Step of the Month: Step 6

  1. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

To do Step 6 effectively, we need to know what a defect of character actually is. After all, how can we get rid of something if we don’t know where to look for it? As the AA Twelve and Twelve tells us, our defects are simply natural drives that have been taken to extremes in the course of our illness. That’s good news since it means that we suffer the same defects as every other human being. But it’s a challenge because we don’t remember a time when those drives weren’t so overpowering that the considerable abilities of self-reflection and self-control that all humans have been granted could be used to tame them.

The same AA Twelve and Twelve uses as a framework for discussion the seven deadly sins, or PAGGLES: Pride, Anger, Greed, Gluttony, Lust, Envy, Sloth. In the early 1950s, these provided a very familiar set of defects. Today, with fewer of us identifying as religious, these characteristics may feel alien. For the moment, however, we can draw an important inference from that list. We might notice that none of them is a verb. We don’t see Judging, Yelling, Hoarding, Eating, Whoring, Shunning, or Lazing for example. Defects and effects are two different things.

Defects are traits, characteristics, or states of being. They are descriptors. That list of actions, however, are the behavioral results of our defects. The Big Book suggests that, for each resentment, we examine where we have been selfish, dishonest, self-seeking, and afraid. Those four items represent our core character defects. All our addiction-centered behaviors and attitudes can ultimately be filed under them, especially under self-seeking, which is what we did to get what we wanted or feel better.

So moving away from the seven deadlies, especially for those of us without a strong religious identity, we can identify our character defects as those traits inside us that lead to our worst behaviors. And the Big Book helpfully reduces them to selfishness, dishonesty, self-seeking, and fear.

  • Selfishness: What did I want? Or, an overwhelming drive that I couldn’t control.
  • Dishonesty: What was the lie I told myself? Or, an untruth I used to justify my behavior.
  • Self-Seeking: What did I do to get what I wanted or feel better? Or, the actions I took that resulted from a willingness to indulge my selfishness.
  • Fear: What was I afraid of? Or, what fear motivated my selfishness, dishonesty, and self-seeking in the first place?

To demonstrate the difference between defects and effects, we might think about an action such as gossiping. Gossiping, itself, is not a defect of character. It is a self-seeking behavior. We were willing, for example, to indulge our underlying fear that someone else was getting ahead or acting against our interest, so we gossiped about them. The same goes for cruelty, hitting another person, or compulsively eating. They are all behavior responses enabled by our character defects.

When, in Step 6, we become ready to let God remove all our defects of character, we may want to take a moment to consider what that means. It’s not just that we want HP to make us stop binging. It’s that we want our Higher Power to remove or remedy those conditions inside us that have proven over time to lead inevitably to overeating. We want not merely relief but total change. If those defects are on-ramps to compulsive-eating, we want God to close those entrances and reroute us to the superhighway of an abstinent, spiritual life.