PTP4 Excerpts - Emotions


“In the last two chapters of Part I we discussed at some length how our spiritual disease distorts the way we view and value things, how these dis­tortions manifest themselves in defects of character and emotion, and how these defects in turn exert their own distorting effect upon our perceptions and concerns, creating a vicious cycle of disease and disorder in our lives.

In Part II we narrow that discussion to focus directly on the emotions. We flesh out the understanding of them we have gleaned from the Big Book and the 12&12, differentiate it from alternative understandings, and apply it in concrete and practical terms to taking inventory of some of the emotional handicaps most of us struggle with. This is the business of the fourth component of our inventory, column 4 in our guide. The need for such an inventory is established by the Big Book sample, which concentrates as we have seen on three emotions: anger, resentment, and fear. We revisit these three and add six more to our analysis: anxiety, guilt and remorse, shame and humiliation, and regret. Additional emotions will be taken up in a discussion of Step 10 in a future work.

The reason for taking inventory of our emotional defects is explained in the 12&12, which states that, by discovering the nature of our emotional deformities, we can work toward their correction (S4, p. 43). Indeed, their “correction” is both the short- and the long-term goal of our recovery, as that text also makes clear. In the short term, our objective is to diminish their negative impact on us so that we can stay physically sober. In the longer run, our objective is to be free from the control which they exercise over us and achieve emotional sobriety.


The first thing we need to face in a discussion of emotions is the fact that there is no consensus on what constitutes an emotion or how it arises in us. Different schools of psychology posit different understandings, as do different schools of philosophy and thinkers and researchers in other fields. We will find, among others, anthropological, biological, conceptual, evolutionary, neurological, psychoanalytic, and sociological views on the subject.

This lack of agreement should not discourage us from our task, however. There is no consensus on what alcoholism is either. Nor does AA privilege its own understanding (of a threefold disease) as being final and applicable to everyone. Yet it offers us a series of Steps that have helped millions to stop drinking and relieved many more millions of other addictions. Likewise, AA doesn’t claim to have all the answers to our emotional handicaps. What it does suggest is that the same Steps can relieve us of them and restore us to emotional health.

The second thing we need to face is the fact that the AA view of emotions and of emotional sobriety is not explicitly stated anywhere in the Big Book or the 12&12. It is nevertheless implied in its discussion of them in those texts, and it can therefore be reasonably inferred from them. This requires the type of close reading we have been attempting. Logically, their view of emotional sobriety should follow from their view of emotions. Thus, we must begin our inquiry with the latter.”

                                              – From Part II: Emotions, Chapter 7: Emotions, pp. 99-100