Patience and tolerance are behaviors and states of mind to practice, right? How well do you do with them?

Questions about Patience and Tolerance came to me after I spent extended time with someone who couldn’t seem to talk about anything that wasn’t unpleasant. All of us need a dose of healthy venting at times; but what I mean here is non-stop negative chatter about anything and everything, not conversation about a specific matter that genuinely needs attention or compassion. If such chatter goes on overlong, I get the heebie-jeebies.

This person’s tendency is to be this way at times, so I’m not surprised when it happens. However, it was my reaction that got my attention. I noticed I was practicing patience, which meant I was pretending to be patient; and that when my pretend patience waned, I slipped (very briefly) into tolerance, which meant I’d actually slipped into pretend tolerance, which is intolerance.

My dictionary defines patience as bearing or enduring pain, trouble, etc., without complaining or losing self-control; refusing to be provoked or angered; calmly tolerating delay, confusion, inefficiency, etc.; able to wait calmly for something desired. Tolerance is defined as to allow, permit, or not interfere; to recognize and respect others’ beliefs, practices, etc., without sharing them; to bear or put up with someone or something not especially liked. Wow… that’s quite a bit to live up to.

I’d have to say that asking ourselves to uphold these definitions all the time would be asking a lot. But, don’t we usually believe we’re supposed to be this way, and that we’re flawed if we aren’t? We may think we should be more patient or tolerant, but what we ultimately want is to feel differently than we do so we behave differently than we might.

The words we don’t see with the definitions—the words we believe we should feel, which are the source of mixed feelings are, “and you are genuinely in balance about doing so.” The word “calmly” is included in the definitions, but it’s more realistic to say we try to convince ourselves to stay calm, when we know we’re losing our cool. The more we try to suppress what we feel, the more our feelings begin to escape as facial expressions and body language, comments, and actions—like steam from a kettle starting to boil.

Maybe what we actually practice is demonstrating as much self-control as we can muster in moments that try our patience and tolerance. When we were kids, we screamed, cried, and threw stuff—behaviors not considered acceptable in anyone over a certain age. As adults, perhaps we do allow ourselves some leeway… like the point a doctor made about allergies: “Imagine allergens filling your system like liquid fills a glass. You’re fine until the glass is full and spills over. The overflow is when you experience allergies.” I see the parallel to loss of patience and tolerance, which means we could probably give ourselves more credit than we might.

It feels like this to me: In general, we tolerate a level of behaviors and situations because we all have our ways, both good and could-be-better; and we really do desire to get along as well as possible with others and life. When “stuff” piles up, like being rushed, exhausted, have too much going on, too great a personality contrast, etc., our “glass” overflows and we feel less able to “politely” suppress how we really feel. Once we feel pushed too far (more accurately: once we think ourselves into feeling we’ve been pushed too far), we’re no longer able or willing to put up with what annoys us. It’s not about losing patience and tolerance—we will; it’s about what we do when we lose it.

When patience and tolerance are challenging to maintain, or fly out the window, it’s time to look at what’s underneath this. It’s likely that something has continued past its “expiration date.” It could be something external or internal that needs reassessment and adjustment.

It’s likely you have a greater threshold of tolerance and patience at times, say, when you assist someone who’s ill or train a new puppy. It doesn’t mean that you won’t slip if challenged beyond what your “glass” can hold, but you may be slower at being triggered during such times because you have an inner alignment about your role in what’s going on. That’s what’s underneath patience and tolerance, and their opposites: Your level of personal alignment with what’s going on.

Explore what causes you to feel anything but at one with yourself, who you’re with, your environment, or events. There’s a message waiting for you there from your core self—a message about an inner or outer action you need to make to restore inner balance and serenity.

Judgment about yourself, or who or what tries your patience won’t help; it’ll make your symptoms worse because that’s what you focus on rather than the remedy. Take several deep breaths. Maybe walk away from who or what triggers you for several minutes to regain some of your calm. You want to be present enough to ask right questions like, “What’s this really about; and what am I willing to do, with integrity, about it.” Otherwise, you may pretend patience and tolerance, until you no longer can. Then the “steam hits the fan,” when you might have been able to turn down the “flame.”

Practice makes progress.
© Joyce Shafer

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Author's Bio: 

Joyce Shafer ( is a Life Coach, author of I Don’t Want to be Your Guru, but I Have Something to Say & other books/e-books, and publisher of a free weekly online newsletter that connects people with information, resources, and others aligned with enhancing and expanding spiritual Truth in their personal and business lives. Receive a free PDF of How to Have What You REALLY Want when you subscribe at