Working the scary steps (feat. step 4)

Women my age are constantly accused of being insecure. This trait is thought to drive our actions, from what we post on Instagram or dating apps to when we lash out in romantic relationships or at work. It all supposedly stems from “self-esteem issues.” In my experience, 25-year-old men don’t bother too much with mind-reading but, when they do, they conclude that their female counterparts are acting out of a high degree of emotional insecurity.

There are many posts in which I play the contrarian. Incidentally, I have also played this part pretty well for 24 years. (In the first year of my life I was disarmingly agreeable, but only because I couldn’t form words.) As much as I’d love to contradict the assumptions laid out above, and suggest instead that young women are simply rebelling against the patriarchy, or Judeo-Christian theology, or trickle down economics, or factory farms, or maybe even all four in one deft Instagram post or ignored text - well, that just doesn’t happen to be what I mean today.

As you might recall, I’m working the twelve steps for a second time. The fourth step is the one in which you list every person, place, or thing at which you are resentful. When working step four, many people create three columns: the target of my resentment; the cause; and what it affects in us. I can’t remember what exactly my first fourth step included (which is, incidentally, how you know it worked), but I can remember everyone I ever dated, and I would imagine those lists are more or less the same.

I can’t actually detail my current fourth step without calling a few people out. And while our “canceled” culture would welcome this, I again am not interested in throwing an oppression party today. (But please do check in again tomorrow.) Plus, the really unfortunate part of working step 4 is the following excerpt from the 12 & 12: “Every time we are disturbed, no matter what the cause, there is something wrong with us." I could tell you what is “wrong” with him or her or it - or, I could cut to the chase and tell you what was wrong in me.

As a blogger, “cutting to the chase” is conspicuously absent from my skillset. If it were there, I’d likely be Tweeting - or maybe I’d even be just doing, instead of talking about doing. Regardless, I'll aim for efficiency here.

Today, when I form a resentment, the “affects my” column is full of the same two concepts: “emotional security” and “self esteem.” (To be honest, I’m not even sure there’s a difference between those two; I just needed to be less depressingly consistent.) If I resent a coworker, it's because that person has somehow threatened my sense of emotional security. If I resent an ex-partner, it's because my self-esteem was threatened and hasn’t quite repaired itself. If I resent a friend or loved one, it's because I have felt judged, or because I wish I could have shown up differently for them. I wanted to be more or better or different, and I couldn’t. Ergo, resentment.

I haven’t heard many fourth steps, and those I’ve heard have been from women within ten years of my age. That being said, I do wonder if “emotional security” is a common thread in everyone's inventory. When you resent someone, isn’t it often is it because they are threatening? Perhaps they threaten our sense of security, our expectations for how the world ought to operate, our ability to be at peace at work or at home. “Insecurity” is a characteristic most often ascribed to younger women, but when I glance around a room, I see fear in all of our eyes.

We could throw an oppression party if we so chose. We’ve certainly got a big enough group. We could make mocktails, eat average food until we’re uncomfortably full, and conceal our desire to leave with too much smiling. But that’s not really a party I want to attend, and by the end my face would hurt.

My party face

“Every time we are disturbed, no matter what the cause, there is something wrong with us." Today, I could resent the society that failed to provide self-esteem - or, I could wonder why I was looking there to begin with. What was the guy at the bar meant to provide? Why did I misappropriate Instagram as a self-esteem bank? Why did I ever suppose it was the job of advertisers to make me feel good about myself? (Especially when it would make their own offerings obsolete?) When I look outside myself for security, I am inevitably disappointed. I feel weak, mad - resentful. But when I look inwards - towards God, towards higher power, towards whatever you choose to call it - I feel hopeful. This points towards a solution.