The Root of the Problem: Defects

“At 30, a man should know himself like the palm of his hand, know the exact number of his defects and qualities, know how far he can go, foretell his failures- be what he is. And, above all, accept these things.” – Albert Camus

There were so many things I have been ashamed of both in active addiction and in my stumbles in recovery in my journey. Most human beings have an aspect of themselves that they find terrifying, shameful, and unacceptable. Whether these are behaviors or thoughts, usually both, they can be traced to the definition of defects of character. The 12 steps are a process in the development of character. If steps six and even are the most significant change steps as so commonly referred to in the rooms, it must mean that the steps are about the development of character. Loosely defined as a character defect is something missing from a person for them to be complete. Many often ask what the difference between a defect of character and a shortcoming is. The founder of A.A. was clear when asked this and said they are the same in the context he was using. He simply didn’t want to repeat the word in back to back steps.

Four Cardinal Defects

According to the original version of the steps in the literature, there are four cardinal defects: Selfishness, dishonesty, resentment, and fear. All defects stem from these and are different tributaries from this river. Bill W. would later expand this list and us the seven deadly sins as a list of defects. Many lists can be found from religious traditions to clinical settings, understanding the cardinal four is a very effective start, if not all-inclusive.


Dishonesty is easy. Honesty takes work. Our eyes tell us the sun rises out of the ocean. It doesn’t, the earth revolves. It feels as if we are still when sitting, we are not. The earth is traveling at almost 1,000 miles an hour, and so are we. So if our actual bodies deceive us, how could the mind not? The greatest lies we tell are the ones we tell ourselves. Every time we tell someone something not true we have first deceived ourselves as to why that is necessary. The dishonesty brought out in the process of the 5th step can go much deeper than mere lying to others. Untruths like someone else’s unhealthy harms towards us speaks to our value are chore levels of dishonesty.


Resentment means “to feel something again.” It’s the fastest path to relapse according to the literature. The experience of the rooms confirms this. When I was in my early 20’s, I thought I made plans to marry a girl right before shipping out to basic training for the Air Force. She cheated on me while I was in basic training. For more than ten years the slightest thing in any future relationship would resurface the trauma of that experience. It caused all kinds of suffering for me and others I would date. I would cheat first to “protect” myself, start relationships with mistrust, and never even have a fair shot. Resentment is always tied to injustices of the past, real or not. Forgiveness is the path out. Forgiveness begins with the end of the hope for a better past.


Fear is at the root of all defects. Fear is always connected to the happenings of the future. Other recovery literature states that most fear can be traced to not getting what we want, losing what we have or someone finding out something about us that will leave us rejected or abandoned. One of the best acronyms about fear is False Evidence Appearing Real. Many of the things we fear, never actually happen yet they rob us of the ability to be present in life. The present moment is the only place love can be experienced. Fear and love are mutually exclusive.


This is described as the root of alcoholism and drug addiction in the big book. It’s deeper than initially understood by most. Yes, there is the element of only looking out for self, but when we peel the layers, more is revealed. It turns out many of us have suffered abuse. Some of these abuses were sexual, emotional, and or physical. Most of us, not knowing better internalized these abuses as a statement of our self-worth. A child being harmed, neglected or abandoned by an unhealthy adult does not say anything about the value of the child. I thought my parent’s divorce meant I was unlovable for years. This is a pure form o selfishness as well. Things happen. People make unhealthy choices while still doing the best they can. It is what it is and nothing more.

The Beginning of Change

When I first entered my 5th step the first time in 2005, I believed there were a million things wrong with me. After exiting the 5th, I knew differently. It turns out I had a handful of defects that just bled into every relationship and every circumstance, so it appeared much worse without accurate perception. Awareness is the beginning of change.

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