How to Identify a Resentment

According to the Big Book resentment is the main driver of addiction, especially to alcohol. Carrying resentments makes you angry and self-destructive. You attribute your problems to others, who you believe are out to get you. As the Big Book puts it: ‘Resentment is the “number one” offender. It destroys more alcoholics than anything else. From it stem all forms of spiritual disease, for we have been not only mentally and physically ill, we have been spiritually sick. When the spiritual malady is overcome, we straighten out mentally and physically.” Step four–a searching and fearless moral inventory–is mainly about identifying and resolving the resentments at the heart of addiction. How to do know a resentment when you see it?

What are you angry about? Start by making a list of everything you are angry about. It could be anything–a parking ticket, a situation at work, politicians, relatives. Anything that makes you boil for whatever reason goes on the list.

How long have you been angry? For each thing on the list, make a note of how long you have been angry about it. Resentment is anger that we’ve held onto. If you are angry about a parking ticket you got 10 minutes ago, that’s perfectly understandable. If you are angry about a parking ticket you got 10 years ago, there may be else something behind it. Think of this number as a provisional resentment score.

What’s behind the anger? Anger feels like primary emotion. Something bad happens and we get angry about it. In reality, anger is more complicated. First, we interpret what happens in some way. That interpretation produces some emotion and the anger is typically a response to that emotion. Then, we make up a story about why we’re angry.

We are usually not aware of any of this except for the anger and maybe the story. For example, you get a parking ticket and think, ‘I can’t afford this. If I have to pay it, I won’t have enough for both food and rent’. The result is naturally fear, but fear is uncomfortable, so you immediately experience it as anger. Then you make up a story about oppressive government or inadequate parking.

For each item on the list, write down why you are angry about it. Is it the consequences of what happened? Did someone do something he shouldn’t have done?

The next step is the hardest. Try to identify what you felt before you felt angry. Typically it’s something like fear, helplessness, or sadness. These emotions make us feel weak and vulnerable, so we become angry because it feels more powerful. It also makes us feel in the right. The problem with holding onto this position is that we can never discover what the real problem is. As long as you hold onto a resentment and protect it, it will continue to make you miserable and drive your addiction.

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