No, you don’t have any defects of character.

OK, so I’ve mentioned many times before that I don’t believe in the 12 steps. But years ago, I did have to sit through meetings and an outpatient program because a court order insisted that I do so. I had to “show progress” which meant going along with the bullshit, an uncomfortable ordeal. Fortunately I took part when I was already over a year clean, but what made it difficult was to have to be quiet about my disagreement with the program.

In the NA 12 steps, step 5 is, “We were entirely ready to have god remove all these defects of character.” Eeuw. Firstly, I don’t even accept step one, so I get nowhere near to thinking about step 5 personally. But it irks me that so many take these things seriously.

According to the top result on Google right now, defects of character entail:

  • Resentment, Anger
  • Fear, Cowardice
  • Self pity
  • Select importance, egotism
  • Self-condemnation, guilt
  • Lying, evasiveness, dishonesty
  • Impatience

The list goes on but since it is bullshit, I didn’t read past the preview limit. I presume those are just examples, but for argument’s sake, let us examine all those “defects” before getting down to thinking about why the idea of character defects itself is harmful.

Resentment, anger

We all feel resentment and anger. Those are emotions. Let’s say I walk down the street and someone tries to rob me. I’ll be angry. I’ll resent that someone thinks he is entitled to take my money that I worked for. Depending on the circumstances, I may in the moment act on that anger. I’ve done it before. I hurt the two wannabe muggers and ran away. If there’s only one, and I think I can, I might even mug the mugger. I can’t guarantee he won’t go to hospital. Sometimes anger is justified. Sometimes violence is called for.

Fear, cowardice

Fear is normal. Being afraid is a good thing. Cowardice, on the other hand, is nothing more than a word we use to manipulate others who are afraid. It’s something that people use to attack other people (with words), not a real thing at all. For example, a politician may call another politician a coward to make himself look like a better candidate; a manipulator may try to convince a person that the person is cowardly because he is offering some kind of service that they don’t need. In both my examples, cowardice is not a real attribute of the victim, but rather is something abstract that can be used by a manipulator/abuser.

Self pity

Again, this may be unhealthy, but it can be normal. Ever been depressed? Ever felt shame for what you have done?

Self justification

Everybody does this. Excessively it might be problematic, but again, this is normal and this list is getting silly.

Self importance, egotism

Self-love is important. A little bit of healthy narcissism is good for you. Don’t go all Donald Trump and insist you are right and everybody else is wrong, or insist on having greater expertise than experts when you don’t know anything on the subject of their expertise, but there’s nothing wrong with a healthy ego.

Self condemnation, guilt

Remorse is a good thing. To regret our past actions and feel guilty for our poor choices is natural. Being too driven by guilt is probably unhealthy, but this is something that can be worked on with therapy, not involving a belief in god or other magical thinking.

Lying, evasiveness, dishonesty

We all lie. If you insist that you do not, that is itself a lie. Deceit, while sometimes being harmful, can also be useful. Thinking back to that outpatient program I had to attend because of a court order… If I’d been honest in group meetings, if I said what I really thought about their higher power beliefs,  I would not have passed the program. I had to tread a fine line of “showing progress” and fitting in, while also reserving my honestly only for those poor sods who asked me to be their sponsor. I had to tell them I couldn’t do that because I don’t believe in the program, and do not really follow the 12 steps myself. But in meetings, I had to be deceitful.

Impatience

What the fuck, man? I’ve been impatient my whole life. It’s something I work on constantly and I have it down to only being a thing where I get annoyed at a queue at the DMV or whatever, and don’t allow myself to take it out on anyone else… That’s about being self-aware as well as aware of others because our interactions can and do negatively affect others if we are not careful – but nothing to do with a defect of character.


If you don’t like my realistic and sensible approach to recovery, here’s an article I found on this same subject, while researching writing this post, from the credulous, gullible, magical thinking other side.

Those are all characteristics, emotions, psychological behaviours and habits… Some of them are common. Some of them are universal. Assuming a correlation between any of them and behaviour that led to addiction is a slippery slope, unless some kind of expert such as a psychologist explains to you that you have a problem with any of them. None of those things are even necessarily problems. We are all different, all complex individuals who have different underlying emotions and thoughts, and also weaknesses as well as strengths. I’d rather call problematic habits or feelings weaknesses, because a weakness is something you can work on. Weaknesses can be turned into strengths.

But invoking a god and praying that he removes them? That’s dodgy. It plays into the despicable narrative of Christianity, the one that claims you are born in sin and shame, and need Jesus to be “fixed”. You don’t. You’re not broken. And praying is just magical thinking. It might be a convenient placebo for some people, but it doesn’t work for everybody. It sure as shit didn’t work for me.

Anyway, this is one of the many reasons why I despise 12 step programs. Thanks for reading…

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