In parts one and two of this series of articles on Alcoholics Anonymous, I provided a critique of steps 1-6 of AA’s 12-step model. In this article, the critique continues with steps 7-9.
Step Seven: Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
Like Step Six, this step requires the individual to ask God or one’s Higher Power to “remove” his problems. I assume this is to be done through prayer. But how does one’s Higher Power actually remove one’s shortcomings? Again, I see a problem with asking a mystical power to change one’s flaws for the same reasons I noted in Step Six.
Step Eight: Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
This step seems to be a very positive aspect of the twelve-step model, because it requires the individual to take responsibility for the actions he has taken that have harmed others. In order to accomplish this, he has to examine the actions he has taken while an alcoholic, and then judge which of these actions were harmful to others in his life. It also requires him to be willing to pay restitution to others for any wrongs he has done to them. What I like most about this step is the requirement of self-responsibility, which I think is vital in making any kind of change in one’s life. If one cannot take responsibility for the actions he has taken, then he can never really be in control of his life, because he can always blame something or someone else (his parents, his genes, the alcohol) for his problems. What is important, though, is for the person to make a distinction between what is and is not his responsibility, so that he is not trying to make amends for things he did not cause. Dr. Michael Hurd, in his excellent book Effective Therapy, refers to this as distinguishing between earned and unearned guilt. “Earned guilt involves taking responsibility for something which one directly caused. Unearned guilt consists of taking responsibility for something which one did not directly cause” For example, a recovering alcoholic should take responsibility and feel guilty for beating his wife. He should not, however, take responsibility for the sobriety of his peers at AA or feel guilty if they fall off the wagon. Hurd emphasizes, “Most people, and particularly most addicts, do not distinguish between earned and unearned guilt.”
Step Nine: Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
This step follows from the previous one and requires the person to go out and actually take action to make amends. This makes sense, since just making a list of those one has harmed and being willing to make amends is not enough. One has to actually go out and take action to make amends. This is extremely healthy because, in order to change, one has to do more than just think or analyze his past actions; he has to do something to create positive change in his life and to become a better person. This step also cautions one to be respectful of those one has harmed and to not hurt them or others in the process of making amends.
(Originally appeared on Examiner.com)
San Francisco & Marin Therapist
Dr. Steve Orma is a cognitive therapist in San Francisco and Marin providing individual therapy for anxiety, depression, stress, relationships, work/school, and other life challenges. To schedule a complimentary phone consultation, please contact him: