The 12 Steps of AA – 4th Step
The Big Book of AA (p 64-71 Third Edition) has the way the 4th Step is done. At least that’s the original way. There’s been a lot of changes to the 4th Step with psychology, treatment centres, work books and lots of people trying to add to it. These may be good but the 4th step of AA in the Big Book is what is generally referred to by doing 'the 4th step". Andthere are some very good reasons for doing it as the Book says.
One is that it’s not about a list of fears or resentments alone. Every alcoholic can tell you their litany of who done them wrong or what they don’t like drunk. It's not necessary to do this in sobriety.
The 4th step is a specific way of looking at our resentments and fears and seeing that they really aren’t unique, despite our claiming to be terminally unique, but rather that our resentments (negative moods day to day or hour to hour today and in our past) can be broken down to anything that interfered with 1. Our self esteem 2. Our security 3. Our ambition 4. Our personal relations 5. Our sex relations
Now it’s pretty clear to me what the fellows meant when they said we would get a resentment if our sexual desires or finances were interfered with. An expectation is said to be a pre formed resentment so I can even understand that I’d get a resentment against the other racer or the race or the race officials if I didn’t win and expected too. Self esteem refers to my good thoughts about myself and certainly I can get very resentful if someone knocks me down a notch or pokes me with a pin when I'm all puffed up with myself. I don’t know quite know what they meant by personal relations other than possibly community or getting between me and those I think of as friends or my community.
There are 4 columns. In column 1, we listed the person, institution or principle and then put beside them the cause and what they had interfered with 1. Our self esteem, 2. Our security 3. Our ambition 4. Our personal relations or 5. Our sex relations. On any individual there can be a lot of causes in column 2 and in column 3 what it affects could be 1 or 5.
Dr Bob always warned Bill to ‘keep it simple’. This is all that we are expected to do to this point. The idea here is that we get a clear view of how simple our resentments are and when we’ve gone through the whole of our lives we will learn on any day of the future when we are out of sorts, depressed, angry, restless, irritable that it’s because we probably have a resentment or fear against some person , institution or principle because one of the 5 conditions of life are being interfered with.
This is a truly amazing ‘self check’ or ‘spot check’ of our emotional state. It’s well ahead of it’s time and literally surpasses the foremost cognitive therapy of our day. What we think is what we feel and our negative feelings can be sourced out by this very simple process.
Once we’ve looked at the people in our lives in this way we are expected to look at the institutions: school, church, government, military, licensing bodies, hydro, telephone, etc.
Finally we consider principles. Principles are primary ideas like honesty, hope, love. The 12 steps of AA have a principle associated with each of them and beyond that there are more key principles.
We’re asked to consider deeply why we have a resentment against the principle of honesty for instance and list the occasions and causes and what negatively occurred to affect the 5 conditions of our life. Fewer AA’s do this and yet the original AA’s were very deep thinkers. They read the Bible extensively, the pragmatic philosopher William James and kept abreast of the leading ideas of the days on matters of principle. It’s common that people in an AA group will say out loud ‘principles not personalities’ today yet few will know what 'principles" are and why "principles before personalities". It takes work to understand what the original AA’s meant about principles and about personalities. They were very specific in their language and discussed the writing of the Big Book extensively.
Now the rubber hits the road with the final or 4th column. Here we put out of our mind the other person’s contribution to our moment of resentment or fear. We play a ‘what if’ game. Instead of seeing ourselves as the ‘victim’ we turn the equation on it’s head and put ourselves in the other guys shoes. We imagine that we are the ones who ‘created’ the situation. We do this by altering the ‘terms of reference’ if need be. Normally when one holds onto an argument we pick the place the thing starts. For example, “he hit me” so I’ve got a resentment. To do the final column we look at our behavior before the moment of resentment and ask where had we been 1. selfish, 2. self seeking, 3. dishonest or 4.frightened. Those are the 4 precursers to a resentment. We were 1. Selfish 2. Self seeking 3. Dishonest or 4. Frightened. So in the example ‘he hit me’, it may be that the day before I wanted him as a friend because he was big and strong and I wasn’t and I hoped he’d be my friend. I wasn’t thinking about him but solely about my needs. It doesn’t say anything about his being justified in hitting me but it does say that I had a “part in it”.
This is critical because we arrive “powerless’ and we are empowered by recognizing that the negative events in our lives didn’t happen willy nilly to us but that we contributed in someway. This is empowering and allows us later in a spot check to see an event in such a way that we might be able to change the outcome or turn around a potentially negative situation. Increasingly we realize that we can 'change" our behaviour whereas we tend to often look at the other person to 'blame' but thereby denying our own need to grow and change.
In this light the The Serenity Prayer can be interpreted as "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change (everyone else, all that is outside of me), The courage to change the things I can (my thoughts and perceptions and attitudes about things, all that is inside of me) and the Wisdom to know the difference."
These 4 columns we did with resentments we also do with fears. We listed our fears even though they didn't have a resentment attached to them. We do this according to the book to see where 'self reliance' let us down and where we could have 'trusted infinite God rather than finite self'. It's said we are "as sick as our secrets' and by not asking for help or admitting our fears we occasioned negative consequences that reinforced our fears.
There’s a sex column but the book isn’t terribly specific about that. It just asks us to list our sexual partners and mostly consider where we’d been wrong. Each relation is to be subject to the simple test "was it selfish or not?"Had we done unto others what we would have them do unto us. Again the question is independent of their behavior. So “she stole my money but maybe I shouldn’t have called her mother a bitch.” It in no way ‘justifies’ her behavior. The Book is very clear however that this is our inventory. Sex powers are neither to be used "lightly or selfishly or to be despised or loathed". "We asked God to mold our ideals and help us live up to them."
Ultimately when one completes a 4th step the humor in AA about putting a sign on a mirror saying “you’re looking at the problem” is better appreciated. Step 4's tend to leave us feeling lighter and more able to move forward in our lives and sobriety without the unnecessary baggage, having let go of the old ideas and limitations that perpetuating our drinking and 'stinking thinking', our 'poor me' and 'victim position'.
We let go of resentments and overcome fears by understanding them better, understanding how they develop, doing daily ‘spot check’s’ using this ‘tool’ of the program and more rapidly restoring peace of mind. Holding onto a resentment is said to be ‘taking poison and hoping the other guy dies.’