top of page

Searching & FearlessMoral Inventory PART 1

Step Four: 4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

This is the Step that brings fear, uncertainty, and guilt to those who have been around recovery meetings for a while and have not taken it - or to those who have gone a time without taking it again. 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.

“It's housecleaning time. Healing time. It's the dreaded Fourth Step.”

Looking within Ourselves

"'Codependency hides under all my addictions,' said Carol. 'I avoid pain with something: relationships, substances, or work. I hid in a relationship so I didn't have to deal with me.' Many of us hide from our pain. Many of us hide from ourselves. Perhaps the last, safest, and strongest holdout from looking at ourselves is blaming our circumstances and condition on others."

Often we see people enter recovery just long enough to blame everyone else for their problems. This does not resolve our problems. We may find that we are repeating the same scenarios over and over and eventually need to look within to see why we keep ending up in the same place.

"But when we tire of spending energy discussing the details of the other person, whether that person is a parent, child, friend, spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend, co-worker, boss, or employee, we face the Fourth Step questions: What's going on with me? What am I doing? What am I not doing? Why did I need to go through these circumstances? What are these circumstances triggered within me? What are the old memories, the old fears, the old tapes, being replayed? What's my agenda? What's my lesson from this experience?"

This step is not about blaming ourselves, it is about discovering ourselves. It is about self-responsibility. We codependents tend to blame everyone else for how we feel. This step is about looking inward for those answers. We are responsible for our feelings. It is natural to fear this step, but it is not in our best interests. It is time to clean house and get things in order.

A Searching and Fearless Inventory

What are we searching for in this inventory? The good and bad in us, our good and bad behaviors, our guilt - earned and unearned. We look at our bad feelings of anger, fear, pain, rage and resentment. We are not looking to blame ourselves, but being honest and free from denial and fear. "We do this to hold ourselves accountable for our own healing and to achieve the highest level of self-responsibility and self-accountability possible."

Here are some ways to approach the steps as suggested in this chapter:

1. An Inventory of Codependent Characteristics

In this sections the authors suggests that we list our codependent behaviors, others who are involved, and our feelings about them. She goes on to list a fairly long list of behaviors.

2. A General Biographical Sketch

This is an easy way to do this step. Just write a biography about yourself. Start with where you were born and move on from there. You may need to do a 5th step after this, but you may find that you need to focus on some areas and expand on the story first. Who hurt you? Who did you hurt? How did you feel? This is NOT a time to be nice and appropriate, it is a time to be completely honest.

3. A Specific Biographical Sketch

Sometimes people need to focus on a specific area of their lives. This can be relationships, work, or family. It can be approached the same, starting at the beginning and telling the whole story. Being as thorough as possible is best. "The more we can write about ourselves, our feelings, and our beliefs, the more helpful this work is."

4. A Big-Book Fourth Step

Using the "Big Book" of Alcoholics Anonymous, the fourth step is covered on pages 64-71. This is the original 4th step and very straight forward. The idea is to list all those things that we hold resentments against including people, institutions, or principles. We can cover all the problem areas of our lives, such as anger, fear, sex, money, and resentment.

5. Things We've Done Wrong

We can focus on those things that we feel guilt and shame around. Even those things that we should not feel guilty about but do anyway. Included in this is how we treat ourselves. Treating ourselves badly, not thinking we are worthy, and not taking care of ourselves is a moral issue and should be included in what we look at in our inventory.

6. Wrongs Others Have Done us

This is our opportunity to put down on paper how people have hurt us. It give us an opportunity to look at our part. Where are we not taking care of ourselves? We can get it all out and then move on and heal.

7. An Asset Inventory

As Codependents it is very easy for us to see what is wrong with us, in fact that may be all we do. This gives us the opportunity to list our strengths. "It may also be, as one woman said, the hardest Fourth Step we've ever done."

8. A list of Anger, Fear - and Shame

This is a chance to dump all the bad stuff. Write about anything that bothers you. When you do this write how you feel about that thing or person. If we are honest about how we feel, not taking blame, it will help us heal. It may help us see to the root of the problem.

"If it is my belief that I'm stupid, if I learn that about myself, I can let go of the old belief and change it to a better one, such as 'I'm competent and capable. I'm intelligent. I can own my power with people.'" But until we identify these beliefs, through this step, we can not change them. It is a good idea to include your childhood, or family-of-origin issues.

Often times there are feelings there that we need to feel to heal. Sometimes these unresolved issues cause problems we experience today. Acceptance is sometimes all that is needed.

Often times we carry the messages from our childhood into our adult lives. Messages such as "Don't feel", "Be perfect", "I am stupid". Codependent behaviors are often there to help us not feel. This step helps us feel those feelings, resolve the pain, and heal. Avoiding our feelings can make us very sick. Unresolved feelings can come out as other things, anger from our past may be affecting our relationships today. It is important, through this step, to face these feelings, feel them, and heal. It is important to learn how to live with your feelings and manage them in a healthy way.

This is not an opportunity to start blaming those who have hurt us, it is a time for us to heal. We may run into issues of abuse and this must be handled with caution and may require some additional professional help.

Learning to Love Ourselves

The 12 step program has been called a "selfish" program. From some aspects, this could be true. It is all about us and our behaviors. But it is also a self-esteem program. It enables us to accept, work through, and find a solution to the problems that are causing us pain, shame, and guilt. It lets us start changing our behaviors and make amends. It also helps us accept who we are and that we make mistakes, but they don't define us. We can learn to love ourselves, which is not selfish, but healthy. "We do this without being afraid of what we will find. We perform this task with love and compassion for ourselves. We allow ourselves to have all the feelings about others we need to feel along the way, but our goal is to perform this task with as much love and compassion for others as possible - as long as that love and compassion doesn't reinforce our denial of reality. We feel as angry, even rageful, as we need to feel at first, then we strive for forgiveness. We go back to the past long enough to be able to finally to put it behind us and set ourselves free."

There are many ways to work this step and if you have heard a suggestion that interests you, try it. You can also use alternate forms of healing to compliment the process, such as therapy, or massage. This step doesn't have to be done perfectly, but be as honest and open as possible. If you work it, it will work.

Opening our Hearts to Love

The author tells how before recovery she avoided self examination and her feelings at all costs through addiction, relationships etc. When she first did this step it was very rudimentary but that was all it took to propel her into recovery. It can be just the basics at first. Her second Fourth step was more detailed and over time she just kept digging, living the Fourth step, peeling away layers of pain. The process was painful, but it was a good pain, it was the pain of healing.

The author describes this process of pain and emotion as she experienced it and it lasted a while. During that time she was just hoping that it would pass and eventually she would simply return to how things were. Then she had a spiritual moment where she forgave everyone from her past, the hardest person on the list being herself. This freed her. This broke her from the steel encasement she had built to protect herself and left her open and free to love.

She hears people procrastinate about the Fourth Step and chuckles, because if they stick around long enough they will take this step whether they are ready or not, and they will be glad they did.

"We work these Steps to heal from our pain, fear, guilt, and limiting beliefs, but to do that, we must first recognize them. This is our task in this Fourth Step. Those who find the courage to look within are the people most comfortable with themselves, and recovery." . . . "Not facing our pain, not facing our fears, is often the great motivator to the behaviors we call codependency. Looking within is the key to releasing our pain and producing recovery and health in our lives."


1. Have you done any family-of-origin work yet? Have you identified any old beliefs or any feelings from the past?

2. Have you already done a Fourth Step? Do you feel up-to-date with feelings and issues?

3. Did any of the suggestions for doing this Step provoke your curiosity? You may want to set a reasonable goal for doing this Step. You can write your goal down and give yourself as much time as you want. For instance, "I want to do a Fourth Step in the next eighteen months." Or, "I want to do the Fourth Step in the next three weeks."

4. Do you feel blocked in any area of your life? Do you think it might be helpful to do a Fourth Step on that area?

Helpful Hints

1. This inventory is not an exercise in beating yourself up. Be scrupulously honest but be fair to yourself. Inventory your strengths as well as your defects.

2. The following checklist merely suggests what some people consider flaws. You must decide how they fit with your own moral code. Do not be limited by this list--add your other flaws and assets. It is in this Fourth Step that you begin to discover your values– what you consider right and wrong, functional and dysfunctional behavior–and how you live up to your standards.

3. Prioritize! Spend most of your time on the 20% of your flaws that cause 80% of the trouble in your life. You can initially check off as many flaws as you want on the checklist but then prioritize to the 12 that cause the most trouble. If you list more than 12 flaws, you are probably beating yourself up! You must check at least twice as many assets as you check flaws or you really are beating yourself up.

Review of Flaws

Instructions for Completion: First, we searched out the flaws in our make-up which caused our failure.


Give your best example of this specific flaw in your life.












Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page