Selfishness and Character Defects

NO Selfishness
Hi Everyone!

I feel so grateful and so appreciate when people comment on a post!

Devora recently commented on the posts on unselfishness. She asked a great question on selfishness and our other character defects.

Devora asked, “The Big Book talks about a 100 forms of fear. What about selfishness? Why isn’t that talked about more?”

This is a great question and highlights the spiritual malady of addiction.

Below is my understanding of recovery and the spiritual solution offered through the 12 Steps.

I am including the relevant sections from the original manuscript of the AA Big Book.

Please forgive me if there are too many details. I thought this could be a great topic for one of our meetings, if others are interested too.

Although program speaks of a fearless moral inventory, moral is not seen as right or wrong, but selfish or unselfish.

Recovery is about becoming unselfish and God-centered. In the 12 Step model of recovery, all our character defects stem from our ego and are due to selfishness.

The ego is the big “I” or what we label “the self.” Chuck C. has a wonderful definition of the ego as “the feeling of conscious separation from God, from each other, and eventually from ourselves.” (1984)

It is our ego which blocks us off from God and other people. To quote Chuck C. “The only road block between me and you and me and my God is the human ego.” (1984)

Therefore, although we label fear in “100 forms,” fear itself is a unique emotion and only 1 character defect. Please keep in mind the rest of the particular sentence that Devora is referring to: Driven by a hundred forms of fear, self-delusion, self-seeking, and self-pity….”  

To me that means there is a 100 forms of all of our character defects: self-delusion (dishonesty), self-seeking (selfishness) and self-pity (resentment), in addition to fear. All of them come from “selfishness – self-centeredness, which is the root of our troubles.” 

Therefore, the root of fear, in all its many disguises, and all our character defects is the delusion that we are “terminally unique” and separate from God and others. In reality, we are all connected. We are all created in God’s image. There is a little piece of God in everyone and everything in this world.

This is a picture that I made to explain the central role of selfishness:

core character defects

This idea, I believe is woven into the AA Big Book, but it may not be explicitly expressed. The words in italics are mine, to highlight the role of selfishness and the ego.

The first requirement is that you see that any life run on self-will can hardly be a success. On that basis we are almost always in collision~ with something or somebody, even though our motives may be good. Most people try to live by self-propulsion. Each person is like an actor who wants to run the whole show: is forever trying to arrange the lights, the ballet, the scenery and the rest of the players in his own way. This is the work of the ego and the monumental self-centeredness of the addict.

If his arrangements would only stay put, if only people would do as he wishes, the show would be great. Everybody, including himself, would be pleased. Life would be wonderful. In trying to make these arrangements our actor may sometimes be quite virtuous. He may be kind, considerate, patient, generous; even modest and self-sacrificing. On the other hand, he may be mean, egotistical, selfish and dishonest. But, as with most humans, he is more likely to have varied traits.

What usually happens? The show doesn’t come off very well. He begins to think life doesn’t treat him right. He decides to exert himself some more. He becomes, on the next occasion, still more demanding or gracious, as the case may be. Still the play does not suit him. Admitting he may be somewhat at fault, he is sure that other people are more to blame. He becomes angry, indignant, self-pitying. What is his basic trouble? Is he not really a self-seeker even when trying to be kind? Is he not a victim of the delusion that he can wrest satisfaction and happiness out of this world if he only manages well? Is it not evident to all the rest of the players that these are the things he WANTS? And do not his actions make each of them wish to retaliate, snatching all they can get out of the show? Is he not, even in his best moments, a producer of confusion rather than harmony?

Our actor is self-centered – ego-centric, as people like to call it nowadays. He is like the retired business man who lolls in the Florida sunshine in the winter complaining of the sad state of the nation; the preacher who sighs over the sins of the twentieth century; politicians and reformers who are sure all would be Utopia if the rest of the world would only behave; the outlaw safe cracker who thinks society has wronged him; and the alcoholic who has lost all and is locked up. Whatever their protestations are not these people mostly concerned with themselves, their resentments, or their self-pity? Read here, our selfishness and ego-centric desires and beliefs.

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 invariably find that at some time in the past we have made decisions based on SELF, which later placed us in a position to be hurt.

Whenever we are selfish, self-seeking, dishonest or afraid, it is because we are trying to control circumstances and other people. We are playing God. We are being the director rather than one of the actors in the theatre of life.

The AA Big Book then goes on to say: so our troubles, we think, are basically of our own making. They arise out of ourselves, and the alcoholic is almost the most extreme example that could be found of self-will run riot, though he usually doesn’t think so. Above everything, we alcoholics must be rid of this selfishness. We must, or it kills us! God makes that possible. And there is no way of entirely getting rid of self without Him. You may have moral and philosophical convictions galore, but you can’t live up to them even though you would like to. Neither can you reduce your self-centeredness much by wishing or trying on your own power. You MUST have God’s help.

This is the how and why of it. First of all, quit playing God yourself. It doesn’t work. Next, decide that hereafter in this drama of life, God is going to by your Director. He is the Principal; you are to be His agent. He is the Father, and you are His child. Get that simple relationship straight. Most good ideas are simple and this concept is to be the keystone of the new and triumphant arch through which you will pass to freedom.

With respect to fear, the Big Book says, “this short word (fear ) somehow touches about every aspect of our lives. Fear is an evil and corroding thread; the fabric of our existence is shot through with it. It sets in motion trains of circumstances which bring us misfortune we feel we don’t deserve. But did not we, ourselves, set the ball rolling? Sometimes we think fear ought to be classed with stealing as a sin. It seems to cause more trouble.”

Why is fear a thief? Because it robs us of peace of mind Why is fear a sin? Because it blocks our connection to God.

The AA Big Book goes in to ask, why you have your fears? Isn’t it because SELF-reliance has failed you?

If we are God-centered rather than self-centered, we trust and rely on infinite God, rather than our finite self. Remember, we are in the world to play the role He assigns. Just to the extent that we do as we think He would have us, and humbly rely on Him, does He enable us to match calamity with serenity.

We ask Him to remove our fear and direct our attention to what HE WOULD HAVE US BE.  At once, we will commence to outgrow fear.

Thus, fear is rooted in our ego. It is based on our selfish desire to want things to go our way for some desirable future outcome. All fears have 1 root cause: self-reliance fails us. If we were trusting a relying on God, we would play the role that HE assigned, not that we assigned. The answer is to trust and rely on Him.

But, all our character defects are rooted in our ego. As addicts, we want what we want. They come from a place of monumental self-absorption. The goal of living in the spiritual solution is to “let go and let God.” God can do for us what we could never do alone.

Please share your thoughts and comments.

Thank you Devora! I hope this is helpful.

With blessings for peace & recovery,



The Original Manuscript of the AA Big Book


  1. Great Post! Well explained.

    “It is our ego which blocks us off from God and other people. To quote Chuck C. “The only road block between me and you and me and my God is the human ego.” (1984)”

    BB We Agnostics, p.55 tells me what blocks me from God
    “… deep inside in everyman, woman and child, is there a fundamental idea of God. It may be obscured by calamity, by pomp, by worship of other things, but in some form or other it is there.”
    Obscured here means being blocked from conscious contact with God. It means to keep from being seen, concealed. God’s presence is not never absent (however it may feel otherwise) but obscured like clouds obscuring the sun. The sun is still shining. The cloud cover is only temporary.

    Calamity is a state of deep distressed or misery caused by some misfortune or loss usually caused only in my mind. In Bill’s story on pg 6 he talked about a sense of having a “sense of impending calamity.” I get self pity, resentment, worry, anxiety, fear etc.
    In Big Book pg 68 has the solution – “ Just to the extent that we do as we think He would have us and humbly rely on Him, does He enable us to match calamity with serenity”

    Pomp is another word for pride. I’m puffed up and putting on a show that I am better than others. Trying to get attention for myself. My focus is only on myself and not God and others.

    Worship of other things – Are those things I’m putting ahead of God. What do I devote my time and money to thinking that they will make me happy, fulfilled. For me this included Alcohol, Job, Money, Success, Others praise. They all leave me empty. Trying to fill that God sized hole that only God can fill.

    Jim Griggs

  2. Fabulous writing and your insights sre invaluable.

    To think that I came eat to lose some weight and now I am learning i have to lose my ego.

    What a program!!

    So grateful.

    Thank you shira for your service and your committment to spread the messaage.

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