Letting Go Of Resentment: Plato’s Tripartite Soul

What Does A.A. Say About Resentment?

The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous states,

“Resentment is the ‘number one’ offender. It destroys more alcoholics than anything else. From it stem all forms of spiritual disease, for we have been not only mentally and physically ill, we have been spiritually sick. When the spiritual malady is overcome, we straighten out mentally and physically.”

This quote is instructive in not only revealing the system A.A. posits as a solution but equally in determining what the organization proposes is the problem. I’ll unravel it by working my way backward, there are three main points.

  1. The spiritual takes precedence over the mental and physical – sequential this is the healing process.
  2. The concept of disease is stretched, to analogously demonstrate the magnitude and consequences of a sick spirit.
  3. Resentment is a causal agent – the first cause regarding ego development.

In this and following articles I will seek to explain these three points and their implications.


The Spiritual Takes Precedence Over The Mental And Physical – Sequentially This Is The Healing Process

We must begin by determining precisely what the Big Book means by the term ‘spiritual.’ The best avenue for commencing this description is by referring to what it is not; that is, “self-centeredness.”

A.A. is explicit in regards to self-centeredness being the “root of the problem.” But what does it mean when it makes this assertion? What are the immediate implications?

Self-Centeredness – The Root Of The Problem

The root of the plant is that which sustains it, likened to a heart. When one thinks of the heart – not necessarily in an anatomic sense but an emotive one – thoughts of a life-force comes to mind, a center, or a will. It’s what ‘moves’ something.

The Big Book analogously parallels the sickened spirit to self-centeredness; which is, as a will or life-force, not so much what one does but who one is. The will, therefore, plays a vital role in spiritual awakening or self-actualization.

So What Is Will

Consider the will as a latent desire. Not necessarily conscious, though with considerable effort can be challenged and recreated. The sickened will (spiritual sickness) is governed and “driven by a hundred forms of fear, self-delusion, self-seeking, and self-pity,” which inevitably leads to conflict internally (cognitive dissonance) and externally (interpersonal deficits.).

Consequently, this is the antecedent to the maladjusted spiritual condition, in which one is “restless, irritable and discontented unless they can again experience the sense of ease and comfort which comes at once by taking a few drinks.”

The Will Is Vital To Recovery, Not To Be Abandoned But Employed Appropriately

It’s logical, one wills what is accord with their desires. Will-power, however, can be exercised from three different angles –  and the specific angle shapes one’s life experience.

One never ceases to operate their will, instead, they express it along different lines. Indeed, the key to recovery is obvious, it is to change one’s desires, which is no easy feat. Perhaps nothing can be more difficult, more strenuous, and more mentally excruciating than transforming one’s will.

First, let’s look at a soul map; one wherein we can glean a picture of the various soul desires (wills).

soulmao letting go of resentment

Plato’s Tripartite Soul Map – Exercising Your Will From The Proper Angle

Three thousand years ago a gentleman by the name of Plato navigated the treacherous soul terrain and crafted a map of which expeditioners would explore for eons to come. Well, sorta…rather he used his three-tier concept of the soul as an analogy for the ideal political state. Whatever, I’m going to overextend his purpose for my own purposes…

Plato divides his just society into three classes: the producers, the auxiliaries, and the guardians. The auxiliaries are the warriors, responsible for defending the city from invaders, and for keeping the peace at home. They must enforce the convictions of the guardians, and ensure that the producers obey.” Analogously, his society represents the human soul. Plato defines the soul’s three parts as:

  • The logical soul-plane (rational/intellectual) => The Guardians (the rulers)
  • The spirited soul-plane (emotional/passionate) => The Auxiliaries (The warriors)
  • The appetitive soul-plane (primitive/instinctual) => The Producers (The workers)

When Will Serves Appetite

Addiction, per the Big Book description, is the will exercised on the appetitive soul-plane. It’s bare bones instinct and gut-feeling glory. It’s chasing the high and fleeing the low. It’s that hedonistic instant gratification my-way-or-the-highway adult temper tantrum kind of nonsense. It’s impulsive, irrational, unreasonable, and undeniably primitive. It’s what the N.A. Basic Text called “living reduced to the animal level.”

On this tier, we merely exist to satisfy our basic instincts. Undoubtedly, one must satisfy their basic instincts, this is good and necessary. They are mentioned is Alcoholics Anonymous Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions:

  • The social dimension
  • The dimension of physical and emotional security
  • The sexual dimension

But these instincts cannot be gratified via a solo mission, instead, they are only satisfied within the confines of a social network. As I’ve mentioned previously, “The dilemma is that natural instincts can only be exercised in humankind’s natural habitat – that is in community.

Therefore, natural instincts employed autonomously, apart from the relational context cease to be capable of satisfaction.” (See article: Is Addiction A Choice? The Motivational Versus Volitional Argument).

This is why the will is so awry when operating solely from this soul plane because it produces only more dissatisfaction; or, better yet, a stronger desire to satisfy that which cannot be satisfied i.e. an obsession. A.A. is right to don this form of the will “self-centeredness,” because it’s a life lived only for its own preservation and aggrandizement.

Furthermore, its circular – one must work that much harder and continuously make zero progress. The only solace is a temporary relief that feels like satisfaction but must be acknowledged that the mark still fails to be struck. This is addiction – a stationary life residing on the appetitive soul-plane.

An obvious implication is that resentment keeps one isolated, keeps them rooted on this soul level. Thus, how must one advance? Forgiveness.

emotinos letting go of resentment

When Will Serves Emotions

The emotional plane is ultimately what animates humanity. It brings life to these dry bones. Nonetheless, as Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Why? Because one becomes enslaved to their emotional impulses, a preprogrammed “feeling” automaton.

The will operating solely along these lines is a circumstantial bipolar-maniac. Drama? Bring it. Hostile argumentation? Bring it. Physical altercations? Forget about. These are the soldiers of Plato’s Republic. When I think of armies my mind wanders to that which is commanded. Thus, this soul-tier is dependent. It fights for its commander unflinchingly.

The will, therefore, leverages this plane rather then is actually operated by it. Whether one is governed by reason or appetite the emotions is prepared to battle for it.

When Will Serves Reason

What is reason? Reason often stands in juxtaposition to emotion, but that may miss the mark. Emotion can correspond and coexist with reason. I prefer to see the height of reason as virtue, as the highest Good. Further, I’d like to think Plato would agree with me, but just to be on the safe side Id prefer not to step foot in the Socratic boxing ring, lest my chin be bruised by my personal philosophical folly.

So what is virtue? What is the Highest Good? And why is the will optimized on this soul plane? Ancient Stoics (a school of philosophy that was influenced by Socrates) believed life should be lived according to nature and consequently, virtue, since by nature humans are reasoning creatures. It is thus the responsibility of every individual to bring their own nature to perfection by using their highest faculty: reason (1)

Moreover to the Stoic, humankind is not only rational but also a social creature by nature. Further, for the sake of this discussion, it’s worth noting that by “virtue” they mean living per said nature (not the modern connotations of virtuous behavior), and this is the precise way I intend to use it.

The four cardinal virtues are:

  • Wisdom (foreseeing what has to be done)
  • Justice (dispensing what has to be given)
  • Courage (curbing fears)
  • Self-discipline (checking desires)

Basically, in layman’s terms, virtue means to live a disciplined life. Discipline is the only way the highest good can be achieved. The Stoic rightly acknowledged three necessary disciplines, which are ultimately the cardinal virtues applied:

  • The Discipline of Desire”, which has to do with acceptance of our fate (virtue: courage and self-discipline)
  • The Discipline of Action”, which has to do with philanthropy or love of mankind (virtue: all four cardinal virtues)
  • The Discipline of Assent”, which has to do with mindfulness of our judgments (virtue: wisdom)

“As you can probably see, these three disciplines overlap considerably and are intertwined…However, in unison, they allow the Stoic to work toward a harmonious and consistent way of life, in accord with nature.  By this, the Stoics meant life in the service of the natural goal of human nature, the attainment of fulfillment “eudaimonia”, the good life, achieved by perfecting moral reasoning and excelling in terms of the cardinal virtues: wisdom, justice, courage, and self-discipline.”

spiritualbeing letting go of resentment

Spiritual Beings Having A Human Experience

If the above is true and we are, in substance, spiritual and as spiritual thus being the opposite of irrational and self-centered then spirit must be likened to rationality and people-centeredness. Under these conditions – as created intentionally by disciplining oneself to operate from the logical soul-plane – the human being can grow and prosper.

Like a seed held in one’s hand. It cannot grow no matter how many positive vibes you send its way nor how many Facebook likes it gets. Hell, you can raise millions on GoFundMe for that little guy but if our guy remains in the palm he will not grow. However, given the right conditions, he can flourish. A little bit of soil, water, and light and he’s well on his way.

In like manner, human beings cannot directly transform the will; indeed, powerless is a is an adequate description. Nonetheless, if the individual is put in the right conditions (consistent application of Stoic disciplines for instance, or more appropriately constant practice of the 12-Steps) one can experience the transformation of the will indirectly, as a byproduct.  Additionally, being in the proper conditions, the mind and body now have a chance to heal.

Forgiveness is the vehicle to transverse the tripartite soul terrain. Resentment is analogous to sugar in the gas tank. Why? Because it’s a prison of self-absorption – it fuels fears, irrational desires, and a skewed interpretation of one’s experience. As soil and water are to a plant, community and reason are to a human being. Resentment denies community and thereby blurs and shades discernment and the ability to reason. For all intents and purposes, it an existential robbery one of one’s humanity. In a word, the resenter sells their birthright to the resented. Are you ready to take back your natural inheritance? Reclaim your humanity today. Forgive.

Timmy G (2018)