Step 4: Distinctions Between Selfish and Self-Seeking in AA


The confusion over the words selfish and self-seeking in Step 4 is not new.  It bothers me that Bill W used two words that appear similar. He says,

Referring to our list again, putting out of our minds the wrongs others had done, we resolutely looked for our own mistakes. Where had we been selfish, dishonest, self-seeking and frightened? ~ Alcoholics Anonymous, 2012, p 67

The following is how the Big Book Dictionary & Concordance defines the similar terms:

  • Selfish – concerned primarily or only with oneself
  • Self-seeking – seeking or pursuing only for oneself/ the act or practice of selfishly advancing one’s own desires and goals.
  • Self-seeker – a self-seeking person/ seeking only to further one’s own interests
  • Self-centered – concerned solely with one’s own desires, needs, or interests

Does it matter? If not, then you probably already grabbed the mouse and clicked off. A show of hands. How many are still with me, here?

It matters to me because words matter to me. My understanding of the basic text of AA matters to me. What follows is not my final word on this, I’m sure. I can only share what I own. This much I own. 


  • grab what makes me feel happy
  • the only child behavior (two-year-old mentality)
  • greedy, possessive, stingy

Dr Bob says,

Unfortunately for me I was the only child, which perhaps engendered the selfishness which played such an important part in bringing on my alcoholism. ~  Alcoholics Anonymous, 2012, p 172

So, for now, I’m content to define selfish as behavior that makes me act like an only child. Mine! is the mindset.


  • shrinking world of the mirror
  • denial of reality
  • disinterest in relationships in favor of selfish interests or goals

In the post, Dying for Recognition  self-seeking becomes a shrinking world. The more we indulge in that narrowing behavior, the smaller our focus gets. Pretty soon we’re hardly aware of anyone else or anything else…just our ourselves. Just our selfish aims. Self-seeking behavior can have elements of narcissism when combined with grandiosity, a need for constant admiration and lack of empathy or consideration of others.

I know I’ve met a self-seeking individual when everything I say is boomeranged into a topic about them. Conversation and any form of personal relationship or intimacy are of no value to them unless it’s self-feeding. Digging deeper, I find that it involves the deep need to control others. A narcissist is plagued by the need to make others fulfill his expectations and build his sense of importance.  

What I’ve been looking for is a mental picture that helps me identify the difference in behavior. Only Child (selfish) versus the Narcissist (self-seeking). That might just work for me.

 PS: Does it work for you?