Step 4 of the 12 Steps

Step 4 of the 12 Steps is where we start to really have an honest look at ourselves.

step 4 of the 12 steps moral inventory

We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

Step 4 is the start of finding out who we are. It is the beginning of the process of self-love and acceptance of ourselves. Steps 4 through to 9 is a process within the 12 steps that will lead to comfort, happiness and love.

Step 4 of the 12 steps onion layersIf you think of Step 4 like an onion, each time we do Step 4 we remove a layer of the onion. In the core of the onion is the pure and healthy version of us. Each layer we remove represents a layer of denial, our character defects and the harm we have caused.

Our goal in recovery is to have a spiritual awakening. Each time we do Step 4 we get closer to achieving this goal.

We need to learn about ourselves, discover ourselves again. The fourth step is not just about learning about our defects of character it is also about finding out what our assets are.

During this step we learn that our problems most likely started long before we started using drugs or alcohol. We will probably find that we felt isolated and different long before we started using any drugs. The desire to change how we feel led us to take our first drink or drug. The seeds of addiction were planted long before we touched any addictive substance.

This inventory will bring to the surface old conflicts and unresolved pain from our past.

The Narcotics Anonymous Stepwork Guide has two distinct sections for Step 4. The first takes you through the motivation for working the step and the second part guides you on taking your moral inventory.

For me personally Step 4 was very emotional the first time I did it. I have also found that every sponsee I have worked with has found Step 4 hard too.

Just the words moral inventory scared me. During my active addiction I did terrible things, to myself and others. My moral compass was broken and it was hard to be honest and face those things. I struggled to deal with my feelings of guilt and shame. I felt a lot of anger when writing down my resentments, all the old pain, hurt and anger came bubbling up to the surface. These are all the feelings I used drugs and alcohol to numb so I didn’t have to face them.

Step 4 of the 12 Steps AbuseDuring Step 4 I had to face these fears and look at my relationships, sexual behaviour, abuse I went through and share my dark secrets. It was the hardest step to face.

That is the scary bit about Step 4. The beautiful part about completing this step was that afterwards I felt light, like a load had been lifted from  me. There was a spiritual change in me. I had shared some of the darkest and most humiliating moments of my life, about my character with my sponsor. She didn’t look at me like I was some sort of monster, she accepted what I told her without judgement and shared some of the things she did in her active addiction. I started to feel like I was not alone anymore, somebody understood me and had done similar things.

She also helped me with my assets. I had no problem writing pages and pages of things that were wrong with me, but I could not seem to write any assets I had. I could not see anything good about myself. She saw things in me that I couldn’t see and she helped me to see myself as I truly am.

This was truly a difficult step for me but the gifts that followed far outweighed the pain of facing this step.

Please leave a comment if you have any questions or feedback!

Buy the Narcotics Anonymous Stepworking Guide 





  1. Tom says:

    I love the onion analogy, Lynne what can I say. Yours is a “rags-to-riches” experience that Im sure none of us would want to repeat. Although our past brings us to a place where monumental changes await, its the journey that forms us, I think. I wont digress further but only to say… welcome to the bright side of your life. It was divine guidance that carried you… brought you to a place of healing and blessing. Under your literature page, you may consider a reference to the Holy Bible. Stay blessed.

    • Lynne says:

      Thanks for visiting Tom!

      It is very much rags to riches in a spiritual sense, unfortunately the financial is taking a while to catch up! The journey has certainly been an eye-opener and an amazing (if painful at times) experience.

      Perhaps I can make a reference to the Bible in my religion page, however I hesitate to reference the bible as I am not personally religious. What would you recommend I use as a reference?

      Kind Regards

    • Emily says:

      hi Lynne
      Ah the famous step 4….I am not an addict but was in a relationship with one in the past and attended Nar-anon for months. And boy was it helpful! I never worked the steps, at least not in a formal way. But I did take a look at myself. And it was not easy. It left me in tears at times, because it is quite harder to truly look at yourself rather than externalize everything. I had to take a look at my own actions and take responsibilities for them. And I did. But it was a roller-coaster. But as with you, I like the non judgmental attitude within the program. I felt like I could say anything and people would understand. And guess what? They did. Congrats on all your hard work to get where you are now.

      • Lynne says:

        Hi Emily

        Well done for attending Nar-anon. It is never easy to take a good hard look at oneself. I can believe you were left in tears. I still get tearful regularly doing stepwork, but it is good to go through everything regularly. It is cleansing.
        I really agree with the attitude in the fellowship, it is like family, like coming home.

        Kind Regards

      • Gene says:

        I understand some of what you go through in doing step four. My son was a practicing alcoholic for ten years. He has now been sober for five years and there has been a dramatic change in his attitude. Step Four was always the hardest for him. Also my wife and I attend Al-Anon and did the Twelve Steps several times. Number Four was always the hardest. We both learned a lot about our selves good and bad!

        • Lynne says:

          Hi Gene

          Thank you for visiting. I think it is wonderful that you are attending Al-Anon! Addiction really is a family problem and often the parents of addicts are enabling the addict. It is hard to practice tough love, but that is what the addict really needs in order to break through denial.

          Kind Regards

        • Vic says:

          What an amazing page and blog. Congratulations on getting clean and staying clean. I have never been an addict myself but was in a relationship with one for 4 years. It was a pretty miserable and nasty 4 years which affected my own self-esteem and my relationship with drink and drugs. I feel fortunate enough to have come out the other end am now in a loving and committed relationship and very happy. Keep up the great work Lynne as I am sure you are an inspiration to many 🙂

          • Lynne says:

            Hi Vic, thanks for visiting. I can just imagine being in a relationship with an addict must really impact your life in a bad way. So glad to hear that you are not in a healthy and loving relationship!

          • Ramirez says:

            WOW! i love the way you’ve explained this using the onion analogy. The information you’ve provided here will go a long way to helping addicts overcome what they are addicted to. Thanks a lot again for this awesome article and will be looking forward to your upcoming articles and guess what, this is the second time I am visiting your site and the reason is clear.

            • Lynne says:

              Hi Ramirez, yes I also love the onion analogy. It just explains it so perfectly 🙂 So nice to see you here again and I hope to get some more great articles out soon.

            • JeffWA says:

              That was such an incredible article that you wrote which detailed with incredible specificity the 4th step in the 12 step addiction recovery process. You stated that it was the lead-in to 6 consecutive crucial steps in which the person would begin to find his/her true inner being.

              The concept using the onion, in an analogy to a person peeling back each layer leading to his/her very inner core was so appropriate. Hopefully dealing with any serious addiction – drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, etc. one can begin to understand through what you tried to offer in words, the visitor to your site who truly has been affected by whatever has taken control of him/her.

              In quickly perusing through your about me page, something that you encouraged all visitors to click over to I was able to really tell what you’ve gone through within your life as you held nothing back. Such a powerful message you were sending Lynne, and I must commend you for your willingness to reveal all that is you. Obviously you feel that the person still in need of help could learn that if you were able to gain some degree of benefit out of the self-revelation that you composed in that section of your fabulous website, then so can he/she.

              It’s not often that I have been truly moved by participating in the WA comments’ opportunity and coming across such an inspiring website. However what you have written is some of the most powerful piece of well-written articles that I have seen from anyone!

              I would be remiss if I failed to mention that, although I don’t know you other than reading some of your articles, (and I also loved the one that you created having to do with email marketing), still I truly hope that all will continue to go well for you Lynne in your life. You appear to be an incredible woman! Keep the faith and take it one day at a time!


              • Lynne says:

                Oh wow Jeff, thank you so much. I appreciate you also taking the time to have a look at my About Me page and watching my video blog 🙂

                I hope that addicts are also moved and find the motivation and strength to get clean. This is really what my goal is here. I am grateful to be alive and in accordance with the 12th Step of the program (which I will get to adding to my website soon) I want to spread the message and reach other addicts.

                This is truly a beautiful and powerful program, spreading the message is part of the program, hence this website. It is also a healing exercise for me to be able to share my journey.

              • Anna says:

                Hi Lynne,

                This was a beautifully written article and I was very moved by it. It takes a great deal of courage to talk about your pain and past mistakes, but the process brings about a great deal of healing.

                Although I am not an addict myself, my mother was and I had very difficult years growing up because of it.

                I just want to congratulate you for everything that you have accomplished, both personally and with your website. I know you are going to help the lives of so many people and I have a great deal of admiration and respect for you.

                Thank you for sharing your story and I wish you much happiness always! 🙂


                • Lynne says:

                  Hi Anna

                  I’m sorry to hear about your mom being an addict, that must have been awful for you! I hope you have managed to heal and to move on from that, and also to let it go.

                • Lauren Kinghorn says:

                  Shoo Lynne, I am shaking in my boots. I think every one of us has things they have said or done that makes them feel ashamed of themselves. The thought of taking a moral inventory is a scary one indeed. I’ve never done the 12 steps (though we had to share our lives with this kind of honesty in a course I did called the Landmark Forum), but I’ve always been interested to know exactly what they are, so am very grateful to you for sharing this valuable information.

                  • Lynne says:

                    Hi Lauren

                    Yes Step 4 is the dreaded step for most people but in all honesty you should give it a go! The spiritual growth that you achieve by doing something like this is incredible.

                    It is by no means an easy step, but trust me when I say that it is very much needed.

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