Practice These Principles
Living the Spiritual Disciplines and Virtues in 12-Step Recovery

Character Defects


Pride is the character defect of which humility is the corrective virtue, and recovery a lifelong process of surrendering the one and growing in the other. All of the 12 Steps, we are told, deflate our egos. The attainment of greater humility is the foundational principle in each and every one. The same is true of the 12 Traditions. They all aim to keep the self-asserting ego at bay and foster the spirit of humility which in the form of anonymity constitutes their spiritual foundation.

In all of this, it is readily acknowledged, we are being asked to act contrary to our natural desires. Pride is innate and instinctive in us and, well, we enjoy it. We like the sense of control it gives us, the feeling of power and superiority it bestows. We are also being asked to buck the culture. For if pride was for most of human history a vice to which few would willingly admit, it is now celebrated as the equivalent of a virtue by growing segments of society—a development which, not accidentally, the Big Book and the 12&12 anticipated. Pride and humility are effectively switching places, the latter coming to be seen as a weakness if not an outright flaw.

None of which makes it any easier to understand the true nature of pride and its damaging effect upon our lives. The problem is compounded by a peculiar feature of pride.  And this is that pride is the hardest defect to recognize in ourselves. This is so for two reasons. First, pride makes us think too highly of ourselves, making it more difficult to see our flaws. Second, pride hides behind those flaws, making it harder to detect its presence.  

These reasons help to explain why, historically, pride has not been considered just one more character defect. It is the deadliest of them, the seed from which they sprout and the root which sustains them. It is the “basic breeder” not only of our problems as alcoholics, but of all human difficulties; it is the “chief obstacle” to progress. Pride is the “soul-sickness” lying at the heart of our spiritual disease, which values and measures our self over and against other selves. It is what makes us “play God.”

But if pride is the breeding ground of all character defects, so is humility the nourishing soil of all the virtues. Pride is therefore identified and surrendered as we identify and surrender it in every other defect. Similarly, humility is practiced and acquired in the process of practicing and acquiring every other virtue, for in some measure each requires that we humble ourselves.

We can move toward these goals as we make a searching and fearless inventory of ourselves in Steps 4 through 11, practicing a day at a time all of their principles in all areas of our lives.

[Image: Hank P., AA #2 in NY, author of Big Book’s chapter “To Employers" and story “The Unbeliever.” See Big Book Q&A, Personal Stories: Experience, Strength & Hope, "The Unbeliever," p.5

“The prideful righteousness of ‘good people’ may often be just as destructive as the glaring sins of those who are supposedly not so good.” – As Bill Sees It

There is a solution. Almost none of us liked the self-searching, the leveling of our pride, the confession of shortcomings which the process requires for its successful consummation.” – Big Book

“[P]ride, leading to self-justification, and always spurred by conscious or unconscious fears, is the basic breeder of most human difficulties, the chief block to true progress." –12&12

“It would be a product of false pride to claim that A.A. is a cure-all, even for alcoholism.” – A.A. Comes of Age 


“Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” – Proverbs 16:18

“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” – James 4:6

“All men make mistakes, but a good man yields when he knows his course is wrong, and repairs the evil. The only crime is pride.” – Sophocles, Antigone

“It was pride that changed angels into devils; it is humility that makes men as angels.” – St. Augustine

“We are rarely proud when we are alone.” – Voltaire

“Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.” – Satan, in Milton’s Paradise Lost

“I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.” – William Ernest Henley

"Pride does not wish to owe and vanity does not wish to pay.” – Francois de La Rochefoucauld

“Vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often used synonymously. A person may be proud without being vain. Pride relates to our opinion of ourselves; vanity to what we would have others think of us.” 
– Jane Austen

“Pride leaves the heart the moment love enters it.” – Théophile Gautier 


"Pride is a vice, which pride itself inclines every man to find in others, and to overlook in himself.” – Samuel Johnson

“As soon as there were two, there was pride.” – John Donne

“Proud people breed sad sorrows for themselves.” – Emily Brontë

“Shame is pride’s cloak.” – William Blake

“Pride is pleasure arising from a man’s thinking too highly of himself.” 
– Baruch Spinoza

“Pride costs more than hunger, thirst, and cold.” – Thomas Jefferson

“The proud hate pride—in others.” – Benjamin Franklin

“On the highest throne in the world, we still sit only on our own bottom.” 
– Michel de Montaigne

“At every trifle take offense, that always shows great pride or little sense.” 
– Alexander Pope

“Through pride we are ever deceiving ourselves. But deep down below the surface of the average conscience a still, small voice says to us that something is out of tune.” – Carl Jung

“A proud man is seldom a grateful man, for he never thinks he gets as much as he deserves.” – Henry Ward Beecher

“The intelligent man who is proud of his intelligence is like the condemned man who is proud of his large cell.” – Simone Weil

"It is better to lose your pride with someone you love rather than to lose that someone you love with your useless pride.” – John Ruskin

“Pride must die in you, or nothing of heaven can live in you.” – Andrew Murray

“Most of the trouble in the world is caused by people wanting to be important.” – T.S. Eliot

“If you see anything in yourself which may make you proud, look a little further, and you will find enough to make you humble.” – Wellins Calcott

“Pride, perceiving humility honorable, often borrows her cloak.” – Thomas Fuller

“Charity feeds the poor, so does pride; charity builds a hospital, so does pride. In this they differ: charity gives her glory to God; pride takes her glory from man.” – Francis Quarles

“The ego is a self-justifying historian which seeks only that information that agrees with it, rewrites history when it needs to, and does not even see the evidence that threatens it.” – Anthony G. Greenwald

“Temper gets you into trouble. Pride keeps you there.” – Anonymous

“God sends no one away empty, except those who are full of themselves.” 
– D. L. Moody

“The passions grafted on wounded pride are the most inveterate; they are green and vigorous in old age.” – George Santayana

“The proud are ever most provoked by pride.” – William Cowper

“Never underestimate a man who overestimates himself.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt

"The proud man sets himself up and, in doing so, sets himself apart." – Henry Fairlie

“Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man . . . It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition is gone, pride is gone.” – C. S. Lewis

“Pride in the spiritual sense is the refusal to let God be God. It’s to grab God’s status for oneself. It’s turning down God’s invitation to join the dance of life as a creature in his world, and wishing instead to be the creator, independent, reliant on one’s resources—and that is the great illusion.” – Lewis B. Smedes

“Pride is that which claims to be the author of what is really a gift.” – Tim Keller

“Today I have been given the gift, through the Fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous, of practicing the Steps and Traditions in my daily life, of my group and sponsor, and the capacity—if I so choose—to put my pride aside in all situations which arise in my life.” – AA’s Daily Reflections

“Pride stands sentinel at the door of the heart and shuts out the love of God.” – Twenty-Four Hours a Day

"My autistic child beat your honor student." – Bumper Sticker

“There is an order to reality and my place in the universe, and when, out of pride I think I can make up my own rules and fail to conduct myself in accordance with that order, reality will sooner or later set in and forcibly conform me to itself.” – PTP

“Pride and humility are master self-construals, how we see ourselves in relation to the world, our fellows and God. Pride puts self at the center, and everything is seen in terms of it, what it gives to it and what it takes away, what it promises and what it threatens. All of our diseased emotions flow ultimately from that attitude and perspective.” – PTP

For more PTP passages on pride, see, among others, pp. 35-35, 53-54, 70, 74, 81-83,
92-93,121, 136, 157, 165, 168, 182. For more BB and 12&12 passages, click on and search “pride.” See also entries under pride in As Bill Sees
. See also The Virtue of Humility, in "Practice These."

Additional Resources

  1. C.S. Lewis, The Business of Heaven, daily meditations April 1 – April 4

  2. Glittering Vices: A New Look at the Seven Deadly Sins and Their Remedies, by Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung

  3. “Pride and Humility: Tempering the Desire for Excellence,” by Craig A. Boyd, chapter in Virtues & Their Vices, Kevin Timpe & Craig A. Boyd, Editors

For other posts on defects of character, please click on Character Defects.