Step 8: Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) recognizes that addiction affects not only the user but all relationships especially family members. It doesn’t matter whether their role was passive or aggressive. Each person has a part and the eighth of the twelve steps of AA spotlights those relationships in a two-step process. The first piece is to make a list of all persons harmed. The second element is to become willing to make amends to those persons listed.
This means looking back at all your relationships and doing a personal inventory addressing your role even when you have been harmed by others. The process can be daunting and feel overwhelming. Reflecting upon difficult times and the interactions can bring up hurtful memories and feelings of guilt, shame, disgust, hurt, and many other complicated emotions. During these times it is useful to practice self compassion, patience, and understanding. To help, you may want to use the guidance of your higher power; consult with your sponsor, a trusted friend, or a therapist to learn to set free those harmful feelings. Looking into the past is a humbling experience. It is important to let go of your pride and acknowledge your role. It takes tremendous humility to make amends with someone who may have harmed you more than you injured them. Step eight is about having the humbleness to take responsibility for your part.
In step four you began to look at your resentments, made a list of persons, and of whom you have those ill feelings toward. Step eight offers the opportunity to look at that list from another perspective. Since the principles toward willingness can feel complex and overwhelming, I have broken the process down into ten specific, achievable, and realistic goals.
Process for step Eight:
- Assess your past in manageable amounts of predetermined timeframes in a safe environment.
Set aside a chunk of time to open the doorway to a loving viewpoint for yourself and for those on your list. While accessing your past and reviewing your list from step four, give yourself the opportunity to practice self-care. You may want to start with fifteen minutes and progress to an hour or so. Do it at your own pace and when you are ready. Decide if you want to start from the most recent of times and then go backward or vice versa. There is no right or wrong way to revisit the past.
Set the environment and give yourself the proper conditions to feel safe and prepared for difficult emotions to arise. You may want to play your favorite CD. Brew a warm beverage. Sit in a comfortable chair in a well-lit area. You may want to have a box of tissues nearby. Ensure your surroundings are free from interruptions and distractions. It may mean turning off all electronic devices or going out into a secluded spot in nature. Whatever it is, make sure the atmosphere feels right to you; where you can take time to process your past. Keep a journal or notebook and write what comes up. Allow your thoughts to flow freely without judgment or ridicule.
A lot of hurtful feelings may arise. Allow for your emotions to emerge and come to the surface. It is normal to feel resentment, sadness, anger, disgust or whatever you are feeling. There is a reason why you are feeling the way you do and permit yourself the opening to feel all that materializes. Let the feelings occur while actively becoming attentive to them. Focus on the present moment, where you are right now. Don’t derail yourself by not feeling the feelings. In the moment, practice compassion and move away from opinion and criticism. Just notice, stay with the process, and if helpful write what comes to mind in your journal.
3. Make changes to move toward acceptance.
Integrate nurturing, comforting thoughts and behaviors. Surround yourself with supportive people who can help in the journey. Acceptance is allowing and understanding the process. Progression is giving yourself permission to cry, to be angry, and to feel your pain. The more you experience what you have suppressed for so many years, the more you can relinquish the past and live a gentler, more open and fulfilling present. Freedom comes after you let the feelings flow.
4. Begin to write a list of people who you have harmed.
You have already begun a list with your resentments in step four. Use the inventory to guide you to reconstruct or formulate a new list for step eight. Set your timer for how long you want to spend evaluating who is on your list. Start with fifteen minutes and progress to more time as the process becomes easier. Through the process, finalize who you want to address and acknowledge your role.
5. Evaluate how you harmed those persons.
You have completed your list for now. It is time to evaluate how you harmed those persons. What do you think you did to contribute to the conflict? What would you do differently now? How could you have looked at the situation differently at the time? What do you think the other person was feeling? What messages was their behavior indicating? What were you communicating with your behavior? Was that aligned with what you really wanted to convey? How would you act to parallel your behavior with your intent?
6. Determine your role in the wrong doings.
Decide how you played a part. What was your role in the relationship? What did you learn? What would you do differently now?
7. Establish a plan for how you would like to make amends.
At this instant, you have evaluated and deeply understand your role from multiple perspectives. Establish a plan for how you would like to make amends. You may want to make an official apology to the person. You may want to repair the relationship with an open dialogue. It is up to you to decide the best way to compensate for your role in the relationship.
To create a safe environment for discussion about the past, listen openly and without attachment. Detach yourself from the outcome and their reaction. Listen honestly and without judgment or criticism. You may want to mirror what you hear the other person saying. Try reflecting their thoughts and feelings in a short sentence starting with “I”. Try your best not to react to their words. Your goal is to mirror what they said and check in to make sure you have received the message correctly. Let the other person have an equally valid point of view. A major source of conflict is not recognizing each other’s separate existence.
There are many ways to make amends. Consult with your sponsor or trusted confidant to determine what method is right for you and that particular situation.
8. Seek advice from your sponsor or respected member of AA who has completed step eight to review your list.
You have made your list. You have determined your role. You have established a plan on how you would like to make amends. It is time to take this thorough craftsmanship of work to your sponsor, someone you respect in the AA community, or your therapist. It helps to have one person review and check your list to ensure that you are not going to do more harm than good by approaching that person in the mending process. There is no right or wrong way. Remember a person’s opinion is subjective. It is up to you to use your internal wisdom, guidance, and reflection to know what is best for you and the relationship with the person you have harmed. You are the one who has to face those on your list and have crucial conversations. Ultimately, it is up to you to decide who you want to make amends with and how you want to do so.
9. Begin the process to willingness to approach those persons and make amends.
Willingness begins with acceptance. You began working on your acceptance of the process in step three listed above. You have been able to recognize and allow hurtful parts of yourself to surface. You have hopefully offered yourself understanding and normalized that we all have components we are proud of and are not so proud of.
The darker sides are elements that may have been denied, shunned, or rejected from loved ones in the past. The more compassion, self-love, and sympathy you have for your experience and reaction that made you who you are today, the more you can accept your true self and others and their individual characteristics. When you are able to understand the origin of these mysterious sides of yourself, you can learn to integrate them into your being and use them in positive ways instead of destructive habits. Most of us have sides that split into bizarre fantasies or mean behaviors that are usually nothing more than compensations for past humiliations, wounds, or deficits. Understand they are normal. You don’t have to shun essential pieces of yourself anymore. You can consciously use them constructively. The closer you are to self-acceptance of all that you are the more willing and able you are to accept others as they are.
10. Make amends with those persons on your list.
You have completed a long, arduous, and difficult pathway into your past. You have learned to be with and release difficult emotions. You have developed more self-compassion, acceptance, and willingness to face your fears and have those essential conversations. It is time to take your dedication, all your preparation, and your hard work to good use. Now is the moment to make amends with those persons you have harmed on your list.
While making your reparation, remind yourself to practice compassion for yourself and for the other person. Allow for differentiation and acceptance of their story. It doesn’t make it right or wrong. Their opinion, thoughts, and perspectives are theirs to keep. You are there to make amends with your narrative and what you believe to be right.
The twelve steps of AA are meant to be a lifelong process and journey. As you go through each, there will be times to review certain steps again. We all have an effect on others. The steps are a guideline to awaken empathy, compassion, and understanding of those relationships. Step eight gives the opportunity to reflect and learn from the past so that we are more present, aware, and compassionate in our relationships.
“Growth and healing occur by allowing old wounds to be expressed and released in order to make room for a lighter way of being.” ~Kathryn Tull, M.A., LMFT
April Wright, MA, MFTI is a registered Marriage and Family Therapist Intern #69624 under supervision of Kathryn Tull, M.A., LMFT #44809. April holds an active and current registration with the California Board of Behavioral Sciences. April is a member of CAMFT – a professional network designed to educate, advocate and enrich its members. If you have any questions or you would like to discuss how to enhance your spiritual connection and need support in your sober process, please contact April for a free 15-minute consultation.
April Wright, M.A.