The twelve steps in both the AA and the Al-Anon program have a 4th step that reads “take a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.”
For people unaware of the principles of AA and Al-Anon, I can assure you that the program is well done and could legitimately help many people, even those not impacted by alcoholism. So, I start this blog because of how impressed I am by step 4 as I reflect on it myself tonight. This morning, I read today’s reflection from “One Day at A Time in Al-Anon.” and I’ve been thinking of it all day.
The reflection suggested that most of us use self -justification when we uncover a flaw, suggesting that it was reaction to someone else’s wrongdoing. It goes as far as to say that even psychiatrists can’t self analyze because of that block. But it left me challenged with “personal honesty and humility can achieve what superior knowledge often cannot.”
And so, I begin to try step 4 again. I can honestly say that my first time through it, I checked generic boxes. I thought I really knew my strengths and weaknesses, so I just made that list. After all, I was admitting that I was a control freak, that I often started tasks before completing other ones, that I was plagued with anxiety, etc. etc.. Wasn’t that enough?
No. No, it was not enough. You see, there is so much more to it than that. For example, are we willing to ask others what they believe our shortcomings are without making excuses, or challenging their thoughts? Can we listen to them? Can we process what they say without trying to self-justify?
For example…..my mom told me that I was very critical and negative. My instant response was…..how dare she…..I mean she is as negative as anyone I know…..the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree….doesn’t she realize that I have to talk to someone about ugly things…..if it can’t be your mom, who can it be??? Without realizing it, I went right to self-justification. I didn’t accept it as a shortcoming.
It is a shortcoming. While I am cautious to never appear anything but upbeat and positive to some, I had failed to realize that I let my guard down way too much around the people I love the most. I did not put on a happy face for them or present the glass half full. Why do we give the worst of ourselves to the most important people? And if I am as emotionally intelligent as tests show, and I fall guilty to self-justification, then I believe that nearly all of us do.
That being said….. Can we stop self-justifying? It’s not easy, but being aware of it as the typical response is important to slowing it down. For example……if someone tells me that I appear agitated, I hope that I can accept that instead of thinking of all the things around me that cause the agitation.
So, back to step four……once we have the list of shortcomings, we have to be willing to work on each of them one at a time, trying to turn them into attributes. For example…me being a control freak. It’s true.
In parenting my only child, I’m certain that I spent way too much time trying to control the perception that others had of her and trying to make her something that she was not. My daughter is clearly not me, so I should not have encouraged her to do the things that I thought were good for her. I should have spent much more time asking her for her goals and ideas. Fortunately, by changing schools in the divorce, she was given a “do-over” and so was I. She was allowed to “blend in” instead of “stand out” as was the case for me and my expectations. Thank goodness I realized it before it was too late. Thank goodness that God and Al-Anon opened my eyes to honesty and the time to deep dive into my shortcomings. While I’m still a control freak, I’ve realized that there are some things that I must not focus on or else they cause other people unnecessary stress.
Step 4 in the programs can take a long time to accomplish. If done right, it isn’t a checklist. It’s a lifestyle change. If alcoholics and al-anon members successfully complete this step as designed, focusing on honesty and humility, I’m certain that they can teach the world a thing or two and that they are headed in the right direction. I hope to get there someday soon.