Step 4 – Discover the Truth Through Inventory

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Fourth Step

“Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.”

Fourth Step Summarized

The Fourth Step is to make “a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.” Another word for “moral” is truth. By reviewing our lives — the people, situations, beliefs and fears we have engaged with in our past — we can begin to see the truth about ourselves and the role we’ve played in our troubles. Through writing, we begin to see the patterns we have repeated over and over again, the negative beliefs that have perpetuated those patterns, the harms we have caused and the instincts that have driven us. We begin to see ourselves and our lives clearly.
Into the Steps by Guardian Recovery is a series of articles that dives into each one of the 12 Steps, which have been shown to be a highly effective treatment for addiction.

Into the Steps

Into the Steps is a series of articles that dives deep into each of the 12 Steps. While Guardian Recovery is not affiliated with Alcoholics Anonymous, we have been utilizing the 12-Step process in a treatment setting for more than 15 years. We have found that the steps, especially in combination with our clinical therapy offerings, are a powerful tool for  helping individuals transform their lives and find lasting freedom from addiction. 

It is highly encouraged that you do not attempt to take these steps alone, but rather with a trusted guide called a sponsor who can walk you through them and be your support. Or, you can come work them at a Guardian Recovery treatment program. Unlike many other treatment centers, we don’t just teach individuals about the steps, we actively work them. Find a facility here.

Steps Recap
Steps 1-3

In our First Step, we admit to ourselves on a deep, heartfelt level, that left to our own devices, we have no power to overcome our addiction. We learn that we are powerless because our mind will always convince us it’s ok to take the first drink or drug, and our body will always demand we keep drinking or using once we start. This double-edged sword — the tricky mind and allergic body — dooms us to repeat our active addiction over and over again unless we can find a power to help us fix the condition.

In Step Two, we came to believe that there must be some sort of power that helps seemingly hopeless addicts and alcoholics achieve sobriety because the evidence is all around us — countless individuals that have found lasting recovery through the 12-Step program. Whether we define that helpful power as the energy inherent in the collective community of Alcoholics Anonymous, or in a spiritual force of one’s own understanding — each of us come to believe in our ability to change. We find hope.

In Step Three, we discover that, for most of our lives, we have lived by self-propulsion. We have tried to direct our own lives. Unfortunately that didn’t work out very well for us. In Step Three, we decide to give up control to the Higher Power we discovered in Step Two. We turn our will — our thoughts and actions — over to the care of that Higher Power, letting it dictate our path. This also means we decide to utilize the map that has already been laid at our feet — the 12-Steps. We launch quickly into our Fourth Step.

Step Four Explained

Step Four, which begins on the very end of page 63 in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, states that after we take Step Three, we must “launch out on a vigorous course of action, the first step of which is a personal housecleaning.”

It says that, while turning our will over to our Higher Power in Step Three was a “vital and crucial step,” it can have “little permanent effect unless at once followed by a strenuous effort to face, and be rid of, the things in ourselves that have been blocking us.”

What does this mean? A personal housecleaning? A moral inventory? What is that?

Like a business that takes an inventory of what products they have in stock, we take an inventory of our lives. What things are we holding on to that no longer profit us? What items have turned rotten and are making us sick? What items are downright ugly? What assets do we have that we want to keep? What behaviors do we keep repeating that are keeping us stuck? These are the types of things we will look for throughout this Fourth Step process.

Another word for “moral” is truth. By reviewing our past — the people, situations, beliefs and fears we have engaged with throughout our lives — we can begin to see the truth about ourselves and the role we’ve played in our troubles. Through writing, we begin to see ourselves and our lives clearly.

This whole process might sound terrifying and complicated, but it is not. There is a very clear-cut method for reviewing our lives, which is outlined in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. Many of us like to overcomplicate this process by writing novels about our lives and getting bogged down in the messy storylines of our pasts. This is not necessary. An inventory is a list. A bulleted list. An organized list. And the Big Book tells you exactly how to do it.

Resentments Inventory

The Fourth Step process begins with an inventory of our resentments. First, we get out some sheets of paper and we draw four columns. In the first column, leaving ample space between each name, we write down the people in our lives who we are resentful at. This means we write down anyone (or anything — such as institutions) we are angry at, or that we feel hurt by. A good way to tell who we should write down in our resentments list is to gauge how we feel when we think of this person or situation. If, when we think about it, we have a negative emotional reaction of any kind — anger, sadness, disgust, shame, guilt, rage — we should write down their name. The next step is to write down, in the second column, exactly what that person did. You need not write the entire story. You remember what happened or you wouldn’t be writing it down. And, chances are it is a story you have played on mental repeat many, many times. So no overwriting. Merely jot down a bulleted list of what that particular person did to make you feel angry or hurt. Once you have written down what this person did, you will move on to the third column. You will write down how their actions affected you. The Big Book describes specifically what effects to look for:

Did it affect your:

  1. Self-Esteem
  2. Personal Relationships
  3. Material Security
  4. Emotional Security
  5. Sexual Relations
  6. Social Ambitions
  7. Material Ambitions
  8. Sexual Ambitions
In the Twelve & Twelve (another book often utilized in Alcoholics Anonymous to understand the Steps), we learn how these categories are organized around our basic instincts as human beings — our natural instincts for social relationships, companionship, sexual relations, material security and emotional security. These natural desires for connection, power, prestige, wealth and love occur in all of us as human beings — whether we have an addiction or not. What we will discover, however, is that when these desires get out of balance, they drive many of our decisions in unhealthy or harmful ways. They make us selfishly demand too much of others, or act in ways that aren’t true to who we want to be. After we have completed the first three columns, it is time to take a look at our part in each scenario. In the fourth column we will write down exactly what we did:
  • What did we do prior to the event in question that may have led up to it?
  • What did we do during that event?
  • What did we do after?
  • How did we use that event to our advantage in the time following?
  • How were we selfish, self-seeking or afraid?
  • Were we dishonest?
This column is where we get really honest with ourselves. That’s it. You’re now done with your resentment inventory. Move on to your fear inventory.

Fear Inventory

The next part of the Fourth Step Process is to take a look at your fears. Look back over the fourth column of your resentment inventory. In each instance, notice when you were acting out of fear? Reflect. Then write down a list of all your fears. These fears could include things such as: “Fear people will always leave me.” “Fear that I am not smart enough, pretty enough or worthy enough.” “Fear that I will be alone.” “Fear that I am not being appreciated.” Etc. etc.

Sex Inventory

Next we take a look at our sexual relationships. We write down the people we have had sexual relationships with. We then ask ourselves the following questions:
  • Were we selfish
  • Were we dishonest?
  • Were we inconsiderate?
  • Did we hurt anyone?
  • Did we unjustifiably house jealousy, suspicion or bitterness?
  • Where were we at fault?
  • What could we have done instead?
Once we have written this down, we craft an ideal of what our future sex conduct should look like. We consult our Higher Power and highest self to determine what ideal we should have for ourselves in the future.

Harms Inventory

The last part of the inventory process is to write down the names of all people we have harmed in our lives. If we have been honest and thorough in the other parts of our inventory, it will be rather clear to us who we have harmed in our lives. We write down what we did, and how we harmed the people on the list.

Useful Fourth Step Tools

There are many online resources to help you with your Fourth Step. Here are a few:

Tips For Finishing Your Fourth Step

  • Don’t overwrite. Use bullet points.
  • Talk with your recovery friends and sponsor regularly, especially as difficult emotions come up
  • Do not attempt to do a fourth step without a sponsor
  • Pray and meditate before and after writing
  • Take good care of yourself — Remember H.A.L.T — avoid getting hungry, angry, lonely or tired.

Guardian Recovery & the Fourth Step

The Fourth Step can be an emotionally triggering experience; and it often takes discipline and accountability to finish it. If you think you or a loved one would benefit from working the Fourth Step in a structured, supportive and caring environment, then working the Steps in a treatment setting might be valuable. While in residential inpatientpartial hospitalization or intensive outpatient treatment, individuals actively work the 12-Steps with a 12-Step Contact (a professional sponsor on staff). They simultaneously work with a primary therapist to process difficult emotions as they come up. To look for one of Guardian Recovery’s 12-Step treatment centers, click here. Or, contact us 24/7. Our compassionate team of Treatment Advisors is ready to help you. We do recover. Start today!

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Reviewed professionally for accuracy by:

Ryan Soave


Ryan Soave brings deep experience as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, certified trauma therapist, program developer, and research consultant for Huberman Lab at Stanford University Department of Neurobiology. Post-graduation from Wake Forest University, Ryan quickly discovered his acumen for the business world. After almost a decade of successful entrepreneurship and world traveling, he encountered a wave of personal and spiritual challenges; he felt a calling for something more. Ryan returned to school and completed his Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling. When he started working with those suffering from addiction and PTSD, he found his passion. He has never looked back.

Written by:

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark grew up in Santa Barbara, CA and graduated from UCLA with a degree in playwriting. Since then she has been writing on addiction recovery and psychology full-time, and has found a home as part of the Guardian Recovery team.

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