Fear and Inventories

Resentment is not the only emotion we need to inventory. We also need to address our fears. I learned that many of my fears came from either feeling inadequate or under-resourced. What is the source of your fears?

In fact, this fear is so prevalent when I listen to others share their Fourth Step (Fifth Step work) that I think of it as the “Law of Scarcity”. For as long as I can remember I have been afraid that there was not enough to go around and I wasn’t going to get what I needed. Evidently, I am not alone.

Enough food. Enough money for rent. Enough attention. Enough safety. Enough love. Enough. I grew up with the belief, this anxious feeling, that the world was a barren place and I would need to scrap and scrape to make my way in the world. I feared I would not succeed. Although I have found my own compulsivity baffling, even I can understand that self-starving was intimately tied to this feeling of “never enough”. Every time I thought I was losing out on something others had, my fear ramped up and I felt more justified in my commitment to the “Law of Scarcity” and all my strategies to survive. My inventory revealed this as I examined my resentments, fears and sexual history.

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.

~ Psalm 46:1-3 NIV

If Psalm 46 sounds like crazy talk to you - you are not alone! When I come across verses that sound so counterintuitive to my own experience, I pause to consider my options. Am I wrong? Is the psalmist a nut job? What might I be missing? I also use my imagination to find common ground. Many Psalms speak of fear and trembling and anger and resentment. I have two ways of relating to Psalm 46 - one is to acknowledge that the psalmist has every right to write about his good days - and this is one of them. But my FAVORITE way to read is to use my imagination. Is the psalmist crying out his psalm as he runs for his life? He believes these things to be true, but in his current situation he is tempted by unbelief. Imagine with me the psalmist running from his enemies ,heart pounding, feet barely touching the ground as his arms pump to gain more speed and distance from a situation that has triggered all his unbelief. He is trash talking his doubts, poetically demonstrating the same impulses that a guy in the New Testament also expressed, “I believe! Help me in my unbelief!”

There is much more I would like to say about this fear and how working a spiritual program taught me that the world is an abundant place, but that might distract us from our work!

Recognizing the difference between perception and reality

It was the custom in my family of origin to eat dinner every night promptly at 6:00 p.m. My brother wanted to play in a football league but practice would have required a 6:15 pm dinner schedule and that was not going to happen. Instead, my mother had him sign up for basketball - a sport my brother never had a bit of interest in playing. She sent him off to the local high school to sign up. She gave him a bouncy kickball to take with him to practice. His coaches took pity on him and brought him a regulation basketball to use, picked him up and returned him home after each practice.

We saw nothing unusual about this situation. This was part of our family system and we did not know anything different. Were we kids often disappointed when we did not get to do what our friends were doing? Yes, but that felt more like being ungrateful than living in a home with rigid rules for daily living.

As we inventory and unpack our life events, we may need some help realizing that some of the things that we thought were normal, or the things we blame ourselves for, were not as they seemed to our child’s eyes.

It is also likely that some of the patterns we developed as a result of our particular family system will carry over into all the other areas of our life. My worldview is profoundly affected by the family and culture in which I was raised. This PERSPECTIVE is so deeply ingrained that I am unaware that there may be other perspectives out in the world that would better suit my core values and my sense of self than the ones I was raised with. This tension between my own sense of self and the life I want to create and the world in which I was born into can contribute to my compulsions and eventual dependencies. They may be coping strategies (not particularly good ones) that serve as relief from the tension between what I have been told and who I want to become.

How about you? Are you absolutely content with your life? If so, great. If not, maybe there is more to the story than you ever considered.

Principles for making an inventory

Today, you may want to consider specific principles that you have lived by that may not be serving you well. If you wanted to do this exercise, it would look like another four column sheet:

1. The principle of______________________ .

2. What happened to enforce this principle in my life?

3. How did this affect me? What do I think this way of believing cost me?

4. How did I react?

Principles take many forms but usually are founded in falsehood and cause harm. The principle of prejudice, or the principle that grown-ups do not cry, or that only self-indulgent people practice self-care are all examples of principles that we may resent now that we are learning they are false and have harmed us when we lived by them.

Here is an example that my friend with the problem of naming his resentment put down:

1. I resent the principle that I was taught “Anger is a sin.”

2. My mother taught me that God hated angry people and required me to “put on a happy face”

all the time. If I cried in frustration or got angry I had to hide my feelings to avoid

punishment.

3. The effect this had on my life: I do not know what to do when I feel anger. I repress my

emotions. I am dishonest about how I felt. I have developed depression and stress-related

health issues. I think this contributed to my divorce and my using.

4. I have been selfish in other relationships as a result of trying hard to avoid any negative

emotions, I have asked my wife to take responsibility for my feelings (selfish), I have acted like a victim, my fear of losing control made me super controlling of my wife and kids, and even at work.

Ask for feedback (and help) when you're stuck

I have a friend whose wife spent them into bankruptcy. He claims he does not resent his wife. He does have a rather extensive list of her shortcomings, or as he likes to say, “suggestions for her improvement”. He reports feeling very sad, even depressed. He keeps a notebook filled with all the ways she has hurt his feelings. My friend has resentment but is not quite ready to own it. He has also accidentally completed his resentment list for Step Four as it relates to his wife!

As a child he was taught that anger is a sin. FYI - Feelings are not sinful. They are warning lights to let us know we need to pay attention. (We know they can become shortcomings if we do not appropriately deal with them, but that is a different kettle of fish.) Because he received bad intell about emotions and was punished if he did express his anger, he has no skill sets for processing his anger and frustration. He also thinks that good Christians do not feel anger. Wrong. Even Jesus got appropriately mad when circumstances called for it!

As we work through our inventories, we may need to push the pause button time and again and ask for feedback and help sorting through our emotions - particularly if we have repressed ours or been taught that our feelings are wrong. In fact, our inability to express and respond in healthy ways to a wide range of feelings may contribute to our daily problems. It certainly makes our daily life more difficult. The Fourth Step allows us to grow and learn and figure out not only our emotions, but other key information about ourselves too.

Lives of careless wrongdoing are tumbledown shacks; holy living builds soaring cathedrals.

~Proverbs 14:11, The Message

Reacting, Ruminating, Blaming, and Numbing

When we experience trauma, our entire being goes into a form of survival mode. This is a reaction, not a response. We do not think. We do not feel. We do not reason. We do not evaluate the situation and ask how we want to respond based on our core values or long term plans.

We react. We ruminate. We blame. We numb.

Maybe take some time today to consider how you might be reacting (rather than responding), ruminating (rather than thinking in a balanced way about life), blaming (rather than accepting responsibility for our issues and letting others deal with their issues), and numbing (by a million different coping strategies - over or under eating, over or under sleeping, over or under exercising, using alcohol or drugs to excess, spending too much money, etc.)

Don't judge yourself as you make an inventory

Most of us do not skate through life without experiences that are quite upsetting, even traumatizing to us. Trauma is an interesting phenomena. We cannot judge what trauma means for anyone but ourselves.

I am a person who is particularly sensitive to issues related to security and safety. This is my deal. This is how I see the world, and it is no one else’s fault or responsibility. Since I see the world this way, events that I perceive as threatening to either security or safety have a much bigger impact on me than someone who does not share my worldview.

When we seek to raise our self-awareness, our particular ways of seeing the world will be a factor in how we perceive what has happened to us over the years and how it has affected us. We must not judge ourselves in this regard.

As you inventory - be gentle with yourself and do not filter your responses based on whether or not you think your reactions are reasonable, right or fair! Just write!

Make an inventory of your resentments

Not everyone can get in touch with their feelings of resentment. People who fear that their anger is unacceptable may be better able to relate to experiences with depression or problems with ruminating over particular people or events. If you want to practice this part of the inventory, or maybe just want to take one example from your everyday life, here is how. I recommend a list with four columns:

1. The person or object of resentment (or rumination or who depresses you)….

2. What happened to cause the resentment (specific event/s)?

3. How did this affect me? What do I think this event cost me?

4. How did I react? What shortcomings about myself were revealed?

Here is an example:

1. I resent my spouse Susie Smith.

2. I resent Susie because she not only cheated on me with a guy at work, but she left me and

the kids and moved in with him. She emptied out our bank account.

3. The effect it had on my life includes: I resent her, my pride is hurt, I am afraid I am going to go

bankrupt, I am embarrassed. It cost me my marriage and my financial security and the

affection of my children.

4. I got really angry; I went to her work and caused a ruckus; I called the other guy’s wife and she

ended up kicking him out; I embarrassed myself and lost a lot of dignity while acting out. I relapsed.

Today’s assignment for all you intrepid inventory makers is to make a list of all the people you resent, ruminate over, and/or hate, then answer the questions for each. Again, starting with your first resentment and moving forward can be helpful. Use your inventory journal to record your resentments.

God promises protection

I freak out sometimes when I think about my resentments, fears, and whatnot. This is the perfect time to return to the scriptures for comfort. This is one of my favorites...

Who stood up for me against the wicked? Who took my side against evil workers?

If God hadn’t been there for me, I never would have made it.

The minute I said, “I’m slipping, I’m falling,” your love, God, took hold and held me fast.

When I was upset and beside myself, you calmed me down and cheered me up.

~ Psalm 94:16-19, The Message

Today, find ways to notice and express gratitude for the ways God has been there for you and those you love!

Resentments, Fears, and Sex

The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous suggests focusing on three areas when completing an inventory: resentments, fears and sex. Those are the big three.

The first list is dealing with resentments. The Big Book describes this process for making the list: “In dealing with resentments, we set them on paper. We listed people, institutions or principles with whom we are angry. We asked ourselves why we were angry. In most cases it was found that our self-esteem, our pocket-books, our ambitions, our personal relationships (including sex) were hurt or threatened.”

Because you may have a journal full of feelings, resentments may be already in your chronological list. After the list of resentments is completed, briefly describe the cause of your resentment.

Next? List all the ways this resentment affects you.

Along the way you will uncover many instances of people who have harmed you. You may find yourself becoming MORE angry, MORE depressed or MORE eager to withdraw from others. This is the time to rely upon those meditation and prayer practices you have been developing. You may need to ask for extra support if creating your resentment list agitates you in ways that threatens your recovery.

Maybe you are not doing an entire inventory. You COULD choose to pick one resentment and do this exercise, just to see what you discover!!

A Meditation Moment

Whew! We’ve been dealing with some tough topics! Today, find your breath! Go for a walk. Walk mindfully. Pay attention to your feet hitting the ground, notice the world around you. Listen to your breathing. Notice colors, sounds, smells. Walk leisurely. When you find your mind wandering, take a deep breath to reset, pause for a few beats, and then continue your stroll.

A list of areas where you may need accountability

As you make your Fourth Step lists, here are some categories to ponder. Within each category, we may find particular patterns of harm (either ways we have been harmed repeatedly or ways we have habitually harmed others) - so pay attention and look for patterns! For example, I have a friend who has been married a couple of times to women who have cheated on him. I have another friend who struggles with over-spending, even though her income has increased dramatically in the last few years.

God -

Religion -

Sex -

Marriage -

Family -

Parenting -

Relationships -

Career/Job -

Finances -

Self -

As you think about these categories, here are some questions to answer:

1. Which areas are most upsetting for me to consider?

2. What patterns do I notice? (Abuse, abandonment, manipulation, etc.)

3. Am I keeping secrets from myself and others?

4. Do any of the possible shortcomings that I identified in previous studies show up?

If any of these areas feels particularly upsetting or triggering for you - please talk to someone on your support team about your reaction. Again, if you aren’t doing a fourth step - thanks for hanging in with us!

Sometimes we slide into unconscious living

As patterns become deeply ingrained and rewarded with little shots of dopamine, we lose consciousness of them. It makes identifying them a challenge. Two examples of patterns:

I have a pattern of shutting my feelings down. I feel ashamed. I feel uncomfortable. I feel uncomfortable about being uncomfortable so I distract myself by going on a diet (food restriction) or doubling up on my exercise (calorie burning) BECAUSE THIS IS MY PATTERN.

One of my brothers had a pattern of getting a really great job with a decent salary. When he had money he could buy drugs. When he used drugs he eventually lost his good job. This made him feel ashamed but he also learned to shut down his feelings. He shut down his feelings by using drugs. He eventually gave up this pattern, which is awesome.

In recovery, we work our Fourth Step and discover that our patterns, practiced until they become compulsions, give us all sorts of material for a Fourth Step list: resentments, fears, shortcomings, and more.

Both my brother and I learned that we could not identify our own particular pattern until after our Fourth and Fifth Step experiences. But AFTER we identified our pattern, we were better equipped to understand our reactions and develop new skills to support new, healthier, pro-recovery responses to life.

Pay attention to your patterns

“You always do that!” Has anyone ever said that to you? Were you surprised? We all have patterns for behaving, thinking, believing, even feeling. This is natural. Our brains LOVE patterns. Think of the brain as a super computer (it’s not really but just play along!) that is lazy (this is unfair but I’m making a point). The brain gets to kick up its feet and smoke a cigar if it can operate on automatic pilot. Patterns help brains kick back and relax. In fact, the brain is hardwired to love patterns so much that if it discovers a pattern - even if it isn’t true or helpful - so long as the brain is convinced that it has discovered a pattern - the brain rewards itself with a little shot of dopamine. The brain actually rewards itself for finding patterns - not for wisdom or discernment or good choices!

We have been making and adhering to patterns since we were itty bitty. And the brain is loathe to give up a pattern (think cigars and front porch rockers). Are we hosed? No, not if we can do the work of recovery!

Patterns have value for us because they make life simpler. I know what I like at Chipotle and I do not have to think about whether or not I am getting a bowl or burrito - it’s a bowl for me. I do not waffle between chicken or steak - I choose chicken. Chipotle is a no brainer for me (give the brain a cigar!).

What patterns are you noticing about yourself? Are they helpful or just leftovers from a different time in your life?

Which emotions do you avoid?

If you are working through your emotional inventory and as you consider your emotional inventory - do you notice any emotions missing? Can you find instances of too much anxiety, not enough joy? It is common for us to limit the full range of our emotional capacity when we are not healthy. Is this true for you?

1. Make a list of your primary emotions.

2. Make a list of emotions that you have neglected, repressed, ignored.

3. Have any of your emotions become shortcomings? Which ones?

If this exercise does not interest you, that’s okay. Plenty of days I choose to just blame my bad mood on my husband and completely ignore my own personal responsibility. Okay, okay, that’s a little joke. But in all seriousness, are you taking the time you need to really consider your emotional range?

Please try, spouses everywhere will thank you!! And, if you aren’t in a romantic relationship, a little self-reflection will along way in friendships and work relationships and everywhere else!

Healing our shortcomings

In yesterday’s study you may have noticed that there were some emotions on the list - anger, fear, etc. To clarify, an emotion is not a shortcoming. All of our emotions are value neutral. They are simply indicator lights that tell our body, mind and heart that something is up with us. All emotions serve the purpose of helping us pay attention - which is a good thing, even a sacred thing. But they become a shortcoming when we habitually over-rely on them. When we ask anger to give us energy because we are depressed, that is over-using the emotion. If we use fear to give us an excuse to never do hard things, that is over-using the emotion.

For example, I can feel anger when my neighbor kicks my dog. I can feel fear and horror when my neighbor poisons my dog. These emotions fit the event. But if my neighbor wore a blue shirt when he kicked my dog and I witnessed it and now I am afraid of blue shirts - that is a trauma response - not a shortcoming or defect of character. It serves as a warning light. My fear of blue shirts teaches me that I need to go visit a counselor who understands trauma and can help me lean into and heal from this event. However, if I do not heed the warning light in a responsible manner, and instead throw out all my blue shirts and demand that everyone else in my life stop wearing blue shirts too - now, that’s a shortcoming. I am harming myself and others because now I am trying to avoid feeling fear by hating on blue shirts. My over-reliance on my emotions is a shortcoming. When I ask my emotions to serve purposes for which they were not intended to serve - act as facts, drive my decision-making, give me energy or the power to disconnect or the ability to judge others to make myself feel better about myself - my emotions have become a shortcoming due to over-use or improper use. Remember: These shortcomings do not need to be judged; they need to be healed!

Learning our own shortcomings

As our patterns emerge, our discomfort will increase. These patterns carry within them hints of our defects of character and shortcomings. Defects of character are part of humanity - even God’s heroes and heroines of faith had their own sets of shortcomings. A shortcoming is a character trait that continues to cause harm to self and/or others. Character defects are not behaviors like over-eating, under-eating, drinking and drugging or workaholism. Our ‘bad behaving’ is a symptom of these traits, not the trait itself.

Here is a long list of possible shortcomings. In the days ahead refer back to this list if you need help figuring out your own habitual shortcomings.

Anger

Self-justification

Self-centeredness

Rationalization

Procrastination

Suspiciousness

Worrisomeness

Indifference

Approval-seeking

Arrogance

Impulsivity

Panic

Complacency

Withholding

Perfectionism

Smugness

Selfishness

Fear

Sloth

Depression

Tenseness

Over-sensitivity

Impatience

Phoniness

Aimlessness

Despondency

Complaining

Aggression

Judgmentalism

Stubbornness

Intolerance

Anxiety

Greed

Unkindness

Irresponsibility

Pessimism D

iscourteousness

Over-compliance

Violence

Melancholy

Whining

Neediness

Resentment

Hate

Unrealistic

Gossip

Laziness

Dishonesty

Insecurity

Envy

Ingratitude

Rumination

Manipulation

Evasiveness

Disagreeable

Self-pity

Lust

Domineering

Unreasonableness

Rigidity

Lying

Pridefulness

Jealousy

Self-righteousness

Living in the future

Control

Indiscretion

Self-indulgence

Whew! That’s a long list! You may want to transfer it into your journal for future use. If you aren’t working through a fourth step but are a kind and decent person who is patiently reading through the blog anyway, bless you. You may want to take a peek and see if any of these traits ring any bells for you too!

Coming clean before God and others

Investigate my life, O God, find out everything about me; Cross-examine and test me,

get a clear picture of what I’m about;

See for yourself whether I’ve done anything wrong—

then guide me on the road to eternal life.

~Psalm 139:23-24, The Message

I used to believe that God is all-knowing. And certainly he knows a lot. But a more careful reading of the scriptures indicates that sometimes God is surprised by us mortals. (If you are interested in knowing more about this concept, Scott taught a class that dealt with this issue, and if you contact him, he will send you a link to his materials. scott@northstarcommunity.com)

If God knows everything all the time, then taking an inventory is just for me. But what if...what if the inventory process is also a way to get everything out in the open with God too? (That happens in Step 5.)

It is so fascinating to dare to think that our increased self-awareness, which surely an inventory would produce if done well, might also give God an opportunity to get to know us better too.

Doesn’t that sound cool?

An Outsider's Perspective

Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.

If you don’t know what you’re doing, pray to the Father. He loves to help. You’ll get his help, and won’t be condescended to when you ask for it. Ask boldly, believingly, without a second thought. People who “worry their prayers” are like wind-whipped waves. Don’t think you’re going to get anything from the Master that way, adrift at sea, keeping all your options open.

~ James 1:2-8, The Message

If we want different results after all our attempts have failed to produce it, we must look outside ourselves for the truth.

In recovery...“You get this theme of responsibility which is saying if you don’t assume 100% responsibility for this condition, you are probably not going to get better. You can’t change the past, you can’t change other people, you can only change your own life.”

~ Quote from NACR video By the Book: Click here to view.

Turning into what you despise

One night over dinner we had an interesting discussion about power dynamics. My youngest, who is working as a barista, was lamenting the many ways he has seen customers treat baristas and other service providers over the years. He also expressed some feelings about how managers or owners of the small shops where he has worked either create a environment of safety or not, based on their capacity to lead.

Our daughter, who is a bit further up the food chain in her job, shared her perspective as it related to being a manager. Oftentimes a manager has to implement a decision that they vehemently disagreed with behind closed doors with others in higher authority. A decent manager, in her opinion, throws herself in front of the slings and arrows of the outrageous misfortune of having to present an unpopular idea to a team. She believes you protect your superiors, which means that sometimes team members blame their supervisor for decisions the supervisor doesn’t agree with. She says she learned this from her best bosses over the years. Ahhhh, perspective.

Whether we are the boss or the employee, we all have an instinct about power dynamics. It’s human nature. The less power we perceive we have, the more likely we are to distrust authority. Our son, who perceives he has no power, wants the people with power to learn how to do better. Our daughter, with a teeny tiny bit more authority, ALSO feels sympathy for the authority figures who have tough calls to make.

This led to a discussion about what that looks like. I pushed my son, asking what he would do differently if he were the owner or boss. To which he said, “You know, the thing that concerns me is that I am worried I might turn into my worst boss rather than live up to the quality of my best ones. It just seems to me that power can be very corrosive; sometimes we become the person we once judged.”

Wow. Yes. As we grow and have more responsibility, maybe even a bit more authority, we might want to consider how we have automatically adopted some of the practices we hated when we had no power. Or, we can use our authority to be the boss we wanted, not necessarily the boss we were given over the years. This can be applied to parenting, in a marriage, or of course, at work.

Who are you imitating? How can you live out the way you want to be treated rather than repeat the mistakes that you criticize in others?

Accountability

I am currently stalking the news articles coming out of Chicago and the Bill Hybels disaster.  Hybels, Senior Pastor for decades at Willow Creek Church - a wildly popular mega-church that was begun by Hybels in the suburbs of Chicago - ultimately ended his career under the cloud of sexual misconduct.


But first, everyone went to great pains to dodge accountability for these accusations.  The women were ignored, intimidated and eventually publicly maligned in an attempt to hold onto the image of this man who many had revered.


Eventually, the house of cards came tumbling down and now the entire board and the two newly appointed Senior Pastors have resigned as a first step in trying to make amends for their own blindness.  Much is left to be done before anyone can say what will come of this tragic fall of one man and the system that was so invested in his reputation that they failed to require him to be reputable.  


Taking responsibility is just plain hard.  But it is part of respectability.


This is not the first powerful Christian leader ultimately wrecked by his own hand nor will be be the last.  But it is a cautionary tale and we should listen.  Power, whether it is power in business, church, or at home, is a very potent and potentially toxic poison.


It is not good for any of us to feel like we are above the standards of decent human behavior.  


Don’t know what human decent behavior looks like?  That’s ok, many of us have to learn these practices as adults.  But learn we must lest we continue to perpetuate relationships where power rules and the peace that passes all understanding is nowhere to be found