Step Four of AA: Reflection

Step Four of AA: Reflection

Society sees the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous as the Bible for anyone looking to recover from an addiction.  The program has an estimated success rate of between 8% and 12% according to addiction specialists, and AA has approximately 2 million members worldwide.  Nonetheless, regardless of your thoughts on the program there are valuable lessons we can learn from their text. Above all, each step offers a different gift to an addict. In this series we take a subjective look explaining the benefit each step brings. Step Three available here.

The Gift of Reflection

Step Four: We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.  This Step hangs people up out of a fear they harbor some monster inside them and fear of the pain that could accompany letting it out.  One of the greatest benefits 12 Step offers, particularly in relation to this Step, is that it asks for action. Addicts are experts in rationalization and self-deception and a written inventory provides the necessary tool to break away at some of these obstacles.  The Step serves as an honest self-assessment, this means we don’t just reflect on the negative. You’re also encouraged to examine your strengths and use the step to help determine your passions.

What this Teaches

Step Four teaches reflection, one of the most important ingredients to growth.  Without it we rationalize our experiences and fail to undergo positive development.  The key to Ending Rationalization, one of our Four Pillars to Balance, is reflection.  An article available at provides the following definition:

Reflection is the examination of one’s own conscious thoughts and feelings. In psychology the process of reflection relies exclusively on observation of one’s mental state, while in a spiritual context it may refer to the examination of one’s soul. … In learning environments, reflection is an important part of the loop to go through in order to maximize the utility of having experiences.

Reflection Psychology

The program gets uncomfortable for most people during Step Four, but it’s also where we begin to experience the greatest growth.  While the gift of this step is reflection, honesty is the tool required to get there. Our inventory must be fearless because addicts tend to minimize their role.  Not fully owning our inventory, in other words keeping secrets, is the enemy. This step, the gift of reflection, provides a broadened perspective on our lives. We begin to recognize self-righteous patterns from our lives, and begin broadening our perspective to see the world through the perspectives of others, an outward mindset.

Why This is Important

The reason addicts are often delusional is because they’ve spent so much time rationalizing their actions and their use.  Being delusional is defined as holding idiosyncratic beliefs or impressions that are contradicted by reality or rational argument.  It’s typically a symptom of other mental disorders. The delusional thinking that accompanies active addiction impedes our capacity to process the destruction it brings into our relationships.  Step Four provides a blueprint on our past transgressions, and we that need to grow.

Recovery isn’t about drugs or alcohol, it’s about finding enlightenment and personal growth.  Reflection is important because it teaches us to be cognizant of our own self-deception. It allows us to call ourselves on our own bullshit.  This inventory serves as the framework through which we recognize negative patterns and when we are being run by our emotions. This step is important because it is where we begin to retake control over our lives.  

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