Character Defects Versus Laundry List Traits (Common Behaviors)

In Steps Six and Seven we learn the important difference between defects of character and The Laundry List traits developed as children to endure our dysfunctional homes. The main difference is this: Adult children tend to feel relief when reading the 14 traits of The Laundry List because we realize we are not unique. However, we can feel shame or dread when hearing a list of defects of character.

Our defects of character can include judgmentalness, slothfulness, and dishonesty. These defects can cause great discomfort to others and ourselves. In other cases defects of character can include what society sees as noble traits, but for us they are stumbling blocks. These defects can include perfectionism, obsessive tidiness, and appearing self-sufficient by avoiding asking others for help. Employers praise the self¬ starter who keeps a tidy work place and rarely asks for help

For the most part, our defects of character are different than our Laundry List traits because the traits are rooted in the First Step. The Laundry List traits include fearing authority figures, stuffing our feelings, people-pleasing, and feeling guilty when we ask for what we need. The traits are the effects of growing up in a dysfunctional family. These common behaviors have deep roots and could easily be called survival traits. The Laundry List traits are like branches of a tree, while the defects of character are the fruit. The defects of character can be linked back to one or more traits.

We use Steps Six and Seven to remove the defects of character. However, we take a different approach for the Laundry List behaviors. We attempt to integrate them through gentleness and patience. Our traits have great value to us if we can embrace them and transform them.

Until integration occurs, the traits can cause great despair for the adult child. We seem unable to change them until we get help. The Laundry List traits represent the false self, which is convinced that it is real. The false self disbelieves recovery and the loving nature of a Higher Power. This false self once protected us, but it now has to be retired.

We must be patient with ourselves as we integrate the Laundry List traits in Steps Six and Seven. The traits are deeply anchored because they are the defense system we developed as children under difficult circumstances. We must acknowledge a certain amount of respect for the traits and for ourselves for figuring out how to survive our dysfunctional homes. As children, they were the difference between living and dying in some cases. We survived, but in ACA we want to move beyond mere survival.

The safe harbor we find in ACA meetings is the starting point for transforming our survival traits. We listen to others share how they did it. We learn that the integrated trait of people pleasing might look like this: we do helpful things for ourselves and accept praise, instead of constantly pleasing others and pushing away compliments. By transforming our people-pleasing manner, we do not stop caring about others. However, we stop going over the line to ensure that we are never abandoned.

Many times the Laundry List survival traits will rebel and assert themselves more clearly as we begin to surrender to a new way of life; however, our experience shows that the traits can be softened if not tempered into usefulness. Some of us seem to make no real progress on changing our survival behaviors until we become entirely willing as Steps Six suggests. With more than survival as our goal, we continue to lessen the strength of the traits and gradually lay them down with respect.

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