The above quote is from an old piece on “Resentment.”
I write this blog and share my experience with the two opposing programs of AA because taking Steps saved my life, whereas the attending meetings alone failed me. No offense, but “sit down, shut up, do nothing, just bring the body and wait for a miracle to happen” effected no change inside me whatsoever. One reason I have been able to remain recovered and have come to naturally repel drugs and alcohol is because I still write inventory (among other things). We cannot ever stop writing. If anyone needs to keep their perceptions, assumptions and ability to be honest pure and clean, it is the addict or the alcoholic. When our buttons are pushed, I don’t care how much of a saint anyone is, our pride and ego will no doubt be activated to some extent, as they have essentially become part of our hard-wiring.
In “Anybody Can Take Steps,” I wrote extensively about the process of inventory and how expectations we have prior to or during some situation cause resentments. When those expectations are not met, we tend to react. Our pride is wounded. We often become defensive or begin projecting our own negative qualities onto the person we resent. We may begin to accuse them of judging us unfairly, of not listening or understanding us, of failing to see our intentions (as if they were mind readers) or of becoming defensive and angry themselves. But are we not engaging in exactly the same thing in the same moment we accuse them and lash out? That is projection.
Recently, I got some lip for leaving the house before completing a new Apple TV set up for my 4+ year old boy…
So we had this old Apple TV box. The only thing we used it for is to stream cartoons through the Netflix app. Yes, I am a horrible parent for plopping my son down in front of the TV while I’m trying to cook dinner for he and the little girl, but I will only be judged by other parents because the folks out there who judge parents and don’t have kids are clueless, to put it lightly.
Anyway, the one thing not working was the ONLY thing we had the stupid box for – Netflix. It took 5 minutes to load a cartoon and then crash after 30 seconds, sending our son into a full blown panic, followed by a tantrum that rang through the Central Nervous System like barbed wire.
I finally bought a new Apple TV box to replace the old one and was setting the thing up with him before bedtime. Enter the lip. Now, I can do quite a bit, but I cannot set shit up and type in password after password one character at a time with that tiny freaking apple control while hearing it on the other end. I soon remarked that I cannot continue to set this thing up with the bickering, but on it went, so I told everyone I had to go and would finish setting it up the next day, which is when the little guy went apoplectic and some words went flying in my direction about not being the best dad, to put it nicely.
So yeah, I copped a resentment and reacted and then left. And here is the inventory, though I’ll forgo the 1st, 2nd and 3rd columns as we’ve already spelled it out. The 4th Column is where we do the real work, where we become honest with ourselves and discover how we ourselves caused the resentment. Nobody else is to blame for our resentments. Nobody else causes us to resent. We resent because of how we see events and choose to respond to them.
*Self-Seeking: I wanted to be seen as a consummate father and patted on the back for being so generous and thoughtful as to buy a new Apple TV.
*Selfish: I wanted and expected to be praised, so when I got crap instead, my pride gave way to defensiveness. I also selfishly bought the thing to mitigate his tantrums and alleviate my nerves.
*Dishonest: I lost my patience almost immediately, chose to engage and reacted angrily, causing pain to my family.
*Fear: I fear what my family thinks of me, not being able to let minute nonsense go and potentially messing up my son.
Some additional commentary on the 4th Column from “Anybody Can Take Steps” p.68-74:
“Once our first three columns are complete, the REAL WORK finally begins. The 4th Column instructs us to answer four questions about each individual resentment that we listed in our 2nd Column. To put this into perspective, I had about 2,000 individual resentments, so that’s 8,000 answers I had to dig for, as these are no easy questions. So for each specific resentment, we ask ourselves how we were Self-Seeking, how we were Selfish, how we were Dishonest and what did we Fear? If we are honest and contemplate deeply, we will discover the truth about how we ourselves in fact caused or birthed the resentments. The good news is that embarking on (and completing) this 4th Column is what diffuses the power and the burden of our respective grudges.
Self-seeking is, of course, seeking a self, so in trying to discover our self-seeking, we can ask ourselves: How were we trying to look or be seen by others and/or by ourselves? The caveat is that generally the way we want to be seen is NOT the way we truly are. So if I want to be seen as a tough guy, the truth is that I’m probably a coward.
Critics of this process assert that we are engaging in self-deprecation and blame, but that is not true. It is human nature to be self-seeking, to care about how we look and how we are seen by others. Discovering and admitting this aspect of past events is simply an exercise in honesty, and the clarity we achieve helps vanquish resentment. It’s not necessarily wrong or evil to be self-seeking, but left unchecked, it will contort the way we see things, and when it gets out of control, we become lost in image and self-absorption. Believing that others see us, for example, as beautiful or brilliant or tough or invincible convinces us that we are somehow special and unique from the rest of the human race, and needless to say, that is not a healthy place to be.
Let’s talk about self-seeking more practically as it relates to our inventory. Say I’m a young teenager trying to impress a girl at school and then some cool guy saunters down the hallway with his cronies and makes fun of me, cackling away. They embarrass me, I turn red, the girl laughs and it’s a total disaster. I walk away ashamed, but later become angry and resentful of the cool guy and his gang of jerks. I’ve “copped a resentment”, but part of it was caused by my desperate desire to be seen by the pretty girl as a cool, handsome stud. Instead, I was shredded by these jerks. Moreover, perhaps I am normally shy in front of her but was feeling confident and charming that day until cool guy rained on my parade, adding insult to injury. So instead of being seen as confident and charming, the girl sees me as a loser… or perhaps I just see myself that way. Either way, I feel embarrassed, self-conscious, inadequate and uncool. Suddenly the image of confidence I was projecting is gone and the pretty girl instead sees my shame and vulnerability.
When we aren’t seen the way we want to be seen, we cop resentments towards those who prevented us from the self-image we wanted to project. See how that works? By writing and reading inventory, we let go of the need to seek a self, and when we no longer care about how others see us, it can prevent the accumulation of resentments. Self-seeking is a form of torture as we always have to worry about our image and persona, but by uncovering and exposing it, we realize how ridiculous and fruitless it is. When we stop caring about how we are seen, we can save our energy and stop trying so hard, and that is a recipe for inner freedom. That is how we engage in the process of letting go, making this somewhat ethereal concept more real and attainable.
Next we ask ourselves how we were being Selfish. Try to dig deep for this one, for while the answer may be simple, sometimes it is much deeper or nuanced and requires some hair-pulling. However, 4th column migraines are well worth it if they produce successive epiphanies. Some guiding questions are: What did we want? What were we trying to get? What were we trying to keep or protect? What were we unable to see – about the situation, the other person, or ourselves? Perhaps we made a false assumption about the other person and misread them entirely. Perhaps we knew they were going through some tough times of their own but instead took it personally. Perhaps we wanted to stay in our comfort zone and someone interrupted us. Or perhaps we simply wanted something that we didn’t get. Remember that it’s not necessarily bad or wrong to have selfishness. We are simply trying to get honest with our part in past events in order to rid ourselves of toxic grudges. It also mitigates our own degree of selfishness by expanding our view and teaching us that it’s not just about us. We are all human and suffer just the same.
Let’s go back to the case of trying to impress the girl in school. I wanted to impress her and win her attention. That was my selfishness and it was unmet. Because I didn’t get what I wanted, it became fuel for the ensuing resentment toward the cool guy and his pack of jerks. Again, I’m not bad or evil for wanting to impress some girl, but I did fail to admit or take into account my own expectations and desires when placing blame for my feelings of shame and bitterness. Do you want to hear something amazing? After reading my inventory, those 2,000 resentments I owned for so many years suddenly vanished into thin air. I stopped caring, and that is proof that it was me and me alone who caused, fueled and maintained this acidic pile of emotional filth.
Sometimes our selfishness is more opaque. As noted in our guiding questions, perhaps it lies in being unable to see something about the situation or the object of our resentment. If someone lashes out at us, we automatically assume it’s about us, but what if he or she is under extraordinary stress? What if the crazy driver is speeding to the emergency room? When we step back to breathe and assess a situation with some patience and understanding, we can forgo the reaction. Finally, we can ask ourselves if there was something we were trying to keep or protect, such as our pride, self-esteem, or maybe a secret we are keeping? If somebody robs us from that, we may end up resenting them.
Next we ask ourselves how we were being Dishonest. Guiding questions can include: Did we or do we do the very thing we resent? Were we purposely avoiding some truth about the other person (or place) that enabled us to cast the blame on them and away from ourselves? Were we avoiding or omitting some truth about ourselves? Were we dishonest at some point in the past and it’s now coming back to haunt us? Say we resent a spouse, parent or colleague for randomly lashing out at us one day, but is it really random? Have we forgotten the hell we may have put them through week after week, month after month, year after year, and now they are finally fed up and retaliating? When we dig a little, we find that our resentment contains dishonesty. We cannot dismiss our own conduct when assessing our resentments and the justification we sell to ourselves for harboring them. We cannot dismiss the lies we tell ourselves.
Perhaps we were avoiding an emotional truth. We often choose to avoid confrontation to avoid the discomfort associated with confronting someone, but this may catch up with us. Say a colleague at work said or did something that hurt or upset us, but we chose to ignore it. We see them a few days later, omit our true feelings, pretend everything is okay and act congenial, but inside things are not okay at all. We have something to say to them but we avoid it because confrontation is uncomfortable and we are afraid to stick up for ourselves. Plus, they cannot read our minds and may be totally unaware of what they have said or done to hurt us, so they move right along. We spare no time copping a resentment towards their callousness and indifference, but was it not our fault for pretending all was well when it wasn’t? Acting friendly with someone who we feel hurt by is dishonest because that’s not how we honestly feel. How often do we avoid the truth just to stay in our comfort zone?
Another example is when we feel slighted by someone but they weren’t actually trying to slight us at all. Ever time I see a particular relative of mine, he always asks me if I’ve lost weight. I’ve since copped a nice little resentment towards him, but what if he’s just asking to be nice or to make conversation? Heck, someone else might not care at all or be quite flattered by such a comment, but I personally happen to be insecure about being too thin because it reminds me of my old, emaciated, disgusting addict self. Gaining weight and filling out for me has been sort of a rejection of the addict body image, so the truth is that my own insecurity birthed this resentment. Moreover, I’ve never told him it bothered me but instead answered politely, which is dishonest on my part. I’m not being straightforward about my feelings. Do you see? Once again, I alone birthed the resentment, and it’s the same with all the rest.
Think about it for a minute. If we are truly okay with ourselves, we don’t resent others when they say or do hurtful things to us. Achieving clarity and peace within gives us immunity from the poison of resentment, and that’s why we do this work – to be able to let things go before they begin eating away at us.
Finally, we address our Fear in causing the resentment. We ask ourselves: What we were afraid of? What did we fear? Did we fear rejection? Loss? Abandonment? Did we fear what others think of us? Did we fear looking stupid, weak, ugly, insecure, depressed, angry, mentally ill, etc.? The list is endless. I resented my father for his illness and depression but then discovered I was afraid of becoming him. I was also afraid of loving him for who he was. In the case of the kids who ganged up on me in front of the pretty girl, I was afraid of rejection. I was also afraid of what they and the pretty girl thought of me. If some event elicits one of our fears, we end up resenting someone for making us uncomfortable. However, it is wrong to believe that the kids caused me to feel rejected. It was my preexisting fear of rejection that materialized during or following the event. Do you see?”