from time to time about using too many words. I must admit that I have felt a bit defensive about this. I usually feel that I need more words, not less, to explain what I see. The more important the topic, the more words I assumed would be required.

Perhaps I have been wrong.

I have accepted the challenge to share the untold story of frustration in just 18 minutes. I figure if historian David Christian could explain the history of the world in 18 minutes, I should be able to tell the story of frustration within that time frame as well.

And the story of frustration is something that matters very much, as there is no way of making sense of our children, ourselves, or the history of civilization for that matter, without making sense of this primal, powerful and most perplexing emotion.

We get frustrated when something doesn’t work for us. For many of us, that is not an insignificant part of life. Handling frustration is undoubtedly the critical challenge in becoming truly civilized.

Frustration also matters to the brain itself. Even though our brains have the propensity as well as amazing capacity to solve problems, it depends very much upon the existence of frustration to indicate that a problem exists and to get things moving. Reading frustration correctly is absolutely foundational to solving life’s problems, from the most minuscule to the most monumental.

Unfortunately, frustration can turn ugly on a dime. A small somewhat incidental frustration can turn into a chaotic emotional tsunami that can wreak havoc. For example, the original frustration can be triggered when something relatively insignificant is not working for us (eg, getting our way, making a connection, trying to be understood, or even making the scissors work). More frustration is added if attempts to fix that problem do not work and that futility is not felt. Then there is the compounding frustration that happens if the release of this accumulating frustration breaks the sense of connection in a working attachment. Given that togetherness is the brain’s priority, this now becomes a new and far more desperate problem to solve, leading to an escalating cycle that can go on and on and on. In my experience, making sense of frustration holds the most promise to breaking this cycle, or even preventing it in the first place.

So if frustration matters so much, why hasn’t the story been told? One reason is that frustration’s offspring – anger, guilt, shame, suicidal impulses, aggression and violence to name a few – tend to get all the attention. Another reason is that the various pieces or parts of the story are known separately, but not as a whole. Where the real story of frustration lies is in how these pieces fit together – pieces that come from an understanding of attachment, emotion, development, feelings, adaptation, and even the brain itself.

The story of frustration is every person’s story, at least a significant part of their story. My hope is that, with insight, we can make this a good story.

My challenge will be to tell this story in 18 minutes.


Editor’s Note: Dr. Neufeld will present his 18-minute untold story of frustration in a special webinar, Traffic Circle Model of Frustration, on September 22, 2022, to be followed by a panel discussion with Tamara Strijack and Deborah MacNamara. Click HERE to register.

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