Step 4 of AA

Step 4 of AA is the process of taking a look inward at one’s self, typically with the help of another alcoholic (a sponsor), and appraising the past and how it affects one to this day.

“Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.”

<< Step 3 | Step 4 | Step 5 >>

Read the complete reading on Step 4 of AA.

What is Step 4 in AA?

Step 4 teaches us to become aware of our reactions to people (including ourselves), places, and things. Resentments only flare and build up when we react to situations self centeredly. Step 4 helps rid the alcoholic from feelings of guilt and shame, which is actually a resentment against one’s self.

Steps 1 through 3 can go by in a flash and seem relatively easy to do if you are open and honest with the process. Arriving at step 4 can be puzzling because the step isn’t straight forward like the previous three. How does one go about making a fearless moral inventory of themselves? It can’t be done alone and it will take some time to do. It’s important not to rush step 4. Completing a full personal housecleaning is absolutely necessary.

If you are meeting with your sponsor once per week and reading the Big Book together, you will arrive to step 4 when you reach the pages 63-71 in the chapter “How It Works”. This is when you and your sponsor will begin doing your fourth step.

What’s covered in a moral inventory?

Our standard mode of thinking is to always look at the actions of others (people, institutions or principles) inflicted upon us. Completing a moral inventory helps us to see our part and how we reacted to these actions with an emphasis on the following:

  • Resentments – Alcoholics and non-alcoholics alike form resentments. As the Big Book says, “we’d hardly be human if we didn’t.” So why must alcoholics rid themselves of resentments when they arise? A normal person can have a resentment and be done with it. When an alcoholic harbors a resentment, he distances himself from his Higher Power which then leads back to the drink.
  • Fears – See List of Fears.
  • Sexual conduct

Through recognizing our resentments, fears and sexual conduct, we can pinpoint the exact nature of our character defects.

It’s common for alcoholics with a little bit of sobriety time under their belt to stumble upon step 4 and ask themselves, “what need is there for a moral inventory now that I am sober?” At first, we think our only serious character defect is excessive drinking and that simply quitting alcohol is the only thing we need to work for. However, that is not the case, don’t be fooled. Our natural way of thinking always leans towards self-centered grandiosity which is why we must incorporate a daily reprieve into our lives to set us on the correct path.

The following are questions to consider when approaching step 4:

  • How did my pursuit of sex relations damage others and myself?
  • Who were hurt by those pursuits and how badly?
  • Did I spoil my marriage and hurt my children (if any)?
  • Did I jeopardize my reputation within the community?
  • Was I eaten up with such guilt that nothing could extinguish?
  • Or was I the one hurt from another person’s pursuits, and thus absolve myself?
  • When it comes to sexual matters, how did I react?
  • Did I become frustrated, vengeful, depressed, or cold? If so, did I take this out on other people?

Step 4 Examples

An example of a personal inventory seen on pg. 65 in the Big Book of alcoholics anonymous.

The Big Book on page 65 offers a visual example on how to complete a resentment inventory. It’s important to cover resentments first as they are the # 1  reason (offender) why alcoholics go back out and drink. As it says in the Big Book, “liquor is but a symptom”, therefore we need to get down to the causes and effects which is why we do an inventory.

We must write down our inventory on a piece of paper. We can’t just think out the inventory list in our heads. Use the above example when writing out your personal inventory. After completing your inventory list, you will meet with your sponsor to review and share.

How to do Step 4

When you reach the bottom of page 63 of the Big Book is when you begin the process of doing your step 4. Make sure to bring a pen and paper when meeting with your sponsor. Your sponsor will likely draw your step 4 diagram in order for you to fill out. Or just use the step 4 worksheet below. If you are meeting with your sponsor on a weekly basis, he or she will typically give you one or two weeks to complete your resentments list. However, don’t wait till last minute. Use your time wisely to complete your resentments before meeting with your sponsor.

Helpful Tip
While on step 4, it’s a good idea to carry around a notepad, either with you physically or digitally in your phone. That way if a resentment comes to you out of the blue, you can jot it down. Then you can add it to your resentment worksheet later on.

Write down your resentments, all of them!

For now, just focus on listing out all of your resentments. Typically you can write out each resentment in one sentence. Don’t hold back. If you are unsure of a resentment, write it down – chances are is that it’s a resentment. Go back as far into your past as you can. Nothing is off limits. If you run out of room on your resentment list, just get more paper.

The Cause

After writing down every possible resentment you could think of, now is the time to start on the next column: The Cause of your resentment. In a short sentence, describe the cause of each resentment. Be sure to write the cause to every single resentment you wrote in the first column.

Affects My

Here comes the tricky part but do not worry, it’s not hard to do. The third column is to list exactly what was threatened. There are five (5) possible entries you can make in the third column which are:

  • Ambition – Our future being threatened.
  • Personal relations – Threatens our relationships with family or friends.
  • Security – Causes to threaten our current finances or future financial outlook.
  • Self-esteem – Most resentments are due to your self-esteem being threatened, so don’t worry if you use this one the most.
  • Sex relations – An action that threatened our sexual relationship with the opposite sex.

You may list more than one entry per each resentment. For example, say you have a resentment towards your parents for constantly feeding you fast food causing you to be over-weight; you may have three entries – self-esteem, personal relations and sex relations in your “Affects my…” column pertaining to that resentment.

Character Defects

Finally, after all this work, we get to see our true character defects by completing the fourth and last column. This is where we look for our mistakes in the equation of each resentment. Our mistake always comes from a self-seeking or self-centered action on our part.

Possible character defects to list in your fourth column:

  • Arrogance, dishonesty, envy, gluttony, greed, impatience, intolerance, jealousy, lazy, lust, pride, self-centeredness, self-pity and selfishness.

No matter the severity of what the other person did to us, we can always look to find our character defect. In the previous example we stated how you may have had a resentment towards your parents for always feeding you fast-food as a child, which caused you to be overweight. After doing our fourth column, we now realize that we were impatient and intolerable when we got hungry as a kid which caused our parents to find a quick solution with that being fast-food.

AA Step 4 Worksheet

Use this Step 4 worksheet to fill out your resentments, causes, affects and mistakes.

Directions: Work your way from left to right by first listing out all of your resentments in column 1 before moving on to “causes”. Do the same thing for causes by working down and listing all of them out before moving on to “affects”. Again, do the same before moving on to “my mistakes”. Use the examples at the top of the worksheet as a guide.

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