The fourth step in a 12-step program
says that we made a searching and fearless moral inventory of our lives
The word "moral" bothers some people. These steps were originally written decades and decades ago, when they used "moral" in an entirely different way. It was before the moral majority, before "moral" started carrying quite these connotations of bad and judgment and sin. It just meant - and in this context, it just means - that we are exploring our own moral life: where we personally don't feel okay with our own reactions to things. Where we feel out of step with the way we want to treat ourselves and others.
This is the way that I learned to do a fourth step. It takes a long time but it is incredibly empowering and revealing:
1. We make a list of everything that makes us angry/that we resent. It can be anything from our abusers to people running red lights.
Then for each one we write:
- who or what it is
- why it makes us angry
- how the situation/person affects us, including how our resentment affects us
- what we feel about it
- what we think about it
- what our part in it is (what are we doing that plays into this resentment? are we not speaking up, choosing to keep abusive stuff in our lives, obsessing about our anger?)
We have some kind of part in everything our adult lives, but we never have a part in childhood abuse. Abuse is never, ever, ever the fault of the child, not even if they think they asked for it or wanted it or deserved it somehow. It is always up to the adult to protect the child and choose appropriate ways to act with them.
2. We make a list of everything that we fear, and write the same things for each of those including what our part in it is. (Like, are we making that area of our lives unsafe, not taking care of our needs, buying into old fears instead of realizing how much power we have in our lives now?)
3. We make a list of our intimate relationships - anything that is a big deal for us, from family members to friends, whoever has had a big impact on our lives - and answer similar questions:
- who it is
- how we got into the relationship with them and why we did or didn't get out
- how we feel about the relationship
- how it affects us
- what we feel and think about it
- what our part in it is (especially with regard to any problems in the relationship or negative effects it has had on our lives. Did we have unsafe sex? Did we stick with people we didn't like or jobs that weren't healthy for us?)
The great thing about this process is that now I have tools for dealing with anger. When someone is pissing me off, I can automatically notice why I am mad, how much of it is really them and how much of it is me projecting my own stuff onto them, and know what to do about it. In many cases I don't need to get mad about the stuff that used to piss me off endlessly because I have learned that I can stop the situation quickly and easily instead of getting caught up in the rage.
This step is scary for a lot of people. Most of us don't come into 12-step programs loving our feelings. Or even knowing what they are much of the time. It can be scary to explore all this, not knowing what we will find. Personally, though, I loved it. I loved getting to write all the ways that people pissed me off. I gave myself permission to just rant and rant and rant until I was done. And then I felt proud of myself for accepting that I might have a part in the situation, and for facing it and reclaiming my power through my responsibilities.