Spiritual principles behind Step Eight: Discipline & Self-Discipline

What are the spiritual principles behind Step Eight?

Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

The primary spiritual principle behind Step Eight in many lists is discipline, whereas according to some lists, the primary spiritual principle is shown as action. Because the word “action” seems a bit too general for our purposes here; after all, action is required to some degree for most of the steps.

Still other lists consider willingness to be the key spiritual principle here because the word willing appears in the step itself.

Brotherly love appears as the primary principle behind Step Eight in other lists. When the Alcoholics Anonymous was written – back in the late 1930s – the phrase brotherly love was more commonly used than it is today. Brotherly love comes from the ancient Greek word philia; Aristotle translated philia as friendship or companionship. (Interestingly, its opposite is phobia.) To practice brotherly love one shows kindness and compassion towards others without expecting anything in return. There is no doubt that brotherly love is a big part of this step.

Discipline is our key spiritual principle behind Step Eight.

Many other principles also apply to Step Eight, including forgiveness, calmness, brotherhood, honesty, thoroughness, responsibility, humility, acceptance, tolerance, and objectivity.

Discipline is the suppression of base desires, and is usually understood to be synonymous with self-control restraint and control. Discipline is when one uses reason to determine the best course of action regardless of one’s desires, which may be the opposite of excited. Virtuous behavior can be described as when one’s values are aligned with one’s aims: to do what one knows is best and to do it gladly.
Discipline – Wikipedia

Discipline is the ability to control one’s desires, impulses, behavior, and emotions. Self-discipline is in large part being able to choose long-term satisfaction and fulfillment from achieving higher and more meaningful goals rather than taking the path of immediate gratification and short-term pleasures.

Practicing self-discipline means making decisions, taking action, and executing the steps necessary to reach your goals – regardless of any fear, obstacle, difficulty, discomfort, or road block that may appear. Self-discipline is being able to do what needs to be done, whether one feels like it or not, and whether one wants to or not.

Learning how to live in the greatest peace, partnership and brotherhood with all men and women, of whatever description, is a moving and fascinating adventure. Every A.A. has found that he can make little headway in this new adventure of living until he first backtracks and really makes an accurate and unsparing survey of the human wreckage he has left in his wake. To a degree, he has already done this when taking moral inventory, but now the time has come when he ought to redouble his efforts to see how many people he has hurt, and in what ways. This reopening of emotional wounds, some old, some perhaps forgotten, and some still painfully festering, will at first look like a purposeless and pointless piece of surgery. But if a willing start is made, then the great advantages of doing this will so quickly reveal themselves that the pain will be lessened as one obstacle after another melts away.
12 & 12, Step 8, p.77-78

Where is one’s higher power in all this? Driving it all, of course. For example, in the Christian religion, God is doing the disciplining. Don’t be mislead by the self in self-discipline; we have proved time and time again that we cannot do it alone.

Definition of discipline

  1. Training to act in accordance with rules; drill: military discipline
  2. Activity, exercise, or a regimen that develops or improves a skill; training: A daily stint at the typewriter is excellent discipline for a writer
  3. Behavior in accord with rules of conduct; behavior and order maintained by training and control: good discipline in an army

Discipline, Dictionary.com

We are finally on a step where it’s no longer about making things right solely within ourselves; we begin the process of making things right with others. Its ultimate purpose is to make each relationship as good as it can possibly be. In Step 8 of Alcoholics Anonymous, we must identify the wrongs done others in our often-sordid past as the first step toward repairing the damage we have done. Then we devise a plan for creating healthy relationships moving forward, for we want to have the best possible relationships with those about us. Doing so requires discipline, objectivity, thoroughness, courage, honesty, and more.

There are many important qualities that can contribute to a person’s achievements and happiness, but there is only one that begets sustainable, long-term success in all aspects of life: self discipline. Whether in terms of your diet, fitness, work ethic or relationships, self discipline is the number one trait needed to accomplish goals, lead a healthy lifestyle, and ultimately, be happy.
Forbes, 5 Proven Methods For Gaining Self Discipline, by Jennifer Cohen

Step Eight is more or less a checklist of what went wrong between the individual and the rest of the human race. In making the list of people we harmed, the sponsor usually directs the sponsee to look first at the Step Four inventory of resentments; several folks on that list also belonged on my Step Eight list. And as with Step Four, one of the purposes of it Step Eight to help us change our ways. So in constructing the list, we keep in mind that we are examining all that has been wrong with the ways we dealt with others and how we want to interact with others going forward. We want to spend the remainder of our lives on a new footing in spiritual territory.

Related: Developing self discipline – Study Guides and Strategies

Please keep in mind that Step Eight is only to identify and list folks we’ve harmed, and what the harm was, and become willing to actually make these situations right. We must resist the urge to project or future-trip on what Step Nine might look like.

The Eighth Step is not easy; it demands a new kind of honesty about our relations with other people. The Eighth Step starts the procedure of forgiving others and possibly being forgiven by them, forgiving ourselves, and learning how to live in the world. By the time we reach this step, we have become ready to understand rather than to be understood. We can live and let live easier when we know the areas in which we owe amends. It seems hard now, but once we have done it, we will wonder why we did not do it long ago.

…The final difficulty in working the Eighth Step is separating it from the Ninth Step. Projecting about actually making amends can be a major obstacle both in making the list and in becoming willing. We do this step as if there were no Ninth Step. We do not even think about making the amends but just concentrate on exactly what the Eighth Step says which is to make a list and to become willing. The main thing this step does for us is to help build an awareness that, little by little, we are gaining new attitudes about ourselves and how we deal with other people.
Narcotics Anonymous Basic Text, Chapter 4: Step 8

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As we are making our list of persons we’ve harmed, we keep in mind that it doesn’t matter whether we caused the harm because of carelessness, rage, or just plain fear. Neither does it matter whether we intended to cause the harm. We add a harmed person to our list whether our actions were rooted in pride, selfishness, dishonesty, or some other character defect.

If your list is anything like this writer’s list, you’ll find that there’s just no way to repair some of the harm we caused. It may be that we can’t repair the situation directly. It may even turn out that we’re in fact not responsible for one or more of the items we have added to our Eighth Step list. Thankfully, one’s sponsor and the experience s/he brings to the table will likely prove indispensable and will help us sort out the details and possibilities before we proceed to the Ninth Step.

Many of us start out believing that we never really harmed anyone but ourselves. In these cases, a significant level of denial remains. For other items on our list, we may not able to see the truth about a given situation, even after many years in recovery. We’ve lied to ourselves so much, we actually believe some of the BS. Usually, our sponsors say, if someone may or may not qualify for this list, but we can’t think of the situation that resulted in our owning amends, we put the name on the list anyway. As they say, More will be revealed.

The development of discipline is a gift that keeps on giving. Discipline helps build self-confidence; you accomplish more and become more productive; you develop tolerance for frustration and other negative emotions; with discipline, you can be healthier, spend less/ save more money, and develop a real work ethic; your goals become easier to reach; all in all, life gets easier.

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