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Although many people would put 12-step programs in the general category of self-improvement, there’s actually a strong focus on looking outside the self. When we get addicted—whether it be to alcohol, drugs, negative thinking, or anything else—the behaviors are habitual, without taking time to reflect on how others might be affected. Recovery involves learning to take a broader perspective, honestly examining the behaviors and their consequences to family and society.
Step Eight is about preparing to make amends to those we have wronged. It’s a methodical process, consistent with the overall reflective tone of the program. Instead of rushing out and apologizing willy-nilly to anyone we might ever have harmed, Step Eight calls for making a list of the people to whom amends are owed, in addition to willingness to make such amends.
There are several reasons why a list is important. First of all, putting it together promotes thoughtful, in-depth consideration of how our actions affected others. It also helps in setting priorities; after all, we can’t mend every relationship instantly, so we have to choose where to focus our energies. The comprehensive nature of a list makes it less likely that anyone who should get amends will be overlooked. And because people may respond in very different ways, there needs to be some thought given to finding the approach that will work best for each person or group on the list.
Amends are not necessarily apologies, though they can be. The word “amend” comes from a Latin root that means “correction.” So the list-making process at Step Eight has to do with deciding how best to go about correcting the mistakes we’ve made in our relationships. While in some instances an apology may be useful and sufficient, that’s not always going to be the case. Sometimes actions, rather than words, are needed. It all depends on the circumstances.
When it comes to negativity, often the best way to make amends to those we’ve harmed by being grouchy and unkind is simply to cheer up! Resolving to be consistently cheerful around our family members, friends, and acquaintances—even though we may not always feel like it—can go a long way toward making them happier and mending the damage from our past bad attitudes. Ongoing positive conversations can benefit others much more than a simple apology (though that’s likely to be useful too), and it’s a good habit to cultivate anyway!