PTSD Recovery: Steps 4, 5, and 6 of the 12 Step Approach

by Jami DeLoe

Applying the 12 steps to posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) recovery is just one way that I have found to strengthen my recovery and improve my life. Because the steps that are commonly used for addiction recovery are all about learning to live life a new way, they can successfully be applied to many things other than drug addiction and alcoholism. I’ve used the 12 steps for my alcoholism, codependency, and PTSD, and I have found that if you are open-minded and willing, they really do work. Steps four, five, and six are the focus of this post about applying the 12 steps to PTSD recovery.

Applying Steps Four, Five, and Six to PTSD Recovery

Steps four, five, and six of the 12 step program are about honesty, courage, and willingness. When applied to PTSD recovery, these steps do not need to be changed from the original version:

  • Step Four – Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  • Step Five – Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  • Step Six – Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

A Closer Look at Steps Four, Five, and Six

stepsStep four asks us to take a look at our moral inventory. While the wording for this step doesn’t need to be changed to be applied to PTSD recovery, I think the way it’s worked does. Typically, this step requites us to look at our resentments and the part that we played in them. Working this step for PTSD recovery is a little bit different. For those of us who suffered trauma, it’s important for us to examine our resentments because that is the first step to forgiveness. However, we didn’t ask for the trauma that happened to us, so in most cases we don’t have a part in it. I think that the focus of this step needs to be work on resentments and looking at our character traits. What are our assets? Which of our character traits do we need to work on?

Step five is about telling our story, and that takes courage. Along with most trauma comes some measure of shame, even though in most cases it’s misplaced, so telling someone about the trauma that you suffered isn’t an easy task. That said, I have found that simply talking about what has happened to me, and how it has affected me, is extremely helpful. Getting the thoughts and feelings out of my head, and into words, has been one of the most important parts of my recovery.

Step six asks us to be willing to have God (or our higher power, whatever that is) remove our defects of character. It’s easy for us to get bogged down with negative feelings about what happened to us and about ourselves, and sometimes those negative feelings become so familiar that letting go of them is hard. I once described my negative feelings about myself as a security blanket that I wrapped around myself. I was so accustomed to the feelings that I didn’t want to give them up because they were all I knew, and the fear of the unknown was too scary. Step six is about looking at those negative feelings and character traits and just being willing to consider letting them go.

Of all of the steps, I think that working this group brings us the most peace, even though they just might be the most difficult because they require action. Looking at yourself honestly, telling your story, and letting go of the negative thoughts and traits you have is important to recovery of any kind, but I think as applied to PTSD recovery these steps are invaluable.

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