The Steps Step 4

Step 4

Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves


How It Works

A business which takes no regular inventory usually goes broke. Taking commercial inventory is a fact-finding and a fact-facing process. It is an effort to discover the truth about the stock-in-trade. One object is to disclose damaged or unsalable goods, to get rid of them promptly and without regret. If the owner of the business is to be successful, he cannot fool himself about values.

We did exactly the same thing with our lives. We took stock honestly. First, we searched out the flaws in our make-up which caused our failure. Being convinced that self, manifested in various ways, was what had defeated us, we considered its common manifestations.
-A.A. Big Book p.64

More about Step 4 in the Big Book


Comments from Web Sites and Publications

During the first three steps I have turned my attention from my addiction and the wreckage that it has done to my life to the God that I have come to realize can deliver me from my addiction. I have faced the truth of my situation and turned this situation over to the God who can help me. Now it is time to start seeing things as they truly are rather than through the glass of my addicted mind and heart. The first step in this process of "getting real" is to take an honest inventory of my life. Exactly where have I been, what have I done and how far did I go in my addictive behaviors? When and where did they start and where have they led me? This is a vital step away from my addicted life filled with chaos and insane behaviors towards a conscious life filled with more personal power and serenity.
- From 12Step.org


We want to find out exactly how, when and where our natural desires have warped us. We wish to look squarely at the unhappiness this has caused others and ourselves. By discovering what our emotional deformities are, we can move towards their correction. Without a willing and persistent effort to do this, there can be little sobriety or contentment for us. Without a searching and fearless moral inventory, most of us have found that the faith which really works in daily living is out of reach.
- Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, p. 43


In Step Four we call it a "moral" inventory because we compile a list of traits and behaviors that have transgressed our highest, or moral, values. We also inventory our "good" traits and the behaviors that represent them. In our life's moral inventory the defects or dysfunctional behaviors might include some that once worked; some dysfunctional behaviors may have saved our lives as children, but they are now out-of-date, self-defeating, and cause us a great deal of trouble when we use them as adults.
- A Hunger for Healing, p. 61


The purpose of a searching and fearless moral inventory is to sort through the confusion and the contradiction of our lives so that we can find out who we really are. We are starting a new way of life and need to be rid of the burdens and traps which have controlled us and prevented our growth.

As we approach this step, most of us are afraid that there is a monster inside us that, if released, will destroy us. This fear can cause us to put off our inventory or may even prevent us from taking this crucial step at all. We have found that fear is lack of faith, and we have found a loving, personal God to whom we can turn. We no longer need to be afraid.

... Step Four will help us toward our recovery more than we imagine. Most of us find that we were neither as terrible, nor as wonderful, as we supposed. We are surprised to find that we have good points in our inventory. Anyone who has some time in the Program and has worked this step will tell you that the Fourth Step was a turning point in their life. Some of us make the mistake of approaching the Fourth Step as if it were a confession of how horrible we are-what a bad person we have been. In this new way of life, a binge of emotional sorrow can be dangerous. This is not the purpose of the Fourth Step. We are trying to free ourselves of living in old, useless patterns. We take the Fourth Step to gain the necessary strength and insight which enables us to grow. We may approach the Fourth Step in a number of ways.

It is advisable that before we start, we go over the first three steps with a sponsor.
- Narcotics Anonymous Basic Text, Chapter 4/Step 4


A personal inventory is crucial to understanding the new direction of our spiritual growth. What aspects of our character do we need to retain and emphasize, and what should be modified or discarded? Six components that might go into such an inventory are described in the following paragraphs.

First, we may need to "tell our stories." This can be accomplished by journaling, that is, by writing out our stories, and by sharing them with others in recovery meetings or private dialogue...

A second component in our inventory is discovering the roots of our addictions and codependencies. In most cases, this means we have to examine our childhoods. What needs were not met there? What negative experiences or messages about ourselves did we absorb in the dysfunctional family of origin? ...

Third, we must confront and assess the full extent of our dependencies. Doing so, we will learn more about the severity of our primary addictions, and we may uncover other peripheral addictions we had not previously recognized. We should inventory and identify all of these codependent symptoms and addictions, which have manifested themselves in our adolescent and adult lives....

Fourth, we need to look back at our relationship history with the people who have been significant in our lives - parents, teachers, mentors, friends, romantic interests. We need to inventory all the ways we have hurt them and hurt ourselves by practicing our adult addictions and codependencies...

Fifth, we must address our guilt feelings. We realize that most addictions are shame-based and shame-propelled. To move beyond this shame-base, we need to distinguish between two major forms of guilt: 1) False shame, or carried shame... 2) Authentic guilt...

Sixth, we must "look for the good". An important counterbalancing dimension is that a Step 4 inventory should include the positive, as well as the negative, things about us...
- Serenity, A Companion for Twelve Step Recovery, p. 38-42


Personal Experiences

In our forums, you can read about how others have worked step 4, or share your own experiences about working step 4. The audio section also has examples of people sharing about how step 4 worked for them.

To share your own experiences in the forums, you first need to sign up for free membership.