Gary S. Fisher, Psy. D., C.A.D.C.

healing, integration, authenticity

Step 8: Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

Principles: Responsibility vs. Blaming

The eighth step list comes directly from the fourth step inventory, although names may be added as the individual remembers more about their past. While there may be a tendency for some people to want to list every single person they ever knew, since they must have hurt them somehow just by knowing them, this is simply a function of an overinflated ego, which hopefully will be moderated by the 7th step work. It will be important to separate those that were hurt, from those that were harmed (individuals that were harmed also have been hurt, but it is the harm that is of primary importance in this step). In order to do that, it will be important to look at the difference between hurt and harm.

The main difference between hurt and harm has to do with intention. Harm always contains hurt feelings but hurt doesn’t always contain harm. To be more specific, I define hurt as the emotion(s) experienced by another individual because of something I have said or done. In terms of hurt versus harm, this is usually not the result of one intentionally setting out to hurt the other person, and can, in most instances, be cleared up with a sincere apology once the hurt feelings have been recognized or spoken about. Harm, on the other hand, is the result of conscious intention, either in seeking any form of revenge or pay-back, or as a result of doing something that the individual senses (or may even consciously know) is wrong, but which the individual does to get what they want regardless of its effect on the other person (e.g., stealing money from a loved one to buy drugs, lying to deceive someone and allow a specific behavior to continue). The harm may not be felt as a clear emotional reaction to the behavior sometimes due to a lack of awareness that one is being deceived in that moment, which is why it can be so devastating.

Sometimes the behavior causing harm can be very subtle. For example, an individual (let’s call him Tom) is in a relationship with Toni that he doesn’t really want to be in. Tom is not warm and intimate with Toni, but when that Toni asks what’s wrong, Tom says that nothing is wrong, or blames it on stress at work, etc. Away from the relationship, he talks about wanting out, but “doesn’t want to hurt Toni,” and also is unwilling to get out because Toni is helping to support him financially. This causes harm to Toni in that it creates doubt within Toni about Toni’s own intuition and feelings. Whenever an individual says or does something that creates self-doubt, self-recrimination, etc., in the other person, when in fact the other person is correct in their feelings, hunches, etc., that is one significant form of harm as a result of dishonesty.

Would Tom breaking up with Toni cause Toni to be hurt? Yes it would, but it is a hurt that would heal, and that, for the most part, leaves that person’s self-concept intact, as long as the one leaving the relationship was honest about why they were leaving (e.g., did not feel the same depth of feeling that the other individual did, and did not want to lead them on about their potential future). Essentially, anytime an individual is acting out of a character defect, the possibility of causing harm to others is ever present.

It is within this step, as the individual becomes willing to make amends, that he or she begins to take responsibility for their part in their interactions with others. The honesty of the 4th and 5th steps allows the person to look at the real motives for their behavior(s). As he or she begins to look at their character defects, as well as their shortcomings, and how acting out of the defects has affected those they care the most about, a sincere desire to set things right begins to bring itself to their awareness. This is only possible as a result of the work they have been doing in the 7th step for the past 30 days or more. As the individual prays for their shortcomings to be removed, and as they focus their attention on acting differently, the hope in the 7th step takes seed and begins to grow in them. This hope becomes a deep-seated belief that they are not so far gone or so horrible a person, as they believed themselves to be, and that whatever they have done, can in effect, be repaired, if they are willing to do whatever it takes to make amends for the harm they have caused.

I have personally watched this process take place for individuals who have committed everything from child abuse to murder. The belief that what they have done is irreparable keeps many addicts from beginning the healing process, and in essence, perpetuates the harmful behavior, reinforcing the “badness” of the individual. In most instances, this manifests itself in blaming the other person for one’s own behavior, since to take responsibility for the behavior within a belief system that holds no hope of salvation, is intolerable to the individual.