Taking Step Four

Version I 6/9/2000

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Here are the steps we took:  4) Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

That is what the authors of the Big Book and millions before you did.  To personalize the step for your study and action in the here and now, however, you may wish to rephrase it as:

STEP FOUR.  Make a searching and fearless moral inventory of yourself.


Big Book:

From: Page 63, line 32: "Next we launched ,


Thru: Page 71, the end of Chapter 5


Step 4

Step 4
is considered to be the big written inventory step. And we have seen many, many ways in which it is recommended to be taken. A variant in the 12&12 uses the "seven deadly sins" as its basis. An early member of AA used a list of 20 defects of character as his outline. Many sponsors propose a life history be written. And, of course, the Hazelden people have a variety of guidance systems. There is even a PC computer approach that asks all sorts of revealing questions about one's sex and family life. If you are reluctant to take this step, then you may want to procrastinate further by exploring all these alternatives in depth before you start—at some future date. If, on the other hand, you want to get on with the sober life, then let's get on with the tried and true method in the Big Book. It consists of five lists. The words that follow here will then assist you, but don't forget that your reading, discussing and understanding the Big Book in depth is essential. Do not rely solely upon the document in hand.

A written inventory. Between pages 64 and 71 you will discover at least 10 clear statements that your inventory is to be written. Please look them up now. Unless you are physically handicapped, there are no exceptions to a written inventory. Put aside your tape recorder, and get out your pen and paper. If you type with a high level of expertise and think freely at a key-board, your sponsor, however, might allow a typewriter or PC.

But, remember that you are not writing the great American novel here. To do so would be a gross imposition upon the person with whom you will take your fifth step. Moreover, the thought of setting forth your life history completely misses the point. You are to write an inventory—not a narrative. And, what is an inventory? In 1939 Webster said it was, " itemized list of goods and valuables [stock or a person's qualities], with their estimated worth;..." The preferred synonym is LIST, and that's exactly what you are to do—write the list(s) outlined by the Big Book.

A moral inventory.

mor-al (môr'uhl, mor'-) adj.

  1. of, pertaining to, or concerned with the principles of right conduct or the distinction between right and wrong; ethical: moral attitudes.

  2. conforming to accepted or established principles of right conduct (opposed to immoral); virtuous; upright: a moral man.

  3. expressing or conveying truths or counsel as to right conduct: a moral novel. based on fundamental principles of right conduct rather than on law, custom, etc.: moral obligations.

  4. capable of recognizing and conforming to the rules of right conduct: a moral being.

  5. virtuous in sexual matters; chaste.

  6. of, pertaining to, or acting on the mind, feelings, will, or character: moral support.

It is clear that we are not counting possessions. Nor are we really listing people, institutions, principles or, even, actions in order to count them. We are seeking to illuminate the basis (or underlying cause) of our actions. In other words, why do we resent the world the way we do?

In fact, the most essential results of this step will be 1) to provide enough data for you and your guide to write down a statement of the nature of your wrongs (defects of character) in step five, 2) to provide data for step eight, with an initial listing of persons you have harmed, and 3) to reinforce your process of psychic change.

How many inventories? The formal written inventory of step four need be taken only once in your sober career. There is ample provision in step ten for spot-check, daily, periodic and annual refresher inventories.

How thorough? We are told that nothing counts but thoroughness and honesty. But, what should you do with very sensitive information? Many recovering alcoholics have one or more significant experiences in their past that they are highly reluctant to put on paper—either because the incident is one about which they feel great shame (the horror of which we dare not speak, the big one we plan to take to our grave untold) or because its revelation might cause severe personal or legal injury to ourselves or others. We suggest:

  1. Always keep your inventory in a safe, private place so that no other person will ever see it unless you reveal it to them. Anticipate that there will be others with inquiring minds, and take precautions to assure your privacy.

  2. Leave nothing out of your inventory just because it is a major item.

  3. If you have good and prudent cause to take extraordinary precautions against unwitting disclosure of some part of your past, you may wish to encipher the incident or character trait as "Topic A" or the like (it's up to you, though, to remember what Topic A really is). This will prevent its disclosure to any person reading your inventory, but it will still satisfy the need for the topic to be included. How you then deal with this topic in step five will be discussed in that step.

On the other hand, how can you avoid undue length? Leave out needless repetition of resentments, fears, wrongs, etc. when the associated character defect has already been revealed. If, for example, you resent smokers who blow smoke in your face, it is preferred that you do not list them all. An entry such as, "Sam Smoker and all the other inconsiderate boobs who blow smoke in my face.", should suffice. In a more serious vein, maybe you have known violence and have had many bloody fights. You will probably want to list the major protagonists, especially ones who have suffered severe injury at your hands, and enough experiences to illuminate the different provocations or seeming justifications that led to your fighting in the first place. It is also prudent to include persons to whom you expect you might be making amends in step nine.

Warning! Besides protecting yourself from premature embarrassment or even incarceration due to unintended disclosure of your inventory, you should also avoid making amends without guidance. An intentional, but premature, disclosure as part of the mending process can also be very damaging—to you and others. Except for minor matters or exceptions you have discussed with your sponsor in advance, you should make your amends in step nine where they belong.

When to start your inventory. The completion of Step 3 is described on page 63 of the Big Book. Notice that the very next paragraph says,
Next we launched out on a course of vigorous action ... at once...[Big Book page 63, line 32 & page 64, line 3]
In the early days of A.A. when a newcomer asked when he should begin his inventory, he was told, "When you want to stop hurting". When do you want to stop hurting? We will now show you how to divide the job up into simple pieces. Write the first column of list 1 today. It will take from 5 to 30 minutes. Don't big-deal yourself into inaction.

How many lists? The Big Book mentions five (maybe four) distinct lists. Each of these lists is discussed in more detail below.
If you have a pressing need to add additional information, or if your sponsor suggests further material, go for it.

Step Four is composed of these lists:

STEP 4a. Resentments. [Page 64, line 23]
STEP 4b. Faults [Page 67, line 21] (may be combined with 4a).
STEP 4c. Fears. [Page 68, line 3]
STEP 4d. Sexual Injury. [Page 69, line 12]
STEP 4e. Harms. [Page 70, line 30]

Writing: Step 4a, RESENTMENTS, columns #1 through #3. 

Step #4a RESENTMENTS Column #1
I'm resentful at:
Sam Smoker, et. al.
Peter Punch
Wife #1

Column #1 is the WHO column. Who is the person, or what is the institution or principle that you resent? A resentment is a negative feeling more intense than dislike and less violent than anger. Resentment is often referred to as smoldering anger, and the list should include both those you resent and those with whom you are angry (or even hate, which is more intense yet).

In this first column, just list the name of the person, institution or principle. Next, rearrange the list so that the names are ranked from the least resentment at the top to the most intense resentment at the bottom. If you have more than fifty items, you probably have too many. Ten may be too few.

It would be a good idea to get together with your selected fifth step person at this point to see if you are on track. There is another reason for the contact. Making up the list is not a major undertaking. It can usually be done in several hours. By breaking the 4a list up into columns, you will not be intimidated nor held back with the perception that the inventory step has to be a big deal.


Column #2
What they did
I resent: Because they:
Sam Smoker Smokes at me
Insulted me
Peter PunchHit me
Mother Sided with Dad
Father Beat me
IRS $ Attachments
Wife #1 Left me
$ Attachments

Column #2 is the WHAT column. This is called the "Cause" column on page 65. It describes briefly just what the resented party did that triggered your resentment. It does not describe how you reacted to their action. The example in the Big Book seems to be pretty clear. Expand what you began when you filled in the WHO column. Where they (the source of your resentment) performed multiple actions, put in as many as will provide the needed learning experience. It will probably be necessary to rewrite the entire list, because you will need more lines to amplify the reasons.



Column #3
the basis (Why)
1. Ambition 6. Pride
2. Fear 7. Self esteem
3. Financial security 8. Sex relations
4. Physical security 9. Health
5. Personal relationship 10. Sense of justice .
[1. - 8. are from the Big Book. We added 9. & 10. because we thought they were needed]
Column #3 is the WHY column. Just as column #2 required more thought than column #1, this column merits some deep searching. Just what is it about you that was triggered by the other person or their actions? Include as many triggers as apply. The first 8 triggers listed here are [affects my] found in the Big Book: We have added another, 9. (Health, which may be included in 4) and the catch-all, 10., to take care of drivers who cut you off on the freeway, and people who look at you funny.

Again, it is a good idea to consult with your sponsor after you have filled in the whys for the first 4 or 5 items. Figuring these triggers out is no easy task.

Writing: Step 4b. Faults. This list can be treated as a fourth column of the resentment list. What the book says is,

The inventory was ours, not the other man's. When we saw our faults we listed them.[Big Book page 67, line 21]
Remember, the Resentment List (Step 4a) deals primarily with people, institutions and principles that you resent. Usually, your resentment is based upon a wrong you believe was done to you. The fourth column identifies your own part in causing the injury to yourself and to others as well. If you choose not to make it part of the resentment list, then make up a separate list, showing the name of the person resented and where you were also wrong.

Step #4a, RESENTMENTS with #4b, FAULTS
I resent: Because they: Affects my: My Fault Was:
Sam SmokerSmokes at me Health
Insulted me Self EsteemStimulated his fear
Peter Punch Hit me Security Insulted him
Mother Sided with DadFear
Died RelationshipMade her get sick
Father Beat me Security Broke his trophy
IRS $ Attachments FinancialDidn't file returns
Wife #1 Left me RelationshipCheated on her
$ Attachments Financial No child support


Step #4c, FEARS
I'm afraid of:
Getting cancer from smoke (Sam Smoker).
Being broke. (IRS, Wife #1, Mr. Brown, etc.)
Being attacked and hurt (Peter Punch).
Being celibate (Mr. Brown, My Wife).
The purple monster in my dreams.
Being shunned by others because I'm getting fat and ugly.

Writing: Step 4c. Fears. Create another list. You have already indicated on the resentment table some actions that cause you to react in fear. Skim through them and list the feared pattern. Add other things you fear even though you do not resent them.




Step #4d, My SEXUAL CONDUCT has Injured:
Who: What I did: Their hurt:
Wife #1 Denied her affection Her self esteem
My wife Took a mistress Her self esteem
  Slapped her Fear
My niece Aroused her Fear
Writing: Step 4d. Sexual Injury. This is the list of our sexually related conduct in which we have been selfish, dishonest, inconsiderate or hurtful; or where we have unjustifiably aroused jealousy, suspicion or bitterness. This list will look very much like the resentment table, except that here they could resent us:



Step 4e, HARMS I Caused:
Who I hurt: What I did:
Peter Punch Insulted him about his age
Mike Mauler Broke his nose in a bar
Employer #1 Stole $546.65
Wife #1 $2500 Child support unpaid
FatherBroken trophy
Wife Physical abuse
My son Conned him out of Med School
Mother Worried her to death
Writing: Step 4e. Harms.
"We have listed the people we have hurt by our conduct..." This is a preliminary version of your list for step eight. It doesn't need to be complete at this time, but it should contain all the persons and institutions on lists 4a through 4d that you have harmed.

If the injury has already been amended, as with the IRS in our example, it does not need to be included. You may also defer to step eight the willingness to amend your harm. In other words, document what you did, not what you are willing to do about it.



Evaluation. You have finished your written inventory. It wasn't nearly as big a task as others make it out to be, was it? But, you are not done with step 4. The Big Book is clear that you are now to review your lists, analyze what they mean, and learn something from what you have written. Your analysis will be reviewed in depth in step five, where we deal with the points introduced in the Big Book one-by-one.

The principle of Step 4 is _______________________.

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