Step Four: Looking for our own mistakes and defects

Putting out of our minds the wrongs others had done,
we resolutely looked for our own mistakes
(“Alcoholics Anonymous“, page 67)

Here in Step Four is where we make “a list of all persons we have harmed and to whom we are willing to make amends.” (page 76)  To begin, most of us just copy the names from Column One of our resentment list over into Column One of our new “Harms List”.  For example:


Harms List - Column 1


Column Two might seem a bit difficult at first, but take a look at each of your own troubled interactions in life as you have known it (such as on your resentment list) and recognize where you have not treated others as you would have wanted or expected them to treat you.  And if you wish, you can actually begin with Column Three here:

“Where had we been selfish, dishonest, self-seeking and frightened?” (page 67)

Sometimes it can help to list a known defect first, then add a bit of detail in Column Two…and always keep this in mind:

“Though a situation had not been entirely our fault, we tried to disregard the (defects of the) other person involved entirely.  Where were we to blame?  The inventory was ours, not the other (person’s).”

Some of us have had difficulty here at first because we have long been accustomed to rationalizing and presuming to self-justify our own attitudes and actions in the light of the how other people have treated us.  So-called “paybacks” would be one symptom of that kind of old thinking in need of replacement, and our past manipulative behaviours attached to selfishness, self-centeredness or self-reliance would be another.  So, the challenge here is to begin seeing where and how our past attitudes and actions have brought no more actual good into the lives of others than the wrong attitudes and actions of others might have brought into our own.  One of the prayers we have mentioned in reference to “the key to the future” can help provide some useful questions here:

Where there has been hatred, have I been bringing love?
Where there has been wrong, have I shown the spirit of forgiveness?
Have I been bringing harmony where there is discord?
Have I been sharing truth where there is error?
Where there has been doubt, how and why have I failed to bear witness of faith?
Where there has been despair, how and why have I failed to bring hope?
Have I been using my energies to bring light where there are shadows?
Have I been bringing joy into the lives of others where there is sadness?
Where have I been seeking more to be comforted than to comfort?
Where have I wished more to be understood than to be understanding?
Where and how have I sought more love than I have been willing to offer?

“When we saw our faults we listed them.  We placed them before us in black and white.”

Faults, defects, wrongs, shortcomings, harms…  There is no need to feel intimidated by such words being encountered anywhere in the Steps, and nothing in Step Four is any kind of “rap sheet” listing charges or evidence to be used against us.  The idea here is to just take a clear and honest look at how and where our past attitudes and actions toward other people have not been what God as you understand God would have wanted for those people, and to then list in Column Two our wrong-doings in need of amends as we learn to think and act differently in the future.  For those of us who have been rather aggressive in life at the expense of others, this list can be fairly lengthy.  For others of us, this harms list might not be long at all.  But for all of us, making this list can help us see where our past attitudes and actions have fallen short of the spiritual ideal where we human beings truly care about each other and share and work together in ways that are best for all.

What are our defects and/or shortcomings to be listed in Column Three?  Here is a list used by many of us, and always keep this principle from page 63 in mind: “The wording was, of course, quite optional so long as we expressed the idea, voicing it without reservation…”

Ego amounts to the delusion of self-sufficiency and believing we can successfully manage our own lives well;
Fear can represent an unwillingness to believe God as you understand God actually can and will do for us what we could never have done for ourselves;
Pride or vanity is excessive belief in one’s own abilities or knowledge of one kind or another;
Ignorance (lack of knowledge) can lead to varieties of wrong attitudes and/or actions;
Selfishness amounts to considering oneself above, ahead of or at the expense of others;
Self-centeredness is similar in believing any or all of life should revolve around oneself;
Envy is ill feeling either toward or in the presence of someone who has something we do not have;
Gluttony is an inordinate desire to consume more than we actually need or require for life;
Lust is an inordinate craving for the pleasures of the body;
Anger can be a troublesome emotion producing wrath;
Greed or covetousness and self-seeking stem from an excessive or mis-directed desire (instinct) for material wealth or gain (when that excess is at the expense of others);
Sloth is the avoidance of physical or spiritual work.

The goal at Column Three is to discover and list our inherent or underlying personal characteristics or traits that have been self-defeating in the past as well as harmful to others, and are therefore in need of being “cast out” (page 72) by way of actually being replaced by new characteristics and traits as we continue on in the Steps…and along that kind of line, this next sentence in Step Four in our Basic Text (“Alcoholics Anonymous”) is clearly indicative of Steps Five and Eight…

“We admitted our wrongs honestly and were willing to set these matters straight.” (page 67)

 …thereby helping to show the overall flow and interconnection of spiritual principles and actions practiced by the earliest of A.A. members before our program of recovery was later codified and numbered as “the Twelve Steps” (see Forewords to 12 & 12).  So while the present focus of Step Four is to list our own wrong actions and character defects, it is certainly fine if you might wish to simultaneously admit them “to God, to ourselves, and to another human being”, to become willing to make amends wherever possible and to begin living a new way — “Constant thought of others and how we can help meet their needs” (page 20) — even right now as you do these things to “join us…in the Fellowship of the Spirit.” (page 164)

Next in Step Four, “We reviewed our fears thoroughly…even though (or even if) we had no resentment in connection with them.” (page 68)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s