Step 8 reads as follows:
Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.
All of the steps from step 4 onward are concerned with interpersonal relations – how you interact in the wider world, including the pain you’ve caused and what you can do about it. The process, essentially, is:
- Look back on your life and see where you have caused problems for yourself and others.
- Make a vigorous attempt to repair the damage you have done.
- Live differently in the future.
Step 8, coupled with step 9, is the middle portion of this procedure – making a vigorous attempt to repair the damage you have done.
The first part of step 8 is compiling a list of the people you have harmed, not forgetting to include yourself on the list. Reviewing your step 4 inventory is a great place to start when compiling this list. Most of the names on that list will also appear on your step 8 list, but some may not, and new ones will likely be added.
Typically, this list includes more than just the injured person’s (or institution’s) name. You should also write the specifics of the harm done, along with how the aggrieved party reacted to the situation (anger, fear, distrust, depression, etc.) After you’ve written down who you’ve harmed and how, you should add your current feelings about the situation, acknowledging emotions like guilt and shame along with any lingering anger or resentments you may have. Next, you should examine your motives for making the amends. If your goal is simply looking good in the eyes of others, you’re probably not yet willing (the second part of step 8) to make that particular amends. Finally, you should list the type of amends you can make for each of the harms you’ve perpetrated.
Sometimes the amends you propose will be as simple as admitting what you did, saying “I’m sorry,” and not repeating the offense. Other slights may require a financial payment or some other tangible recompense on your part. It may be that the person you have victimized is no longer living or that the situation (theirs or yours) is such that further interaction might cause additional damage. In such cases, the best possible amends may be privately vowing to live differently in the future and then actually doing so.
For many recovering addicts, the second half of step 8 – becoming willing to make amends – is tougher than actually compiling the list. And when you think about it, this is perfectly natural. The simple truth is many of the people on your list have, at some point, behaved badly toward you, making it very easy to seize upon their wrongdoings as a way to excuse your own poor behavior. If you find yourself doing that, don’t beat yourself up over it. Just recognize your feelings and remind yourself that step 8 is not about them; it’s about you. You’re working the 12 steps for your recovery, not theirs.
Recovering addicts sometimes struggle for days, weeks, months, or even years before they find the requisite willingness to make a proper amends. If you find yourself battling old anger and resentments in this way, it is wise to discuss the issue with your sponsor, therapist, or spiritual advisor. An old 12-step trick that I suggest when working with my sponsees is praying (as sincerely as possible) for the other person’s health and well-being every morning and night for two weeks. Most people find that doing this greatly diminishes lingering resentments. Positive affirmations are also helpful. A few general affirmations that I have found useful are:
- I am willing to take responsibility for my actions, regardless of the actions of others.
- I am open to the lessons I can learn from making amends.
- I understand and accept that making amends is a necessary part of my recovery.
More specific affirmations can be even more helpful, such as: “I am no longer angry with X, and I am willing to make amends to him/her for my behavior.” Usually, if you say this enough, you’ll start to believe it.
The most important thing to know about step 8 is that this is not the point at which you actually make the amends. That’s step 9, and step 9 should never be taken without first discussing your step 8 list and proposed amends with your sponsor, therapist, or spiritual advisor. Jumping the gun and making amends before the time is right often causes more problems – problems that later require even more amends. So be patient, make your list, and then discuss it before proceeding.
In next week’s post to this site, we will continue our discussion of the 12 steps with an examination of step 9.