Step Four

4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

Step Four Outlined

This is the Step that brings fear, uncertainty, and guilt to those who have been around recovery meetings for a while and have not taken it - or to those who have gone a time without taking it again. It's housecleaning time. Healing time."

It's the dreaded Fourth Step."


"Many of us hide from our pain. Many of us hide from ourselves. Perhaps the last, safest, and strongest holdout from looking at ourselves is blaming our circumstances and condition on others. Focusing on others will neither solve our problems nor bring relief from the pain. It will divert us, but it won't accomplish the work we are seeking. It won't bring healing. Focusing on others won't change our circumstances. Many of us make the mistake of stopping our recovery efforts before we work this Step. We recover long enough to identify with other people's problem and realize it's not our fault. But what we discover is this: If we do not use our present circumstances as a challenge, a trigger, and an invitation to look within, we will find ourselves dancing through a repeat performance."

"Many of us begin recovery from codependency by looking around and outside of ourselves. That's often how life gets our attention. We get mad, whine, rage, manipulate, attempt to control, and point the finger at the other person in absolute insistence that he or she is doing something inappropriate, something we do not like, something we want that person to stop doing."

"This is what we call an "outward" focus."

"In this Step, we begin the process of looking within as a response to our circumstances. We make a searching and fearless inventory of ourselves."

"This Step doesn't tell us to make a critical, hostile, blaming inventory of ourselves. It doesn't tell us endlessly to find fault, hold ourselves irresponsible or overresponsible, or others unaccountable. It says: "searching and fearless."

"We don't take this Step in lieu of setting boundaries. We don't take this Step to deny what another person is or isn't doing, and the impact of that on our families and our lives. We don't take this Step to deny what we are feeling."

"We take this Step to get to the core of recovery: self-responsibility."

"This Step is the beginning of our own housecleaning. It is where we begin looking within for the solution to our problems and pain. It is how we begin healing ourselves and our hearts."

"In this Step, we begin to allow the light to come into ourselves."


"Here are some ways people approach this Step:"

"1. An Inventory of Codependent Characteristics"

"We can list some of the codependent behaviors and characteristics we have been protecting ourselves with, the people involved with these behaviors, and our underlying feelings about them."

"2. A General Biographical Sketch"

"This is an easy way to dive into this Step. Sit down with pencil and paper and write about yourself. Start simple. Where were you born? Then let the process take over. Write what comes to mind about yourself and your life - from childhood to present. Don't overwhelm yourself by trying to do it perfectly. After doing this first sketch, you many want to move on to the Fifth Step and talk to someone about what you've discovered. Or, you may want to move to the next layer of yourself."

"Remember, this Step is not about being nice and appropriate. It's about getting it all out. Your biography isn't going to be published. Let yourself go, and say what you need and want to say."

"3. A Specific Biographical Sketch"

"Some people prefer to focus on one area of their lives, such as relationships, family, or work history. This can be useful if you find yourself blocked in a particular area. Write about your history in that one area, starting at the beginning."

"The more we write about ourselves, our feelings, and our beliefs, the more helpful this work is."

"4. A Big-Book Fourth Step"

"This approach (covered on pages 64 through 71 of Alcoholics Anonymous, "the Big Book:) is the original approach suggested for a Fourth Step. This version calls for an honest stocktaking of ourselves. It is simple and straightforward. We write down the names of people we resent, and why. We write down what part of our lives we feel those people have affected or harmed. On our list of resentments, we include "people, institutions or principles with whom we are, or were angry." For instance, "I'm resentful toward my friend because she doesn't call me often enough, and that affects my social life and my feelings of well-being."

"In this Fourth Step, we may want to cover all the troublesome areas of our lives - anger, resentment, fear, sex, and money - reviewing each area thoroughly and with an attitude of self- acceptance, not shame."

"5. Things We've Done Wrong"

"This can be an honest appraisal of the things we've done that we feel guilty about. This Step can help us clarify our own acts and words that cause guilt and shame, so we can be done with past guilt. It can also help clarify our inappropriate guilt - feelings of guilt that aren't really our own, but belong to others. We can be done with that, too. This is the place to let go of our rationalizations, our justifications, and look within."

"Not listening to, not trusting, ourselves is a moral issue. Not liking and loving ourselves is a moral issue, and it is the heart and core of our codependency."

"6. Wrongs Others Have Done to Us"

"Taking a Fourth Step from this vantage point can help us get it all out. We can list all our victimizations from day one. What people, institutions, places, and beliefs have victimized or hurt us? How and why? How did this affect our lives? How does this make us feel? Did we have any part in this? For instance, did we say yes to someone when we could have said no? Why didn't we? What did we fear might happen if we took care of ourselves? Why didn't we own our power with that person? What was the belief stopping us from taking care of ourselves?"

"Have a good gripe session on paper. Whine once and for all so we can be done with it and heal."

"7. An Asset Inventory"

"So much of our codependency involves difficulty seeing what's good about ourselves and our lives. Seeing what's wrong can come so easily. It can be helpful to do a Fourth Step on our good qualities, our talents, our values, and what's right about us. It may also be, as one woman said, the hardest Fourth Step we've ever done."

"8. A List of Anger, Fear - and Shame"

"Write down a list of everyone we're mad at, everything we're afraid of, and everything we hate about ourselves. Dump it all. This is a simple approach to this Step. Just make a list of who or what, past and present, bothers you. Bothers means "causes you to feel upset, afraid, angry, helpless, outraged, indignant, hurt, ashamed, guilty, worried, or disturbed." Bothers also means "triggers any type of reaction in you, including caretaking or controlling." You can include things about yourself and your life that bothers you. You can include things about others, relationships, or work that bothers you.

But we won't know what to let go of and change until we do our Fourth Step work. The bottom line is this: If we believe we're unlovable, we won't let anyone love us. And if we believe we're unlovable, we won't let anyone love us. And if we believe people will hurt us and take advantage of us, they probably will."

"Our goal of this Step is to open up and heal the emotional part of ourselves."


"Besides identifying and healing from past feelings, incidents, and beliefs, there is another important benefit from working this Step. Some people call the Twelve Steps a "selfish" program. That's true. We do this program for ourselves, no matter whose problem got us into the Steps, no matter who we originally came to these Steps to help. But these Steps are also a self-esteem program. We work them to be done with shame, guilt, and low self-esteem. We work these Steps to learn how to love ourselves. Then we can learn how to love other people and let them love us."

"This Step helps us learn to switch from a shame-based system to a system of loving and accepting ourselves - as is. We are clearing up our guilt and shame."

"When doing this Step, do not forget to list the wrongs we may have done to ourselves: telling ourselves that it is not okay to be who we are; punishing and rejecting ourselves for being that; treating ourselves in any manner that is less than what we deserve. Not loving, accepting, nurturing, and cherishing ourselves are some of the most abusive wrongs we can do."

"By the time we reach this Step, we are called upon to do some focused work. It can be intense. What are we searching for? The darker side, the side that prevents us from loving ourselves, loving others, and letting others love us - the side that blocks us from finding the love and happiness we want and deserve."

"Don't worry about doing this Step perfectly. Don't worry about doing it well enough. This Step will work if we make an effort to work it. It will start a process. It will move us forward o our journey. Choose a way to do this Step, then do it. Be as honest as possible. Be open. Be willing to do what feels right for you, when it feels right to do that. You don't have to let it overwhelm you. Some people feel so critical of themselves when they begin recovery, they need to wait a year or two to work this Step."

"If you don't feel ready, don't worry about it. Like the other Steps, this one will find you, when it's time. You'll know when it's time."


"We work these Steps to heal from our pain, fear, guilt, and limiting beliefs , but to do that, we must first recognize them. That is our task in this Fourth Step. Those who find the courage to look within are the people most comfortable with themselves and recovery."

"This is the healing Step. This is the healing-the-heart Step. This Step can change lives. Go deep. Go as deep within yourself as you can. Start with the top layer, and let the process take you deeper. Do not be afraid of what you will find. The things that have happened to us may be dark, but our core is beautiful and good."

"Take this Step once, twice, as often as we need. Let the process of looking within become a habitual response to life and life's situations. Not to blame. Not to hold ourselves responsible for the behavior of others. But to explore, understand, take responsibility for, and cherish who we really are. Take this Step to empower and enable ourselves to heal and to take care of ourselves in any circumstances."

"If we don't know what our issue is to deal with, ask God to reveal it to us. Ask God to show us what it is we need to face within ourselves. God will answer."

"Be honest, but also be gentle and understanding with ourselves as we work this Step."

The Source for this Step Four outline: Melody Beattie's: "Codependents Guide To The Twelve Steps"

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