Selfishness and self-love are two similar-sounding traits that actually have very different meanings. In active addiction, our thoughts and actions are marked by extreme selfishness. In recovery, however, we begin to shed our selfish behaviors and instead learn to practice self-love.
Selfishness is defined as being “concerned excessively or exclusively with oneself; seeking or concentrating on one’s own advantage, pleasure, or well-being, without regard to others”. A great deal has been written about the selfishness of people with addictions. The book Alcoholics Anonymous, A.A.’s main text, sums it up this way:
In recovery, we begin to learn humility, and compassion for other people. As we learn how to truly love others, we also learn self-love, described as a “belief you hold that you are a valuable and worthy person.” Self-love is not conceit, but a simple acceptance of ourselves as we are today – even though we desire to change certain thoughts and behaviors. Like love for other people, self-love is unconditional; it doesn’t depend on being a certain weight, having a certain amount of money, or having anything.
Genuine self-love puts us on an equal plane with other people, neither inherently better nor worse. We begin to honor and respect our own needs as a person – as opposed to our selfish desires – just as we honor and respect the needs of those we love. As we learn to live life on life’s terms, we grow comfortable in our own skin and at ease with other people. While selfishness leaves room only for me, self-love makes room for everyone.