The 12-step process was developed by Alcoholics Anonymous founder Bill Wilson in 1935 and is now employed by many rehabilitation groups around the world. By working through 12 detailed steps intended to help those with substance abuse issues to find acceptance, face reality and make amends, people are able to navigate a better path forward. The steps are progressive; practitioners stay with one step until satisfactory progress has been made and then move on to the next one.
Moving through the steps requires deep reflection on both circumstances and self. This is especially true for step four, which reads, “Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.” To do this, it’s important to reflect on character defects and shortcomings to identify the root causes of addiction and ways to improve.
What Are Character Defects?
The term character defect refers to any challenge in personal character that may affect your way of life and interactions with others in a less than ideal manner. Defects of character can range greatly; one Cleveland-based AA group identifies 20 different points of concern to assess in the context of deficiencies.
These elements, like greed, can negatively influence how you lead your life, contributing to cycles of poor behavior. For example, acting in anger can result in unproductive responses to challenging life events, like using drugs to overcome feelings of rage toward others. Identifying evidence of defects in your own life can be clarifying, isolating where you’ve gone wrong and what kinds of actions are necessary to see personal improvements.
What Are Shortcomings?
In the context of the 12 steps, both character defects and shortcomings are referenced throughout the program, leading some members to ponder the differences between them. According to the AA founder, Bill Wilson, a distinction wasn’t intended; the varying word usage was merely a stylistic choice to avoid repetition. When moving through the steps, program members can think of these terms in the same context.
List of Character Defects
Character defects exist in numerous forms and can vary from one group to another in terms of what is assessed. In general, common character defects include:
- Negative or immoral thinking
For some people, many of these defects apply. For others, only a select number are relevant.
Do I Have Defects?
Identifying flaws in your thoughts and behaviors is often hard to do. It’s easy to justify your actions, for example, you were greedy because you thought you needed goods or services more than other people, but participating in AA involves true introspection that goes beyond rationalizing individual choices.
In reality, we all have defects. No one is perfect, regardless of a history of — or lack of — substance abuse. Everyone has areas in which they can improve, from being jealous of a coworker who got a promotion to being angry at a friend who makes more money.
Part of being successful in AA involves not making excuses for character defects and, instead, using an introspective moral inventory to make positive changes. Discovering the kind of shortcomings you’re facing and how they relate to your addiction is an important part of recovery. That’s why step four specifically states taking a “fearless inventory.” It’s hard to be critical of yourself in an honest way, but pursuing a personal inventory without fear is imperative to achieving this.
What Are My Character Defects?
You know you have personality defects, but how do you perform the kind of searching and fearless moral inventory required to accomplish step four?
Create a List of Defects
Understanding what constitutes a character defect is an important part of taking a personal inventory. Using the list above, a list provided by an AA group or a personal list drawn up based on life experiences and known personality traits is a great way to start this process. Those working through step four can go item by item to develop a personal inventory.
Don’t limit yourself to character defects that may seem personal only to you or that you’re already aware of. Instead, be as inclusive as possible. Without further introspection, you may not even see the other defects that have affected you and your substance use disorder.
Taking a concept, like greed, and interpreting it in the context of your own personality isn’t as simple as it sounds. To ensure this exercise is as effective as possible, draw up some questions that make it easier to conceptualize how certain character defects play into your past and current behaviors. Some examples include:
- How does a certain character defect manifest?
- How is behavior affected by a certain character defect?
- What are the consequences of a certain character defect?
- In what ways can a certain character defect affect the use of drugs or alcohol?
- How can a certain character defect stand in the way of a healthy recovery?
- Have I been affected by this character defect?
Once you’ve isolated a list of questions relevant to your summary of character defects, it’s time to put them to use. Go through each shortcoming one by one and give answers to each question. These can be yes or no answers or, for some questions, longer and more involved responses. The important part of this exercise is to evaluate honestly how each character defect can play a role in facilitating addiction or poor behavior and whether you’ve displayed any of these challenging traits.
The 12-step program in AA and other addiction treatment programs is intended to guide those working through addiction little by little. The fourth step only truly addresses identifying character defects rather than overcoming them; this is managed in later steps. As such, identifying these shortcomings honestly and candidly is vitally important for later because making healthy and productive changes is a big part of the overall goals of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Getting help is always an option for the nearly 25 million Americans living with an addiction to drugs and alcohol. Whether through a standard outpatient 12-step program or in a dedicated treatment facility, support is here when you need it most. Please contact FHE Health today to learn more about our comprehensive drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs.