Step Four

Step Four: Journey Through the Twelve Steps


This year, we have a monthly series discussing ways to engage and work each of the Twelve Steps.  Stemming from the Alcoholics Anonymous tradition, the Twelve Steps have made their way into the treatment of many addictive behaviors.  Our specific focus will be on sex and love addiction, particularly in Christian women.  If you’re interested in finding an in-person, online, or phone meeting for sex and love addiction, check out Sex Addicts Anonymous or Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous.  Before you read this post, check out our introduction to the Twelve Steps to learn about support and resources.

Step Four: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

In Step Four, it’s easy to hit another roadblock in recovery work.  This is the biggest overhaul of your present-day life since Step One, requiring a significant amount of work and humility to fully engage the question: what are my areas of deepest moral weakness?  What are my character defects that I’ve been trying for years to keep secret from everyone, including myself?

While this inventory is certainly a difficult component of your recovery, it is incredibly important on the road to facing reality.  You must break through any last vestiges of denial, hold up the mirror to yourself and get to know who you really are, flaws and all.  Step Four looks not only at the external behaviors listed in Step One, but also at the internal thoughts, emotions, motivations, and beliefs that drive the addictive behavior.

This is an intense and painful process as you grieve the pain of the life you’ve lived.  Be sure to have support from your sponsor and 12 Step group during this step.  By looking at the truth of who you are, you can then begin to open the door for grace, forgiveness and acceptance.  Rather than continuing the pattern of self-hatred and shame that drives you back into addiction and self-destruction, you must accept the grace and forgiveness that God is already offering you.  You need to uncover the truth from beneath the blanket of lies you’ve cast over it.

What is a searching and fearless moral inventory?

The Green Book of Sex Addicts Anonymous* defines it as “a systematic examination of all the beliefs, feelings, attitudes, and actions that have shaped our lives from our earliest years.”  This process allows you to re-evaluate areas of your life to see how you’ve been basing your decisions on distorted beliefs, intense negative emotions, and past traumatic experiences.

It also calls you to pay attention to aspects of your character that have harmed yourself or others.  These character defects are common to every human, but this step gives you the opportunity to take an honest look at them and begin to change.

How do I work this step?

Create an appointment date and time with your sponsor to share your inventory.

Before you get started, connect with your sponsor or another trusted individual with whom you will share the information once you’ve completed this step.  This appointment will help create accountability to complete the step and provide a place for discussing the intense emotions that come up as you write.  Your sponsor can also ask you thought-provoking questions that will help you if you get stuck.

Write it out.

Just as if you were writing out an inventory of products in a store, it is most effective to have a written document of your moral inventory.  Schedule time set aside to write it.  It is often best to complete the Fourth Step in several sittings, rather than trying to get it all out at once.  Tackling the entire step in one sitting will be overwhelming.  Also, coming back to review your inventory after a break may help you notice patterns or behaviors that you didn’t see before.

Focus on categories of emotion or behavior.

In The Gentle Path Through the 12 Steps*, Patrick Carnes delineates several areas of focus for a moral inventory.  Take some time to look both at the good side and the bad side of each of the following areas:

  • Personal responsibility – Where did I choose not to take responsibility for what I should have?

  • Anger – How did my anger drive my behaviors?

  • Fear – Where in my life have I been motivated out of fear?

  • Self-sabotage vs. taking risks – Where did I set myself up for failure? Where was I too afraid to take a risk?

  • Shame vs. pride – What are the moments where I felt the most shame? What moments do I feel proud of?

  • Losses and grief – What are the major losses I’ve faced over my lifetime? What have I learned from those losses?

  • Unworthiness and self hatred vs. self-affirmations – What are the words I use to beat myself up? What are the positive words I tell myself?

  • Dishonesty toward self or others – Where have I lied outright or failed to express the whole truth? Where have I started believing the lies?

Complete a sexual history.

Within sexual addiction, your behaviors developed out of an awareness of your own sexuality and interactions around sex.  Taking a sexual history can help you to understand why you chose these certain paths of acting out.  Also, traumatic experiences of abuse or harm can transform into our abuse or harm of others through addictive behaviors.  Take stock of where you may have harmed others in the course of your addiction.

Connect with painful emotions.

Emotions are more likely to come to the surface in this step as you begin to dig deeper into your story.  Feelings like fear, anger, sadness, joy, envy, loneliness, and shame will be present.  As you connect with these emotions, pay attention to how you’ve responded to them in the past.  Have they triggered addictive behaviors?  Have they ruled your life and controlled your decisions?

Seek to understand your motivations.

Due to the distorted thought patterns associated with addiction, it can be easy to miss how often you behave in a way to feed your addiction without knowing it.  Even altruistic or positive behaviors that have a motivation toward feeding your addiction can be destructive.  Take a close look at how you exploited people, situations, behaviors, or environments to satisfy your addictive needs, even if you weren’t aware of that motivation at the time.

Pay attention to the resentment, victim mentality, and entitlement in your addictive behaviors.

Resentment is a significant emotion that fuels addictive behaviors.  Resentment relates to feeling victimized, which leads to entitlement to act out in your addiction to make up for the perceived wrong.  Write honestly in your inventory about how you blame people, institutions, your environment, or other factors for your addictive behaviors.  Then address each item and see where you played a role in each of those areas of resentment.  Often you can find some behavior or response within yourself that may contribute to the pain you’ve experienced.

Honor the bad and the good in your moral inventory.

Many of the ways in which you’ve learned to cope with life have served you in some way or another – you wouldn’t do them if they didn’t work.  Therefore, they have a flip side that is positive.  For example, maybe you learned to read the emotions of your mother to avoid verbal abuse, which has led to avoidance of conflict with your spouse when you see anger arising in them.  However, this past wound has likely also led you to become more intuitive and aware of the emotions of others throughout your life, which is a gift.

When you honor the good alongside the bad, this creates space for self-compassion, understanding, and forgiveness.  Take time to practice gratitude for the good in your life rather than the addiction’s tendency to only see the bad.

Pay attention to new intuitions you’ve had since beginning recovery.

As you begin to hear others’ stories and absorb the literature of your 12 Step program, you’ve likely come across some concepts or stories that have struck a chord in you.  You may begin to become uncomfortable about behaviors or habits you’ve had your entire life.  What are you beginning to name as unhealthy or problematic in your behaviors?  What have you heard in others’ stories that has led you to believe that your thoughts and behaviors might be hindering you instead of helping you?  What has your sponsor cautioned you against doing?

Connect your story with unmet needs from childhood.

Often you adopt a certain style of living or addiction because it feeds something within you that wasn’t met in your childhood or where you received harm or trauma.  As you reflect on your moral inventory, connect with the child within to see what needs were being met by the addictive behaviors that weren’t met when you were younger.  This may be a good process to walk through with a professional counselor trained in trauma treatment, as these memories likely contain pain and shame.  It can be helpful here to identify your go-to fantasy or ideal partner and identify what needs or desires are being met by that fantasy.

Remember that you can (and will need to) return to this inventory to alter or add more to it.

Your inventory is not a complete document the first time you finish it.  As you continue to work your recovery, you will continue to discover more about yourself that you will need to edit and change later.  Don’t put pressure on yourself to figure everything out on the first try.  Continue to return to this document regularly throughout the course of your recovery work and be willing to alter it as needed.


Are you hesitant to hold a mirror up to your character and internal motivations because you’re afraid of what you’ll find?  Are you overwhelmed by the past traumas you’ve experienced?  Do you fear what changes you’ll have to make once you start taking a moral inventory?  At Restored Hope, I desire to offer a supportive presence and help in your journey of healing and recovery.  I offer counseling services at my Ann Arbor office that focus on kindness and gentleness towards the parts of your story where you experienced pain and trauma, as well as encouragement toward moving toward a healthy, fulfilled life.  Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or email me today to hear more.


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