The Problem of Egocentricity and the Wisdom of A.A.

It is a fundamental rule of the psyche that if the ego does not serve the Self, or God, it will inevitably serve only itself. Just as the gravity of the sun holds the planets to their orbits, the Self is meant to be the anchoring center of the total personality. But in a state of egocentricity, as the word implies, the ego makes itself the center of the universe. Rather than being an instrument of the creative and healing energy of the Self, the egocentric ego hijacks the personality, redirecting its energy for the attainment of its own goals.

We are all by nature somewhat egocentric in our view of the world and approach to life. However, in a situation of malignant or pathological egocentricity, the ego has become especially stubborn and focused on its own goals and perspectives. In this situation your egocentricity has become more entrenched, pervasive, and heavily defended. You have become so attached to your own desires and viewpoints that responsiveness and service to the Self and God is essentially eclipsed. From a psychological perspective, the ego has gone rogue. It has set up its own “government” within the personality, imprisoned the soul, and commandeered the personality to its own ends.

Malignant egocentricity is like a disease, or cancer, that parasitizes the psyche. Most alcoholics and addicts suffer from malignant egocentricity, for they attempt to control their psyche through their chemical (or behavior) of choice. The addicting substance/behavior turns the user into its slave. They are usually chasing their next high and may steal, lie, cheat, manipulate, and coerce to attain it. At the very least, they compulsively use their money, time, energy and body in irresponsible ways. These behaviors only add to the addict’s egocentric tendencies. The denial of an individual’s more instinctual morality and conscience, and the rationalization of ego-serving moral codes—codes that would lead to chaos if generally applied—are a hallmark of pathological egocentricity.

The Alcoholics Anonymous recovery program, developed in 1935 by Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith, offers one of the most successful methods for recovery from addiction available. Its basic principles and steps of character development are worthy of reflection by all people who suffer from egocentricity, malignant or otherwise. That means pretty much all of us.

One value of the A.A. approach to addiction recovery rests in its recognition of the fact that the ego is meant to serve the Self rather than the other way around. A.A. and its related programs (N.A., G.A., etc.) firmly recognize the role of egocentricity in the life and worldview of the addict. Addiction behaviors flow from and contribute to the egocentric tendencies of a person. A.A. says of alcoholics that “their life has become unmanageable.” Life is bound to become unmanageable for anyone whose egocentricity becomes extreme. This is because the ego is not meant to control life. It is meant to flow with and serve life. When we pursue a path or goals that are at odds with our deeper nature and calling, we encounter more and more obstacles and frustrations. Life does not endorse or support the ego’s perspective. This realization, often associated with “hitting rock bottom,” leads to the next A.A. step where we “come to believe that a power greater than ourselves can restore us to sanity.”

Only when we finally accept the lesson that we are not in charge, that we are not the creator and master of our own destiny, are we opened to the reality of a power greater than ourselves. It dawns on us that we are meant to serve life rather than rule it. This humbling awareness opens our mind and heart to the reality of a higher wisdom and power that can bring us back to sanity and guide us to wholeness. The awareness and acceptance of our role as servants of life and soul is a healing medicine to all forms of egocentricity.

Step 3 states that the recovering alcoholic/addict has made the decision to “turn their will and their lives over to the care of God as they understand Him.” When our egocentric viewpoint and stubbornness of will is broken down, we have an important choice to make. Will we place our trust in life and in a healing process we may not fully understand? To do so is to acknowledge the Self, the healing and creative core of the psyche and life. It is an act of faith and trust. But it is not blind faith, for if you have reached this point, your own life experiences have opened your eyes to the smallness of your own will in relation to the deeper currents of life and your own unconscious.

Steps 4 and 5 state that those in recovery make a “searching and fearless moral inventory” of themelves, and that they admit “to God, themselves, and another human being the exact nature of their wrongs.” The realization that you are not the center of the universe, that you cannot recast life in your own image, goals, or desires, and that life will always be unmanageable so long as you are trying to call the shots, is the foundation of a psychologically healthy personality. But much difficult and humbling work remains for a house with structural integrity to be built. You must look at the truth about yourself, the good and the bad, but mostly the specific attitudes, beliefs, and decisions that led you down the wrong path. It is to face the ways you fell short and the ways you missed the mark. It is an honest appraisal of how you have hurt others, hurt yourself, and denied your soul. This is a humbling process, akin to shoveling out a thousand stalls of manure, with more waiting the next day. But there is also liberation in this process, for in truly seeing and acknowledging your selfishness, arrogance, irresponsibility, etc., you are once again in a position to join the humble ranks of the human race. You get to drop the airs and pretensions, the lies and deceptions, the futile attempts to control everything, and the fears of being found out. You finally get to just be yourself, and that’s a helluva lot easier than trying to be someone you’re not.

Copyright © Andy Drymalski, Ed.D.
Excerpts may be used provided full and clear credit is given author with link to original article.

2 thoughts on “The Problem of Egocentricity and the Wisdom of A.A.

  1. Hello, I recently began to integrate my shadow. But I found out that a egocentric ego, rather than a strong one, cannot obtain individuation. Should I try to pass through the steps you laid out above before trying to integrate my shadow?

    • Hi Felipe,

      I think that going through the steps I describe, steps drawn from the 12 Steps of A.A., will require that you face and come to terms with much of your shadow. In other words, the two processes will overlap to a large degree. Just remember that there is much good in the shadow as well. So as you face the negative in yourself, don’t forget to see and embrace the good also. Some of our shadow has taken on negative qualities because we have locked it in a dungeon for so long, without food or understanding.

      Thank you for writing and best wishes in your integration process.


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