Battling alcoholism means confronting your fair share of negative emotions. A common one is resentment–resentment towards loved ones who “let” you drink, resentment towards work or a person for stressing you out, and resentment towards yourself for letting things get out of hand. It’s such a pervasive issue that the Big Book of AA talks calls it the “number one offender” for destroying alcoholics. If you struggle with placing blame on others, join us in breaking down the meaning of the Resentment Prayer and how to apply it to your own life.
What is resentment and why does it matter?
Resentment is defined as “a feeling of indignant displeasure or persistent ill will at something regarded as a wrong, insult, or injury.” In short: feeling that you were wronged and treated unfairly and being unable to let it go or forgive. It’s a poisonous feeling that can make us feel self-righteous in the moment, but irreparably harm our relationships with others as well as ourselves.
It’s something that many recovering alcoholics grapple with but can be extremely detrimental to their recovery process. Why? Having feelings of resentment are in direct opposition to the core principles of AA: accepting personal responsibility for a drinking problem, getting rid of pride, and relinquishing control.
Not only are such feelings harmful to our mental health, but are tremendously unproductive. Similar to holding a grudge, but it only hurts yourself in the long run–the person you are upset with is usually oblivious to how you feel. Continuing to blame others for your own actions or shortcomings can signal that you’re not in the right mindset to move on to the other steps of AA and gain their full benefit.
Signs of Resentment
- Unable to stop thinking about the source of insult for long periods of time
- Passive-aggressive behavior
- Avoiding the person to prevent negative emotions
- Desire for revenge
The AA Resentment Prayer
The 4th Step Resentment Prayer of AA, page 552 of the Big Book reads as follows:
“God, Please help me to be free of anger and to see that the world and its people have dominated me. Show me that the wrong-doing of others, fancied or real, has the power to actually kill me. Help me to master my resentments by understanding that the people who wrong me were perhaps spiritually sick. Please help me show those I resent the same Tolerance, Pity and Patience that I would cheerfully grant a sick friend.** Help me to see that this is a sick man. Father, please show me how I can be helpful to him and save me from being angry. Lord, help me to avoid retaliation or argument. I know I can’t be helpful to all people, but at least show me how to take a kindly and tolerant view of each and every one. Thy will be done.”
This prayer is an exercise in replacing blame with compassion–something much easier said than done. The Big Book recognizes this by acknowledging that you likely won’t mean what you’re saying the first few times you recite the Resentment Prayer. The Big Book further specifies reciting this prayer with the person(s) who’ve wronged you in mind and to continue doing it daily for at least two weeks, until you eventually do mean what you’re saying.
How to Release Resentment
If you find yourself struggling to let go of resentment, here are some other things to try:
- Explore the feelings behind your resentment. What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the incident that caused you to resent the person? Embarrassment or shame? Inadequacy? Fear? In most cases, it’s not that the person did something unforgivable, but that they made you feel a way that you really didn’t like which was channeled into anger to protect your wounded ego.
- Be empathetic. Make a genuine effort to try and see things from their point of view and ignore what your intentions were or any other information that they could not have known. Considering their actions through a different lens can help you realize that the situation may not have been as black and white as you previously thought. Misunderstandings happen.
- Focus on gratitude. Considering the positive things in your life can provide some much-needed perspective. In the grand scheme of things, a quarrel with a friend or romantic partner might not be the big deal you initially thought it was. Bonus, positive thinking can lower your stress which can make it easier for you to let go of those negative feelings.
It can be challenging working through resentment alone. Find a person you trust, such as a therapist or your AA sponsor to talk your feelings through. Having a neutral third party to consult can help you navigate your own emotional blindspots. Find an AA meeting near you today.