A Study of Step 6

The 12 steps of AA and Al-Anon

AA Meeting
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Each of the 12 steps of recovery outlined by Alcoholics Anonymous is focused on helping people with an alcohol use disorder work toward long-term recovery. Step 6 is focused on acceptance, which involves accepting character defects exactly as they are and then being willing to let them go.

After identifying shortcomings and admitting to them by working through Steps 4 and 5, the next step forces members of 12-step recovery groups to ask themselves if they are really willing to give up some of those faults. These faults or ways of behaving and coping have been with the individual for a long time. While they may be comfortable, it is important to recognize how these old ways have contributed to the individual's problems.

If the previous steps have been done thoroughly and honestly, many times facing the truth can bring a measure of guilt, which is a great motivation to become "entirely ready" to have those shortcomings removed. As with all the steps, the ability to become ready comes from a higher power—a power greater than yourself.

AA's 12-step program states that the focus of Step 6 is, "We are entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character."

How Step 6 Works

The idea behind this phase of 12-step recovery—Steps 4 through 7—is to address some of the personal issues, shortcomings, and character defects that may have been a factor in your decision to begin drinking in the first place.

If you simply stop drinking and do not address some of these other issues, they could lead you into situations that may cause you to relapse. For example, if the way you express anger or the way you handle rejection is a problem for others around you, you could end up ruining a relationship, and that could cause you to pick up a drink again.

Furthermore, if you "only" quit drinking and you don't address your other issues, you could end up what some call a "dry drunk," meaning you may become bitter and resentful. In which case, you may be sober but very unhappy.

Why Step 6 Is Important for Recovery

The reason why Step 6 is so important in the process is that it focuses on the willingness to change the old behaviors that contributed to the alcohol problem. Stopping drinking without addressing those behaviors makes it easier to slip back into your old habits.

That is why Steps 4 through 7 are in the middle of the 12 steps. If you don't admit you have shortcomings and take steps to address those issues, then a spiritual awakening may never come. It's all about being honest with yourself and those around you.

Identifying your shortcomings and admitting them is not the end of the process. Becoming "entirely ready" to do something about them is key to the solution.

What You Can Do

Practical things that you can do to work toward understanding and overcoming your problematic behaviors include:

  • List your faults, weaknesses, or challenges.
  • For each one, note the ways that the problem affects your behavior.
  • Write down the effect this fault has both on you and on others.
  • Ask yourself what feelings are associated with this weakness. Are such behaviors intended to minimize or hide distressing emotions?
  • Consider what your life would be like if you did not engage in these behaviors. What are some strategies that you could use instead that would be more productive?

Thinking of these issues in this way can help you better recognize the way they influence your moods and behaviors. It can also allow you to see the benefits of changing, which will ultimately improve your willingness and motivation to change.

History of Step 6

Step 6 introduces the phrase "defects of character." It is important to understand that the origin of this phrase stems from how alcohol and substance use were conceptualized in earlier editions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). When Alcoholics Anonymous first emerged, the DSM listed alcoholism and addiction as personality disorders. It was a psychological approach to addiction that viewed substance and alcohol abuse as a result of addictive personality traits. 

Today, researchers and clinicians understand that alcohol and substance misuse are brain-based conditions. However, many of the behaviors that are the result of alcohol and substance misuse—such as denial—are obstacles on the road to recovery. Learning to recognize these behaviors as problematic and being willing to change them are essential for long-term recovery.

Helpful Strategies

There are some things that may help you approach Step 6. These include:

Humility

Working Step 6 is simply working the first five steps, and then getting humble. This is not easy for many alcoholics. Working the first five steps seems grueling at first, but they manage to do it. Then the "humble" part steps in. How do you make yourself humble? If the messages of the first five steps sink in, you find humility. If the message somehow escaped you, go back and work on them again, find out what you did wrong, and then try this step again.

People also often reflect on the times they had hurt friends, family, and employers, but rationalized their behavior and blamed the one who was injured. In working the steps and accepting responsibility for the consequences of their actions and omissions, people may experience shame and remorse.

Feeling humility can help people recognize how these past mistakes need to be addressed. Then people can take the road to redemption by making amends.

Specificity

During Stage 6, it is important to be specific about some of the character faults that may have contributed to the onset and maintenance of an alcohol use disorder. Rather than simply stating that you have anger issues, look at the underlying triggers and consequences of that anger. In order to truly accept and then let go of these defects, you need to identify and recognize them for what they are.

Acceptance

The goal of Stage 6 is not to engage in self-condemnation or shaming. Instead, it is about looking at yourself with honesty and accepting the things that have played a part in your drinking problem. By showing yourself acceptance and then submitting to a higher power, you can work toward letting go of the behaviors that are holding you back from truly achieving your goals.

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  1. Narcotics Anonymous. The Narcotics Anonymous Step Working Guide. 1998.

  2. Schenker MD. A clinician's guide to 12-step recovery: Integrating 12-step programs into psychotherapy. W. W. Norton & Company; 2009.