Understanding Step Eight | 12 Steps

Understanding Step Eight

March 31st, 2015 12 Steps, Helpful Articles

In Step Eight, we learn that we need to make a list of all the people we have harmed and get ready to make amends to them. The goal of Steps Eight and Nine is to heal our relationships and to become aware of our own part in any difficulties we have had while relating to others.

Like many of the other steps, Step Eight isn’t a step we take once and forget about it. Closely examining the people we have harmed in the past and the people we may be harming in the present is part of our ongoing journey of recovery.

Wreckage of the Past 

Being able to live in peace today depends on our willingness to face the wreckage of the past. By taking Steps Four and Five, we have begun to face some of our mistakes. Now it’s time to face the hurt we have caused other people. Examining past relationships this closely may be painful, and it’s tempting to try to avoid going forward with this step. It feels like looking at old relationships is akin to reopening old wounds that might be better off left alone.

But it’s important to clearly understand the things that have happened up to now and to face the harm we have caused others. Although we might instead want to focus on the way others have hurt us, that won’t do us any good. Recovering involves looking at the things we can change, not dwelling on the things we can’t. What we can change is ourselves. Figuratively speaking, we can sweep our own side of the street. We can’t control the actions of others or how they might react to our efforts to change or make amends. But we can face our own actions and the way they have affected others.

Striving for Forgiveness

It’s true that others have hurt us from time to time, but dwelling on those hurts isn’t the point. Focusing on the ways other people have hurt us will only distract us from looking at how we have hurt others. To attain inner peace, we have to forgive those who have harmed us and we have to admit that we have frequently been at fault.

At first we may resist the idea of forgiving people who have hurt us in the past. We might think others have caused us more harm than we have caused them. We might even believe that it’s because of other people that we turned to alcohol or drugs in the first place. But we can’t afford to hang onto anger and resentment.

Making a List of Those We Have Harmed

Some of us may believe that we never harmed anyone but ourselves. We may not have been abusive toward our families. We may have shown up for work regularly in spite of our drinking. We may have been able to avoid causing major financial damage.

But we have to consider whether the self-centered behavior of addiction caused our loved ones to feel neglected and whether we may have said or done things that we don’t even remember. Some of the ways we might have harmed other people may be subtle. We may have subjected our loved ones to mood swings or rage when we couldn’t get enough alcohol or drugs. We may have neglected household responsibilities or time with our families. We may have wallowed in depression or self-pity.

Like Step Four, in working Step Eight it’s important that we approach this part of the journey with thoroughness and fearlessness. We need to take our time and reflect on all our relationships. Defective relationships are often the cause of most of our problems.

In making our list, we have to put ourselves at the top, because we have probably hurt ourselves quite a bit. We may have damaged our health, and we may have hurt ourselves by intensifying negative feelings of resentment or self-abuse.

Step Eight is the beginning of repairing our relationships with others. This step requires only that we make a list of the people we have harmed. Taking action to actually talk to the people we have harmed comes later in Step Nine.

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