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Step 4 of AA Explained: Your Fearless Moral Inventory

Throughout the addiction recovery process, you will have to look inwards and self-reflect. Taking responsibility for your past actions and working to understand them better can help you become a better person. Trying to hide your past wrongdoings and live oblivious to any pain you may have caused others will only hold you back.

Step four of the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous is about reflecting on your past and understanding how it led you to where you are. This step is all about taking action and making amends.

The first three steps are admitting that you have a problem, accepting that there is something greater than all of us out there, and turning your life over to that higher power. Step four is the time for making changes and taking a moral inventory of yourself and your past.

To learn more about step four and how to act on it, keep reading!

Breaking Down the Language

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

Once we’ve completed the first three steps, we must begin to take action. We have gotten to the point where we know there is a problem with addiction and that we don’t need to rely on ourselves to get through it. However, we haven’t taken much action yet to make any changes.

We have to see the truth in our past actions, beliefs, and fears to better understand our role in every triumph and failure in our lives. People with addiction often struggle with understanding the reality of what they’ve done in the past.

It’s hard to accept that we might have behaved in a way that we feel is not in our character. Substances change us in ways we can’t always understand, so it’s hard to come to terms with the past.

This step is about admitting to our past faults and seeing how we have hurt people and ourselves along the way. Looking inwards and reflecting on the past is scary. There is no doubt about that.

But if you want to see yourself grow, you must be willing to take accountability for your actions. This way, you know what you need to change.

Understand Your Own Truth

Fabricating scenarios and coming up with a variety of lies is common with addiction. People under the influence may do this because facing the reality of their situation is too difficult.

Making progress when there is a list of things holding you back is nearly impossible. If you can’t own up to your past mistakes and understand that you’ve caused harm or damage to those around you, you will never be able to move forward.

Often what’s holding you back is not being able to be truthful with yourself. This step isn’t about admitting to others what your faults are, but instead to yourself.

You should feel comforted knowing that this step is completely to do with your relationship with yourself, and you don’t need to feel pressured by any outside force. You’re not trying to prove anything to anyone but yourself when looking at your past.

Once you can accept responsibility for your actions, you begin to free yourself from the restraints addiction has put on you.

Accept That Your Problem Is With Yourself

It will be difficult to evaluate your part in your addiction. We often want to find others to blame or situations to be upset about, but lashing out and pushing people away is not a part of the road to acceptance. While addiction is a disease that can take over and control a person’s life, it’s not impossible to overcome with hard work and dedication.

Once you stop blaming others and accept the role you played in your past, this is where you find success. Strength is looking at your faults and saying, “I am not them. I am more than them.” You may have done things you look down on, but it’s up to you to change your behaviors and make things right.

Acting on Step Four

To go through step four successfully, you must be truthful with yourself and come to terms with your past actions. There is a pretty straightforward way to go about this step: make some lists! The fourth step is taking an inventory of your past actions to see how they’ve impacted you.

You must examine how your actions have led you to where you are today so that you can put in the effort to change. By understanding your own faults and their impact on you, you can begin to move past any guilt that has been building up inside you. It can be difficult to admit to your faults because of the shame associated with them, but you have to if you want to make progress.

Self-Examination and Reflection

Thinking about your past and actions you’ve taken that may have hurt others is not easy. You have to admit that the things you’ve done were wrong and hurtful; that is the only way you will be able to get through this step.

This process can stir up many negative emotions and might cause you to turn away from it. As uncomfortable as it may be, reflecting on your past is often the only way to move forward.

This is the first step of the 12-step process that requires you to take action. Though difficult, this step helps to reexamine how we have interacted with the world and question whether our actions were justified.

Create Lists of Character Defects

Now it’s time to sit down and make some lists. These lists are not meant for journaling or sharing too much about your feelings but rather are a way to make an inventory of everything holding you back.

You want to come up with a bulleted list for the following:

  • Resentments

  • Fear

  • Sex

  • Harms


For the resentments list, draw four columns onto a sheet of paper. In the first column, you will write the names of people you are angry with or who have done harm to you. If you aren’t sure, consider how you feel when you think of a person. If the feelings are overwhelmingly negative, it might be worth including them in this list.

In the second column, write down what that person did to you to make you feel resentful toward them. In the third column, you then write about how this person’s actions affected you.

The main way that their actions could have affected you are:

  1. Self-Esteem

  2. Personal Relationships

  3. Material Security

  4. Emotional Security

  5. Sexual Relations

  6. Social Ambitions

  7. Material Ambitions

  8. Sexual Ambitions

In the fourth column, you have to examine your role in this scenario. How might you have acted before, during, and after the event you resent? How might you have used that situation to your advantage at the time? Were you dishonest about the situation?

Understanding your role can help you understand if your reaction was justified or not.


Write down a list of all of your fears. Look at the fourth column from your resentments list and notice when you might have acted out of fear. Keep note of the things that make you fearful as you continue your recovery journey.

Everyone has fears, but how we cope with them and what we do with those feelings inside makes the difference.


Write down everyone that you’ve had sexual relationships with and answer the following questions:

  • Were we selfish or dishonest?

  • Were we inconsiderate? Did we hurt anyone?

  • Were we unjustifiably jealous, suspicious, or bitter?

  • Where were we at fault?

  • What could we have done instead?


This list is for taking inventory of who we have harmed in our life and how. Write down the circumstances and why you did what you did. Was it justifiable? How does it make you feel now, looking back? When you remember new ways you might have hurt someone, keep adding to the list.

Lean On Your Community

Going through your past mistakes will be a difficult process that you might not want to accept right away. Instead of shying away from your truth, don’t be afraid to lean on your sober community to help get you through it. Many people that are around you have already gone through this step, so ask them questions and ask for tips on how to get through it.

You can even download the Sober Sidekick app to support you while you undergo this process. Sober Sidekick provides a safe space for sober-seeking individuals to uplift and support each other during the difficult journey that is recovery.

Sign-up today and gain access to resources, a strong community, and even addiction professionals to help guide you on your journey. And once you’ve done step four, it’s time for step five.


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