In my first Fourth Step over ten years ago, I identified my major character defects as fear, people-pleasing, and low self-esteem. I thought those covered them all. These were easy defects of character for me to admit because I figured sharing them would get me sympathy. Who would still like me if I admitted to the massive ego, pride, and selfishness that have been part of my life for as long as I can remember? At the time, I was unaware of being in denial about these other character defects. I genuinely thought I had done a fearless and thorough inventory. I don’t beat myself up for not knowing better at the time. I believe my Higher Power was only showing me what I was ready to see.
As I worked the rest of the Steps, I grew in self-esteem and self-awareness. It became easier for me to admit I have a big ego. In a subsequent Fourth Step, I realized there were people I resented simply because they did not give me special treatment and extra attention. I admitted that a part of me thought everyone else’s rules should not apply to me. I should be able to eat what I want and not gain weight, and I shouldn’t have to work hard to be successful. Some of these realizations arose as I sat in meetings and heard others share similar sentiments. Hearing their shares also lifted the unconscious shame of having such egotistical feelings: If others I respect and admire had similar sentiments, I must not be that bad. Working the Steps thoroughly, however, was key to my coming out of denial, and if I’m not careful, then denial about my ego can still creep in.
Writing has been key to my staying honest about my motivations. Through writing, I realized that resentment toward my mother was driven almost entirely by ego. I was afraid she was right and I was wrong. But knowing what’s going on underneath doesn’t get rid of the defect. I am just as powerless over it as I am over food and therefore have to ask HP for help.
Another character defect that has given me a lot of trouble is fear. In working Steps Six and Seven, I have discovered part of me believes fear is a useful motivator. If I wasn’t afraid of what could go wrong, of financial insecurity, or of others’ disapproval, would I even get out of bed in the morning? Here I have to trust the experience of those who came before and act as if letting go of fear will not have these harmful consequences.
My life is immeasurably better on days when these character defects are removed, which is most days. I no longer wake up feeling fearful about the day and no longer obsess over what everyone thinks about me. It takes footwork, but it’s worth it!
— Anonymous (Lifeline October 2015)