Step 5: Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another person the exact nature of our wrongs.
Principles: Vulnerability vs. Fortification
In the fifth step, the “exact nature” of the dis-eased individual’s wrongs will be revealed, meaning, what is the source of the wrong behavior(s). Although the person may have begun to see some of their patterns themselves as they were writing the inventory, it is in this step that the listener to the inventory plays an essential role. The term ‘wrong’ creates difficulties for many addicts in this process, and can lead to the fortification of defensive mechanisms, especially for those individuals that have been the target of abuse as very young children. Many of them have carried an unconscious guilt that they were to blame for the abuse (in many cases they may have been told that by the perpetrator or other significant adults). “How”, they ask, “am I to blame for what happened?”
It is imperative to help them to differentiate between what was done to them, and what they did internally with the experience. As a child, they are never responsible for what an adult or older child, did to them. It is the main time when we are truly victims of other people and circumstances, and none of the steps are about taking responsibility for things we are not responsible for. In this step, what is being explored is what happened internally that has caused them continued difficulties in spite of the fact that the incident may have happened many years before. The very act of reading the inventory places the person in an extremely vulnerable position, one which by their previous experience(s), is not a position they care to be in, and one in which a new experience is sorely needed. Therefore, providing the addicted individual has been fearless and thorough and doesn’t hold anything back during the reading, the courage needed to complete the step indicates that a real change has begun to take place in the person, and does nearly as much to help the individual in their recovery as what they actually find out from the process.
In spite of that, let me state emphatically, that the listener to the inventory holds an enormous responsibility for helping the addict have a new experience with vulnerability whether the listener is a sponsor, a clergyman or woman, or a therapist. Self-disclosure, which can be a vital part of this process is more likely to happen with a sponsor who has gone through this step themselves although an appropriate amount of self- disclosure can be given by a clergy or therapist, while a therapist can also talk more about what is normal and what is dysfunctional.
In all psychotherapy, healthy modeling and mirroring by the therapist is expected and is known to contribute to the progress of the patient. However, in most therapeutic relationships, information such as that in the inventory, is given to the therapist piecemeal, and the client measures the character of the therapist at each new level of vulnerability. Therefore, if the therapist makes a mistake, although it may have a very negative effect initially on the client, it is hoped that over time the effect will be repaired. In listening to an inventory, a large amount of very emotionally charged information will be given at one time (the fifth step should be completed in one session whenever possible), and the response of the clinician, or lack of one, may have grave emotional consequences for the addict. It is very helpful, but not absolutely necessary, if the practitioner has completed some form of a fourth and fifth step themselves. Whether the clinician has done so or not, it will be of utmost importance that they convey to the client that the client has been heard, has not been judged (no matter what was revealed), and that the listener has been able to help the addicted person identify their exact wrongs and knows what to do about it.
The confessing of one’s difficulties or problems has long been held in high regard, and in a sense, is the principle behind all talk therapy. This practice of revealing oneself to another person and being affirmed, validated, and ultimately loved, is vital to the emotional well being of all humans. The other very important result of this step is the bringing into consciousness awareness those unconscious beliefs and behavior patterns that have been buried away, to discard those that don’t serve the health of the individual, and allow for others to be restructured or replaced all together. In the 12 steps, the restructuring and replacement begins in the sixth step.