Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Step four, resentments, third column: so what?

In 1993, I wrote my first Fourth Step inventory. I was instructed to use the Big Book as the guide. I had a wonderful experience, and it changed my life. I remained confused, however, about the purpose of the third column of the resentment inventory.

In this column, according to the Big Book, we are encouraged to write which area of 'self' is affected by a resentment. There are seven: pride, self-esteem, personal and sex relations, ambitions, security, and pocketbooks (= money). The Big Book then remains silent on the significance of the results—in other words what to 'do' with this information.

The Fourth Step inventory is certainly effective, even without further work on this third column, as the suggestions on forgiveness on page 67 will be largely effective in removing most resentments, at least for the time being.

I remained stuck, however, in double-digit sobriety, with resentments I could not get rid of and resentments that kept cropping up in different forms.

It was only when I got to grips with this third column and what it means that I learned how to adjust my attitudes such that these resentments would not crop up in the first place.

A friend of mine says: 'if I'm upset, it means I have not gotten my own way. If I do not want to be upset, I have to drop "my way".'

The third column can be used to discover what 'my way' is.

Basically, when I am upset, my demands have not been met. Those demands can be seen as a design for how the world should look. That design, in turn, can be analysed out into these seven areas.

  • What others think of me (pride)
  • Who I think I am (self-esteem)
  • Personal relationships (how others behave)
  • Sex relations (how others behave in a sexual arena)
  • Ambitions (what I want; my dreams)
  • Security (what I need)
  • Pocketbooks (financial security)

There isn't a demand that does not fit somewhere into this.

When I have a resentment, therefore, I can use it to find out what my design for the world is, in other words how I have been playing God. It is supposed to be God who designs how everything should be, not me.


  • If I'm judgemental about a client for exploding over a minor flaw in my work, my pride is affected: I want clients to think I'm perfect at my job, the best there is.
  • If I'm disappointed at a sponsee for not following suggestions, my self-esteem is affected: If I were a better sponsor, she would follow my instructions—I have failed.
  • If I'm resentful that a friend jabbers endlessly on the phone, my personal relations are affected: Don't waste my time on meaningless wittering.
  • If I'm gutted because someone I like won't sleep with me, my sex relations are affected: If I want you, you must want me back!
  • If I'm jealous because a friend of mine gets to fly around the world for work, my ambitions are affected: I want to be a jet-setter.
  • If my stomach is turning over because the neighbours are noisy again, my security is affected: I need somewhere quiet to live, so I can sleep well and function properly in my life.
  • If I'm furious because my computer has broken down after just a year and needs replacing, my pocketbook is affected: I work hard for my money and should not have to spend a penny more than absolutely necessary.

It's pretty clear from doing a few of these that I have a whole slew of demands, which are largely nonsensical. The more demands I have, the unhappier I will be. If I want to be happy, I have to drop the demands.

Furthermore, in teasing out the demands I am making, I often see that there is a good dose of speculation, interpretation, generalisation, and extrapolation in there. For instance, the sponsee is not failing to follow suggestions because I am a bad sponsor: the truth is that I am responsible only for carrying a message, not for how that message is received.

Once the underlying thinking is teased out, work with a good sponsor will often reveal that the resentments are flowing from a very distorted perception of reality.

But back to the demands. How can I get rid of them?

Each of these seven areas of self can be looked at differently:


  • Pride: what others think of me is of no great concern. If I behave well, and do my best to be useful, cheerful, and kind, others will generally think well of me anyway. The demand to be highly regarded is an empty demand: when the demand is met, I am 'fixed' momentarily, but even this is outweighed by the frustration, fear, disappointment, and despair that come with having these demands in the first place. Solution: focus on being cheerful, useful, and kind, and leave my reputation to look after itself.
  • Self-esteem: I am a perfect child of God, and so is everyone else. My defects are not who I am, they are attitudes plus thinking and behaviour patterns I have been taught. My virtues are not who I am: to the extent they are inherent, I cannot take the credit; to the extent they are taught, I owe a debt of gratitude. Most of my virtues belie enlightened self-interest, anyway. No, any sense of self-esteem that goes up and down in response to my performance in the world will be perpetually fragile. My sense of self must stem from being a child of God, borne of something greater and universal and made in its image. If that is the substance and everything else, a transient dream, self-esteem and my esteem of others cease to be problems.
  • Ambitions, security, and pocketbooks: these form the substance of my plan—e.g. If I am amazing at my job, earn lots of money, have a big house away from other people, get to go on lots of expensive holidays, have lots of free time, and am free of depending on others, I will be happy. Let's look at the results. How happy are you? If you're not, it's best to question the plan. The trouble with having a results-based plan is that I will be perpetually frustrated (that the plan is not coming off), frightened (that the plan will not come off), disappointed (that the plan, even when it succeeds, has not permanently 'fixed' me), and despairing (of ever 'making it'). The only solution is to have an attitude-and-action-based plan: my attitude is to rely for everything on God—God is the source, and He will decide on the channels (the concrete situations and people) to supply my needs; my action is to attempt to do God's will on a daily basis, which is to be useful, cheerful, and kind. Since all I have to do is try to make progress, if I try, I cannot fail. My experience suggests that when I live this way, the levels of frustration, fear, disappointment, and despair are massively reduced, and I achieve a lot more health, happiness, harmony, love, joy, peace, and connection than I ever could by following my own plans.
  • Personal and sex relations: remember the plans and designs we have? Well, these two areas of self consist in the scripts we have given other people in relation to these plans and designs. If, as we have discovered above, the plans are worthless, then so are the scripts. Without the plan, the scripts are unnecessary. Without the play, no actors are required.

A very large proportion of my inventory will boil down to the world (including me) not following the elaborate screenplay I have written. The truth is that, even if the world (including me) complied, I would not be happy.

The inventory usually contains more innocent elements, however: pain that has arisen not from my bloated ego but from very basic needs not being met. There will be instances of violence, death, abandonment, sickness, cruelty, reversals of fortune, and other attacks on the network of relations that sustain me at a very basic level.

With these, even the most evolved among us will be affected when the event in question takes place, and, the more significant the event, the longer adjustment will take. The adjustment in the case of death is said to run through the stages of denial, anger, bargaining, and depression, before acceptance is achieved. I have found this to be true in my case also.

Most people find, however, that they make dramas out of crises and build a superstructure of interpretation on top of these events, which adds considerably to the pain and can solidify the suffering into a permafrost of bitterness.

The three character defects that operate within this superstructure might be these (although there are surely more):

  • Ingratitude—focusing solely on the one or two things that have gone horribly wrong and ignoring the ninety-eight or ninety-nine that are going perfectly well.
  • Cowardice—not trusting that God will give you the resources (both directly and through the people in your life you have sought out to help you) to cope in the moment with whatever happens in that moment.
  • Entitlement—the sense that bad things may happen to others, but not to me.

So, even with 'genuinely' bad events, the suffering can be reduced to its natural proportions by fostering gratitude for all of the things that are indeed going well, courage that God will look after me, and acceptance that pain is part of life, and that I am no more exempt than anyone else.

* * * * *

This is merely one brief exposition of what can be learned from the third column. There are surely other ways to look at this column, and many will suggest that all of the above is fruitless analysis. As ever in recovery: use what helps, and file away the rest for later consideration.

1 comment:

wightboy said...

Thank you for this. I needed it today.