How to Work Step 4 [of the Twelve Steps]

“Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.”

After you decide to put your life into the hands of your Higher Power, the next step (Step 4 of the 12-Step Program) is to make a moral inventory of yourself and your life.  To do this, you must also be willing to accept what you discover and clean up your life to make space for a new way of living.

Step Four of the 12-Step Program is notoriously challenging, so how do you approach it? What things can you do daily to earnestly work the fourth step? We’ll provide some additional context and tips to help you get started.

What Are the 12 Steps?

Step 1: We admitted we were powerless over alcohol — that our lives had become unmanageable.

Step 2: Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

Step 3: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

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

Step 5: Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

Step 6: Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

Step 7: Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

Step 8: Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.

Step 9: Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

Step 10: Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

Step 11: Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

Step 12: Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

What Is Step 4 of the 12-Step Program?

Step 4 of the 12-Step Program is: “Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.”

What Is the Purpose of the Fourth Step in the 12-Step Program?

The fourth step of the 12-Step Program is designed to help you take a courageous and honest look at your life and identify negative thoughts, actions, and emotions that have led to or contributed to your addiction.

In working the first three steps of the 12-Step Program, you’ve likely started to see yourself and the world in a new light. You’ve probably recognized that your old ways of thinking and behaving were harmful, but maybe you haven’t taken the time to identify those specific things in your life that contributed to your addiction and caused problems.

As you make a “searching and fearless moral inventory” of your life, you’ll learn to take responsibility for your actions (including past ones). A part of this process is acknowledging very difficult events, embarrassing behaviors, complex emotions, and more that are at the basis and the root of your addiction. 

As you write out your inventory, you’ll have the opportunity to examine your tendencies toward things like anger, pride, relationships, shame, and more, which will provide important insight and clarity so you can gain a better understanding of your addictive behavior.

Understandably, you might feel apprehensive about sharing certain parts of your past or your life now, but it’s important to remember that your sober peers, sponsors, and mentors are all in the same boat. Chances are, they’ve made many of the same mistakes you have and you’re not alone in the recovery process.

Common Misconceptions About Step 4

  • You’ll have no fear when working Step 4. The statement “fearless moral inventory” does not mean you won’t experience any fear when you work this step.  On the contrary, most people are very afraid to work this step because it’s difficult to admit to some of the things you may have done in the past. Or maybe you’re ashamed of it. However, working through the fear is much more beneficial than just trying to not feel it at all.
  • You have to follow a specific method to work Step 4. There is no right or wrong way to work Step 4.  Although there are some common methods for working Step 4 (writing out lists, for example), you don’t have to work this step any specific way to be successful. If you’re struggling to get started, talk to your sponsor or a trusted sober mentor to get recommendations.

How to Work Step 4: 5 Tips

1. Just start.

In truth, Step 4 is hard. So sometimes the best way to work it is to just grab a pen and paper and get started. Try not to overthink it and be honest with yourself. Know that Step 4 may take longer than you anticipated and that’s okay. Do it in your own timing and ask for help from a sponsor or counselor if you’re struggling.

2. Make a list of the ways fear or anger has taken over your actions.

Have you ever become irrationally angry or fearful? These actions may have led you to hold grudges, lash out with harmful behavior toward others, or procrastinate on something important until it was too late to take action. As you make your list, try to write them out by describing them specifically. Make sure to list as many instances as you can.

3. Write down the things you’re ashamed of.

While you were addicted, you likely covered up some of the things you did because you were ashamed. Although you still might feel ashamed about them, now is the time to get them all out into the open. List as many of these instances as you can and be as thorough as possible.

4. Ask yourself how you’ve avoided taking personal responsibility.

Make a list and describe certain instances when you’ve avoided taking responsibility for your actions. Examples might include lying to cover up your behavior, blaming your behavior on someone else, or blaming someone else for the problems in your life.

5. Think about the freedom you’ll feel when you’re done.

Of course, working Step 4 of the 12 Steps is hard. But if you find yourself procrastinating, consider how you’ll feel when you’re done writing these things down. Many people say that they feel a profound sense of freedom and relief. Although it’s uncomfortable, facing your past can give you the strength to keep pushing forward as you carve out a new life for yourself.

Get Help to Work Step 4

If the thought of working Step 4 is daunting for you, you’re not alone. Fortunately, with the help of sober peers, sponsors, and sober mentors, you can work Step 4 surrounded by a supportive and helpful sober community.

If you need help staying sober, Eudaimonia Recovery Homes also provides safe and sober housing in Austin, Houston, and Colorado Springs. We also offer structured recovery support services for all residents, including:

All of our residents are also required to attend local recovery group meetings, whether they are 12-Step fellowships or another type of group. They receive help and support from our staff to work through the 12 Step Program.

Please call Eudaimonia Recovery Homes at (512) 363-5914 to learn more about our sober living homes, IOP, and recovery support services.

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