Addicts using a Twelve-Step model to recover need to look at selfishness and self-centeredness. The Big Book describes the problem in the discussion of Step Three. “Selfishness -- self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles. Driven by a hundred forms of fear, self-delusion, self-seeking, and self-pity, we step on the toes of our fellows and they retaliate. Sometimes they hurt us, seemingly without provocation, but we find invariably that at some time in the past we have made decisions based on self, which placed us in a position to be hurt.”

Results from Disease

We believe the self-centeredness that causes addicts problems is largely a result of the disease process. Addiction requires you defer to it rather than to natural, loving, unselfish behavior.

It is not self-centeredness that makes people addicts. Rather, the addiction makes most people self-centered. Much of the shame and guilt that you experience results from behavior that violates your value system.

Confusing Words

The words selfish and self-centered confuse people. Selfishness is a problem, yet you are told this is a selfish program. Bill Wilson addresses this paradox in a letter (1967) in which he says the selfishness that is demanding and thoughtless of the welfare of others is not the AA way of life. However, without sobriety, alcoholics are of no value to others or themselves. So to be concerned with one’s own recovery and spiritual growth is right and necessary.


You may be more comfortable calling your Program self-caring than selfish. This may be hard to do if you came from a dysfunctional home and were so busy learning survival skills and taking care of others that you missed learning how to get your needs met. This does not mean you think only of yourself or behave in ways that hurt or offend others. When you learn to love yourself others will benefit. People who care for you will be happy to see you free of addictive, self-destructive behavior.

Self-caring results in increased self-esteem and self-worth. Your relationships are enhanced. The greatest gift you have to offer is yourself, and you want to offer something of value to those you love.

Self-centeredness, see also: Affirmations, Assertiveness, Attitudes, Behavior, Body image, Character defects, Fear, Feelings, Guilt & shame, Inventory, Paradoxes in addiction, Perfectionism, Resentments, Responsibility, Slogans, Step Four, Step Six, Step Eight, Survival roles.

Updated 9 Sep 2015

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Addictionary 2 by Jan & Judy Wilson

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