Step Four Prayer of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). What is it and How Does it Work?

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The 4th Step often feels like the first big step, but it isn’t. The first big step is the first step and everything else follows that first admission. This fourth step reads:

Step 4: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

This is the first step that involves dealing with our character. And like all the other steps there’s a prayer for this one as well.

“God, please help me to honestly take stock. Help me to search out the flaws in my make-up which caused my failure.

Help me to see where resentment has plagued me and resulted in spiritual malady, but more importantly help me to understand my part in these resentments.

Help me to resolutely look for my own mistakes and to understand where I had been selfish, dishonest, self-seeking and frightened.

Please help me to be searching and fearless in my endeavor to write my inventory. (

Actually, there are many prayers associated with the Fourth Step, such as this 4th step Resentment Prayer, also from the Friends of Bill W website:

God, Please help me to be free of anger and to see that the world and its people have dominated me. Show me that the wrong-doing of others, fancied or real, has the power to actually kill me. Help me to master my resentments by understanding that the people who wrong me were perhaps spiritually sick. Please help me show those I resent the same Tolerance, Pity and Patience that I would cheerfully grant a sick friend.** Help me to see that this is a sick man. Father, please show me how I can be helpful to him and save me from being angry. Lord, help me to avoid retaliation or argument. I know I can’t be helpful to all people, but at least show me how to take a kindly and tolerant view of each and every one. Thy will be done.

Step Four involves a drastic self-appraisal.

When I approach this step, I think it’s important to take a whole inventory and not just focus on the flaws we have. The defects of character are the most important part, but I think that seeing the whole person is critical too. When someone takes stock in a warehouse, they want to see what they have and what is missing. By focusing on both, we avoid morbid reflection.

The fourth step is difficult and by seeing the whole picture we avoid beating up on ourselves more than we are likely to. There are going to be many negative feelings as we start to make conscious contact with what we were like perhaps for the first time in our lives. This is the first milestone on the path to dealing with life on life’s terms, something most of us were never much good at.

When we were drinking, we were in bondage of self, and we need to realize that most things we did were for our own selfish ends. By taking a fearless moral inventory we start to realize how the problems today are because of our old ways and prepare to deal with the personal consequences.

One of the biggest issues with this step is that it becomes so much more than just an inventory and a drastic self-appraisal.

From the bottom of my heart, please think of the words that you will have heard read out in The Promises at every meeting:

We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it

There is wisdom in that statement and in this step when we first encounter it and explore what we did for our own selfish ends, there is likely to be a great deal of regret. When I did this step, I felt such guilt that it seemed my mental health was being challenged. Actually, it was my former mental condition that was being challenged, and it was all part of placing me back on the road to sanity.

Let me go back to that promise and try and explain the wisdom of it in one paragraph. If we shut the door on the past and forget our old ways, we risk forgetting what we were like and relapsing. If we regret the past, we will wallow in self-loathing and self-pity, and that too is a danger to sobriety. I see the three main challenges to not wanting a drink as being anger, resentment, and self-loathing.

Remember this is all preparation for the next step, the one which is for many the most fearsome of all the twelve steps.

Step 5: Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

Only with what is referred to in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous as a “fearless moral inventory” in this step can the fifth step bring all the spiritual progress it is meant to.

We can’t fully move on to better things when the past is still unresolved. We can’t fully move on while we have a single defect of character that we have not revealed and picked apart.

We can progress certainly, but if we leave anything uncovered, we are hiding the truth from ourselves, and that, for me at least, affected the way of my usefulness to myself.

So how do we approach this step, this turning point? For me, there were several things I needed to deal with while I did this step.

  • The biggest hurdle for me was becoming my chief critic for every particular area of my life. We aren’t good at taking hard looks at ourselves. It is a new experience and has to be done with the right ideal in mind for each specific matter.
  • We often use the term compassionate understanding when dealing with others. Here we need to try and apply it to ourselves. I was a sick person trying to find the right answer for my life.
  • I needed an open mind to deal with each of my own defects. Remember that, for me at least, a fact of my life is that my drinking led to self-seeking motives. The only way I could clean house and prepare for any corrective measures was to be as honest with myself as I could.
  • The other thing we need to realize is that when we get to the next step that when we reveal these failings to God, we are opening ourselves up to God’s forgiveness. The more complete our self-examinations the more broadly we open ourselves up to a spiritual awakening and the spiritual experience that the AA opens for us.
  • When I did this step, I needed to have a tolerance of others. Some of the things we recollect may involve sick people such as ourselves. When we reflect on any questionable situation in our past and feel in those situations that we were wronged, we need to ask God’s help.

Were we wronged or is it simply our view that says there was a transgression against us?

Remember that as the prayer says we had been, “selfish, dishonest, self-seeking and frightened.”

If we were indeed at the wrong end of something, then we need to seek a spirit of forgiveness and to recall our own house is not in order.

This really is where we need to bring the 4th Step Resentment Prayer to bear on our thoughts as we try to do the right thing. Later on, as we carry the message to the still suffering alcoholic, tolerance of others will stand us and those we are trying to help in good stead. It is crucial that we have a tolerant view as we seek the way of patience.

Remember that everything in this 12-step program is connected and bear in mind that in step 8 we will need to make a list of all persons we had harmed.

I think that when I first did this step was when I began to appreciate the value of the serenity prayer. I could not change the things I had done even though from the bottom of my heart I wished I could, and dear God, I needed serenity in great measure to accept that.

This is the time to start making that list of people we will need to make amends to.

We must open ourselves fully to our Higher Power in complete honesty to fully invest in the rewards of the spiritual life that starts at this point of the twelve steps. This prayer along with the other recovery prayers acts as a meditation on the meaning and requirements of the steps.

This is also the first step where the sponsor, who is also likely to be the person you admit things to in step five begins to play a huge role. Perhaps the sponsor can find a fourth-step worksheet online and work through it with you. Remember your sponsor has been where you are now and went through the same harrowing exercise as you are now.

Do not focus on comparing your past with what your sponsor was like. Do not compare it with the speakers you have heard. We are all united by our addiction to alcohol and that is the guiding principle, not who was better or worse or more addicted. The reason we are here is simple.

Step 1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.

This is not a time to try and minimize the fact by backing away and trying to feel better because someone else’s low point was lower than ours. We reached as low as we needed to before we realized that action was necessary.

The book Twelve and Twelve encourages us to write down the inventory.

Therefore, thoroughness ought to be the watchword when taking inventory. In this connection, it is wise to write out our questions and answers. It will be an aid to clear thinking and honest appraisal. It will be the first tangible evidence of our complete willingness to move forward. (p. 54)

I like the phrase “first tangible evidence of our complete willingness to move forward.” This is an indicator of just how massive this step of self-examination is on this fantastic road to becoming free of drink that cursed us and frankly resulted in hurting others.

Note: Except where specified all quotes are from the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous