Anger and resentment are the main 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 us or a person or thing important to us. The Big Book lists some basic 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” (S4, p. 50).
Anger motivates the aggrieved person to redress the perceived injustice and punish the offender. As such, anger is, in principle, morally necessary. Whether a specific instance of anger is morally right or justified, or morally wrong or unjustified, depends on whether the response fits the offense.
Anger goes wrong when our perception is wrong: we see an offense where there is none, or we see a greater offense than there actually is, or we see offensive intent where none exists or the offender is not morally responsible or culpable, or what we perceive to be the offender is not in fact the offender.
Anger goes wrong also when our concern is wrong. Concerns go wrong when they are excessive, morally or spiritually disordered, misguided or misdirected, or pursued at the expense of others. If we suffer from an excessive desire for respect, for instance, we will see signs of disrespect everywhere and our ire will be frequently aroused. If we are too concerned with being right, we may tend to engage in what the 12&12 describes as “quick-tempered criticism and furious, power-driven argument” (S10, p.91) when people don't agree with us.
Because of our spiritual disease, our perceptions and concerns are often likely to be selfish and self-centered and hence our anger defective. That is, our anger tends to be of the self-righteous variety, often driven by pride of self, 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. In the latter case, this issues in a smoldering resentment that disposes us to still more anger.
Our inventory of anger and resentment is designed to reveal their cause 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 in the virtues. Among these are such traits 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 and the most contentious member of the group at the time; was so viciously anti-God that he was threatened with expulsion, at which point he appealed to the 3rd Tradition; claims credit for the Big Book’s use of the phrase “God as we understood Him”; ironically, the 12&12 recounts how, his militant atheism notwithstanding, it was only after reading a Gideon Bible in a hotel room that he stopped relapsing and stayed sober for good; author of “The Vicious Cycle” in Big Book. For audio of his story and Q&A about it, please click on links. For talk by him, click on Jim B.: AA Pioneer. For an audio of this post, please click on link.]