Releasing Resentment

The Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book offers guidance for starting the Fourth Step “fearless and searching moral inventory.”  Notably, the guidance does not start with contemplating one’s feelings of guilt or shame.  It starts with resentment.  The Big Book declares, “Resentment is the ‘number one’ offender.  It destroys more alcoholics than anything else.” So how exactly does one release resentment?

The Twelve Step tradition offers some insight and some stumbling blocks.  It guides recovery seekers with resentment “to keep their side of the street clean,” suggesting one might have put oneself in a position where injury or disappointment was possible or likely.  Some recovery seekers strenuously resist this idea.  Unrealistic expectations or a sense of entitlement may have set some up for disappointment, but a startling number of adult recovery seekers were innocent victims of child abuse.  These child victims had no culpability for the crimes committed against them.  Is telling addicted abuse survivors to keep their side of the street clean tantamount to blaming the victims?  Not exactly.  Being wounded sets in motion patterns that, subtly or blatantly, wound others.  Recovery seekers can take responsibility for the part of the wounded-wounding pattern that was in their control, and recovery seekers can forgive the part that was out of their control. 

Naming the offense in forgiveness, or demarcating what is not acceptable, can be a powerful step towards validation, protection and healing.  Conversely, sometimes in the process of naming the offense, we realize that what the “offender” did wasn’t really offensive at all, but that our reaction to it was miscalculated, out of proportion, or reacting to something that was not actually in the content of the offense.  The offender may have made a harmless remark that triggered a harmful memory.  In my family, we try to adhere to the “When you X, I feel Y” formula for naming offenses.  In the process for isolating “X,” I might realize the problem was really “Y.”  Recognition that the mess is on my side of the street allows me to release resentment and has a reconciling effect. 

Being on the receiving end of a behavior or trait that I myself inflict on others can be especially irritating.  It’s a burr under my blanket.  Paradoxically, if I am able to identify, in any small way, with a weakness in the one who hurt me, that is a significant advantage.  It can wedge a foot in the door to compassion for my offender.  Just to be clear, this is not an exercise in victim blaming.  This is an exercise in self-knowledge and claiming responsibility. 

When leading reconciliation workshops, there is one statement I hear repeatedly from people struggling to release resentment.  They don’t want to tell their offenders they’re forgiven.  They don’t want to give their offenders that satisfaction or to signal any of the things that forgiveness is not, e.g. that the offense is acceptable or that accountability for actions has been waived.  Or they just don’t want to let the offender off the hook, which of course, is precisely what releasing resentment and claim to retribution is.  There is no obligation to tell an unremorseful offender that she’s forgiven.  However, once resentment truly has drained out of us, the fact is we stop caring what the offender knows or thinks about forgiveness either way. 

Join the conversation.  What do you do about seriously stubborn resentments?

Copyright 2011 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved.  Visit http://www.AcrossTraditions.com.

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5 thoughts on “Releasing Resentment

  1. Pingback: Release from Woundedness | Across Traditions Blog

  2. I agree on all points. I stalled on step 2 because I did not want to do step 4. I had a feeling that something in step 4 had me stuck in a self destructive pattern, but I was not sure what it was. In denial, I thought I had resolved and closed the scars of child sexual abuse, but when you’re in denial that you are in denial it tends to cloud the picture.

    During an AA general discussion meeting, I don’t recall the topic, but I do recall the comment that “I had to always look for my part in a situation. If I’m wrong, make an amend. If someone else is wrong, forgive them.” This comment along with “keeping my side of the street clean” was enough to have me leave the meeting in tears.

    In the parking lot after the meeting, I was so full of anger, bitterness, and resentment that I unloaded my rage on a trusted friend. I asked him just how the “heck” was I supposed to put all these nice ideas into practice when I was the victim of child sexual abuse. I told him that this might work for every other category of resentment but not for this sort of thing. Before he could answer me, I also told him not to insult me further by telling me that “it didn’t happen to me, that it just happened.”

    As tears filled my eyes, I paused to hear my friends answer. My friend paused as well. It seemed like an eternity before he spoke. As I waited for his response, I could not believe that I had shared with him my secret. I also could not believe the level of denial I was in that caused all of those emotions to finally burst to the surface.

    Finally, when my friend began to speak, as he wiped a tear from his eye, he told me that I was not responsible for the abuse, but I was responsible for allowing it to destroy my life.

    For me, this is when my true healing began. I needed time to revisit steps 1-3 that is summarized as I can’t, God can, and I should let Him.

    Once I admitted my part, I was able to move to accepting my part. Once I accepted my part, I was then able to clear the wreckage from the past based on the various ways I allowed child sexual abuse to keep me in bondage to a self destructive pattern.

    In other words, this is how “keeping my side of the street clean” allowed me to move past the self destructive cycle of resentment, worthlessness, self condemnation, self hatred, and many other manifestations of self rooted in child sexual abuse.

    Finally, I was able to understand the part of the serenity prayer of accepting the things I could not change, changing the things I could, and knowing the difference between the two.

    My story would not be complete if I did not share with you how during an AA men’s meeting a third of the group shared that they had also experienced child sexual abuse. that meeting was so powerful and so much healing took place.

    Several months later, a friend shared with me some dark secrets he carried related to his addiction to internet child pornography. Although he was now in recovery, he explained how it was still a struggle.

    The most amazing thing about this situation is because healing and forgiveness had taken place in my life, I was able to look at my friend with compassion and encouragement to help him on his journey through recovery.

    I absolutely love the last paragraph in the appendix on the Spiritual Experience in the AA book. This paragraph states “There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance – that principle is contempt prior to investigation.” – Herbert Spencer

    Had I shown contempt for my friend, prior to investigation, I would not have been able to reap the benefits of additional healing by placing a face on my child sexual abuser. Additionally, the sharing of my experience with my friend was able to offer him additional healing by placing a face on his internet addiction.

    Again, I agree with all points of your article and look forward to your next article.

  3. Pingback: 5 Steps to Forgiveness | Across Traditions Blog

  4. This is such enormously moving tertimony. Thank you making time and caring enough for those locked in the struggle to share your story. I pray that those who really need to hear this message will find your words and, in doing so, find the courage to stare down their deamons. You are truly a blessing!

  5. Pingback: Addiction and Child Sexual Abuse: One Man’s Story of Healing | Across Traditions Blog

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