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Step 6: Tips for Dealing With Character Defects in Recovery

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Tips for Step 6

Character defects are coping mechanisms developed as a means to manage life. Step 6 of Alcoholics Anonymous states, “(We) were entirely ready to have God Remove All These Defects of Character.” A famous quote by Maya Angelou states, “Do the best you can. Then, when you know better, do better.” This quote embraces the spirit of Step 6.

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What Step 6 is Not

Step 6 is not a means to generate shame or to focus on what is wrong with you; on the contrary, it is a path to free you from guilt. Step 6 does not aim to change your personality; instead, it is a path to becoming fully who you are without harming yourself or others along the way. Step 6 is not expected perfection; it is an ideal to humbly strive for while honoring your humanity. Step 6 is not self-directed willful change; it instructs you to be willing to have your higher power remove your defects of character.

Step 6 is not a means to generate shame or to focus on what is wrong with you; on the contrary, it is a path to free you from guilt.

Character Defects and How They Develop

A character defect is a destructive coping mechanism that has helped you survive in your given environment. These coping mechanisms are considered unfavorable for two reasons:

  1. They have become habitual or compulsive, and you have lost power over their presence in your life.
  2. Although they have helped you cope in the past, they have done so at the expense of yourself and others.

Being human is tricky. We suffer and have impulses for survival. We hunger and thirst, have needs for safety,  connection, and expression. We experience great atrocities, significant losses, and extraordinary betrayals. We love people who harm us due to their misunderstanding and means of coping with life. And we harm people we love, despite our best intentions.

So how do we cope with all of this? We cope in the best ways that we have learned, in ways that work in the moment to keep us safe and alive. As we develop, we learn survival techniques for our given environment. The greater our stress and the greater the threat, the more urgent the momentary response for survival. Therefore, when in great stress, we engage in coping behaviors that have a short-term benefit yet come with long-term detriments. This is the way that addiction and compulsions of any sort develop, and this is how character defects develop.

The Path to Step 6

You have journeyed Steps 1 through 5. In Step 4, you made a searching and fearless moral inventory, examining your resentments and exploring how you’ve harmed others (usually unintentionally) as you aimed to meet your own needs. In Step 5, you admitted to your higher power, yourself, and another human being, the exact nature of your role in conflicts and began to understand what your character defects may be. By acknowledging your behavior patterns, you began to understand how your means of coping generated traits in your character that sought safety, pleasure, or comfort at the expense of yourself and others.

By acknowledging your behavior patterns, you began to understand how your means of coping generated traits in your character that sought safety, pleasure, or comfort at the expense of yourself and others.

Some common character defects that you may become aware of include (but are not limited to):

    • Lustful thoughts and behaviors
    • Excessive self-focus or self-righteousness
    • Lack of effort
    • Hatred and rage
    • Material desire
    • Jealousy of others
    • Over-indulgence in areas other than your primary addiction, such as overeating, overspending, etc.

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How Character Defects Relate to Your Primary Addiction

As you discover your character defects, you begin to see how your defects relate to your primary addiction. For example, if you are in recovery from alcohol addiction,you will explore your risks for relapse. Step 6 helps you to see how engaging in character-defect behaviors puts you at risk for relapse.

When we engage in character-defect behaviors, we experience increased stress in our life. That may not always be apparent at first, as some of our character defects provide short-term pleasure, relief, or comfort. For example, raging might provide a false sense of power initially. However, it fundamentally depletes you as a tremendous amount of energy gets exerted on something outside of your control. To cope with these resentments, you may turn to alcohol to escape the frustration.

The more we engage in character-defect behaviors, the more potential we have  to cause harm within our relationships. No matter how understandable your character defects may be in origin, they fundamentally reveal that you have trouble with honesty, temperance, courage, or self-control. To be willing to have your higher power remove these defects of character, improves the quality of your relationship with others, as well as the sense of trust you have in yourself.

10 Tips to Support You Through Step 6

It is a common experience to feel intimidated or overwhelmed by Step 6. After all, you’re in the process of developing a willingness to change behaviors that have helped you cope in the past. Below are ten tips that can guide you through Step 6:

  1. Start with self-compassion. Recall Maya Angelou: “Do the best you can, and once you know better, do better.” Remember that you are doing the best you can within a given circumstance, and trust in the stories of those who have discovered that healing, growing, recovery, and freedom are possible.
  2. If the term “character defect” is upsetting to you, change the term but keep the meaning. Some people rephrase the term to “non-helpful coping mechanisms,” or “destructive coping patterns,” or “self-defeating behaviors.” Although these alternate terms are lengthier, they can help remove shame, increasing your readiness to change.
  3. Have a strong recovery network, which can include:
    • Your Sponsor: This is a sober peer in the AA program, guiding you through the 12 Steps, listening to you, and sharing their experience, strength, and hope with you.
    • An Addiction Professional: This may be a therapist, counselor, or coach with a professional background, education, and training in providing care for addiction.
    • Program Friends: These are fellow AA members in recovery.
    • Sobriety Friends: These are connections you may have made in treatment or group therapy.
    • Peers or mentors within your spiritual or religious community.
  4. Join a Step Study group. These groups meet weekly and work through a 12-Step workbook or will utilize the Step 6 AA worksheet. This allows you to hear other members share their experience, strength, and hope about Step 6. Also, you will be able to share your experience, voice any challenges you may have, and receive support.
  5. Explore the origin of your character defects with your recovery network. That is not to enable or excuse the behaviors; however, it illuminates how the behavior once served you. This helps with self-compassion and forgiveness.
  6. If you find yourself feeling shame, reach out to your recovery network. Explore the topic of humility from a philosophical perspective, focusing on how humility is an antidote to shame. Recognize that you are only human, doing what humans do. If you believe you should be perfect, or you find that shame is overwhelming you in Step 6, it may indicate that perfectionism and toxic shame are character defects to focus on releasing.
  7. Analyze troublesome character defects. If you’re struggling to let go of a character defect, explore what the behavior is doing for you and what it’s doing to you with your recovery network. This is a cost-benefit analysis exploring the pros and cons of the defect.
  8. Learn to let go of character defects. Work with your recovery network to figure out why it feels difficult to part with the defect. This exploration can help you see what needs have been met by the defect so that you can identify other ways to meet them.
  9. Engage in meditation or prayer with your higher power requesting willingness. If prayer feels unnatural to you, or you identify as atheist or agnostic, ask other members how they have connected to a secular higher power in ways that support a sense of willingness.
  10. Be willing and ready to make changes. Remember that you do not need to know how to remove these character defects, nor do you need to remove them. Similar to how you are powerless over alcohol in Step 1, you are powerless over your character defects. To complete Step 6, what is needed is to become entirely ready to have your higher power remove your character defects. Fundamentally, you need to be willing to change. Once you feel ready to make changes in your life, you move on to Step 7.

The Next Steps

Step 6 is a way of saying, “I am ready to do things differently.” Step 7 states, “(We) humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings.” In Step 6, you became willing, while in Step 7 you humbly practice the change. Just like in Step 6, the practice of Step 7 is not willful or forceful. These changes require humility and require repeatedly turning to a power greater than yourself.

Humility is the heart of Step 7, as you will notice how often you feel the urge to engage in your character defects throughout your day. When you feel these urges, you can recite the Step 7 prayer:

“My Creator, I am now willing that you should have all of me, good and bad. I pray that you now remove from me every single defect of character which stands in the way of my usefulness to you and my fellows. Grant me strength, as I go out from here, to do your bidding. Amen.”

Working the 12-Steps, attending AA meetings, and seeking treatment are excellent ways to support a life of recovery. For information about treatment options, call 800-948-8417 Question iconWho Answers? today.

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