“Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.”
“Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.”
Steps Six and Seven of the 12 Step program of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) involve willingness, humility and practice. Step Six requires a natural willingness to be free of the ‘character defects’ (aka defense mechanisms) discovered in Steps Four and Five. The painful self-awareness of our ‘defects of character’ (1) and an understanding of the motivations that create them, will hopefully empower the alcoholic to be willing to let go of them.
“Entirely ready” and “all these defects of character” are ideals that we can work towards. In my experience, as I’ve engaged with the group and Twelve Steps, the awareness of my character defects and the harm that they cause to myself and others has increased and therefore I’ve become more willing to be free of them.
The willingness found in Step Six is essential to the practice of Step Seven. The humility required for Step Seven will have come from the experience of being powerless (lack of control) in relation to addiction and understanding the imperfection of being human identified in Steps Four and Five.
Asking God, or a ‘higher power’ to remove our shortcomings can be a barrier to this Step for some in recovery. It suggests prayer or some form of communication with God. However, how one interprets this Step is left up to the individual and it is important to remember that we are free to believe in our own concept of a Higher Power when practising the Steps. (2) Many within AA relate to the therapeutic value of the group and ‘the process’ of recovery as the power that removes our shortcomings. Relating to others with an attitude of loving kindness, and a commitment to the principles inherent within the Steps, is practising spirituality in my view, and can certainly reduce our self-centredness. Non-theistic or non-dualist prayer can also be practised as a way of affirming the values we aspire to live by.
The humility to surrender control and rely upon a power greater than oneself to remove our shortcomings is essential to Step Seven, but this needs to be combined with a willingness to take action in order to allow the process to happen.
This action takes the form of a persistent effort to practice the opposite of our defects of character. For example, in relation to our dishonesty we practice honesty, when feeling resentful we practice forgiveness, in the case of fear we practice courage and faith, in terms of our pride, ego, and self-centredness we practice humility, and instead of being selfish we practice kindness and love.
Practising these virtues with the help and encouragement of the group and the Twelve Steps, over time, brings about change and a moving towards one’s ‘whole-self’, or a more authentic self. This is a lifetime’s process and I’ve not met anyone yet who’s magically had all their defects of character or defenses removed.
The practice within AA of moral and spiritual principles in order to grow into emotional sobriety translates well into ‘Person-Centred’ psychology and its ‘Core Conditions’. The therapeutic conditions which facilitate personal growth are empathy, unconditional positive regard (UPR) and congruence. Receiving these virtues from others enables the recipient to relate them to themselves and practice them in relation to others. This process happens within Twelve Step fellowships as members practice moral and spiritual principles in relation to each other; offering support and compassion for a common problem.
Compassion and empathy are offered by members of AA to each other born of identification with suffering. These virtues enable the recipient to be understanding and empathetic towards themselves, instead of feeling self-hatred. The same process applies to the practice of non-judgemental acceptance (UPR), which is generally given within the fellowships. Congruence or being genuine is also modelled within AA. It is shown by members practising honesty and humility with each other; which is particularly demonstrated by the practice of sharing.
My belief and experience within AA, is that the practice of moral and spiritual principles are fundamental to personal growth and change. Twelve-Step groups and their program of recovery encourage and facilitate the practice of all the above principles.
The need to practice moral and spiritual principles in order to recover from addiction, and its underlying causes, is essential due to the selfish and self-destructive nature of the condition. Addiction, in general, corrupts the sufferer both morally and spiritually, and consequently the alcoholic/addict will usually have a long list of people who they’ve selfishly harmed. This now brings us to Step 8: “Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.”
For a greater description and understanding of the ego defense mechanisms labelled as ‘defects of character’ within 12 Step terminology, and AA member’s secular perspective and experience in relation to the 12 Steps, please access the links below.