Step 4: Column 1 Resentments, The Number One Offender

This series of posts will examine the simple guide to Step 4 as outlined in the book. Bill W tells us in order to deal with our resentments we must set them down on paper. A Not So Scary printable Resentments Worksheet is at the end of every post. (or click here for printable pdf)

This process starts simply. It is nothing to be afraid of. Many people avoid this step because they fear dredging up their past. If you bear with me, you will see that this is not a list of all the wrongs you’ve committed. Actually, it’s a list beginning with the people who have done things that made you feel crazy. It feels great to spend a little time recalling who they are and what they did! Those of us who cannot face even that much of our past will continue to be controlled by the things that have caused us pain. I think that’s what Bill meant by saying resentments destroy us. Take a stab at Step 4 or remain under the control of other people. It’s simply self-defense.

1. The first column heading is: I’m resentful at… In column one list all the people, principles or institutions you’ve been angry with. These names would look like a list of Who’s Who for your hit list. Everyone you’ve ever wished harm should make the list along with people you wish would just disappear. We’re not even going to think of column two until you’ve dredged up all the people who really bug you.

Chronologically, I started with a resentment that happened before grade school. I have a long memory, which serves me for ill and for good. The best thing about the alcoholic’s tendency to hang onto injuries (perceived or real) is that we can easily recall them for the inventory of Step 4!

For example, when I was 4, my younger brother took my favorite toy. It was a duck pull-toy that quacked when the wheels turned. I can see the rubber feet smacking the hardwood floor and hear the rhythmic quacking as I pulled it along. It made my list and so did my Mom for telling me Randy could keep it because he was the baby and I was older. This was the precursor to a dynamic that created a resentment continuing for the rest of my life- until this step removed it.(No snickering!) So I wrote Randy on my list and a few lines down, I wrote Mom. Just the names for now.

Mentally work your way from grade school to high school and then take every decade and remember the places you lived; the jobs you had; organizations you belonged to. Bill says to include institutions and principles that we resent. Things like the IRS and the city’s finest, your local police department. I had a church that shall not be named which I added to the list and that reminded me of several more individuals that I regretted ever meeting. I added them.

By principles, Bill meant the bits of conventional wisdom or familiar expressions that we hate to hear. Mine was “You made your bed, now you lie in it.” People toss those words in your face like a pan of ice water when you’re flat on your back. Are they trying to make us feel worse? I took issue with that saying on every level. Ever since I was 6, I was proud of having a well-made bed and I’ve never once flopped on it afterward. Also, symbolically, it didn’t work for me. I just could not see how some of the problems I dealt with had anything to do with me or my choices. If you asked me, my problems just happened because of what other people did. Are you with me?

Take a good look at anything that riles you. What are your pet peeves? I had to put a faction of one political party on my 4th step. Until I started the step, I had no idea how mad they made me. Until I remove all the anger, the hurt, the pain… I have no idea how much of my life is tainted by resentments. Just do it. Make your list.

If we were to live, we had to be free of anger. ~ Alcoholics Anonymous, p 66

The mind can only hold onto one thought at a time, so once the list is finished, most people are astounded at how many things make them angry. Are you going to be surprised by how many you might list?

For inspiration, I’ve consulted the Joe and Charlie tapes from Silkworth in order to clarify Bill’s original instructions.