4th Step Inventory Guide
The 4th step inventory is perhaps one of the most well-known pieces of twelve-step programs. Originally introduced in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, the fourth step states that we ”Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.” As this step can be difficult, confusing, or sometimes overwhelming, we created this 4th step inventory guide to help outline the process, gives some prompts, and offer some tips for working this piece of your recovery.
Before starting, it may benefit you to read pages 63 to 71 in the Big Book and the chapter on the Fourth Step in Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions. We’ve also found it helpful to discuss with a sponsor or mentor before beginning, as you may receive helpful suggestions and a sharing of experience which help you go through this process with more clarity. Here are a few suggestions we have based on our experience working this step ourselves and with sponsees.
Don’t Beat Yourself Up
When going through step four, we may have a tendency to beat ourselves up a bit. We are making a list that may show us some things we don’t love seeing about ourselves, and this process is difficult in moments. As you look at ways you responded poorly or caused harm, recognize the power in acknowledging these behaviors.
Remember that you are making this inventory for wholesome purposes. Sitting down and making a searching and fearless moral inventory takes some strength and courage, and going through this process builds strength, clarity, honesty, and courage. Notice when the self-judgement comes up, and try to respond with some gratitude that you’re able to see these resentments and behavior clearly!
Be Honest with Yourself
The Big Book was written over 75 years ago, and remains largely unchanged. When you’re doing your work, reading the book, or using a 4th step inventory worksheet, allow yourself some wiggle room. This process is about being honest with yourself and seeing yourself clearly.
Perhaps the wording doesn’t fit perfectly in every instance. Maybe you had a behavior that doesn’t fit into one of the traditional categories of dishonesty, selfishness, self-seeking behavior, or coming from fear. If you have a better word to describe your experience, it may be helpful to use the phrasing that feels more honest to you!
You’re Not Alone!
Although the fourth step inventory is absolutely something you must do for yourself, this does not mean you are going it alone. As this stepwork can trigger difficulties, use any support network you have in going through the inventory. Maybe you can do the stepwork with somebody else who also has stepwork to do, or you can reach out to a sponsor or friend from time to time while doing the work.
4th Step Inventory Worksheets
Below we have a few worksheets available for you to download and print. The language and format is taken largely from the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. There are three separate inventories suggested by the Big Book, and each 4th step inventory worksheet has an additional page you can print for more space!
The resentment inventory is probably the most well-known piece of this step. In this inventory, we go through our resentments toward other people and institutions, taking an honest look at our own behavior and actions.
When considering resentments, here are a few people and institutions which you may consider. Of course, all of these may not be applicable to you, and there are probably ones relevant to you that aren’t listed here. We offer this as a jumping-off point, a list of resentments to consider when starting.
Doctors & Therapists
Judges and Police Officers
Again, there are likely people or institutions not listed here that you have a resentment toward. We encourage you to look honestly and use your own experience!
The sex inventory is the second part of the 4th step in AA. In this part of the stepwork, we look at our sexual behavior and intimate relationships and where we have caused harm. We list the harm caused, if we unjustifiably aroused jealousy, suspicion, or bitterness, and look at what could have been done instead. Remember that you don’t need to beat yourself up. Try looking at this process with some kindness toward yourself.
The fear inventory is the final piece of step four. We look at the fears we have and what the fears impact. Your sponsor may have specific instructions for you in this process. In general, try your best to be honest with yourself. You may list as many fears as you can come up with, and often the fear inventory has more items than the other inventories. Whether or not this is the case for you, remember the principle of self-honesty and be true to yourself and your experience!
4th Step Examples
Here are a few examples of how you may do your inventory process. These are just examples, and are not meant to be resentments, fears, or experiences that you should have necessarily. However, you can see here how to fill out the sheets, what an example of a fourth step looks like, and hopefully get an idea of what you’re doing with your own step work!
Prayer and Meditation
As with all of the twelve steps, there are meditations and prayers that can be helpful. The Big Book doesn’t directly offer prayers for the fourth step, but it does point toward a few places in which we ask for a Higher Power’s help. Here are a couple 4th step prayers we use:
“Relieve me of this fear, and direct my attention to what you would have me be.”
“Help me to honestly take inventory of myself, my resentments, and my behavior so that I may see myself clearly.”
You may of course use any traditional twelve-step prayer in this process, such as the third step prayer, the serenity prayer, or the Lord’s prayer.
Below is a guided meditation that may be helpful in working your fourth step! It’s about 7 minutes long and great for anybody, regardless of meditation experience!
Share this meditation!
4th Step Tips
Here are a few additional tips about doing your fourth step. These people are not authorities on stepwork; rather, these tips are from individuals who are in recovery and have gone through the steps themselves. They’re offered simply as a sharing of experience and hope!
“One thing that really helped me when I was doing my fourth step was to do a little bit every day. I would set aside about 20 minutes every night and work on it. I noticed on the days that I did too much more than that I had an emotional hangover. Also, not doing it all at once was really helpful because it made the amount of work feel less overwhelming.”
“Remember that you’re not alone and other people have experienced these resentments or something similar. A lot of people get scared that they are the only ones that have ever experienced something and it spooks them into not wanting to put it on paper. Put it down, and you’ll likely find that you’re met with understanding and even a sharing of a similar experience.”
“I found for myself that it was most helpful to start where was easiest. I listed every person and institution that immediately came to mind in the first column, then filled in the other columns from there. This helped me get a start on the work without having to think too hard, and made the rest come more easily.”
“I’ve worked the steps myself and with a few other young men. There are those who have done a fifth step, and those who have not stayed sober. The anticipation is often worse than the act of writing down the resentments and then sharing it with a sponsor. It’s also a way we can show our willingness for sobriety.”