Practice These Principles
Living the Spiritual Disciplines and Virtues in 12-Step Recovery

Emotional Sobriety


Anger and resentment are the subjects of our 4th Step inventory in the Big Book. As an emotion, anger arises from a perception that one has been intentionally wronged. It responds to an act (or omission) that we see or construe as unjust or unfair, an offense or injury against our person or something important to us. The Big Book lists some of these concerns as our self-esteem, pocketbooks, ambitions, and personal relations (p. 65). The 12&12 sums them up as our concerns for “sex, security, and society (Step 4, p. 50).”

Anger motivates the aggrieved person to redress the injustice and punish the offender. As such, anger is, in principle, morally necessary. Whether a specific instance of anger is good and morally right, or bad and morally wrong, depends on whether the response fits the offense.

Anger goes wrong when my perception is wrong: I see an offense where there is none, or I see a greater offense than there actually is, or I see offensive intent where none exists or the offender is not morally responsible or culpable, or what I perceive to be the offender is not in fact the offender.

Anger goes wrong also when my concern is wrong. Concerns go wrong when they are excessive, morally or spiritually out of order, or pursued at the expense of others. If I suffer from an excessive desire for respect, for instance, I will see signs of disrespect everywhere and my ire will be frequently aroused.

Because of our spiritual disease, our perception and our concerns are often likely to be self-centered and thus distorted, and hence our anger defective. That is, our anger tends to be of the self-righteous variety, often driven by pride, a hurt ego being its most common cause.  In our warped sense of justice, we are prone to take offense too quickly, too often, too intensely, and for too long—the latter issuing in a smoldering resentment which disposes us to still more anger.

Our inventory is designed to reveal the cause of our anger and resentment in distorted perceptions and concerns and in the character defects that lie behind them. Its purpose is to foster a spiritual awakening that transforms those perceptions and concerns and enables us to surrender those defects of character and replace them with their countervailing traits. Among these are such virtues as humility, acceptance, patience, tolerance, and forgiveness.

This is how we can become progressively free from emotions that in the past drove us to the bottle and in sobriety can still mar our recovery and sabotage our relationships.  

[Image: Jim B., first self-declared atheist to join AA; claims  he proposed the phrase “God as we understood Him;” author of  “The Vicious Cycle” in Big Book.  For  audio of his story and Q&A about it, please click on links.] 

“So, nowadays, if anyone talks of me so as to hurt, I first ask myself if there is any truth at all in what they say. If there is none, I try to remember that I too have had my periods of speaking bitterly of others; that hurtful gossip is but a symptom of our remaining emotional illness; and consequently that I must never be angry at the unreasonableness of sick people.” – Bill W. 

“Resentment is the “number one” offender. It destroys more alcoholics than anything else. From it stem all forms of spiritual disease, for we have been not only mentally and physically ill, we have been spiritually sick.” – Big Book 

“What we must recognize is that we exult in some of our defects. Self-
righteous anger can be very enjoyable. In a perverse way we can actually
take satisfaction from the fact that many people annoy us; it brings a
comfortable feeling of superiority.” – 12&12

“A soft answer turneth away wrath, but grievous words stir up anger.” 
– Proverbs 15:1

“Love . . . is not easily angered.” – 1 Cor 13:4

“Anybody can become angry — that is easy — but to be angry with the right person, and to the right degree, and at the right time, and for the right purpose, and in the right way — that is not within everybody's power and is not easy.” 
– Aristotle

“Do not do to others what angers you if done to you by others.” – Socrates


“There are two things a person should never be angry at: what they can help, and what they cannot.” – Plato

“Whom the Gods would destroy, they first make mad.” – Euripides

“When you are offended at anyone’s fault, turn to yourself and study your own failings. By attending to them, you will forget your anger and learn to live wisely.” – Marcus Aurelius


“Anger, if not restrained, is frequently more hurtful to us than the injury that provokes it.” – Seneca


“Any person capable of angering you becomes your master; he can anger you only when you permit yourself to be disturbed by him.” – Epictetus

“You will not be punished for your anger; you will be punished by your anger.”
– Buddha

“Anger regards two objects, viz., the retribution that it seeks, and the person on whom it seeks retribution.” – Thomas Aquinas

“Those speak foolishly who ascribe their anger or their impatience to such as offend them or to tribulation. Tribulation does not make people impatient, but proves that they are impatient. So everyone may learn from tribulation how his heart is constituted.” – Martin Luther

“Thou has not half the power to do me harm, as I have to be hurt.” 
– Shakespeare

“When angry, count to ten before you speak. If very angry, count to one hundred.” – Thomas Jefferson

“Anger is never without a reason, but seldom a good one.” – Benjamin Franklin

“There was never an angry man that thought his anger unjust.” – Francis de Sales

“For every minute you are angry you lose sixty seconds of happiness.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.” – Mark Twain

“Nothing on earth consumes a man more completely than the passion of resentment.” – Friedrich Nietzsche


“If you are patient in one moment of anger, you will escape a hundred days of sorrow” – Rainer Maria Rilke

“So many of us make a great fuss of matters of small consequence. We are so easily offended. Happy is the man who can brush aside the offending remarks of another and go on his way.” – Gordon B. Hinckley

“In a controversy, the instant we feel anger we have already ceased striving for the truth, and have begun striving for ourselves.” – Abraham J. Heschel

“Hatred is an affair of the heart; contempt that of the head.” – Arthur Schopenhauer

“Discussion is an exchange of knowledge; an argument an exchange of ignorance.” – Robert Quillen

“He that would be angry and sin not, must not be angry with anything but sin.”
– John Ruskin

“Don’t do something permanently stupid because you’re temporarily upset.” 
– Anonymous

“You cannot stay angry at somebody unless you feel superior to them.” – Tim Keller

“I don't have to attend every argument I'm invited to.” – Unknown

“Revenge is a confession of pain.” – Latin proverb

“Never say mean words out of anger. Your anger will pass. But your mean words can scar a person for life. So use kind words or be silent.” – Anonymous

“[Wrath] is the love of justice perverted into the desire for revenge and for the injury of someone else; justice is the proclaimed motive for every manifestation of Wrath.” – Henry Fairlie

“When wrath becomes a habit, we learn to see the world through angry eyes: laden with an excessive sense of our own entitlements, we let anger direct reason’s vision and judgment, rather than the other way around.” – Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung

"Suddenly I saw that I could do something about my anger. I could fix me, instead of trying to fix them." – A.A.'s Daily Reflections

“[Live and let live] warns against resentment; tells us to avoid construing other people’s actions as intentional injuries to us.” – One Day at a Time in Al-Anon 

"Just for today I will let go of my resentments. Today, if I am wronged, I will practice forgiveness, knowing that I need forgiveness myself." – NA's Just for Today: Daily Meditations for Recovering Addicts

"As we take inventory and examine our resentments, issuing from hurts real or imagined, we begin to see the exact nature of these resentments in the character defects that lie behind and trigger them." – PTP123

"Motivated by a desire to do God’s will, to be of service and of help, we ask 'each morning in meditation that our Creator show us the way of patience, tolerance, kindliness and love,' for when we practice these and the other virtues as reflections of a spiritually transformed character, anger loses its triggers and resentment its fuel." – PTP123

                 For shareable images for this post, please click on link.

For PTP123 passages on anger and resentment, see pp. 29, 77, 168, 211. For PTP4 passages, see Chapter 8: Anger and Resentment, pp. 121–145. For more BB and 12&12 passages, click on and search for anger and for resentment. On this site, see Appendix 3: Common Manifestations of Self: Defective Emotions – Anger.        

Additional Resources                                

  1. Meditations for 03/09, 04/15, 08/27, 08/28, and 09/11 in One Day at a Time in Al-Anon
  2. Meditation for 12/06 in Al-Anon's Courage to Change

  3. Meditation for 03/11, 04/27, and 09/9 in Just for Today: Daily Meditations for Recovering Addicts
  4. "Anger: Holy Emotion or Hellish Passion?," chapter in Glittering Vices: A New Look at the Seven Deadly Sins and Their Remedies, by Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung
  5. The Mission,” 1986 movie with Robert De Niro and Jeremy Irons. Two cases of anger, both ostensibly aroused by injustice, but each driven by entirely different concerns and desires. A 3- rather than a 5-star film, yet instructive and entertaining. See DeYoung’s insightful analysis in book chapter noted above

For more posts on Emotional Sobriety, please click on link.