Resentments. Selfishness.

In my experience with this thing, I’ve come to think of resentment as the “texture” of selfishness. Every object has a texture. Texture is what the object feels like. Smooth is what a slab of polished marble feels like. Soft is what flannel sheets feel like. Resentment is what selfishness feels like.

When I am selfish, I feel resentment.

This gives resentment some value, because all texture has value. If we could not feel that the knife was sharp, we would cut ourselves. If we could not feel that the fire was hot, we would burn. And if we didn’t have resentments, we might not ever know that we were selfish; our spiritual illness would progress unchecked.

A resentment is an opportunity. If we respond appropriately, the resentment will forward our spiritual growth; it will take us into a deeper level of relationship with God.

Of course, alcoholics are famous for responding inappropriately to things that cause them harm. The doctor tells us we’ll die if we drink, and we take that news to the bar. Quite appropriately, Bill calls this a “complete failure of the kind of defense that keeps one from putting his hand on a hot stove.”

Our response to resentment is just as misguided as our response to booze. We get selfish, so we feel resentment. Then we blame someone else for the way we feel. In our blame, we act badly. We’re short-tempered, we’re rude, and we pick fights. Then our brains race at night, chewing over every aggravating detail of the day.

Underneath all our blame and bad behavior, our unacknowledged selfishness quietly scrapes against our better natures, irritating our conscience, and so we lie awake.

We burn our hands instead of taking them off the stove.

But we needn’t.

When we write Big Book inventory, we find out that behind each and every single one of our resentments lies our own selfishness as the root cause.

When we write Big Book inventory over a sustained period of time, we get to see that selfishness is always the cause of all our resentments.

As we work our 10th step diligently over the years, God graces us with a healthy suspicion of our anger. We get pissed off, and we think, “Maybe I feel like this because I’m being a jerk. Maybe it’s not this other guy’s fault at all.”

When this suspicion becomes habitual, we’re a little less prone to act badly when we’re mad. And we get mad less often.

Another thing we notice by a consistent application of the 10th step is the fact that we don’t get resentments unless something we want—something we’re selfishly attached to—is threatened.

We can pursue the next drink for a long time without consequences. Then one day someone we love tells us we should quit. Suddenly, our selfishness becomes palpable. We feel it for the first time, and it doesn’t feel good. Instead of recognizing this feeling as an opportunity to surrender, we become enraged.

We can also pursue wealth, sex, friendships, esteem, pride, power, or pleasure of any kind without ever knowing our true motives. It takes conflict before we can be made aware that we are spiritually sick and wrong-minded. Life has to intervene.

So this feeling we normally call “resentment” is really something of a wake up call, a sudden awareness of our own selfishness. We can suppress this awareness and become angry, or we can allow it to do it’s work, and be made holy.

These wake up calls are sharp, painful, humiliating. They always happen at exactly the wrong time, when they stand to embarrass us the most. Or, rather, they always happen on God’s time, right when they will do the most good. In these moments God’s hand reaches out through the circumstances of our lives and touches us in the very place where we need to surrender most; our selfishness recoils, and we are made aware.

We cannot control this process, for it is the process of life itself. And life seems perfectly designed to eliminate our selfishness. Like rocks in a stream, we are worn smooth by a series of soft collisions. We can’t control it, but with the help of a little inventory, we can stop fighting the current.

2 Responses to “Resentments. Selfishness.”

  1. amy Says:

    thank you james! now you are my virtual sponsor. i don’t have the opportunity to hear people share their experiences in a way that is new and useful to me very often, so your thoughts here are extremely helpful. this one especially is very eloquent and meaningful. thank you.

  2. Gary M. Says:


    Love the concept of resentment being a texture of selfishness, in that vein one might also discover that fear, dishonesty (of course) and many other defects of character (manifestations of selfishness/EGO) are also textures that one might want to become aware of and be entirely willing to surrender, one-day-at-a-time.

    Peace of mind is impossible to comprehend, and spiritual experience/awakening a fiction, to those still in the grips of a disease that tells them they don’t have a disease, and a spiritual malady that tells them GOD is not necessary (but maybe a therapist is 🙂 ).

    Tom & Bill wrote in the 12&12, “It is a spiritual axiom that every time we are disturbed, no matter what the cause, there is something wrong with us.”

    Let us stand ready to be instruments of the Big Amigo to those that have shut themselves off from the sunlight of the Spirit and have an “honest desire to stop drinking”…

    As Bill & Co. originally wrote in the multilith manuscript, “God has to work twenty-four hours a day in and through us, or we perish” – There is no other solution.

    Your fellow spiritual traveler,


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