“Made a List of All Persons We had Harmed, and Became Willing to Make Amends to Them All”
Before entering the Twelve-Step Program, many of us blamed our parents, relatives, and friends for the turmoil in our lives. We even held God responsible. In Step Eight, we begin the process of releasing the need to blame others for our misfortune, and accepting full responsibility for our own lives. Our Fourth Step inventory revealed that our inappropriate behavior caused injury, not only to us, but also to the significant others in our lives. Now we must prepare to accept full responsibility, and make amends.
Steps One through Seven helped us to center ourselves in the healing power of the Twelve Steps. We were given the tools to examine our personal experiences, and to see the importance of letting go of the past. We were freed to continue our personal growth by facing our history, and putting it behind us. Like barnacles on a ships hull, our past wrongdoing can prevent us from sailing smoothly to a life filled with peace.
Working Steps Eight and Nine will improve our relationships, both with ourselves, and with others. These steps also invite us to leave behind our isolation and loneliness. The key factor here is our willingness to make amends to people we had harmed. As we continue to welcome our Higher Powers presence in our hearts, we will develop a new openness with others. This openness will prepare us for the face-to-face amends to follow. In Step Eight, we examine each past misdeed, and identify the persons involved. Our intention is to make amends, and heal our past so that God can transform the present.
Reviewing our Fourth Step inventory will help us determine who belongs on our list. Making amends is a difficult step – one that we will execute with increasing skill, yet never really finish. Again, uncomfortable feelings may surface as we come to grips with our past behaviors. As we recognize the damage caused by our actions, we realize what a great relief waits us when we no longer cause injury to others, or ourselves.
For many of us, admitting our misdeeds and making the necessary amends will be difficult. The pattern of our lives has been to blame others, and seek retribution for the wrongs done to us. We look at ourselves, we see that the retribution we vainly sought only created more havoc. By insisting on our own measure of justice, we lost the ability to set and achieve positive goals. Cycles of hatred and hard feelings were created, and we kept our attention focused away from our own wrongs.
Forgiving other and ourselves helps us overcome our resentments. Our Higher Power has already forgiven us for the harmful actions that kept us alienated from God. Developing the ability to forgive ourselves is an important element in our ongoing recovery. The ability to forgive others is essential. Amends without forgiveness leads to dishonesty, and further complicate our lives.
To repair our past wrongdoing, we must be willing to face those wrongs by recording the harm we think we have caused. When preparing the list of people we have harmed, it is best to keep our thoughts directed toward making things right. Although our intentions may be rebuffed, our desire is to obey God, and find healing. People on our list may feel bitter toward us, and resist our attempts at restitution. They may hold deep grudges, and be unwilling to reconcile with us. No matter how we are received, we must be willing to proceed with our amends. The amends we make are principally for our own benefit, not the benefit of those we have harmed.
The following are three main categories in which we may have caused harm, and for which we must be willing to make amends;
Material wrongs; Actions that affected an individual in a tangible way, including: borrowing or spending extravagance, stinginess, spending in an attempt to buy friendship or love, withholding money in order to gratify yourself. Entering agreements that are legally enforceable, then refusing to abide by the terms, or simply cheating. Injuring or damaging persons or property because of our actions.
Moral wrongs; Inappropriate behavior in moral or ethical actions and conduct, including questions of rightness, fairness, or equity. The principal issue is involving others in our wrongdoing: setting a bad example for children, friends or anyone whom looks to us for guidance. Being preoccupied with selfish pursuits, and totally unaware of the needs of others. Forgetting birthdays, holidays, or other special occasions. Inflicting moral harm (i.e. sexual infidelity, broken promises, verbal abuse, and lack of trust, lying).
Spiritual wrongs; “Acts of omission” by neglecting our obligations to God, to ourselves, to family, and to community. Making no effort to fulfill our obligations and showing no gratitude toward others who have helped us. Avoiding self-development (i.e. health, education, recreation, and creativity). Being inattentive to others in our lives by showing a lack of encouragement to them.
Step Eight begins the process of healing damaged relationships through our willingness to make amends for past misdeeds. We can let go of our resentments and start to overcome the guilt, shame, and low self-esteem we have found through our harmful actions. We can leave behind the gray, angry world of loneliness, and move toward a bright future by exercising our willingness to make things right. Through the gifts of Gods work, and the Twelve Steps, we have the necessary tools to overcome past wreckage, and mend our broken relationships.
To find fulfillment in recovery, we first learn to identify our feelings of guilt, shame, resentment, and low self-worth. Once we identify these feelings, we then ask our Higher Power for help in removing them. This may seem like an awesome task, because we probably have been controlled by these negative feelings for as long as we can remember. Now, for the first time, we have an opportunity to experience a sense of personal integrity, and self-authority, by working the steps. We can put faith and trust in this process, because it has worked miracles for millions of people.
The first part of Step Eight specifically states that we list those persons whom we have harmed. When making this list, many of us may encounter a wall of resistance. It can be a severe shock to realize that we must make face-to-face admissions of our past wrongs to those with whom we had conflict. It was humiliating enough to admit our wrongs to God, to ourselves, and to another human being in Step Five. In Step Nine, we will actually make direct contact with the people concerned.
We start Step Eight by making a list of the people with whom we feel uncomfortable. We make the list without being concerned about the details; simply making the list enables us to follow where our mind takes us. The list may include family members, business associates, friends, creditors, and neighbors. Its length is not important, yet the list may reveal a somewhat unrealistic view of what we believe to be the power of our own personal influence. Step Eight prepares us for the ongoing process of healing that this program offers. Our willingness to risk honesty enables the healing to take place.
Step Eight asks that we face the truth of our behavior, and become willing to make amends. We should be prepared to willingly accept the consequences, and take whatever measures necessary to make restitution. This means acknowledging our part in the circumstances where someone was harmed as a result of our behavior. Accepting responsibility, and making appropriate restitution, are vitally important activities. Only through expressing genuine regret for our behavior can we complete the housecleaning necessary for putting the past behind us, and achieving the peace and serenity we desire, and deserve.
Willingness is a key element in completing Step Eight. Being willing to forgive ourselves and those who have caused us harm is an important aspect of this process. This may require a great deal of humility from us. We are already aware that having resentments, and holding grudges, are luxuries we cannot afford – they not only destroy our serenity and well-being, but they are more harmful o us than the persons we resent. Harboring a resentment or grudge is like having an open wound eating away at us. It causes discomfort and makes us angry, bitter, and ill-tempered. These feelings can deplete our energy, making it difficult for others to be in our presence.
Occasionally we will be prevented from facing the people on our list directly. They may be deceased, separated from us, or unwilling to meet with us. Whatever the situation, we will need to put them on our list. When we make the amends in Step Nine we will see why amends are necessary, even if they cannot be made face-to-face. Being willing to make amends will release us from hard feelings, and enable us to experience serenity, and peace of mind.
When looking at those persons we have harmed, we see how are character defects have played a major part in sabotaging our lives, and our relationships. For example:
• When we became angry, we often harmed ourselves more than others. This may have resulted in feelings of depression or self-pity.
• Persistent financial problems resulting from our irresponsible actions caused difficulty with our family and creditors.
• When confronted with an issue, about which we felt guilty, we lashed out at others instead of looking honestly at ourselves.
• Frustrated by our lack of control, we behaved aggressively and intimidated those around us.
• Because of our indiscriminate sexual behavior, true intimacy was impossible to achieve or maintain.
• Our fear of abandonment sometimes destroyed our relationships, because we did not allow others to be themselves. We created dependency and attempted to control their behavior by trying to maintain the relationship we wanted.
• Why is forgiving yourself an important factor in making amends?
In Step Nine, we seek out the people we have harmed, and make amends wherever necessary. For now, all we need to do is list them and describe the harmful behavior. The consequences of our actions may have produced emotional, financial, or physical pain for others. We need to take as much time as necessary to reflect on our list, and be as thorough as possible. Being totally honest with ourselves is a major factor in our ability to make restitution for our past destructive actions.
Preparing For Fellowship
Amends: Within the context of the Twelve-Step program, the idea of amends is broadly defined as “repairing damage from the past.” Amends can be as simple as an apology, or as complex as restitution for physical or financial liability.
Forgiveness: Forgiveness is a key part to Step Eight. Hen we work this step, and begin to make a list of people we have harmed, we immediately think about how others have harmed us. Perhaps this reaction is a defense mechanism – a way to avoid admitting guilt. It doesn’t matter why we feel this way; what matters is that we deal with it. We need to forgive those who have hurt s so we can also be forgiven.