Overcoming Resentment in Recovery

Written by Steve Rose

Steve Rose, PhD, is an addiction counsellor and former academic researcher, committed to conveying complex topics in simple language.

As you enter the early stages of addiction recovery, you may find yourself confronting an unexpected and powerful emotion: resentment. It’s as if a storm has been brewing inside you, fueled by past hurts, betrayals, and perceived injustices. The weight of this emotion settles heavily on your shoulders, making it difficult to focus on the progress you’re trying to make.

“I don’t deserve this,” you think to yourself, as certain situations or conversations seem to awaken this simmering resentment. A casual remark from a loved one or a seemingly harmless memory suddenly ignites a deep-seated anger within you. Your heart races, your palms grow clammy, and you find yourself thinking, “Why do they always have to bring that up?”

In these moments, you become acutely aware of the walls you’ve built around yourself. “I have to protect myself,” you tell yourself, feeling a strong urge to shield yourself from the perceived attacks and criticisms that seem to lurk around every corner. This defensiveness is like a suit of armor that you wear, keeping you isolated from those around you, and making it difficult for you to truly connect with others.

In active addiction and early recovery, resentment can manifest in a variety of ways, including:

  1. Constantly dwelling on past events or situations that caused us pain or suffering.
  2. Feeling a sense of injustice, as if we’ve been unfairly treated or wronged by others.
  3. Harbouring negative emotions towards others, even if they’re no longer in our lives.
  4. Difficulty in forgiving and letting go of grudges.

In recovery, it’s essential to acknowledge and address resentment. This involves understanding the root cause of our feelings, reflecting on our part in the situation, and finding healthier ways to cope with these emotions. By doing so, we can work towards healing and prevent resentment from hindering our progress in recovery.

It’s also crucial to surround ourselves with a strong support network and seek professional help when needed, as these resources can provide guidance and encouragement in overcoming resentment and maintaining sobriety.

Recognize the Effects of Resentment

Resentment can be a significant barrier to taking responsibility for one’s recovery, as it often leads to reactivity, defensiveness, and the adoption of an unhelpful victim identity. This can manifest in various ways, ultimately hindering progress and personal growth:

Reactivity: When resentment is present, individuals may become overly sensitive and reactive to situations or comments that remind them of past hurts or perceived injustices. This heightened reactivity can make it difficult for them to maintain a clear perspective and respond constructively to feedback or suggestions, which are crucial for growth and healing in the recovery process.

Defensiveness: Resentment often fuels a defensive mindset, where individuals feel the need to protect themselves from perceived attacks or criticisms. This can make it challenging for them to accept responsibility for their actions, as they may be unwilling to acknowledge their role in the situation or the consequences of their choices. This defensiveness can hinder progress in recovery, as it prevents individuals from learning from their mistakes and making necessary changes.

Victim Identity: Resentment can lead to the adoption of an unhelpful victim identity, where individuals see themselves as powerless and blame others for their problems. This mindset prevents them from taking control of their lives and making proactive choices to improve their circumstances. By maintaining a victim identity, individuals may feel justified in their resentment and unwilling to accept responsibility for their recovery.

Self-Sabotage: Holding onto resentment can result in self-sabotaging behaviors, as individuals may unconsciously undermine their own recovery efforts to confirm their victim identity or avoid addressing their resentments. This can create a vicious cycle of relapse and reinforce the belief that they are powerless over their addiction.

To overcome these challenges and take responsibility for one’s recovery, it is essential to recognize and address resentment. This can involve self-reflection, therapy, and support from friends, family, or recovery groups. By actively working to let go of resentments and adopting a mindset of personal accountability, individuals can make significant strides in their recovery journey and develop healthier coping mechanisms for dealing with emotions and setbacks.

Identify Your Resentments

Identifying resentments is a crucial step in addressing them and moving forward in the recovery process. Here are some strategies to help you recognize resentments in your own life:

Self-reflection: Spend time reflecting on your thoughts and emotions. Ask yourself if there are any situations, people, or events that consistently provoke negative feelings such as anger, bitterness, or frustration. Journaling can be a helpful tool for this process, as it allows you to record your thoughts and feelings in a structured way.

Patterns of behavior: Observe your own behavior and interactions with others, especially during times of conflict or stress. Pay attention to recurring themes, such as consistently feeling wronged or unfairly treated by others, or reacting defensively when receiving feedback.

Physical sensations: Resentment can manifest in physical sensations, such as muscle tension, headaches, or a tightness in the chest. Be mindful of these sensations and consider whether they might be linked to unresolved resentments.

Seek feedback: Talk to trusted friends, family members, or a therapist about your feelings and emotions. They may be able to provide an outside perspective and help you identify resentments that you might not have recognized on your own.

Engage in recovery groups: Participating in support groups or 12-step programs can be beneficial in identifying resentments, as you can learn from others’ experiences and insights. Listening to others share their stories can help you gain a deeper understanding of your own resentments and provide guidance on how to address them.

Inventory of resentments: Create a list of people, institutions, or situations that you feel have wronged you or caused you harm. Be honest with yourself and include any resentments, even if they seem minor or irrational. This inventory can help you gain a clearer understanding of the resentments you’re holding onto and serve as a starting point for addressing them.

Let Go of Resentments

Letting go of resentments in recovery is a crucial aspect of personal growth and emotional healing. Resentments can hinder progress in recovery and lead to self-destructive behaviors, making it essential to address them effectively. The process of releasing resentments involves multiple steps and strategies, which are outlined below.

Acknowledge your resentments: The first step in letting go of resentments is to acknowledge their existence. Identify the people, situations, or events that have caused you pain or discomfort and recognize the negative emotions associated with them. Be honest with yourself about your feelings and accept that holding onto these resentments is preventing you from moving forward in your recovery journey.

Self-reflection: Spend time reflecting on the root causes of your resentments. Ask yourself why you feel wronged or hurt by the person or situation and consider any underlying issues or beliefs that may be contributing to these feelings. This process can help you gain a deeper understanding of your emotions and provide valuable insights into your patterns of thought and behavior.

Take responsibility: Accepting responsibility for your part in the situation is a crucial step in letting go of resentments. Recognize the choices and actions that may have contributed to the conflict or issue and be willing to accept the consequences of those decisions. By taking responsibility for your actions, you can empower yourself to make positive changes and break free from the cycle of blame and resentment.

Practice empathy and compassion: Cultivating empathy and compassion can help you see the situation from the other person’s perspective and develop a greater understanding of their actions or motives. This can enable you to let go of anger and bitterness and foster a sense of forgiveness and understanding.

Forgiveness: Forgiving those who have wronged you can be a helpful aspect of releasing resentments. This does not mean condoning or forgetting the hurtful actions but rather choosing to let go of the negative emotions associated with them. Forgiveness is a personal decision and may take time.

Learn from the experience: Use your resentments as an opportunity for growth and self-improvement. Reflect on the lessons you can learn from the situation and consider how you can apply these insights to future experiences. This can help you develop healthier coping mechanisms and prevent resentments from recurring in the future.

Develop healthy coping strategies: Replace unhealthy behaviors and thought patterns with more constructive alternatives. Techniques such as mindfulness, meditation, and deep breathing exercises can help you manage negative emotions and reduce stress, making it easier to let go of resentments.

Set boundaries: Establishing healthy boundaries can help you protect your emotional well-being and prevent resentments from recurring. Communicate your needs and limits clearly with others and practice assertiveness to ensure your boundaries are respected.

Focus on gratitude: Shifting your focus from resentments to gratitude can help you develop a more positive outlook and appreciate the progress you’ve made in your recovery journey. Create a daily gratitude practice, such as journaling or sharing your gratitude with others, to cultivate a mindset of appreciation and contentment.

Overcoming Resentments in 12-Step Recovery

12-step programs, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA), place a strong emphasis on addressing and resolving resentments as part of the recovery process. These programs view resentments as a significant barrier to personal growth, emotional healing, and long-term sobriety. The principles and steps outlined in 12-step programs offer guidance on how to manage and let go of resentments effectively.

Several key concepts from 12-step programs are relevant to resentments:

Resentments as a “number one offender”: In the context of 12-step programs, resentments are often referred to as the “number one offender,” meaning they can be a major obstacle to recovery and a leading cause of relapse. Resentments can fuel negative emotions and self-destructive behaviors, making it crucial to address them in order to maintain long-term sobriety.

Personal inventory (Step 4): The fourth step of the 12-step program involves conducting a “searching and fearless moral inventory” of oneself. This process includes identifying resentments and examining the root causes of these negative emotions. By acknowledging and analyzing resentments, individuals can gain a deeper understanding of their feelings and thought patterns, which is essential for personal growth and healing.

Admitting wrongs (Step 5): The fifth step of the 12-step program involves admitting to oneself, to another person, and to a higher power (as understood by the individual) the exact nature of one’s wrongs. This step encourages openness and honesty about one’s resentments and the role they may have played in the situation, fostering a sense of accountability and personal responsibility.

Making amends (Steps 8 and 9): Steps 8 and 9 of the 12-step program focus on making amends to those who have been harmed by one’s actions. This includes acknowledging and addressing resentments held against others, as well as seeking to repair any damage caused by one’s own behavior. Making amends can help to mend relationships and promote forgiveness, both for oneself and for others.

Ongoing self-evaluation (Step 10): The tenth step of the 12-step program involves continuing to take personal inventory and promptly admitting when one is wrong. This ongoing process of self-evaluation and reflection can help individuals identify and address any lingering or new resentments, ensuring that they do not hinder personal growth or recovery.

Spiritual growth (Steps 11 and 12): The final two steps of the 12-step program emphasize the importance of spiritual growth and helping others in their recovery journey. Developing a stronger connection with a higher power (as understood by the individual) and practicing principles such as forgiveness, compassion, and humility can help individuals let go of resentments and maintain long-term sobriety.

In summary, 12-step programs view resentments as a significant obstacle to recovery and provide a structured framework for addressing and resolving these negative emotions. By following the principles and steps outlined in these programs, individuals can work towards letting go of resentments, promoting emotional healing, and maintaining long-term sobriety.


In conclusion, resentments are a significant barrier to personal growth and recovery from addiction. They can fuel negative emotions and self-destructive behaviors, making it essential to address and resolve them effectively. Strategies such as self-reflection, taking responsibility, practicing empathy and compassion, and forgiveness can help individuals let go of resentments and promote emotional healing.

Moreover, participating in 12-step programs offers a structured framework and supportive community for individuals to work through their resentments and maintain long-term sobriety. By actively addressing resentments and developing healthier coping mechanisms, individuals in recovery can make significant strides in their journey towards personal growth and emotional well-being.

Fascinated by ideas? Check out my podcast:

Struggling with an addiction?

If you’re struggling with an addiction, it can be difficult to stop. Gaining short-term relief, at a long-term cost, you may start to wonder if it’s even worth it anymore. If you’re looking to make some changes, feel free to reach out. I offer individual addiction counselling to clients in the US and Canada. If you’re interested in learning more, you can send me a message here.

Other Mental Health Resources

If you are struggling with other mental health issues or are looking for a specialist near you, use the Psychology Today therapist directory here to find a practitioner who specializes in your area of concern.

If you require a lower-cost option, you can check out BetterHelp.com. It is one of the most flexible forms of online counseling. Their main benefit is lower costs, high accessibility through their mobile app, and the ability to switch counselors quickly and easily, until you find the right fit.

*As an affiliate partner with Better Help, I receive a referral fee if you purchase products or services through the links provided.

As always, it is important to be critical when seeking help, since the quality of counselors are not consistent. If you are not feeling supported, it may be helpful to seek out another practitioner. I wrote an article on things to consider here.

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