The fundamental flaw of the 4th step lies in presentation and interpretation, and in many cases, it never arises, but if and when it does, when need to be aware of it. The 4th step has us to create a fearless and search moral inventory. Step programs ask us to look at our part in our addiction, without blaming anyone else, without indeed looking at anyone else’s behavior. However, it’s very possible to learn this step incorrectly. Particularly in situations where people survive traumas and then become addicts, there’s a real “blame the victim” mentality. In fact, the idea that anyone is a victim or survivor is played down.
In a peculiar way, although AA champions the concept of our being helpless over our addiction, we’re somehow supposed to have been so completely in control of our lives that addiction never would have had a chance to get a toehold in our lives. Many people who have lived through childhood abuse, early life trauma, trauma of all sorts, and then developed maladaptive coping behaviors are often left feeling like horrible people, as if their abusers were blameless.
The Fundamental Flaw Is Interpretive, Not Declarative
Of course the argument comes back, that we are responsible for our behavior in the present day. Sure we are. However, the idea comes, and must be understood, that much of our behavior is learned and grooved at a young age. Also, trauma can establish behaviors in a single event. Rape or a horrible car accident can complete alter learning topographies. It’s so important to understand that when someone talks to a combat vet for example about what their part in the addiction was, they may be able to take responsibility for the things they did post trauma, but that won’t resolve the actual trauma itself.
Not every 12 step group, not every 12 stepper has the over-focus on present behaviors only. Not every therapist in CBT or REBT has too much of a focus on the establishing events of trauma. Many parties in various treatment systems deal with the issue of trauma based addiction, or addiction predicated on trauma extremely well.
Our focus on “what is our part in the situations that provoke our addiction” however can make people wonder, “Well, I was raped from age 3 to 16, was it my fault?” More than once, I’ve had clients tell me that other treatment professionals had told them that indeed, they bore responsibility for their molestation as children. What abhorrent garbage!