Step 8: Self-Satisfaction is Not My True Objective

Contributor: Life Healing Center clinical content team member Hugh C. McBride.

couple sitting on wall in rome“We made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.” The previous sentence is Step 8 in the 12-Step model of addiction recovery.

This step can be an intimidating process for many reasons, not the least of which is because it requires the individual to take an honest and unflinching look at him or herself, while simultaneously understanding that the essence of this step is placing the needs of others before his or her own wants, needs, or desires.

In Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions (which is commonly referred to as “The Big Book” of Alcoholics Anonymous), AA co-founder Bill W. writes that Step 8 is when “we go out to our fellows and repair the damage done in the past. We attempt to sweep away the debris which has accumulated out of our effort to live on self-will and run the show ourselves. If we haven’t the will to do this, we ask until it comes.”

On its face, Step 8 appears to be, if not simple, at least straightforward. First, the individual in recovery makes a list of all the people who he or she had harmed as a result of his or her addiction. This harkens back to Step 4, which involves making a searching and fearless moral inventory of oneself.

While Steps 4 and 8 both require the individual in recovery to look both inward and outward, the emphasis in Step 4 is much more of an introspective endeavor, while Step 8 demands an external focus on the many ways that one’s actions may have negatively impacted others.

Make Amends to Them All in Step 8

Where Step 8 gets a bit trickier is in the final clause, “and became willing to make amends to them all.” Embracing the power and limitations of these words is central to understanding the essential demand of this step: that the recovering individual truly focus on those who he or she has harmed.

butterflyBill W. also addressed this in Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions. “The moment we ponder a twisted and broken relationship with another person, our emotions go on the defensive. To escape looking at the wrongs we have done another, we resentfully focus on the wrong he has done us.

This is especially true if he has, in fact, behaved badly at all,” he wrote. “Triumphantly we seize upon his misbehavior as the perfect excuse for minimizing or forgetting our own. Right here we need to fetch ourselves up sharply.… If we are now about to ask forgiveness for ourselves, why shouldn’t we start out by forgiving them, one and all?”

Though the Twelve Steps were originally written for individuals who were struggling with alcoholism, they have been adapted and applied to a variety of other addictions and behavioral compulsions, including but not limited to addictions to other drugs, compulsive gambling, overeating, and sex/love addiction.

12 Steps And Sex Addiction

Mature Man Comforting Woman With Step 8Individuals who are following the Twelve Steps in recovery from sex addiction may find Step 8 to be a particular challenge, especially when the desire to experience the self-satisfaction of being forgiven is opposed by the realization that requesting forgiveness may inflict additional pain on a person who has been previously harmed by the addicted individual’s actions. This takes us back to the concept of being willing to make amends.

The sad reality is that, regardless of how deeply an individual may desire to make up for the harm that he or she has caused to another person, this may not always be possible. One should always be willing to make amends, but one should also understand that making amends is more than merely asking for forgiveness, and one should be wise and empathetic enough to realize that in certain cases, the most compassionate action is not to act at all.

For example, the behaviors associated with sex addiction are often intertwined with deception, manipulation, and unfaithfulness. If a person who has been struggling with sex addiction is married or otherwise involved in a committed relationship, his or her spouse or partner is quite likely to have been harmed by his or her actions.

Is Step 8 Too Honest?

But while it is important for partners and other loved ones to be involved in a person’s recovery from sex addiction, confessing every detail of one’s actions or the depths of one’s deceptions may inflict greater pain on the person who has already been harmed. In such cases, asking for forgiveness and offering to make amends would prioritize the needs of the recovering individual over the continued well-being of the person who has already been harmed.

Couple hugging and watching sunset on the beachBill W. discusses this reality when writing about Step 9 in Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions. “There can only be one consideration which should qualify our desire for a complete disclosure of the damage we have done,” he writes. “That will arise in the occasional situation where to make a full revelation would seriously harm the one to whom we are making amends. Or – quite as important – other people.”

The path of recovery is filled with detours and obstacles, as individuals attempt to atone for their past misdeeds while pursuing a more honorable and accountable future. In many cases, these efforts align with each other, but in some instances this is clearly not the case. While there is no single right answer that can be applied to all such situations, it is always advisable to consider whether taking an action will increase one’s self-satisfaction at the expense of another’s well-being.

When in doubt as how best to proceed when completing Step 8, it may be wise consider the Latin phrase that has come to be a founding principle of modern medicine: Primum non nocere. First, do no harm.

About the Author:

Hugh C. McBride has several years of experience researching and writing on a wide range of topics related to behavioral healthcare. He has a Bachelor of Arts degree from Grove City College.

About Life Healing Center:

Located in the Sangre de Cristo foothills overlooking beautiful Santa Fe, New Mexico, Life Healing Center is a place of personal transformation for adults aged 18 and above who are struggling with trauma, chemical dependency, intimacy disorders, and co-occurring psychiatric disorders. Treatment at Life Healing Center is a holistic experience in which time-tested techniques and emerging therapeutic methodologies are combined into a clinically sophisticated approach that addresses each patient’s physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual needs. Care is provided by a board-certified psychiatrist, master’s level therapists, licensed drug and alcohol counselors, certified sex addiction therapists, nurses, clinical technicians, and contracted ancillary service providers.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from multiple physical, emotional, environmental, and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on November 5, 2015
Reviewed and Updated by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on January 6, 2021
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