Wednesday 29 March 2017

Frustration & Conflict: Measures to Resolve Conflicts; Various Forms of Defence Mechanism

The present article discusses about frustration, the concept of conflict, types of conflict, various measures for resolving conflicts, and definition and forms of defence mechanism.

What is Frustration?

Frustration & Conflict
Frustration & Conflict
Frustration is the hollow state of mind which occurs when a goal response is blocked. In other words, it occurs when satisfaction of needs is interfered with or blocked.
One major element of maladjustment that is consistently repeated in almost all the causes of maladjusted behavior is frustration. Frustration may be due to familial conditions, school atmosphere, personal inadequacy or peer group relationship.

Frustration could take place under two circumstances:

  • When the biological, psychological and social needs of the students are not fulfilled or satisfied
  • When the individual faces conflicting situations or moral dilemmas

Concept of Conflict:

Before going ahead, let us understand the difference between conflict and frustration. Yes, there is a difference between conflict and frustration. The latter (frustration) is the product or the consequence of the dissatisfaction of needs, whereas, the former (conflict) is the process, or one of the factors responsible for causing frustration.
Conflict is the operation of two incompatible action systems, it may be drives; needs, values, tendencies and impulses. The individual finds it difficult to make a choice between two conflicting situations.

A conflict is caused under two situations.

First, it (conflict) arises when there is an urge to fulfill the two equally important objectives, needs, drives, values, tendencies and impulses. This situation of conflict is exemplified in the following situation.

Example: Mr. Singh is a Police Inspector. He is quite sincere and honest in his work. He has a good reputation in the community. Like any other responsible father, he too arranges his daughter's wedding. Unfortunately, the marriage expenses exceed the budget and he finds it difficult to manage. At that moment, his wife advises him to borrow money from his friends. But Mr. Singh cannot even think of borrowing money from others as he gives much importance to self-respect.

So, the situation may create a conflict in his mind. In the above given example, you find that the psychological need of self-respect is incompatible with the social need or social status in the community.

Second, conflict arises when two different goals are set to fulfill a single need. For example, a young girl wants to establish herself as a social scientist. There are many ways through which she can get recognition. She can work hard as a committed researcher and achieve her objective, or can seek the influence of the higher authority in the department and get the academic recognition, without working on it.

She is in a dilemma, whether to seriously work or achieve the goal through easy means. Often, people find easy means to come up in life, eventually gain, but this leads to tension and anxiety.

Types of Conflicts:

Conflicts are classified into three types. These are the following:

An approach-approach conflict:

An approach-approach conflict is a situation, wherein I the individual is caught between two mutually exclusive goals which are desirable and also are difficult to realize simultaneously. This is exemplified in the following situation. A student prepares for his examination, is keen to secure high marks but at the same time, wishes to attend the wedding of his best friend, both due on the same day.

Similarly, a girl who is eager to marry her fiance, and also wishes to complete her computer course in the same semester itself. In these illustrations, you find that the boy and girl should move towards the other goal in order to achieve one.

An approach - avoidance conflict:

Let us consider a common example. A girl of twenty five wishes to marry a boy who is highly qualified and well placed. She hesitates to achieve her goal because the life style of the boy is totally different from the girl. He smokes and drinks. Similarly a boy wants to approach his father to obtain grace marks in two subjects.

However, he hesitates to approach him, as he had assured his father that he would secure a rank in his class. This situation creates conflict in the student's mind. These examples reveal that at some point of time the person wishes to realize the goal and at the same time avoids the goal.

Thus, approach-avoidance conflict is a situation wherein the individual is motivated to achieve a goal and at the same time develops a tendency to avoid it.

An avoidance-avoidance conflict:

An avoidance-avoidance conflict is a situation, wherein an individual is motivated to avoid both the goals. Observe yet another dilemma. Karan is forced by his friends to see a new movie, which he is reluctant to watch. At the same time, he does not want to displease his friends by saying that he would not accompany them for the movie. In this situation, he wants to avoid both the goals and finally faces a conflicting situation.

Measures for Resolving Conflicts:

Every individual faces a conflict in life sometime or the other. But it is not necessary that every time, it leads him to frustration. Whenever he meets frustration in life he develops tolerance towards that situation. Thus, every individual develops a certain degree of frustration tolerance. A person who has low frustration tolerance may live in a maladjusted manner.

If an individual is intelligent and has an insight into the problem, he will find ways and means to solve it. In such situations, he may adopt the direct method or an adaptive mechanism, to solve his problem.

On the other hand, if he is timid and weak in understanding the problem, he may adopt the indirect method or a defensive mechanism to escape from the conflicting situation. You, as a teacher, have to develop in the students the skills to resolve conflicts.

Some of the adaptive mechanisms of resolving conflicts are as follows:

Accepting reality:

We tend to move far away from reality. We set our targets beyond our capacity to achieve. Instead, if we change our goals and re-set them according to reality, it may be feasible for us to achieve the goals and thus solve the conflicting situation.
For example, a teen-age girl aspires to study medicine in the United States, but her financial position forces her to re-set her goal and takes up the course in one of the best colleges in the city or country.

Analyzing problem situation:

 Whenever we face conflicts in life, we usually think of only one alternative solution. If that alternative is not a viable one to help us arrive at the solution, we stop at that point itself and start worrying about it.

An intelligent person will not react in such a passive manner. He may think of as many alternatives as possible for a given problem and analyze the pros and cons of each of the alternatives and may find a better solution.

Prioritizing the goal:

At times, you might have observed that individuals meet with conflicting situations, where more than two goals are involved. In such situations, one should work out positive and negative aspects of achieving each one of these goals and choose the best.

For example, a student may want to finish an assignment in time but there is a very interesting movie on television he does not want to miss. Here he may face a conflict which may be resolved by prioritizing the goal.

Developing value-judgement:

One should develop the ability to judge values when one is facing a moral or value dilemma. Study the following situation.

Diverging one's interest:

Open mindedness could help solve one's problems easily. Narrowing down our interest to one specific act leads to conflict.

For example, Smith is good at drawing. He is keen to take up Architecture as his specialization because of his interest towards arts. Unfortunately, he fails to obtain a seat in that course. Immediately, he switches over to Mechanical Engineering. He further utilizes his talent by developing interest in freelancing artwork, calligraphy, advertising, etc. Thus, changing one's interest also solves the problem to some extent.

Defence Mechanism:

Defence mechanism is a technique adopted by individuals to cope with tension, stress and anxiety that are mainly aroused by conflicts.

When an individual meets with such a problem, instead of developing an insight to solve it, he may find an easy way to escape from the problem and give a totally different explanation for it.

However, psychologists are of the view that a defence mechanism rescues the individual from maladjusted behavior. Nevertheless, excessive use of such techniques may again lead to maladjustment.

Types of Defence Mechanisms:


It is a tension-reducing device and is temporary in state. Human tendency is to retain the pleasurable experiences in mind and push aside the undesirable one’s to the sub-conscious mind or one may force oneself to forget such unpleasant experiences by repressing it. This is true even with growing children.

Reaction formation: 

This is a technique wherein an individual reacts in an extreme way for the one he is already in conflict about. It is just switching over from one end of reaction to the other end. For example, a child who has been very notorious during his early school becomes cooperative later on and helps in the study of his classmates.


It is a mechanism wherein the individual gives false reasons, other than the actual one in order to reduce his guilt feeling raised out of conflict.

For example, a student, after successfully completing his Senior Secondary School education, eager to seek admission at the Indian Institute of Technology, could not succeed in the test or interview. He conveniently blames the authorities for their defective testing or interviewing technique.

However, this technique could be used even in the reverse way also by rationalizing, with a sweet reason. For example,, a senior teacher who has lost the chance of promotion may proclaim that she is happy with the present job, as it does not demand much commitment. But, internally she might have longed to become the headmistress of the school and felt sorry for not getting the post.


It is a technique by which an individual fulfills his basic needs by associating himself emotionally with famous, persons or popular institutions. By allying himself with popular persons he gets the satisfaction, thereby overcomes his limitation and shortcomings. Through this technique, he glorifies himself when his own goals are not fulfilled.

For example, Varun feels proud to boast that he resides in the same street where cricketing legend Sachin Tandulkar does. By identifying oneself with famous personalities, one reduces one's inferiority complex.


It is a type of mechanism wherein the individual compensates for the socially discredited behavior in a socially accepted way.

For an example, a person who is biologically not satisfied may resolve his frustration by developing interest in sports, scientific research or social services.


It is a mechanism in which an individual substitutes attainable goals for the goals which are difficult to attain in their life, for some reason. There is a difference between sublimation and compensation.

For example, a student who is weak in studies may put extra effort to develop a beautiful handwriting. Similarly, a student who cannot fare well in athletics may develop her ability in dancing.

In such situations you find that students try to prove their ability in order to save their ego or self-esteem. Those students who suffer from inferiority complex may feel secure by adopting such mechanisms.

The compensation mechanism is a vulnerable aid to adjustment. It reduces tension and anxiety and promotes good mental health.


It is another type of defence mechanism employed by insecure students. You might have seen some ego-centric type of children in your classroom. Such children ask a lot of irrelevant questions, talk loudly, play mischievous pranks and try to be witty, mainly to draw the attention of others.  

A case study of the particular boy may reveal that he is very poor in mathematics and continuously fails in the monthly test. By indulging in such an act, he wants to draw the attention of not only his classmates but also wants to satisfy his ego.


This is similar to that of ego-centrism. Negativism is another ego-enhancing and attention-seeking device employed by thwarted students. They express their reactions in a negative way by sulking, rebelling, refusing to eat, talking and behaving in a stubborn way.


This is a form of reaction to frustration. The frustrated students may transfer their emotions on others. The pent-up emotions such as hatred, hostility, irritation or annoyance will be passed either on human beings or on inanimate objects.

Let us understand this concept with the help of an example. An employee who is insulted by his boss, vents his anger on his wife, she in turn, may pass it on to her son, by beating him for a petty reason. The boy who is hurt by his mother, represses his feelings and runs to the ground to play. While playing he loses at games. Annoyed by this, he kicks his friend badly and brings out his repressed feeling.

The chained reaction of frustration is exhibited in various forms e.g. destroying, damaging, retaliating, hurting, humiliating, insulting, and threatening.

Read Related Articles:

Adjustment & Maladjustment: Characteristics and Causes


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