By Steve K.
“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 genuine 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 recovering 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 unhelpful defense mechanisms and the harm that they cause to myself and others has increased and 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 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, the interpretation of 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 healing value of the group and ‘the process’ of recovery as the power that removes their 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 self-centredness. Non-theistic or non-dualistic prayer can also be practised as a way of affirming and realising the values we aspire to live by. The following passage explains the Buddhist perspective in relation to non-theistic prayer..
“Buddhist prayer is a practice to awaken our inherent inner capacities of strength, compassion and wisdom rather than to petition external forces based on fear, idolizing, and worldly and/or heavenly gain. Buddhist prayer is a form of meditation; it is a practice of inner reconditioning. Buddhist prayer replaces the negative with the virtuous and points us to the blessings of life.
For Buddhists, prayer expresses an aspiration to pull something into one’s life, like some new energy or purifying influence and share it with all beings. Likewise, prayer inspires our hearts towards wisdom and compassion for others and ourselves. It allows us to turn our hearts and minds to the beneficial, rousing our thoughts and actions towards Awakening. If we believe in something enough, it will take hold of us. In other words, believing in it, we will become what we believe.”
Experiencing Spirituality, p.228, by Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham.
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 false-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 wholeness and a more integrated and authentic self. For me, 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 an effort to grow into emotional sobriety translates well into ‘Person-Centred’ psychology (a humanistic approach) and its ‘Core Conditions’. The therapeutic conditions which facilitate personal change and growth are empathy, unconditional positive regard (UPR) and congruence. Receiving these virtues from others inspires 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, empathy, and compassion for a common problem.