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Recovery Using the 12 Steps

Inventory and Building Self-Esteem

Now with a bit more ego awareness, self-discipline, and faith, one is ready to review one’s past in Step 4. It requires a thorough examination (an “inventory”) of one’s experiences and relationships with a view toward uncovering patterns of dysfunctional emotions and behavior, called “character defects.” Whether in therapy or with a sponsor, disclosure of the inventory in Step 5 aids development of self-esteem and an observing ego. One gains more objectivity and self-acceptance, and guilt, resentments, and paralyzing shame begin to dissolve. With it goes the false self, self-loathing and depression. For some, this process may also involve recalling childhood pain, which is the beginning of empathy for oneself and others.

Self-Acceptance and Transformation

Acknowledgment of one’s behavior patterns is not enough to change them. This will not happen until they can be replaced with healthier skills, or until the benefit derived from the old behavior is removed. Old habits become increasingly painful, and no longer work. This process is described in Step 6: “Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.” It underscores the psychological process of personal transformation that evolves throughout recovery, and represents a further development of self-acceptance, the key to change. As long as one tries to change, and blames oneself in the process, no movement occurs – not until one gives up. Then one is “entirely ready.” Step 6 asks that one give up control and ego clinging, and look for a source beyond oneself.

Then, it’s suggested to take Step 7: “Humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings.” There’s a parallel in Jungian therapy, where a critical point is reached:

“We then discover to our dismay that our attempts to solve (our problems) by an effort of will avails us nothing, that our good intentions, as the saying goes, merely pave the way to hell…conscious effort are indispensable but do not get us far enough in our really critical areas…A resolution of this seemingly hopeless impasse eventually occurs by virtue of the awareness that the ego’s claim of a capacity to control rests on an illusion…Then we have come to a point of acceptance that initiates a fundamental transformation of which we are the object, not the subject. Transformation of our personality occurs in us, upon us, but not by us… The point of hopelessness, the point of no return, then is the turning point.” (Whitmont, pp. 307-308)

Compassion for Others

The review of one’s shortcomings reveals one’s effect on others, and awakens empathy for those harmed. Steps 8 and 9 suggest that one make direct amends to them – a further step in building a more solid self, humility, compassion, and self-esteem.

Tools for Growth

Recovery and spiritual growth are a continual process. The 12 Steps provide daily tools.

Step 10 recommends a continual inventory and prompt amends as necessary. This builds awareness and responsibility for one’s behavior and attitudes, and maintains peace of mind.

Step 11 recommends meditation and prayer. This strengthens the Self, increases honesty and awareness, improves mood, promotes new behavior, and reduces the anxiety accompanying change. Building tolerance for the experience of emptiness supports the Self, as old behavior and ego structures fall away.

Step 12 recommends doing service and working with others, and practicing these principles in all our affairs. This Step develops compassion and lessens self-centeredness. Communicating to others what we have learned is self-reinforcing. It also reminds us that spirituality cannot be practiced in only one segment of our lives, without contamination from other areas. For example, dishonesty in any area undermines serenity and self-esteem, affecting all of one’s relationships.


Alcoholic Anonymous World Services, Inc. (1976). Alcoholics Anonymous.

Whitmont, Edward C. (1969). The Symbolic Quest. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

Recovery Using the 12 Steps

Darlene Lancer, JD, MFT

Darlene Lancer is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and expert on relationships and codependency. She’s the author of Conquering Shame and Codependency: 8 Steps to Freeing the True You and Codependency for Dummies and six ebooks, including: 10 Steps to Self-Esteem, How To Speak Your Mind - Become Assertive and Set Limits, Dealing with a Narcissist: 8 Steps to Raise Self-Esteem and Set Boundaries with Difficult People, and Freedom from Guilt and Blame - Finding Self-Forgiveness, available on her website and Amazon. Ms. Lancer has counseled individuals and couples for 28 years and coaches internationally. She’s a sought-after speaker in media and at professional conferences. Her articles appear in professional journals and Internet mental health websites, including on her own, where you can get a free copy of “14 Tips for Letting Go.” Find her on, Soundcloud, Twitter @darlenelancer, and at

APA Reference
Lancer, D. (2018). Recovery Using the 12 Steps. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 3, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Oct 2018 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Oct 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.