How many times have we heard a variant of someone saying they just wanted their 'insides' to match the 'outsides' of the people all around them? Perhaps, this is why the discussion of the Fourth Step inventory specifically includes self-esteem and fear as the primary effects on a bruised ego that leads to resentments.
In setting out the instructions for how to make a personal inventory, the 'Big Book' of Alcoholics Anonymous tells us: "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 pocketbooks, our ambitions, our personal relationships (including sex) were hurt or threatened."
In his book, "Enlightenment is a Secret," the modern spiritual teacher Andrew Cohen observes that we all need to "realize objectivity," and that cannot be accomplished when we are obsessed with our self-image.
On reviewing our inventory, the 'Big Book' specifically shows us how this lack of objectivity about what others may (or may not) think about us is all-pervading and lethally dangerous. "We began to see that the world and its people really dominated us," we read, "(a)nd in that state the wrong-doings of others, fancied or real, had power to actually kill."
"Self image is always a dark corner," he writes. "Most people are all suffering from the same agony, tormented by ideas of who they are and who they don't want to be."
Andrew Cohen, Editor-in-chief,
"It helps," he observes, "when you realize that this predicament is the human condition. It helps when you realize that almost everybody is suffering in this same misery. Realizing this can help. It can help you to see through the illusion that you are suffering in your own misery isolated and alone. Because of this idea many people feel sorry for themselves. When you realize that this is the average condition of almost everyone it is the beginning of a big change in perspective."
"Realize its not 'your' problem," Cohen urges. "Realize that it is the problem. Realize that this one mistake is the crux of the human predicament. Try and make the effort to depersonalize every aspect of your experience, from the gross to the subtle."
"Realize objectivity," he urges. "It is the only way out."
[Andrew Cohen, "Enlightenment is a Secret," page 144.]
self-consciousness, rather than a deeper and higher, God-consciousness - is the real cause of our suffering, we strive to "realize objectivity," as Cohen puts it. Or, as the 'Big Book' puts it: "We realized that the people who had wronged us were perhaps spiritually sick themselves. Though we did not like their symptoms and the way these disturbed us, they, like ourselves, were sick too."
It is, therefore, helpful to realize that ego, or ordinary self-consciousness - "thinking without awareness," as another spiritual teacher, Eckhart Tolle, called it - is not just our problem, but that is 'the' problem, just as Cohen notes. Or, as another enlightened spiritual master said, "Of myself, I am nothing, the Father doeth the works." (Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, page 75.)