Lack of Humility as a Barrier in Surrendering to the Spiritual Aspect of Alcoholics Anonymous

Kenneth E. Hart and Cherry Huggett

Aims. We tested the hypothesis that recovering alcoholic outpatients who lack humility will be particularly reluctant to accept the first three “surrender” steps of Alcoholics Anonymous: (1) surrendering to powerlessness over alcohol; (2) surrendering to the existence and availability of a “Higher Power” which can help; (3) surrendering control to this “Higher Power”.

Participants & Measurement. Twenty-nine newly recovering alcoholic outpatients drawn from a Minnesota-Model type treatment program in the United Kingdom completed the NPI narcissism scale and the ‘Steps Questionnaire’, which yielded scores assessing the degree of surrender to each of AA’s first three steps.


  • Unexpectedly, results showed that none of the narcissism subscales were related to acceptance of Step 1.
  • However, the narcissistic “authority” subscale showed a very strong inverse relationship to level of surrender to Step 2 (r = -.74, p < .001), and step 3 (r = -.60, < .001).
  • Also, the narcissistic “superiority” subscale showed a significant inverse association with acceptance of step 3 (r = -.40, p < .05).

Conclusions. The present results suggest that, relative to their more humble counterparts, recovering alcoholics who lack humility (ie., high narcissists) do not have more difficulty surrendering to the idea they are powerless over their drinking problem.

However, recovering alcoholics who lack authority-related humility do show a marked lack of faith in the proposition that “God” offers a viable solution to their alcohol problem.

Consequently, they are quite reluctant to surrender their willfulness, and thereby accept help from a Higher Power.

Given that faith in the existence, availability or efficacy of a Higher Power is difficult for this subsample of individuals, it seems likely that – in the context of 12-step recovery – deficits in humility may serve to increase a client’s vulnerability to treatment dropout, disaffiliation with AA and relapse. Implications for pastoral counseling are discussed.

Drugs: Education, Policy and Prevention, 2001, 8, 233-242.