Step Four: Our natural instincts and desires

We asked ourselves why we were angry…(and) set opposite each name our injuries.”
(“Alcoholics Anonymous“, pages 64-65)

While listing our injuries in Column Three here in Step Four, we are looking for our natural human instincts and desires that have been adversely affected, hurt or threatened by the actions of other people.  Here is a paragraph from Step Four in “Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions” that can be helpful along this line:

“Creation gave us instincts for a purpose.  Without them we wouldn’t be complete human beings.  If men and women didn’t exert themselves to be secure in their persons, made no effort to harvest food or construct shelter, there would be no survival.  If they didn’t reproduce, the earth wouldn’t be populated.  If there were no social instinct, if men cared nothing for the society of one another, there would be no society.  So these desires—for the sex relation, for material and emotional security, and for companionship—are perfectly necessary and right, and surely God-given.”

As we have been mentioning, we are not yet looking for any defects of character.  Rather, here are the general categories of natural human instincts and desires we all share in common:

-material security
-emotional security
-the sex relation

As living beings, we need food and shelter (including clothing) in order to survive here on earth, and we are naturally troubled whenever our instinctual material or physical security is somehow compromised or threatened.  Then on the social front, we also inherently need, want and love to be (or to feel) needed, wanted and loved…so we seek satisfactions of our social instincts, and that typically includes physical and emotional intimacy within personal relations for the pleasure and security of companionship as well as for human procreation.

Using any words of your own choosing, here are the kinds of things to be listed in Column Three:

“In most cases it was found that our self-esteem, our pocketbooks, our ambitions, our personal relationships (including sex) were hurt or threatened (by the actions of others)…
“…Was it our self-esteem, our security, our ambitions, our personal, or sex relations, which had been interfered with?” (pages 64-65)

Some specific examples you might wish to use:

self-esteem (one’s view or perceived value of oneself)
ambitions (including ego and/or pride)
emotional security
financial security
social security (wanting to be needed, wanted and loved)
personal relationships (family, friends or others)
sexual relations (pleasure or procreation)

Here is how all of this looks in the example list shared in our Basic Text:

Resentment List - Column 3

note: The word “fear” does not appear in the above at the moment since we look at fear a little later in Step Four.  Having that word “bracketed alongside” on the example list in our book simply reflects looking back at this list while later considering the matter of fear.

If you have not yet added your own injuries in Column Three, right now might be a good time to do so.  And of course, you can add any additional names (Column One) and causes (Column Two) that might come to mind as you come along.

There is yet another caution we would like to share with you here, and that is this:

Many of us have heard people say things like “Other people cannot hurt me unless I allow them to do so.”  There is a some truth there, of course, but learning to choose our friends, associates and even our companions wisely is not what we are doing at the moment.  Right now we are looking at the fact that all human beings, including ourselves, are affected by the actions of others — our own personal injuries and injustices are presently being listed in Column Three — and Step Four is also about learning the fact that our lives being driven or controlled by our anger and resentment does not work well (and never could have or ever will) in relation to finding satisfactions of our natural instincts and desires.  So overall, do not fall into the temptation of the ego or intellect trying to philosophically avoid or resolve anything here.  Rather, just continue on with these Twelve Steps that ultimately show us what actions to take (even against our own thinking or “old ideas” as mentioned on page 58) as we thereby learn a new manner of living that really does work even when some of the very best people around us might still let us down once in a while!

Again, here are the kinds of things we list in Column Three:

-material security (food, clothing, shelter, etc.)
-financial security (secure in the workplace, bills paid, etc.)
-emotional or social security (feeling needed, wanted and loved)
-personal relationships and companionship (including sexual relations)
-ambitions (personal goals or sense of accomplishment)
-self-esteem (a perception of one’s own value in life)

This is not a test, so there are no right or wrong answers here.  A thief can rob us of material or financial security, and people who take advantage of others can leave us feeling like doormats.  Imperfect people hurt others, and Column Three is where we list where we have been hurt.

After completing Column Three, our next task is to begin analyzing our resentments

9 thoughts on “Step Four: Our natural instincts and desires

  1. Dolly

    I wanted to share here how much I have cowereded at this fearless moral inventory. It had been over a week and I was still! Sitting with “causes’ column. There was a rumble inside, a feeling of anger, terror, and tears of .Reversion remorse…… I was told I am not doing defects of character right now. Doesn’t matter it is very plain to see. The dis-honest, self centered life I’ve led has led me here. At 30 days without a drink I was unhappy irritable and restless. Got on here and could not be talked down, I drank that night landed in hospital with pancreatitis.
    After a week I got back on here…….. not wanting to admit I had drank that nite. What if they should give up on me? What if there are no more chances? That self pity. You see it’s all about me. What I think is best for me. That thinking has cost the people around me and myself total hell.
    So getting honest with myself is not easy. I will keep coming back here and try and take the wax out if the ears knowing if I had the answers I would be recovered. If I was not an alcoholic I could stop and stay stopped. This is a lifetime journey. Oh I know we like quick fixes this is not one of them. The people here and in the Big Book talk of a better life when we recover. That sounds fantastic. With that I’ll keep coming back thanks to my Higher Power, and continue with this personal housecleaning with the help of the people who have recovered. We can’t do this alone and we are not suppose to. Dolly

  2. JoeO

    >> I was told I am not doing defects of character right now…

    No, you were told the third column of your resentment list does not include any defects of character.

    >> Doesn’t matter it is very plain to see…

    Doesn’t matter! Dis-honesty and/or a self-centered life are not the things that drive still-suffering alcoholics back to drinking.

    >> At 30 days without a drink I was unhappy irritable and restless. Got on here and could not be talked down…

    Nobody here ever tried to “talk you down” or even would have…and you had never mentioned the idea of drinking again anyway.

    >> …self pity…it’s all about me. What I think is best for me.

    That is why we have specific *actions* we must take even if *against* our own thinking in order to discover “the key to the future” right at the very beginning of Step Four and well before ever looking for even the first defect of character.

    >> The people here and in the Big Book talk of a better life when we recover.

    Life will actually still be life, but *we* can get better in how we try to live it.

    >> I’ll keep coming back thanks to my Higher Power…

    There is only One…

  3. Dolly

    Thank you so much for your input. It must be wonderful to be sober 30 years. Oh that’s right not sober “recovered” Got to make sure we have the wording right.
    Unfortunately people! are dying daily of alcoholism. We come here out of desperation. Looking for answers that were freely given to you. Thank you for taking the time to address each comment.

  4. JoeO

    >> Oh that’s right not sober “recovered” Got to make sure we have the wording right.

    Nah, “The wording was, of course, quite optional so long as we expressed the idea, voicing it without reservation.” (“A.A.”, page 63)

    Many people are mis-led by things such as “Our primary purpose is to stay sober”, so we like to try to be certain we have the *ideas* correct no matter what words are being used. For example and from Tradition Three:

    “Our membership ought to include all who suffer from alcoholism. Hence we may refuse none who wish to recover.”

    Conclusion: A desire to stop drinking and a wish to recover are the same thing…and nothing has been said about mere abstinence or “sober”.

  5. jack

    actually self centeredness is the exact reason alcoholics relapse. shit piles up created by the selfish alcoholic putting himself in positions to be hurt that no human on earth can endure.. he doesn’t continue enlarging his spiritual life, just indulging in selfish behaviors, along with talkin and quotin the book in meetings and then convincing himself hes [taking the Steps], then relapses and wonders why. he wasnt doin one bit of the program. steps 2 – 12 is action on how to stay sober. nothing of the act of drinkin is mentioned. because when not drinkin we don’t have a problem with alcohol or addictive substances. we have a problem with selfishness. selfishness creates our own misery. that’s what we drink over (not intentionally, this is done subconsciously). its very rare that an alcoholic that’s tryin to stay sober just gives up and goes gets a drink. that’s why there is the great riddle why cant an alcoholic stay sober on self will alone. now everyones on doctor dope that keeps alcoholism alive (anything with addictive properties) and well within the alcoholic rt up in meetings steady getting praise and thunder, of which traditions say are a no no and steps say we’re spose to kill ego and selfishness everyday not enhance it.

  6. Members Post author

    Good stuff there, Jack! Many thanks!

    note: We have edited your “working the program” wording to “taking the Steps”, and here is our explanation while also letting you know we agree completely as to what you are saying.

    The hypothetical alcoholic we are talking about here has likely never before heard the difference between “working the program/Steps” and “taking the Steps”, and the words anyone at all might use there are actually irrelevant, of course, and here is the principle behind that fact:

    “The wording was, of course, quite optional so long as we expressed the idea, voicing it without reservation.” (page 63)

    My point: “Working the program/steps” is an expression that originates from something having been missed or avoided at Step One, and “taking the Steps” is an expression that includes all of Step One. Or to illustrate: “Working the program/Steps” leaves room for the ego to believe it can actually “work” something…such as when a potter “works the clay” to make a vessel. In contrast, however, here is Bill’s “Step One”: “I admitted for the first time that of myself I was nothing (completely powerless to do anything on my own power); that without Him I was lost.” (page 13)

    Post more, if you wish!

  7. Sarah B.

    You are surely welcomed, Ronald! It is our hope this website if helpful to you as you consider alcoholism and the permanent recovery that is made available by taking A.A.s 12 Steps just as they are laid out in our A.A. text.

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