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.