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The 12 steps of character: a new look at the 12 steps

Posted Jun 19 2010 11:01am

In some sense the underlying assumption of the 12 step approach is that becoming a better person is therapeutic. It helps to make life better and those things that do not become better you become more able to deal with. You may like or not like 12 step programs as they currently exist, but the idea is worth considering. If you believe in any way that recovery is a “spiritual process” in some sense of the word, whether you realize it or not, you too are also arguing that becoming a better person is therapeutic.

I recently started working at the Blount Memorial Emotional Health And Recovery Center. I found the following gem while looking at some of the recovery material they use. I would like to share it here.

  1. Honesty- We admitted were powerless over____- that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Hope- Come to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Faith- Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of a Higher Power.
  4. Courage- Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.  Both the positive and the negative.
  5. Integrity- Admitted to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. Willingness- We are entirely ready to have a Power greater than ourselves remove all our defects of character.
  7. Humility-Humbly asked that Power greater than ourselves to remove our shortcomings.
  8. Compassion- Made a list of all persons we have harmed and become willing to make amends to them.
  9. Discipline- Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Persistence and Commitment- Continued to take personal inventories, and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
  11. Awareness- Sought through prayer or meditation to improve our conscious contact with a Power greater than ourselves, asking only for knowledge of a greater purpose for us, and the power to carry that out.
  12. Service- Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of the steps, we tried to carry this message to others, and to practice these principles in all areas of our lives.

Does this mean that life will cease to be difficult?  Absolutely not.  Many things in life are hard and many of us have circumstances that we have little control over.  Life is not a problem to be solved by trying harder, and to reduce the 12 steps to a list of do’s and don’ts reduces it to that.  Hopefully it will mean you reduce the amount of things you mess up, do a better job with the things you can do better with, and develop more wisdom about the things you cant do anything about.

Does completing a step mean you have one of the personality traits associated with it in this list?  No it doesnt.  But if you can and are putting these steps into practice in your daily life it might be an indication of those traits.  We must first be aware of the things we want to do in order for them to become the things we do without thinking about it.  Practice makes different.   A lot of practice makes very different.

Still I like the way these character traits are broken down.  Virtually every one of them in my eyes in associated with recovery and to the degree they become who we are we get deeper into recovery.

A couple of ideas:

  • Rate yourself 1-10 on each one of these characteristics.
  • Have someone else you trust rate you on these characteristics on a scale of 1-10.
  • Compare the differences.  What do you think is the most accurate picture?  Do others see you as you see yourself?
  • Take the 3 traits you are weakest in.  What are the roadblocks to you developing these traits?  What can you do to strengthen and further develop these traits?
  • Take the 3 traits you are strongest in.  How do they play out in your life?  Are there ways you can you use them more often or use them to help you develop more of the other traits?

What do you think?  Recovery is about thriving and finding better life.  Is becoming a “better” person part of that process?

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