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4th Step Inventory

Fourth Step Inventory

General Directions

Buy paper and pen and start writing. The AA Big Book says on eight different occasions that we write out this step. It's the writing it down that helps trigger the release.

It has been our experience that we all have compulsive behavior which needs to be controlled, thereby the problems that were actually caused by the compulsive behavior will disappear. Which leaves us with the problems that caused us to become compulsive. And these, as you are perhaps beginning to find out, are the ones that stay painfully with us unless we do something about it. (In the past, they were so painfully with us that we needed an escape to relieve the pain).

We seemed to always be able to quit a compulsion. We just couldn't stay quit. In taking Step Four through Nine, we are doing certain things which we find will bring us to a point in life-enjoyment and comfort whereby we no longer need to be compulsive. We don't need compulsive means to escape because the problem has been bled off.

Do the 4th Step Honestly

It has been our experience that it really does not matter particularly what your intent is when you take Step Four. Or what your attitude is. Or what your ideas are as to what it will do for you and how. What matters is that you take the step honestly and to the best of your ability. Quit rationalizing that you'll take it better if you take it later...or after you have been in the program longer...or any of the other lame excuses that all of us who have gone before you have used.

As compulsive human beings, we all wanted to excel-really excel-at some activity or other. May we suggest this: if you ever decided to get with it (not perfectly, but the best you can honestly do) right here and now is good time to get with it. A thorough Fourth and Fifth Step will give you more relief and comfort than you have any way of knowing. This is the action that can lead to a real joy in living...the sort that you may not have experienced since early childhood (if then)...something that you have been searching for but couldn't quite find.

Step Two does not say, "Came to believe IN a Power greater than ourselves," but "Came to believe THAT a Power greater than ourselves..." could help us become sane, happy people. For instance, the Group is greater than I am as an individual... which would make it a Greater Power. Whatever you look to as a Higher Power, you must remember that in Step Three you turn - not just your compulsive behavior, but your will and your life - over to that Higher Power. So that whatever is uncovered in the process of taking Steps Four and Five - whatever your difficulty - you must remember that you have turned it over...and then keep on ploughing ahead.

Search for Serenity

Alcoholics Anonymous is an organization of people helping each other to recover from the disease of alcoholism. The Twelve Steps were written by the founders of the AA fellowship as guidelines to aid alcoholics find a better way of life without the use of alcohol. We who have become aware of their philosophy of life have found these Steps invaluable in our "Search for Serenity."

We have found that most of us have created needless mental, physical, and spiritual problems for ourselves because of our own compulsive behavior. The dictionary gives us a psychological definition of compulsion as being; "An irresistible repeated irrational impulse."" The AA Big Book refers to "self will run riot." We may also think of compulsion in terms of "excessive wants that dominate our normal needs."

The purpose of this outline is to help any person become aware of the actions and reactions involved in their daily living which have caused them to become compulsive.

Guide Works for Any 12-Step Program

The guide for AA's Fourth Step was written by AA's - we have adapted the original to fit any person involved in a Twelve Step Program so that they might become better aware of their own compulsive behavior.

The AA Big Book suggest that we take Steps Four and Five immediately after Step Three. You're starting now to take Step Four so set up an appointment right away to take your Fifth Step. Select your sponsor, or a minister (being sure it is one who understands the problem, not one who will "moralize" at you), or a doctor, or a close-mouthed friend in the program. Give yourself about a month to finish Step Four.

And don't put off starting Step Four because you can't find anyone "suitable" to take Step Five with.

For Your Eyes Only

Let us stress that you are not being graded on spelling, punctuation, or grammar.

This Fourth Step is for you eyes only. You're going to tell it to someone, but this is for you. If you decide to erase or scratch through something, don't do it. It might be one of the keys that would unlock some part of your personality that is now hidden from you. And remember, you can't take a perfect inventory, but you can do your honest best. And let us assure you that your honest best certainly will be very, very good.

The book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions states: "Creation gave us instincts for a purpose. Without them we wouldn't be complete human beings. If men and women didn't exert themselves to be secure in their person, made no effort to harvest food or construct shelter, there would be no survival. If they didn't reproduce, the earth wouldn't be populated. If there were no social instinct, if men cared nothing for the society of one another, there would be no society. So these desires...for the sex relation, for material and emotional security, and for companionship...are perfectly necessary and right, are surely God-given." (pg. 43)

Feelings, Both Good and Bad

It is when these instincts are warped and bent out of shape that we get in trouble, for their distortion brings pain. The compulsive behavior helped to escape from such pain. And this is what your inventory is about...to help you recognize those instincts of yours that are warped and out of control, and develop awareness of yourself and your reactions.

You will want to write out the resentments, fears, guilts, hates, and sexual hang-ups that you can remember. What you want to be aware of is your reaction to what happened to you. A moral inventory deals with feelings-both good and bad. Don't get into what was done to you (i.e. "I resented my mother because she favored my sister and didn't love me" or "I hated my father for whipping me in front of my friends").

Or what you did to someone (i.e. "I used to tell on my brother so I'd look good to my parents," or "I felt superior to my brothers and sister because my parents favored me").

Put down the things that you remember and feel the pain of embarrassment, fear, or guilt. Where were you at fault and what is it about it that hurt you now. The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions reads, "Since Step Four is but the beginning of a lifetime practice, it can be suggested that we first have a look at those personal flaws which are acutely troublesome and fairly obvious. Work on getting to the root of the big problems now. Dig in and let the pressure begin to ease off." (pg 51)

Let It All Hang Out!

If you find that any question awakens some painful or distressing memory, write it down (even though it is not an answer to that particular question). Search out and fearlessly put down on paper those things that are painful, embarrassing, fill you with fear, shame, or any other uncomfortable feelings (which could be guilt, rage, etc.).

This is a long outline. Don't let it scare or dissuade you. Take each question and in your own words write out your answer - let it all hang out! Do not tear up any part of it. If you feel the statement you made was wrong, make a notation as to why it is wrong. Promise yourself to be honest and fearless. Trust us when we tell you that your rewards will be great. Some people have been discouraged in taking an inventory because they don't feel they have become honest enough, or can remember everything that happened to them. Just do your best-your honest best.

The same about memory. We-no one-is capable of remembering every incident of their lives, so deal with what you are capable of remembering. Now.

It Is Simply a List

Please keep in mind that the Fourth Step is not dealing with changing anything. An inventory doesn't change things, it simply lists things. Your inventory is only a story of your feelings and acts from the beginning until now. "We went back through our lives. Nothing counted but thoroughness and honesty." (AA Big Book. pg 65) Many have found that it helps to carry around a pocket size notebook so that they could jot down anything that pops into their head. It will be useful to you in your inventory. It really doesn't matter if you write information down that could be slightly incorrect insofar as dates, places, etc. Just get it down! Arrange to have a safe place to put your Fourth Step inventory. Nothing should be left out "because someone might see it who isn't supposed to." Once it is transferred to the main inventory you can throw it (the pocket notations) away. Remember, in Step Four we put down all the things that we wince at...just remembering them we screw our eyes closed and think "Oh no!" or "Damn!" "Not that!" Just write it down. It is not hurting anyone but you.

Read what the AA Big Book has to say about the Fourth Step (pg 64-71). And The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions (pg 43-55). The AA Big Book refers to the "...wreckage of your past..." and from this we are tempted to deal only with the problems left in the wake of our compulsive behavior...the problems outside of us.

The problems that were created as the result of our compulsive behavior. But...Steps Four and Five deal with how the past has affected our world within. How our negative feelings about ourselves and others have wrecked us spiritually, mentally, and physically. The AA Big Book instructs us to write about fears (hates), resentments (guilts), or our sexual hang-ups. Breaking these instructions down into three parts helps to hurry things along. Most of our patterns are set up in childhood and early adolescence. Therefore, your inventory will be divided into three parts:

1. Childhood 2. Adolescence 3. Adulthood

At birth, we are exposed to our parent's behavior, beliefs, expectations and attitudes.

These were based on their parent's behavior, beliefs, attitudes, etc...back through the generations. So, since we can't really pin the blame, let's instead get about the job of finding the remedy.

Problems begin if parents were too young, to old, too poor, too rich, to many children, only one child, want a boy and got a girl, wanted a girl and got a boy, parents didn't get to finish high school, parents had to get married parents couldn't cope with responsibility, had to give up a career, had a lack of financial security, were sick either emotionally or physically, threatened "not to love" children as they didn't "measure up", death of a parent, divorce, etc.

Sometimes mothers make their children feel guilty because they have to work. (They usually appear as a "good woman" who has sacrificed her life working and depriving herself for her children). This attitude automatically puts the child in a never ending debt of guilt for being alive and so much of a problem. Or fathers play the same game by such statements as, "if I hadn't has such a large family I could have been a great man..." some neurotic mothers try and make their children feel guilty by telling them what a hard time they had giving birth.

There are parents who make excuses for your bad behavior... teaching you how to excuse anything you want to do; or parents who would not punish you and taught you how to put things off; or who overprotected you; or who gave you no tools to face life as it really is; or alcoholic parents; or parents who were too strict, forcing a child to act like an adult which then forces the adult to act like a child to be perfect in all things, or gives them a model (sister, brother, friend etc.) and constantly compares the child with the other persons, etc.

But remember, if you have gotten smart enough to figure out that your parents were your big problem, then you must go one step further and figure out what you can and will do about it. This is the purpose of the Fourth Step. The purpose is not your parents inventory, if the above paragraph sounded like it. Your parents did the best job they knew how, sometimes it was good job and other times it was a bad job.

It is to help you become aware of your attitudes, emotions, inappropriate behavior (and notice, please, that this is behavior inappropriate for you), so that you may begin life anew.


Some of you will object to many of the questions posed, because you think your own character defects have not been so glaring. To these it can be suggested that a conscientious examination is likely to reveal the very defect the objectionable questions are concerned with. One can get a mind that is so "closed" that it doesn't realize it is closed. Because the surface record hasn't looked too bad, many of us have been abashed to find that this is so simply because we have buried these defects so deep under thick layers of self-justification. Sick justifications that rationalize anything, whatever the defects, have finally ambushed us into compulsive behavior and misery.

Therefore, thoroughness ought to be the watchword when taking inventory. In this connection we write it out to get clear thinking and an honest appraisal. It is our first tangible evidence of our complete willingness to move forward.

And a Final Word...

Please try and quit conning yourself that you need to get into the "right mood" to take this step. You're in the right mood to take this step when you are ready to quit hurting and get well. All of our lives, we have tried to "think our way into action."

This time, we must, "act our way into right thinking." We who have taken this step can tell you that it works.

We didn't know how it worked before we took it, and we can't tell you how it works after we took it...so quite worrying about that.

What you are seeking is not mere "relief"...you'll get that, don't worry. What will come will be real joy in living.

Believe us, you can get it, and a giant step toward getting it is to dump the accumulated garbage that you are now carrying around.

So get your pen and paper and begin! Final words before you start: if you honestly don't know the answer to a question, then just indicate that you don't know. But try and answer each question in the best way that you can.

And remember...if any question suggests an area of discomfort (trouble), then write it out...get it down on paper...get rid of it!

We strive for progress, not perfection.

Begin your inventory: Childhood.