In the book Alcoholics Anonymous, it suggests that resentment is the number one manifestation of self/ego.
“Being convinced that self, manifested in various ways, was what had defeated us, we considered its common manifestations. Resentment is the “number one” offender. It destroys more alcoholics than anything else.”
The book goes on to outline the moral inventory process of Step Four and offers examples by listing and identifying the cause and effects of various resentments. Step Ten suggests the ongoing daily practice of this moral inventory and the humility to admit when we are wrong to others.
I’ve found these steps and this method of breaking down my resentments in order to identify and understand them better, very helpful tools in the process of overcoming and letting go of them. It helps to look at the cause of resentments and the effect upon my ego and its responses.
It also helps me to consider how my attitudes and actions may have contributed to my current circumstances or another person’s behavior in the first place.
Needing to consider our part in another person’s behavior, and being willing to make amends if appropriate, is often quite difficult to realise, as we can be blinded and consumed by our own feelings of hurt, injustice and righteous anger. As a result we can fail to empathise and understand the other’s position and their experience of events.
The practice of looking to our part in the situation first quite often helps us to better understand the other person’s behavior. However, we may need some time in order to let our feelings subside to a degree before we are able to attempt this process.
Making the effort to try and understand another person’s feelings and possible reasons for their actions, even if they haven’t communicated them, is important in relation to gaining empathy and in the process of acceptance – two virtues which are generally necessary in terms of resolving negative feelings.
Working through the above process quite often takes time and determination, and also a willingness to persevere with painful feelings.
What about when we have considered our part in the problem, but cannot identify how we’ve contributed to another person’s behavior, or been at fault ourselves, and feel that we have been unfairly treated or abused by another? Isn’t our anger and hurt justified in these circumstances? This maybe so, and it’s important not to accept responsibility for another’s harmful actions towards us. Instead, we can take a compassionate view ourselves and our hurt responses.
However, with our well-being in mind, it’s healthier in the longer term to try and release bitter feelings and resentments as this frees us from further suffering.
Not wanting to cause offence or any further injury to people who’ve suffered grave injustice, abuse or tragic loss (which quite often requires professional counselling), or to suggest the bypassing or denial of legitimate hurt and angry feelings, I have found the following lines helpful in dealing with more common, everyday resentments and hurts.
“Finally, we begin to see that all people, including ourselves, are to some extent emotionally ill as well as frequently wrong, and then we approach true tolerance and see what real love for our fellows actually means. It will become more and more evident as we go forward that it is pointless to become angry, or to get hurt by people who, like us, are suffering from the pains of growing up.
Such a radical change in our outlook will take time, maybe a lot of time.”
Twelve Steps & Twelve Traditions, p. 94 – 95.
An empathic and accepting attitude, if we are able, is of vital importance in developing forgiveness for harms done towards us. Forgiveness is the process of letting go of hurt and bitter feelings towards another for a perceived injustice, and wishing them well. It’s making a conscious choice to do this and to keep practising this attitude. Depending upon the nature and degree of injustice, this can be a very difficult, if not impossible, process to achieve for some people.
However, if possible, it’s worth practising forgiveness as we benefit from doing so in various ways; such as gaining freedom from negative feelings and the distress that these cause to ourselves and others. Resentment not only affects the holder, but also their relationships with others in their lives. Additionally, being free from resentment is beneficial for our health and well-being, mentally, emotionally and physically.
“Forgiving someone doesn’t mean condoning their behavior. It doesn’t mean forgetting how they hurt you or giving that person room to hurt you again. Forgiving someone means making peace with what happened. It means acknowledging your wound, giving yourself permission to feel the pain, and recognizing why that pain no longer serves you. It means letting go of the hurt and resentment so that you can heal and move on.”
I personally struggle with resentments quite often where other people are concerned; mainly due to my feelings of insecurity and low self-esteem. I was rejected and criticised constantly when growing up by my parents, which has resulted in a defensive attitude and sensitivity towards any real or perceived criticism, disapproval and social rejection from others.
The impact of childhood developmental difficulties and resulting chronic emotional insecurity and sense of shame are well summarized in the following description by Abraham Maslow. An insecure person is someone who:
“perceives the world as a threatening jungle and most human beings as dangerous and selfish; feels a rejected and isolated person, anxious and hostile; is generally pessimistic and unhappy; shows signs of tension and conflict, tends to turn inward; is troubled by guilt feelings, has one or another disturbance of self-esteem; tends to be neurotic; and is generally selfish and egocentric.”
‘The Dynamics of Psychological Security – Insecurity’, 1942.
“A person who is insecure lacks confidence in their own value, and one or more of their capabilities, lacks trust in themselves or others, or has fears that a present positive state is temporary, and will let them down and cause them loss or distress by “going wrong” in the future.
In addition, insecurity may contribute to the development of shyness, paranoia, and social withdrawal, or alternatively it may encourage compensatory behaviours such as arrogance, aggression, or bullying, in some cases.
Insecurity has many effects in a person’s life. There are several levels of it. It nearly always causes some degree of isolation as a typically insecure person withdraws from people to some extent. The greater the insecurity, the higher the degree of isolation becomes.
Insecurity is often rooted in a person’s childhood years. Like offense and bitterness, it grows in layered fashion, often becoming an immobilizing force that sets a limiting factor in the person’s life. Insecurity robs by degrees; the degree to which it is entrenched equals the degree of power it has in the person’s life. As insecurity can be distressing and feel threatening to the psyche, it can often be accompanied by a controlling personality type or avoidance, as psychological defense mechanisms.”
These quotes painfully describe the devastating effects of emotional insecurity in a person’s life, and I for one strongly identify with many of the resulting character traits and behaviors created by insecurity. I would like to suggest, though, viewing these so called “defects of character” in terms of psychological defences, which is a more compassionate take on our shortcomings.
I will also suggest that I’m not the only person in long term recovery to suffer from this type of emotional damage to one’s sense of self. Many in recovery have suffered from less than ideal childhood experiences; my point is that insecurity makes a person very prone to developing resentments, which can be a serious threat to one’s sobriety. In my case, insecurity in terms of my emotional (needs for love, affection/approval) and social instincts (self-esteem and pride) are a major cause of my resentments towards other people.
Sobriety, the self-awareness gained through recovery practices, the building of healthy relationships, engaging in positive activities and taking on personal responsibilities, all contribute to the building of self-esteem and a sense of emotional security in recovery from addiction. This recovery work then lessens one’s vulnerability to holding resentments. However, significant professional therapy can also be required as part of the recovery process, as we often need help with the self-love and compassion ultimately needed to heal our shame.
In my own case, the self-awareness gained through inventory work suggested in Step Four (Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves) and Step Ten (Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it), taking part in recovery groups, talking to others in recovery, counselling, reading and self-development work in general, are all tools that I have used to help me be aware of, and take responsibility for, my emotional difficulties and how these impact upon my relationships.
Awareness of my vulnerability to holding resentments and using the above recovery resources, often enable me not to act negatively upon my feelings of rejection and indignation. However, this is not always the case and sometimes my negative feelings get the better of me, often resulting in conflict and damage to my relations with others.
As a result of chronic and damaging emotional insecurity and my sense of shame, I am someone who needs to practice Step Ten of the AA program faithfully, in an effort to resolve my resentments towards others. As freedom from resentment is of vital importance for this alcoholic in recovery.