alternative 12 steps
The Proactive 12 Steps alternative 12 steps

The process of change: Focus on behavior patterns vs defects of character

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The core of the 12 steps program is the process of behavior change described in steps 4 through 10. There is a significant difference between the Proactive 12 Steps and the traditional 12 Steps.

The original Steps approach this in moral terms: A "moral inventory". "Defects of character..." Your "wrongs"... They speak of flaws in characters in a way that is a very transparent adaptation of the religious language of sin and redemption.

The healing in the original 12 Steps comes from redemption through the grace of God. In the Proactive 12 Steps, the approach is proactive in the sense that it is about paying attention to what you can do to change what you're not doing right. So the Proactive Steps do not use the language of sin and redemption any more than they see healing happening through the grace of God. Instead of talking about wrongs and character defects, we're talking about paying attention to behavior patterns, that is, whatever you find yourself doing compulsively.

We're not just talking about things like drinking, gambling, or what is traditionally considered compulsive behavior., But any behavior that you do as a knee jerk reaction. For instance, this would include looking at your cell phone compulsively. Or being impatient with people... We're talking about a place where, if you were to look at it calmly, you'd notice that there would be alternative options. But, time and again, you find yourself doing the same thing, you don't have the power of choice.

So we are not talking about sin, we're not even necessarily talking about harming people. We're talking about doing yourself a disservice by repeatedly not doing what would be right for you. And we aren't thinking of this as something that is a sin, or something that you should be excoriated for because you're weak. We are focusing on understanding the emotional logic that leads you to do this. And this emotional logic is related to a sense of dealing with overwhelming pressure. And that often is part of the continuum of traumatic stress.

Let's go back to the classic example I have mentioned in other places. The war veteran who comes back to civilian life, hears a noise, and feels attacked, and might even then be tempted to fire back at enemies. We now know enough not to condemn the traumatized soldier for being traumatized. We understand that the trauma needs to be healed.

Trauma is not a character defect. It is a normal consequence of dealing with a level of pressure that is so overwhelming that a person does not have the resources to handle it at the time when it happens. Adding additional pressure does not solve the trauma. Far from it, it makes it worse. It adds insult to injury. It compounds the problem.

Admittedly, the language of sin and redemption may be motivating to some people. But it can be very harmful to many people, in that it adds more pressure to what is already an unbearably high-pressure situation. What can ensue then is a vicious cycle of guilt, shame, and more stress.

You feel ashamed of yourself. You try to force yourself to act differently through willpower. You succeed for a while. And then the pressure is such that you break down. You get temporary relief as you break down. But then, the shame comes back, and you use a lot of willpower to try and ward off what you are trying to ward off. And you feel very ashamed, and the pressure and the vicious cycle continue.

The vicious cycle can only end when you recognize that adding more pressure is not going to solve the situation. It only makes it worse. Of course, this does not mean giving up on making changes. It just means making them in a way that is more realistic and, actually, more effective.

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