Step 4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
Guilt is one of the most powerful weapons in a cult leader’s arsenal. Guilt makes you unsure of yourself, throws you off balance. If worked into shame, it can make you hate yourself. You’re less likely to question strange teachings or resist manipulation when you don’t have any faith in yourself, especially if you are being “gaslit”.
Gas lighting is a kind of psychological abuse designed to make the victim doubt their senses and question their basic sanity. Alcoholics Anonymous does this overtly through the heavy use of thoughts stopping slogans like ” your stinking thinking” and “your best thinking got you here.”
The opening three steps call new AA recruits powerless, unmanageable, and insane, and instruct them to turn their lives and wills to the care of capital-G God. Bill W. and the 31 coauthors he stole from didn’t dream up this manipulation on their own. They followed the first of the Oxford Group’s ” 5 C’s” for cult recruitment, on transferring the mark’s Confidence to the group.
In Step 4 Bill W. continued to copy from his former cult leader’s blueprint. The second C is Conviction, making the mark feel profound guilt about what they have done. Cults often encourage or require members to demonize their life before the cult, to remember only the bad, exaggerated to worse. This creates a reliance on the group: without it, their lives become insane and unmanageable again.
This “searching and fearless moral inventory” is a laundry list of sins. You’re supposed to write down every bad thing you ever did, and in a later step you’re supposed to tell them all to a sponsor. The cult asks its members to pinpoint their own vulnerabilities and helpfully write them down. Shame is a paralyzing emotion. While guilt can motivate one to do better or try to make things right, shame makes productive action nearly impossible.
Step four is designed, like the second C was designed, to take the confused, battered, weakened, doubtful product of the first three steps and load them down with so much guilt and shame they crack under the weight of it. This has nothing to do with quitting drinking, and everything to do with quitting thinking. If we imagine cult recruitment as a boxing match, the first three steps soften a new recruit, but step four is the knockout punch.