top of page
  • Writer's pictureIrving Najman, LMFT, CSAT

The Twelve Steps & The Three Circles

Updated: Apr 7, 2021

How does the Twelve Steps of Recovery relate to the Three Circle Sobriety Plan? Let us first discuss what each of those concepts mean.

The Twelve Steps - The Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous were developed in the 1930’s by Bill W. to help people with their alcoholism. Since then, many organizations have adapted the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous to their own fellowship to help anyone with their own addictive behaviors, such as gambling, eating, spending, video gaming or sex to list a few. In summary, the Twelve Steps involves admitting your unmanageability & powerlessness over your addictive behaviors, coming to the belief of a Higher Power, examining your character defects, making amends for past wrongs, helping others, and implementing spiritual principles in all aspects of your life.

The Three Circles – The Three Circles Sobriety Plan is a tool developed by Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA) to aid their members in maintaining their sexual sobriety. It is an instrument that individuals who are struggling with compulsive sexual behaviors use to identify personal healthy and unhealthy behaviors. In the SAA Literature regarding the Three Circles, it recommends that “each of us need to carefully consider which sexual behaviors we are powerless over, which sexual acts leads to feelings of demoralization.” In other words, each person has the responsibility of defining (with the help of their sponsor) what healthy sexuality looks like for them.

As the name implies, the Three Circles are composed of three circles (The Inner, The Middle and The Outer Circle). One straightforward way to visualize the Three Circles is to imagine the target sign with three concentric circles. The bull’s eye is the Inner Circle, the next concentric circle is the Middle Circle and the last one is the Outer Circle.

The Inner Circle is defined by all compulsive and destructive behaviors that you commit to and hope to abstain from. The Middle Circle is a place where you identify people, places, and things that you are uncertain of or behaviors that you are not ready to let go. The Middle Circle also functions as a warning sign that you might be slipping into relapse, your Inner Circle. Finally, the Outer Circle is all of the healthy activities that you enjoy and will help you create the life you desire.

Now, let us go back to the original question about how the Twelve Steps and the Three Circles relate and complement each other.

In your addiction, you were powerless over your addictive behaviors. Your life was unmanageable and in chaos. Your life was out of control and in disarray, basically living in your Inner Circle. Steps One, Two and Three are about acknowledging your unmanageability, helping you get grounded and finding solace in your spirituality. Most importantly, these steps will help you establish order in your life and create a solid foundation on which to build your recovery.

The Middle Circle is that realm in your life that you are unsure of or in denial of how your behaviors are affecting your life and others. While in the Middle Circle, you continue to engage, sometimes unconsciously, in behaviors that keep you in a state of stress, indecision and uncertainty. Working Steps Four through Nine gives you an opportunity to awaken your consciousness, and decide to examine your resentments, your fears, your character defects and make amends to people you have hurt. Basically, you are taking responsibility for your actions and living your life consciously.

Steps Four through Nine are also called the actions steps. Having already built a foundation by working the first three steps, and using an analogy of building a home, Steps Four through Nine will help you build a recovery home and get your house in order.

The Outer Circle is where you want to live. It is the place where you engage in healthy activities that bring you joy and fulfillment. It is your Recovery Home. Steps Ten, Eleven and Twelve are called the maintenance steps. These steps will help you keep your house strong and long-lasting.

The Twelve Steps are an ongoing endeavor. There will be times when your life might be somewhat stressful and you might slip into your Inner Circle, then you might have to revisit Steps One, Two & Three. There might also be times when your character defects or resentments might surface, and you might engage in Middle Circle behaviors. This would be a great opportunity to rework Step Four or Step Nine. While working your program and living in the Outer Circle, your recovery home might be in need of repairs, for it not to fall into disarray. At that time, consider improving your commitment to working Steps Ten through Twelve.

As you continue working your recovery, forge ahead along your Healing Path and build a vigorous Recovery Home. Create your Three Circles, Work the Steps, Implement the Principles of the Program and Live Life Consciously!!

217 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page