The Big Book of “Alcoholics Anonymous” includes the story of a woman whose drinking landed her in jail twice and nearly ruined her third marriage. Her final drunk, she recalls, lasted 60 days around the clock. “It was my intention, literally, to drink myself to death,” she said. Joining AA saved her life, largely because it helped her overcome the habit of resentment.
This woman wrote that “self-pity and resentment were my constant companions … for I seemed to have a resentment against everybody I had ever known.” Moreover, “the only people who would support this attitude or whom I felt understood me at all were the people I met in bars and the ones who drank as I did.”
AA recognizes that resentment is toxic to our inner lives. The case is plainly stated in the Big Book: “Resentment is the number one offender. It destroys more alcoholics than anything else.”
A person mired in resentment has scant chances of recovering from addiction. And remember that many forms of addiction left unchecked are fatal.
Resentment means to re-feel old hurts
It’s revealing to look at the word itself. “Resentment” is close to “re-sentiment” — “sentiment” meaning “feeling” and “re” meaning “again.” So, resentment is literally “feeling again.” This gets to the heart of resentment: recycling old negative feelings, revisiting old wrongs done to us by others.
It’s as if each of the offending incidents is captured on videotape in our minds. Resentment, in effect, is mentally replaying the scene countless times each day. As we do so, real wrongs grow worse, and wrongs that are merely imagined assume a life of their own.
This mental habit extracts tremendous costs. After all, resentment does nothing to change the person we resent. Nor does it resolve conflict. Instead of freeing us from the wrongs of others, resentment allows those people to dominate our thinking — a kind of emotional bondage.
Fortunately the Twelve Steps of AA give us practical tools to defuse resentment, such as the following:
Describe resentments in writing. We can note the person we resent, the action that offends us, and how it has affected our lives. Resentments “seem huge and powerful when they’re in your head,” note the authors of A Program for You, a Hazelden study guide to the Big Book of “Alcoholics Anonymous.” “But once they’re down on paper they no longer seem so huge or powerful. In fact, on paper a lot of resentments look downright stupid. . . . These are the very same resentments that seemed completely reasonable and justified–and powerful–while they were in people’s heads.”
Look at your role in the resentment. ‘The Big Book asks us to examine the original incident that fuelled our resentment and ask: Did I do anything to cause this situation or make it worse? If we’re honest, the answer will often be yes.’
Be willing to live without resentment. People can get a perverse satisfaction in feeding their resentments. Many times the only thing that keeps us from being free of resentments is the fear of being without them. People in the Twelve Step program ask a Higher Power for help in letting resentments go.
Pray for the person you resent. The woman quoted above (in the Big Book) discovered another way to end her most deep-seated resentment. “If you have a resentment you want to be free of, if you will pray for that person or the thing that you resent, you will be free. If you will ask in prayer for everything you want for yourself to be given to them, you will be free. Ask for their health, their prosperity, their happiness, and you will be free.”
Do this, she adds, even if such a prayer seems like mere words at first. Try it every day for two weeks and you will come to mean it. This technique literally squeezes resentment out of our minds, because positive concern and resentment simply cannot coexist.
She puts the same idea in other words: “AA has taught me that I will have peace of mind in exact proportion to the peace of mind I bring into the lives of other people.”
Alive & Free is a health column that provides information to help prevent substance abuse problems and address such problems. It is created by Hazelden, a nonprofit agency based in Center City, Minn. “Copyright © 2003 Hazelden Foundation. All rights reserved.”