Understanding Step Four
In Step Four, we learn that we need to take inventory of ourselves. This inventory isn’t just a brief glance at our lives and ourselves, but rather a fearless and thorough look. The purpose of Step Four is to discover exactly where we are at this moment in time so we can move forward. In doing this step, we will learn what assets we have to work with and what defects of character need some work.
When members of 12-step programs feel afraid to do Step Four, it’s often because they misunderstand what is being asked of them. The point of Step Four is not to take out a club to beat yourself up with. It’s to simply look at what has brought you to where you are today so you can go on from there.
Our Passions and Instincts
In Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, we learn that out-of-control instincts have caused many of the problems in our lives. Different people are driven by different passions or instincts. Some use sex as a drug and may have destroyed their marriages or relationships by always looking for more and better sexual experiences. Some people are driven by greed and the pursuit of wealth. Some are driven by a desire to avoid being responsible.
In many areas of our lives, we may have tried to force our will on situations or on other people. When our efforts to get our own way have been thwarted, we have habitually tried to run away by turning to our drug of choice. We frequently try to justify our behavior and are in the habit of blaming others for everything.
Recognizing Our Shortcomings and Accomplishments
By doing Step Four, we face the things we have done wrong. We come to recognize our shortcomings, our mistakes and our character defects. We include not only wrong actions, but also wrong attitudes, such as wallowing in self-pity, being puffed up with pride or dwelling on resentments, envy, anger and bitterness.
We face the fact that in chasing after drugs, money, sex or food, we have hurt people we love. Character traits such as greed, envy or pride have caused a lot of the problems in our lives. We learn to take responsibility for the problems we have had and the things that haven’t been working in our lives. We realize that we lost jobs or relationships or damaged our reputation as a direct result of our own attitudes and actions. We are not victims.
Our inventory has to include not only shortcomings and mistakes, but also accomplishments, assets and things we have done right. We need to give ourselves credit for the good things we have done, including getting sober. We are imperfect human beings, but we are not bad people.
In learning about ourselves by thoroughly working this step, we come to understand exactly why we turned to alcohol, drugs or unhealthy behaviors such as gambling, overeating or sex addiction. The goal of Step Four is perspective. As we work on this step, we will start to learn exactly who we are.
Easy Does It, But Do It
There are a variety of ways to approach Step Four, and many people in recovery believe it is best done with the help of a sponsor. Some of us make lists of assets and liabilities, recognizing that they are often opposite sides of the same coin. Some write out questions and answers. Some focus specifically on resentments, while others write a detailed personal inventory or life story.
The important thing isn’t how we approach Step Four, but that we make the effort to do it. We need to face our inner demons fearlessly and thoroughly and to trust in the process. At the same time, we need to be gentle with ourselves and not be so critical of the mistakes we have made. Being too hard on ourselves will only lead us back to alcohol or drugs. In other words, easy does it.
It’s only in completely understanding where we are now that we will have the strength and wisdom to face the future. Once we have done that, we have completed Step Four.
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