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The 12 Steps and Mindful Parenting: Steps 6 and 7

Steps 6 and 7 comprise an unexpected pathway toward personality transformation.

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Mastering others is strength. Mastering yourself is true power. —Lao Tzu

Kintsugi is the Japanese art of recognizing and celebrating beauty in broken things. Broken ceramics (bowls, cups, vases) are put back together with a special lacquer mixed with gold, silver, or platinum. Rather than trying to hide it, practitioners visibly incorporate the repair into the object’s restoration, honoring and revering the damage rather than using it as an excuse to discard and replace the object. The process frequently results in something more extraordinary and precious than the original.

The process of twelve-step recovery has much in common with Kintsugi in both intent and effect. Twelve-step recovery helps people who dedicate themselves to the process become strong in the places where they have been damaged. The Twelve Steps create a framework for practicing new ways of relating to thoughts and emotions; generate healthier behaviors; support the application of spiritual principles such as acceptance, tolerance, open-mindedness, perseverance, humility, and gratitude; and prompt additional opportunities for conscious contact with that which is beyond oneself—of belonging to a greater whole, of connection to others, as well as to the world. All these benefits have spillover benefits for the quality of one’s parenting.

Step Six

We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

In Step Six, the two areas of focus are to identify the specific aspects of your personality that get in the way of your learning, growth, and healing, and become ready to relinquish them. The Sixth Step is about becoming consciously aware of the “defects of character” that pose internal obstacles to ongoing recovery, the kind of life you want to live, and the kind of person—and parent—you want to be. The value of Step Six is manifest in the sentiment expressed by His Holiness, the 14thDalai Lama, that “Being aware of a single shortcoming within yourself is far more useful than being aware of a thousand in someone else.”

Character defects are the personality traits—attributes, reactions, and attitudes—that interfere with our relationships, including our relationship with our kids, and obstruct our ability to be skillful. They tend to emerge and become more prominent in response to stress and emotional or physical pain. I have always believed it’s more useful to view them as character challenges.

Personality traits can be thought of as enduring characteristics that sway individuals to behave in certain ways. Your personality is the constellation of the qualities that make you uniquely who you are. Your personality impacts your thoughts, emotions, motivations, attitudes, and behaviors.

Everyone—whether or not they struggle with addiction or any other serious condition—has a variety of different personality traits: some are adaptive while others are problematic. Even people who seem to be models of mental and emotional health display some degree of impatience, intolerance, insecurity, defensiveness, disproportionate frustration, or anger, resentment, or self-centeredness from time to time.

We are really talking about basic human qualities that can become exaggerated and distorted, contributing to imbalance and creating suffering for you and those around you. Personality traits become defective when they influence you to react in ways that are extreme or disproportionate to the situation, causing harm to others or yourself. These reactions usually happen by reflex—unconsciously—it isn’t how you intend to or want to act. Such reactions almost always make the situation, and how everyone involved feels about it, worse. Many of the harms we perpetrate on our kids track back to acting out on our character challenges.

The Sixth Step provides a mechanism to identify the specific forms that your personality challenges assume, so you can become more aware of them, exercise greater conscious choice with regard to acting on them, and begin the process of letting them go.

It’s beneficial to be aware that your character defects don’t indicate where you’re “bad,” but rather where you’re wounded. Your own wounds frequently and unconsciously influence you to wound others. This is not an excuse; it’s an explanation. As the saying goes, hurt people hurt people. This is especially relevant to how parents treat their children. And when it comes to parenting, you have to become ready to let go of your character defects in order to grow beyond your particular unhelpful patterns of thinking and acting vis-à-vis your kids.

Step Seven

We humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

The work of the Seventh Step is to reduce the influence of your character challenges, so you can respond to circumstances more intentionally and skillfully.

Practicing mindfulness and specific spiritual principles modifies the problematic personality traits that obstruct progress toward becoming a healthier, more mindful, and more content person. Letting go of these character defects or shortcomings involves identifying and consciously applying the spiritual principles that represent their opposites. Defects of character and their opposing spiritual principles cannot operate at the same time.

I have found that practicing these opposing spiritual principles is an antidote for my own character challenges. For me, the antidote for resentment is the practice of forgiveness; the antidote for attachment, avoidance, and anger, is the practice of acceptance; the antidote for intolerance is the practice of loving-kindness; the antidote for being judgmental is the practice of compassion—for myself and others; the antidote for arrogance is the practice of humility; the antidote for desire and self-pity is the practice of gratitude; and the antidote for anxiety and fear is the practice of trust and faith.

Personality structure is a stubborn phenomenon, and no matter how long or how consistently you practice, your problematic personality characteristics may never be fully “removed.” However, they can be transformed—and in the process, you can transform your relationships—to yourself and others, most notably your kids.

With the ongoing application of awareness and action, you can gradually sand down the sharp edges of your character challenges, so they no longer lacerate and draw blood. Their presence and influence can progressively fade and become less likely to emerge like automatic reflexes when you experience difficult, stressful, and painful situations. As this happens, you create less suffering for yourself and those you care about, particularly your kids.

Upcoming posts will feature in order: Steps 8 & 9, and Steps 10-12.

Copyright 2019 Dan Mager, MSW

Author of Roots and Wings: Mindful Parenting in Recovery and Some Assembly Required: A Balanced Approach to Recovery from Addiction and Chronic Pain