When doing step work as part of Narcotic’s Anonymous (NA), the 4th step is all about doing a personal moral inventory. This is taking a hard look at our character defects. That’s a difficult thing to do, but sometimes it is even harder to let them go once we recognize them for what they are: damaging traits that support addictive behaviors and hinder recovery.
Early recovery work from drug addiction means writing down that inventory. But what do you do when you have a list that often highlights secrets, painful memories, and ways we’ve damaged ourselves and others? Many people continue to hold on to character defects, not knowing what else to do. Four of the most common reasons that we all hold on to a character defect are:
- Not recognizing the knee-jerk reaction when our character defect takes over
- Not knowing what else to replace it with
- Not knowing what life would look like without it
- It feels familiar, and the unfamiliar is unchartered and uncomfortable territory
How to Stop Holding on to Character Defects
Character defects on autopilot mean that they are the default stance when a negative situation arises. Depending on a person’s character defect, this may mean reacting with anger, resentment, or fear. By learning to react less to problems that come along, someone is able to turn their character defect into positions of power. This is an important part of what inpatient drug rehab, and the recovery period, is all about. It doesn’t mean that the character defects go completely away, but that they are recognized, and reacted to in a positive way, and not a damaging one.
Strength during recovery comes about by developing character assets that can counteract and override the character defects that have been present for years or decades. This isn’t something that happens overnight. It is a long-term process that involves failures before more and more successes take place. Part of therapy, or group support in NA, is talking about what is working, and what isn’t. Often recovery peers help a person see what their character assets are, by holding up a positive mirror.
Holding on to what feels familiar is another reason that character defects remain strong and active, even though it is causing internal and external pain and damage. Taking an inventory about positive character assets, and then slowly pausing, and reacting from the asset, is another way that someone can continue building both relapse and recovery skills. Just as all people have personal character defects, they also have assets that can be used as powerful tools. Even though these assets may feel strange to use at first, especially when they’ve gone unrecognized or unused for a long time.
Character assets are as powerful as character defects are damaging. Learning to hold on to the assets can be learned, so don’t give up, and give yourself the time and patience that it requires, and accept the support that helps this life-changer!