A Personal Inventory

Self Inventory

For many in AA, the Steps contain important tools in our recovery from alcoholism and addiction. Today Steve K. shares how Steps Four and Ten – a personal inventory – are a part of his sobriety.

The Steps will have their own place in The Practical Book: Tools We Find Helpful in Recovery.


By Steve K.

In the book Alcoholics Anonymous, it suggests that resentment is the number one manifestation of self/ego.

“Being convinced that self, manifested in various ways, was what had defeated us, we considered its common manifestations. Resentment is the “number one” offender. It destroys more alcoholics than anything else.” (p. 64)

The book goes on to outline the moral inventory process of Step Four and offers examples of listing and identifying the cause and effects of resentments. Step Ten suggests the ongoing daily practise of this moral inventory and the humility to admit when we are wrong to others.

I’ve found these Steps and this method of breaking down my resentments in order to identify and understand them better very helpful tools in the process of overcoming and letting go of them. It helps to look at the cause of resentments and the effect upon my ego and my responses.

It also helps me to consider how my actions may have contributed to the other person’s behaviour in the first place.

Needing to consider our part in the other person’s behaviour, and being willing to make amends if appropriate, is often quite difficult to realise, as we can be blinded and consumed by our own feelings of hurt, injustice and righteous anger. As a result we can fail to empathise and understand the other’s position and their experience of events.

The practice of looking to our part in the situation first, quite often helps us to better understand the other person’s behaviour. However, we may need some time in order to let feelings subside to a degree before we are able to attempt this process.

Making the effort to try and understand the other person’s feelings and possible reasons for their actions, even if they haven’t communicated them, is important in the process of acceptance – which is necessary in terms of resolving negative feelings.

Working through the above process quite often takes time and determination, and also a willingness to persevere with painful feelings.

What about when we have considered our part in the problem, but cannot identify how we have contributed to the other person’s behaviour, or been at fault ourselves, and we have been unfairly treated or abused by another?

Not wanting to cause offence or any further injury to people who’ve suffered grave injustice, abuse or tragic loss, which quite often requires professional counselling and is generally outside of my experience for this essay, I have found the following lines helpful in dealing with more common, everyday resentments and hurts.

Finally, we begin to see that all people, including ourselves, are to some extent emotionally ill as well as frequently wrong, and then we approach true tolerance and see what real love for our fellows actually means. It will become more and more evident as we go forward that it is pointless to become angry, or to get hurt by people who, like us, are suffering from the pains of growing up.

Such a radical change in our outlook will take time, maybe a lot of time. (Twelve Steps & Twelve Traditions, pp. 94 – 95)

An empathic attitude, if we are able, is of vital importance in developing forgiveness for wrongs done towards us. Forgiveness is the process of letting go of hurt and bitter feelings towards another for a perceived injustice, and wishing them well.

It’s making a conscious decision to do this and to keep practising this attitude. Depending upon the nature and degree of injustice, this can be a very difficult, if not impossible process to achieve for some people.

However, if possible, it’s worth practising forgiveness as we benefit from doing so in various ways, such as freedom from negative feelings and the distress that these cause to ourselves and to others in our lives.

Resentment not only affects the holder, but also their relationships with others. Also, being free from resentment is beneficial for our health and wellbeing, mentally, emotionally and physically.

Maslow's "hierarchy of needs."

Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs.”

I personally struggle with resentments quite often where other people are concerned, mainly due to my own feelings of self-centred insecurity and low self-esteem. I was rejected and criticised constantly when growing up by my parents, which has resulted in a defensive attitude and sensitivity towards perceived criticism, disapproval and social rejection from others.

Childhood developmental difficulties which have resulted in my chronic emotional insecurity are well summarized in this quote by Abraham Maslow. An insecure person is someone who:

perceives the world as a threatening jungle and most human beings as dangerous and selfish; feels a rejected and isolated person, anxious and hostile; is generally pessimistic and unhappy; shows signs of tension and conflict, tends to turn inward; is troubled by guilt feelings, has one or another disturbance of self-esteem; tends to be neurotic; and is generally selfish and egocentric. (The Dynamics of Psychological Security – Insecurity, 1942, pp. 334-335)

Furthermore:

A person who is insecure lacks confidence in their own value, and one or more of their capabilities, lacks trust in themselves or others, or has fears that a present positive state is temporary, and will let them down and cause them loss or distress by “going wrong” in the future.

In addition, insecurity may contribute to the development of shyness, paranoia, and social withdrawal, or alternatively it may encourage compensatory behaviours such as arrogance, aggression, or bullying, in some cases.

Insecurity has many effects in a person’s life. There are several levels of it. It nearly always causes some degree of isolation as a typically insecure person withdraws from people to some extent. The greater the insecurity, the higher the degree of isolation becomes. Insecurity is often rooted in a person’s childhood years. Like offense and bitterness, it grows in layered fashion, often becoming an immobilizing force that sets a limiting factor in the person’s life. Insecurity robs by degrees; the degree to which it is entrenched equals the degree of power it has in the person’s life. As insecurity can be distressing and feel threatening to the psyche, it can often be accompanied by a controlling personality type or avoidance, as psychological defense mechanisms. (Wikipedia, 2015)

The above quotes describe well the devastating effects of emotional insecurity in a person’s life, and I for one strongly identify with many of the resulting character traits and behaviours created by insecurity.

I know I’m not the only person in long term recovery to suffer from this type of emotional damage to one’s sense of self, and many in recovery have suffered from less than ideal childhood experiences; my point is that insecurity makes a person very prone to developing resentments, which can be a serious threat to one’s sobriety. In my case insecurity in terms of my emotional (needs for love, affection/approval) and social instincts (self-esteem and pride) are a major cause of my resentments towards other people.

Sobriety, the self-awareness gained through recovery practises, the building of healthy relationships, engaging in positive activities and taking on personal responsibilities, all contribute to the building of self-esteem and a sense of emotional security in recovery from addiction; which then lessens one’s vulnerability to holding resentments. However, significant professional therapy can also often be required as part of the recovery process.

In my own case, the self-awareness gained through inventory work suggested in Step Four (Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves) and Step Ten (Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it), taking part in recovery groups, talking to others in recovery, counselling, reading and self-development work in general, are all tools that I have used to help me be aware of, and take responsibility for, my emotional difficulties and how these impact upon my relationships.

Awareness of my vulnerability to holding resentments and using the above recovery resources, often enable me not to act negatively upon my feelings of rejection and indignation. However, this is not always the case and sometimes my negative feelings get the better of me, often resulting in conflict and damage to my relations with others.

I am someone who needs to practice Step Ten of the AA program, faithfully, as a result of chronic and damaging emotional insecurity, and in an effort to resolve my resentments towards others, which is vital for this alcoholic in recovery.


Want to write for this special project? Some guides and a form that can be completed are right here: The Practical Book.


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A Personal Inventory — 11 Comments

  1. Indeed, thanks so much, Steve, for an effective essay on the importance of self-examination and seeking to understand the underlying dynamics than influence external behavior. I especially resonate with the descriptions Maslow delineates of an “insecure person,” especially when I am resentful !~!~!

    I am an inveterate journalist who has kept copious journals both in numerous dead-tree handwritten journals as well as digitally on my computer. This is in addition to the writing I do for various recovery blogs, as well as other blogs. Writing, both privately in journals, and publicly online is a primary way in which I preform the inventory process as suggested in Alcoholics Anonymous.

    My writing has been greatly enhanced by my involvement with our secular AA recovery movement, which enables me to utilize the antidote to resentment as prescribed by Bill Wilson in the Big Book on page 84 is “love and tolerance is our code”, as well as other humanitarian, ethical and moral principles in the 12-step Recovery process of AA, as well as other 12-step programs, notably, ACA and NA.

    In fact, Roger, my next essay for the Practical Book will deal with my experience with journaling to inventory myself and my dynamics – my side of the street, where I am and have been wrong, so to type – regarding resentments that still abound in my ongoing recovery process a day at a time.

  2. The best thing I did after what I like to consider my very last attempt at utterly destroying myself, was a 4th and 5th step with a guy who’d been instrumental in getting me to a medical detox. I agreed because, well, I owed this guy. He really had seemed to have appeared from nowhere, when I was at my most desperate. I did it as a favour to him because I’d done lots of 4ths and 5ths and gotten squat from them. Anyway I followed his directions and we eventually got a comprehensive 4th completed. In doing the fifth he appeared to be looking well beyond what I’d written down, to the “nature” of these events that he believed were the result of certain corrosive beliefs I held about myself.

    In the broadest terms I suffered from very low self esteem, like most alcoholics, but it was the way they manifest that he was most interested. Between the two of us we determined two very clear manifestations of my low self esteem. These feelings and the behaviours I’d devised to rid me of the feelings became clear as a cloudless sky. For the first time I benefitted from a 4th and 5th. Turned out this AA member, who I already knew was pretty bright, held Ph.D’s in both Philosophy and Psychology. In fact diagnostic psychology was his true expertise. While I was thrilled to have had my crippling enemy made recognizable by this guy, he believed it was the beginning of me resisting its hold on me. But he also made a qualifying statement, “these are treatable conditions Brent so there’s no need for you to ever drink again because of them. Go to a doctor who specializes in this kind of stuff and see whether he/she believes you need treatment to manage both mental/emotional conditions.” I went to CAMH only to discover my doctor was a woman who was an AA member. I felt lucky, as I basically told her my story. She said that I would benefit from two medications. One of them I resisted and the other I approved of. We talked about the one I didn’t want to take and she assured me that after about six months we’d review it and if I didn’t feel like I was benefitting from it we’d stop using it. Well it turned out to be the most effective treatment I’d ever gotten from a doctor who was more concerned about my thoughts and feelings and how they affected my behaviour – self medicating – than she did my physiological health. I’m now functioning as well as I ever have, haven’t craved a drink or an illicit drug in over 5 years.

    The truth is, most people in AA are not capable of diagnosing text book mental disorders. Trusting another member who’s heard your 5th step to understand what exactly it indicates is a tall order. We all agree we are sick when we come into AA. If it were any other kind of sickness than addiction, we wouldn’t think twice about visiting a doctor and following her instructions. But when it comes to addiction we turn to faith healing and prayer to relieve us of what drives us to use even though there are doctors who can diagnose and prescribe for that which ails you most.

    I am a big believer in doing a 4th and 5th with a professional person who has the credentials to both accurately diagnose and effectively prescribe. Whether the diagnosis reveals a condition that is best treated with medication, or not, you can proceed with your life knowing you got the best treatment you could have. Your attendance at AA makes you an asset because you have a healthy perspective on how people who are typically battling multiple demons, might proceed so their sobriety never gets put in a precarious situation.

    • Brent, thanks for the perspective. Regarding your suggestion about using professional help; I have found that this may not always work out well, and some screening of the professional is needed, as there are many factors when considering who to work with. As an example, my psychologist knows nothing about addiction, has never been a mother or a wife and with 45 minutes a week and always meeting me in this small brown room, she will never come to know enough about me to really help.. On the other side I do have an AA friend who sees a recovered psychiatrist and she’s incredibly happy with how he helps her. Presently, I am working with an AA woman slightly older than myself who has dealt with many of my same situations and she has learned through AA how to stay sober and as positive as possible for 27 years!

      AA was so overwhelming for me the first nine months. I now feel that there is no single “right” path! AA is a labyrinth of suggestions, and i have to diligently listen, read, and seek guidance that can be trusted and applicable. I’ve had to develop a “filter” and realize I must choose and follow through with the options that I need to stay sober and develop some serenity.

      Steve K. Thanks so much for writing, it was very helpful.

      • Vicki I’m so grateful for your response. I really appreciate your story because it demonstrates how different you path is from mine. I believe without the medical help I received I wouldn’t have made it. I was in and out of AA for 33 years. A little sobriety here and there but for me the longer I spent in AA, the longer I lived without alcohol the more plagued I was by my other demons. Plagued to the point that I would drink and use again. What the doctors I finally got exposed to, addicts every one of them, explained to me was that I suffered from clinical depression and extreme anxiety. And those untreated conditions are what drove me back out drinking. They had medications that treated both conditions and I conceded to taking them since I was reluctant to become dependent, one more time, on drugs even if they were prescribed by doctors who’d suffered from the same substance abuse problems I had. I decided to listen to somebody and I listened to them because all the meetings, all the prayers, all the pretending there was a God never helped. I am today quite comfortable in my own skin and despite having lost everything I’d earned from a very lucrative career, I work today for considerably less money but exceedingly greater contentment.

        It’s my experience that many in AA don’t like to hear my story. Nevertheless I have friends in AA and I like seeing them and sometimes I need to be reminded that I can’t get anybody sober.

        AA suggests its our alcoholism that brings us together but the more people I talk to the more I realize everybody’s story is different. What we have in common is what ails us when we’re not drinking. What brings people together in AA is what are referred to as “defects of character”. Every human is less than perfect so it’s kind of cruel to tell me that in addition to being alcoholic, I’m somehow flawed in ways others aren’t. I come up short, apparently quite a bit because the word “shortcoming” as it appears in a book written almost 3/4 of a century ago by a man who didn’t have even 5 years sobriety, a book that is still considered the alpha and omega on alcoholism, always appears in the plural, “shortcomings”. So we in AA aren’t, in most cases, sharing our alcoholic experience, rather we share the ailments that remain after we stop drinking. The book says pray. Other books, clinical books written by scientists say, I likely suffer from concurrent disorders and that if they aren’t effectively treated at the same time as my alcoholism that I’m likely to drink again or stay in pain because I haven’t treated those other disorders. Not shortcomings, medically identified mental conditions. I chose to have the medically identified conditions treated by doctors, just like the hemophiliac who has to take clotting medication to keep from bleeding to death from a mere cut to the finger.

        For anybody truly interested in understanding alcoholism and its multifaceted nature, they will have to read books other than AA literature which is made up of anecdotes, speculation, conjecture and magical thinking. I’m sure I was younger than 8 when I figured Santa Claus wasn’t real, so here, at 62, you’ll have to pardon my skepticism regarding faith healing.

  3. Steve,
    Thanks for this. It’s about time we have some writing to the effect that we are not all type A assholes (not all type As are), but many of us are insecure by nature, and have a tendency to recoil from participation in life. AA by discouraging looking at childhood causes of our current and recent conditions has given us a way to cut through a lot of BS and get on with recovery, but it has also left a lot of unfinished business, and your essay is a great step toward dealing with that unfinished business.

  4. In freethinker AA, we rightly complain a bit about stuff we don’t like, most notably the parochial worldview of some white Christian heterosexual American males, eight decades ago. Unfortunately, in our zeal to join in the fun of “Rah, rah, DOWN with XYZ,” we can throw out the baby with the bathwater.

    Some attach the most dismissive available label, “sin,” to AA’s self-examination process, and in so doing, abandon exercises that can be beneficial, healing to the metaphorical soul.

    As Dr. Segal points out in “Twelve Steps To Psychological Good Health,” “the terms defects, wrongs and shortcomings… simply refer to aspects of our character, maladjustments, that we would be better off without.”

    Most of us would be pleased to have less resentment, less fear, less X, less Y, or less Z. Self-examination, and letting go, reflect the wisdom of the ages. I echo Steve’s sentiments re: the battle with resentment. Resentment has probably prompted more relapse than any other single pretext. It also causes discontent.

    “Do not let the behavior of others destroy your inner peace” – Dalai Lama

    Letting others destroy my inner peace seems to be my default setting. A lessening of that “defect” is most welcome. I think there is strong psychology underlying the 12 steps. We just need to push all the God stuff out of the way to find it.

  5. Nice.

    AA (GSO) went through their own inventory process because they were getting a lot of requests for “how to” guides regarding the Steps. A lot of the demand stemmed from the fact that outsiders were providing guides. NA had one, Hazelden had one, then another, and another. Others jumped on the bandwagon. AA resisted because the AA experience isn’t how-to; AA is experience, strength and hope. Am I playing the semantics game? No; experience isn’t how-to. Experience puts she who shares on par with he who listens. How-to sets up an authority and a student. I expect The Practical Book will be just this – shared experience and not how-to. Certainly, Steve K’s essay is just this, sharing his experience.

    Here’s what an AA Word Service Class B director had to say about these sorts of things… John K, AAWS Director, 2003 Conference speech:

    Every time we develop a “how to” guideline or the like, I believe we run the risk of implying that “this is the only way to do things.” In the process we may discourage innovation, or even scare our members off from service by creating the impression that they need vast training before even trying. I believe we need to produce more of the first type of literature, when appropriate, and less of the second.

    The whole article can be found here: Box 4-5-9 from 2004.

    I agree with John. I can listen to anyone’s experience, I don’t give a damn what they believe. Experience is always offered as a take-what-you-like-leave-the-rest proposition. When people start instructing, I turn off; it’s automatic. Maybe that’s why we like the back of the Big Book. There are stories, not instructions. AA and AA stories ought not profess to instruct. To instruct holds a certain lack of humility that, for me, is very un-AA.

    • The one thing that gets read at almost every meeting is How It Works followed by the 12 steps.

      The value placed on experience is, a person who is going through something, can benefit from speaking with somebody who has already been through it. Implicit in that is guidance and clarification. Simple truth is, AA is full of students and teachers. But what is the student there to learn? Where’s the syllabus?

      Most people come to AA to get sober. But AA doesn’t get people sober, it claims to provide a design for living. Are the steps the design for living?

      AA for me, after 33 years begs more questions than it answers. If I were asked what AA is I’d say it’s a bunch of alcoholics with concurrent mental disorders hanging around, acting out on their various disorders. A clear mission statement, a statement of accountability would help considerably, unless of course that impinged on a member’s ability to continue with the childish games that get played out there on a regular basis. God, the last thing you’d want in AA is genuine accountability or a clear statement of purpose.

      • Not really Rick. The preamble, leading into the steps, is How it Works.
        At various times throughout the book however there will be mentions of things like a primary purpose. But each time it is different. In one case it’s that we do the steps to achieve an arbitrarily necessary spiritual experience. Another time it is that we find a higher power, personal to ourselves. In another instance still it is that we adopt this new “design for living”. In one more instance we have the Responsibility Pledge.
        Frankly, what comes closest to a mission statement is the Serenity Prayer, but that doesn’t belong to AA nor does it speak to alcoholism. But an example for AA could be something like: AA is an organization of men and women who, in overcoming their alcoholism, recognize the value of fellowship and selfless service in maintaining their sobriety so therefore commit to be of service to those still drinking but seeking help.
        Hope that makes sense. Thanks for getting back to me.