The 12 Steps of a 12 Step Program
1 A Person Must Release Power Over His Own Life
The first step of a 12-step program urges a participant to admit he is powerless to control certain behaviors or addictions. Only a greater power, traditionally defined as God, is able to restore the sanity of a person whose life has been sabotaged by such behaviors or addictions, according to the second step of the program. However, Step 3 acknowledges that we each nurture a different conception of God. While the Alcoholics Anonymous program, which originally introduced the 12-step program in the 1930s, was founded on Christian principles, this program later strove to embrace atheists and agnostics as members (see link in References).
2 A Person Must Assume Responsibility for His Pattern of Behavior
Although the presence of a higher power is suggested in the 12 steps, members of 12-step programs are not exempt from accountability for their actions, both past and present. In fact, in the fourth step of the program, each incoming participant is told to make an unflinching moral inventory of his own character. Step 5 and Step 6 require these participants to admit to God and others the extent of their shortcomings and to allow God to remove these inadequacies of character. Much like a colleague, God is respectfully considered within the 12 steps. Step 7 urges a participant of the program to kindly ask God to help him experience improvement in his life. Thus, while God is portrayed as a helpful figure in the 12 steps, each member of a 12-step program is alone responsible for seeking to improve his own behavior.
3 A Person Must Demonstrate Continuity During Rehabilitation
Rehabilitation is not a single event but, rather, a continuous reformation process. Rehabilitation begins when a person learns to accept responsibility for any harm that he may have caused to himself or others as a result of his compulsions. In Step 8 of the 12-step process, each participant is prompted to make a list of any persons he has harmed in the past. Step 9 instructs that he should attempt to repair relationships with these people if at all possible. Importantly, Step 10 advises participants to continue to modify their behavior by means of sincere self-analysis. Lastly, Step 11 counsels participants to practice prayer and meditation routinely, to better understand how to best channel hidden potential in their lives.
4 A Person Should Seek to Help Others in Need
The 12-step programs are, by their nature, communal in their focus. They do not simply seek to improve the circumstances of a single person but rather those of an entire community. As a result, participants are advised in Step 12 to share their blessings by tending to the needs of others. Elaborate evangelizing is not required. This step simply requests that each participant should let others know whether his life was improved by the 12-step program in which he was involved. This can be done simply, by saying, "The 12 steps were helpful to me, and they may be helpful to you as well."