The 4th step of twelve-step groups is an important step that can sometimes bring quite a bit of fear, discomfort, and anxiety. Although many people share about a fear in doing the fourth step, even more people express a deep gratitude for working this step. It is truly one of the most powerful actions we can take toward staying sober, and we can feel the relief from the 4th step almost immediately.
Here we will offer some tips, a few 4th step inventory examples, and some worksheets for you to use. First, let’s dive into the fourth step a bit and see what it’s all about.
What is Step 4?
Step 4 of Alcoholics Anonymous states we “made a fearless and searching moral inventory of ourselves.” This is the step in which we take an honest look at ourselves, our resentments, and our behavior to see where we are creating pain and harm. It may seem overwhelming, but the work here translates to great strides toward recovery. A step that requires serious writing and reflection, this piece of the program is often one filled with lore, fears, and worries.
Step four is not about beating ourselves up, moping, or self-pity. Instead, it is about truly looking at our experience and taking accountability. As we go through the stepwork, we do so with self-compassion and patience with ourselves. We remember that we are working to let go of the past, not dwell in it.
There are three parts to the fourth step: the resentment inventory, fear inventory, and sex inventory. These three different inventories are meant to look at three places in our lives where we experience and cause suffering, and help us to look deeply at where we have room to grow.
4th Step Inventory Examples
It can be helpful when doing your work to look at some 4th step inventory examples to see what yours may look like. An example is just an example, and it’s important to listen to your sponsor and community. One of the beautiful parts about twelve-step programs is that people find different ways to work the steps, figuring out what works for their individual needs. Below are some free examples you can view or download.
Resentment Inventory Example
The resentment inventory is often the biggest part of the process, and what most people think of when they think of the 4th step inventory. In the resentment inventory, we look at where we have resentments, what these resentments impact, and where our part is in the experience. You can click the image below to download an example of the resentment inventory, and feel free to print or share!
The fear inventory is the second part of the inventory. When we do the fear inventory, we are looking at the things in our lives which cause fear. These may be anything from spiders to fear of loneliness. This can be an incredibly insightful practice if we are completely honest, as we can see clearly many fears that impact our experience on a daily basis.
The sex inventory can of course be quite uncomfortable, but it is important to be honest in writing it. Most of us have caused some harm or experienced some harm (or both) with our sexuality. Whether it is cheating, using our sexuality as a commodity, or having painful sexual experiences, sex is something that has great power to impact our joy or sorrow.
Suggestions and Tips for Working the Fourth Step
When going through a twelve-step program it’s crucial that we seek advice from those who have more experience than we do. When we were going through our stepwork, we were incredibly grateful to have friends, advisors, and sponsors to help guide us through the process. Here are a few tips for working your 4th step.
Going through the inventory process can bring up feelings of guilt, shame, or even beating ourselves up. When you go through this stepwork, try to remember to bring compassion and care to yourself. The goal of this step is to take an honest look at ourselves, not to beat ourselves up. Remember that you’re doing beautiful and wholesome work on yourself, and being compassionate with yourself through the process can help you be at ease while writing.
Ask for Help
When I went through my inventory writing, I did a lot of it with my sponsor actually present. Although most people write their inventory alone and then bring it to their sponsor for the fifth step, this doesn’t necessarily have to be the case. Sometimes, having a sponsor or mentor to bounce ideas around with can be helpful. You also can pick up the phone and call your sponsor. Ask for help when you need it, and don’t fall into the trap of thinking that it is weak to ask for guidance.
My sponsor used to say that it took him six months and a couple hours to do his inventory… Six months to put it off, and a couple hours to write it. Many people stall on this step because it is uncomfortable. In reality, we are holding it with us when we don’t complete it. You are holding all of this pain and discomfort in the back of your mind and heart, and it’s only through completing the inventory and moving forward that we’re able to let it go and move forward.
Know Your Limits
Although this may seem contradictory to our last tip, you also need to know when you are at your limit and running out of steam. You don’t need to sit down and write the whole inventory all at once. People have different ways of doing it, but here’s how I did it. I wrote all my resentments I could think of in my first sitting. As I went about my days and another resentment came to mind, I added it to my list. From there, I filled out the rest of the columns. The point is, we don’t have to sit down and overwhelm ourselves completely. It’s okay to take breaks!
You’re Not Alone
In line with the second tip, remember that you’re not alone in this process. Millions of people have gone through it before you, and there are likely other people you know who are going through it currently or have recently gone through it. Reach out to friends, talk to people about what you’re doing and how it feels, and utilize the community you are building. This is one of the great advantages of a twelve-step fellowship. It allows us to have a safe and supportive group of people for difficult situations.
This seems obvious, but it’s important to remember. Try to be as honest as absolutely possible. Although it may be scary to bear it all, it will come back to benefit you greatly. When we work with our sponsor with this step and the fifth step, we can find great relief. The more honest we are in the process, the more likely we are to experience the freedom that comes from working these steps.