In Step 1 of Alcoholics Anonymous, you admit that you’re powerless over drugs and/or alcohol and that they make your life unmanageable — all the other steps flow from this. For most people, if they don’t believe they need to work the steps, they won’t.
In Steps 6 and 7, you’re taking everything you’ve learned from Steps 4 and 5 and putting it into action.
They are tough steps that require a lot of introspection and honesty, and they’re steps you have to do for the rest of your life, but they’re also one of the main ways that you can change bad behaviors permanently and become a different, better person.
Understanding Step 6: How to Determine Your Character Defects
In the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, Step 6 reads, “Became entirely ready to have God remove all our defects of character.”
The idea is that, through steps 4 and 5, you’ve discovered the truth about the kind of person you are, or at least, the kind of person you act like.
People almost always see themselves as better than they actually are, usually because they judge themselves by their intentions — even if their actions don’t line up.
In Step 4, you have to write down all the things you’re resentful about and that you’re afraid of. You then have to examine how you show up in each romantic relationship you’ve been in. Basically, you have 3 lists.
There are several places in these lists where you have to examine your own behavior instead of just writing down what other people have done. The sex inventory (the 3rd list that examines romantic relationships) is almost entirely about how you acted in the relationship — not the other person.
It asks questions like, “How was I selfish, dishonest, or inconsiderate? Whom did I hurt? How did I unjustifiably cause jealousy, suspicion, and bitterness?”
When answering these questions, you’ll start to see patterns in your behavior — these patterns are your character defects.
For example, if you find that you regularly lie in relationships to get what you want, that’s a character defect — lying.
If you find that you have a lot of resentments against people for stealing from you, but when looking at your part, you realize that you also stole from people yourself, there’s another character defect — stealing.
The list of potential character defects is pretty large. Just think of any negative word that can describe a person, and you’ve probably got a character defect on your hands, but here are some of the more common ones:
- Anger or rage
- Blaming others
There are probably many more adjectives that could be added to the list, but this gives you a good idea of what you should be looking for and writing down.
While it’s good if you can identify these yourself while you’re writing your 4th step, the reality is that most people are not good at seeing themselves for how they really are.
It helps to write down the facts about what you’ve done because, when viewed objectively, you are more likely to recognize how you’ve acted, but that’s not always enough — it’s easy to dismiss them on your own.
This is why Step 5 exists. The point of Step 5 is to discuss everything you’ve written down with your sponsor. You’ll also want to talk about things that aren’t on your 4th Step, like secrets you’ve never told anyone or horrible things you’ve done that you feel guilty/ashamed about or regret deeply.
While doing this, a good sponsor is going to help you identify and write down your character defects based on what you two talk about during your 5th step.
You’ve probably noticed that it’s fairly easy to identify character defects in other people, yet for some reason, it’s very surprising to learn your own. That’s one of the biggest benefits of working with a sponsor: they can much more easily identify your character flaws and help you see and understand them.
It can be easy to dismiss character defects that you’ve identified yourself — it’s much harder to dismiss them when you’re sharing written evidence with another person who then points out what you’ve already written yourself.
Of course, you can always disagree with your sponsor or ignore what they have to say entirely, but remember, this step involves a lot of soul-searching, introspection, and honesty with yourself. Acknowledging that you have character flaws can be painful, but it’s also important to recognize that no one is perfect.
Everyone has character defects — yours are what they are, nothing more, nothing less. However, understanding and accepting your shortcomings is not an easy task. It requires courage, self-awareness, and a true desire to change your behavior and become a different person.
It’s okay to be scared or apprehensive. This step is not about being perfect; it’s about being willing to change.
When you have that entire list in front of you that you and your sponsor have worked on and agreed on, then you have to actually do Step 6, which is to get to a point where you’re ready to have your higher power take those defects away.
What does that mean? Essentially, you have to look at each character defect and ask yourself if you’re ready to stop acting that way or not.
You might not be ready to. You might think you don’t really have that character defect, that your sponsor is wrong. Or you might see nothing wrong with being a little rude every now and then, or being brutally honest, or gossiping a bit.
That’s okay — you can still move on to Step 7 for the character defects you are ready to let go of. For those you’re not ready for just yet, prayer and time are most likely to help. Asking your higher power to help you become willing to let your character defects go — and going about your life while noticing your character defects — may change your mind.
The Importance of Step 6 in the Recovery Journey
Why is Step 6 in AA so crucial in the recovery journey? Well, without readiness to change, it’s pretty hard to make any significant progress.
These defects have been hindering your growth and happiness. They’ve caused you and the people around you harm — sometimes immense amounts of harm. If you stay sober but continue to act the same way you acted while drinking/using, then the people around you will wonder why you bother staying sober at all.
It can be hard to want to change, but it’s pretty hard to ignore the truth once you’ve seen it. The cat’s out of the bag now — you know what your character defects are. You’re going to notice when they’re happening.
Trying to pretend like they don’t exist isn’t going to help or make them go away.
The good news here is that these character defects are not permanent. You can do something about them! It doesn’t help to be hard on yourself for what you’ve done in the past — this is a time for self-acceptance and forgiveness, a time to learn to love yourself despite your flaws and mistakes.
If you were defined by your past actions or choices, there’d be no point in the steps. The entire point is to change how you act. If you’re willing to change, willing to try, then you’re already moving in the right direction.
Change is possible. A better, healthier life is within your reach. That’s reason for hope. You’re not doomed to continue to act out, and you’re still worthy of love, respect, and happiness.
Understanding Step 7 in AA: Seeking Humility
Step 7 in AA is all about seeking humility. You humbly ask your Higher Power to remove your shortcomings with the 7th step prayer. This is where you surrender your character defects to a power greater than yourself — the ones you’re willing to let go of, at least.
Don’t worry if you can’t let go of all your character defects right away, or if you only want to partially let go of them. You’ll probably learn that, even though they sound bad on paper, you don’t actually mind some of those character defects much — and you’ll continue to act in those ways for a while.
You’ll also probably realize pretty quickly that your character defects don’t just disappear because you said a prayer. It’s possible some will be lifted or disappear, but that’s likely to happen for anyone who stops drinking/using and stops engaging in the harmful behaviors that go along with that.
Most will take time and effort — on top of prayer — to get rid of. These can take years to change. You’ve spent your whole life developing these character defects — most will take more years to change.
You’ll also need your sponsor’s help through this process. On top of that, it’s going to be very difficult not to engage in your character defects at first — but you’ll be aware they’re happening. This can be extremely disconcerting at first, but that’s where the humility part comes in — you have to ask others to help.
You have to continue to ask your higher power and your sponsor to help you work on these defects. You might have to ask friends, family, or coworkers to speak up when you act a certain way. It’s very hard to realize this is something you can’t do yourself, very humbling, but it’s worth it.
Steps 6 and 7 Continue for Our Lifetime
One of the difficulties with the 12 Steps is that many people believe that they’re over once you get to the step and take some action.
In reality, almost all the steps need to be taken on a regular basis, and that includes steps 6 and 7.
Character defects come and go. Sometimes they seem to disappear entirely, only to crop up later. Sometimes new ones show up out of nowhere. Sometimes, just by ignoring them, they go away, but then others require an immense amount of effort to reduce even a little bit.
Steps 6 and 7 have a prayer tied to them, but that prayer isn’t just something you say once and move on — it’s something you have to pray regularly on top of taking specific actions to try not to engage in the character defect you’re struggling with.
It can be a good idea to focus on one character defect at a time. Pick one that’s causing you the most trouble and work on it for a week, or a month, or even longer. Don’t let your long list overwhelm you — take it one day at a time.
Then, as you get that one character defect more under control, pick another one and work on that.
When you get to Step 10, you can integrate this practice into your regular inventories.
The Gateway to Step 8
Steps 6 and 7 in alcoholics anonymous play a pivotal role in the 12-Step program because they start the process of real change. When you truly humble yourself and accept yourself for who you are, only then can you become a better version of yourself.
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