Character Defects

Recovery from addiction using a Twelve-Step model suggests that real freedom requires dealing with character defects that interfere with your relationship with God (if appropriate), your fellow human beings, and yourself.

Moral Inventory

The early members of AA began this process with a moral inventory and confession, adopted from the Oxford Group principles from which AA developed. Today it is done by using Steps Four, Five, Six, and Seven. The purpose is to identify and help eliminate those aspects of character that interfere with one’s spiritual growth.


The Big Book mentions resentment and fear as character defects that seemed particularly troublesome. By the time the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions was written, AA had the benefit of several more years of experience in identifying problem areas. Bill Wilson began his discussion of character defects with the idea that instinctive drives for security, food, and sex were normal and healthy. Problems occurred when such drives were distorted and exaggerated. He believed that this distortion was often the basis of the drive to drink. So defects had to be faced fearlessly.

Relief from Shame

The suggestion that addicts inventory their character defects was never meant to contribute to a person’s shame or worthlessness. Quite the contrary. The love, tolerance, and compassion of those who have done so before is witness to the value of the suggested step. In writings on this Step in any fellowship modeling AA you will find an underlying tone of gentleness and encouragement.

Specific Defects

AA began by talking about the Seven Deadly Sins: pride, greed, lust, anger, gluttony, envy, and sloth. These characteristics, when exaggerated, can easily interfere with your freedom and peace of mind. Others Bill wrote about later were rebellion, self-righteousness, laziness, irresponsibility, foolish rationalizations, outright dishonesty, wrong dependencies, and destructive power driving.


There are also natural feelings that when developed into attitudes can become troublesome. Anger is a natural, normal feeling, but when it becomes an attitude all you see is an angry person. The same can be said of feelings like self-pity, impatience, intolerance, inferiority, guilt, fear, or depression.

It is common for addicts to realize that their disease has resulted in many characteristics that are not useful in recovery. Self-centeredness, dishonesty, and fear can often be seen to underlie many of these problems. An honest self-searching can help you begin to identify those things that will block you from the sunlight of the spirit.

Survival Skills

It is important to mention here that some of your attitudes probably developed as survival mechanisms — for example anger used to protect yourself if your home was not a safe place.

From the start, people in AA were aware that something had motivated them to have a distorted sense of values and worth. You may need to look at the dysfunction in your family of origin to find where some of your values and behaviors came from.


The key is to examine your past fearlessly, not for blame but for understanding. See how certain attitudes helped you survive. Give yourself credit for the strengths you have. Be willing to let go of those things you no longer need that will interfere with your ability to have freedom, joy, and meaning in your life.

Turn Negatives into Positives

Character defects can be transformed into positive characteristics. Guilt can help you develop a keen sense of honesty and integrity. Fear can be replaced by a healthy caution, courage, and faith. Shyness can be changed into courteous assertiveness. In giving up a resentment you can gain strength and humility, and experience forgiveness.

It is easier to look at the positive benefits of working through your character defects than to focus on how inadequate you are. Also, your imperfections make you human. Changing them shows your courage. After you have worked on your own character defects you can better share with and help others. The use of the Steps, the fellowship, and a Higher Power (or Program is the best way we know to do this.

Character defects, see also: Acceptance, Amends, Anger, Assertiveness, Attitudes, Behavior, Body image, Defenses, Fear, Feelings, Forgiveness, Guilt & shame, Inventory, Money, Perfectionism, Program, Resentments, Responsibility, Self-centeredness, Slogans, Spending, Step Four, Step Six, Survival roles.

Updated 11 Sep 2015

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Addictionary 2 by Jan & Judy Wilson

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