Lesson 1 of 7  - free your true Self to guide you

The 12 Steps for Grown
Wounded Children (GWCs)

An update to the classic "Anonymous" steps

Adapted by Peter K. Gerlach, MSW
Member NSRC Experts Council

The Web address of this article is https://sfhelp.org/gwc/12steps.htm

Updated  01-14-2015

      Clicking underlined links here will open a new window. Other links will open  an informational popup, so please turn off your browser's popup blocker or allow popups from this nonprofit Web site. If your playback device doesn't support Javascript, the popups may not display. Follow underlined links after finishing this article to avoid getting lost.

      This article is written to people interested in reducing psychological wounds and toxic compulsions like addictions. It's also written to lay and professional people supporting them. This YouTube video previews what you'll find in this article:

       This article is for all active and sober addicts, their relatives and supporters, and lay and professional people interested in understanding and reducing toxic compulsions. The article assumes you're familiar with...


      I am a veteran family therapist and an "ACoA." (Adult Child of Alcoholic parents). My therapeutic work with over 1,000 average women and men since 1981 and my ACoA research and personal recovery since 1986 have convinced me that...

  • young kids enduring significant adult abandonment, neglect, and abuse ("trauma") develop up to six psychological ''wounds.'' The key wound is significant personality "splitting" - i.e. the unconscious formation of a group of talented personality ''subselves,'' including a wise ''true Self.''

  • These wounds and a dysfunctional family environment cause kids and adults major chronic "inner pain" - a mix of shame, guilt, fears, loneliness, hurt, confusion, emptiness, despair, frustration, and anger;

  • Without skilled education and family intervention, wounded kids become Grown Wounded Children, or GWCs. Typical GWCs deny their wounds and are unaware of what they mean.

  • All non-organic addictions (toxic compulsions) are subselves' unconscious attempts to reduce relentless inner pain - not a "disease," "illness," or "character defect." One implication is that addictions are not shameful, and recovery programs like AA should drop the old shame-based "Anonymous" label because it promotes shame, denial, and dishonesty. .

  • Once GWCs are (a) aware of their psychological wounds and have (b) hit true (vs. pseudo or trial) ''bottom,'' they CAN...

    • find wholistically-healthy ways to free their true Self and reduce their inner wounds and related pain over time; and...

    • end compulsive toxic dependence on chemicals, mood-states (e.g. ''rageaholism,' and sexual arousal), activities (e.g. gambling, shopping, and over-eating), and relationships (codependence) without ongoing dependence on a 12-step support group to maintain stable sobriety. 

      After 36 years' professional study and 29 years' personal ACoA/GWC recovery, I believe that the 12-step life philosophy first promoted in 1935 by Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) co-founders "Dr. Bob" and "Bill W." can significantly help reduce psychological wounds (inner pain) and harmful compulsive self-soothing (''addictions'').

      However, to my knowledge, all the "Anonymous" world-service organizations like AA, CoDA, Al-Anon, FA, GA, NA, SA, SAA, and ACoA are presently unaware of how childhood trauma and psychological wounds promote addictions. Two key implications:

  • Traditional addiction "recovery" focuses on achieving and maintaining "sobriety" - freedom from harmful compulsive behaviors - not on reducing psychological wounds and choosing high-nurturance relationships and environments. This focuses on controlling the symptom (addiction), not healing the cause (psychological wounds, inner pain, and unawareness); and...

  • the current 12 steps are genuinely helpful to many addicts (GWCs) - but do not focus them on psychological wounds reduction. This means that traditional "sobriety" stops short of full wholistic health. Addiction relapses and cross-addictions are widespread evidence of this premise.

.      These ideas pose a dilemma: which comes first - controlling an addiction (stable "sobriety"), or reducing psychological wounds? My experience to date in working with hundreds of Grown Wounded Children is that progress on each simultaneously is the best course, over time. Ultimately, each GWC must find their own answer to this, based on guidance from their Higher Power and their wise true Self. 

      Restated - I propose that the proven 12-step principles and steps can be a major asset and blueprint for both addiction management and GWC wound-reduction if  the Steps are updated to reflect the reality of psychological wounds and what they mean.

      So - I offer...

  A Proposed Update of the 12 Steps

      With veneration for the courageous men and women who created, validated, and implemented the original 12 "Anonymous" steps 80 years ago, I propose an upgrade to reflect new knowledge. Based on the beliefs above, this upgrade integrates the idea that addicts, co-addicts, and all of us struggling to lift ourselves out of shame, confusion, emptiness, and fear are really trying to restore our true Selves to lead our other personality subselves, with the essential support of our Higher Power.

      The ACoA World Service organization amendment of the original 12 AA steps is reprinted below on the left, and my proposed update on the right. Proposed changes are in italics. I offer this to fellow recoverers and their families and supporters as "wet clay," for much is new, uncertain, and unexplored. 

ACoA 12 Steps

Proposed Update

1) We admitted we were powerless over the effects of alcoholism or other family dysfunction, that our lives had become unmanageable. 1) I accept that I have been powerless over the effects of my inherited psychological wounds, and that my life
has become unmanageable.
2) Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. 2) I believe that a power greater than me can help me free my true Self to guide me and harmonize my personality subselves.
3) Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understand God. 3) I decided to turn my will and life over to the care of my Higher Power.  
4) Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. 4) I assessed myself honestly for significant psychological wounds and false-self dominance .
5) Admitted to God, to our selves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs. 5) I admitted to my Higher Power, myself, and another person the exact nature of my false selve's harmful behaviors.
6) Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character. 6) I am entirely ready to accept help to permanently reduce my psychological wounds.
7) Humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings. 7) I humbly seek to help my personality subselves trust the wisdom and guidance of my true Self and my Higher Power.
8) Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all. 8) I identified all persons my false selves have significantly harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
9) Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others. 9) I made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when doing so would injure them or others.
10) Continued to take personal inventory and, when we were wrong, promptly admitted it. 10) I continued to take personal inventory and, when I was wrong, promptly admitted it without undue guilt, shame, or anxiety.
11) Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understand God, praying only for knowledge of God's will for us and the power to carry it out. 11) I sought through prayer and meditation to improve my relationship with my Higher Power, seeking to improve my awareness of God's will for me, and the courage to carry it out.
12) Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to others who still suffer, and to practice these principles in all our affairs. 12) Having had a spiritual awakening from these steps, I try to practice them in my daily life, and to model and respectfully offer these principles to others who inherited psychological wounds.

      Whatever expression of these ideas fits you best, I believe the spirit of the 12 steps offers health-seekers an effective framework and guide toward wholistic health, compassion, serenity, high-nurturance families, and being all we can be. There are many Web sites devoted to addiction recovery. It's comforting to realize how many of us are working toward the same goal!


      From my 29 years' experience as a recovering ACoA (Grown Wounded Child), this article proposes that:

  • all non-organic addictions are unconscious attempts to reduce major psychological pain originating in early-childhood abandonment, neglect, and abuse (trauma);

  • stable addiction management ("sobriety") depends on freeing the resident wise true Self and reducing related psychological wounds; and...

  • the traditional 12 addiction-recovery steps can be a useful guide to reducing psychological wounds and addictions if the 12 steps are amended to include the goal of reducing my psychological wounds.

     The article proposes such an amendment, and compares it to the official ACoA version of the traditional 12 steps

      Pause, breathe, and reflect - why did you read this article? Did you get what you needed? If not, what do you need? Who's answering these questions - your true Self, or ''someone else''?

  This article was very helpful  somewhat helpful  not helpful   

Share/Bookmark  prior page  /  Lesson 1


 site intro  /  course outline  /  site search  /  definitions  /  chat contact