The Interplay of Humility and Self-efficacy in Recovery

A study published by the Journal of Applied Psychology, as discussed in a previous post, not only discusses the importance of diverse social outcomes, but also the role of social self-identity. The study indicates improved self-efficacy among those who identify themselves as “in recovery” as opposed to those who identify as “addicts.”

Self-efficacy is defined as an individual’s belief in their own ability to be successful at a given task. In the journey of recovery from substance use disorders, self-efficacy is a foundational ingredient. Individuals will not successfully find recovery if they don’t believe that they can get sober.

People who identify as “in recovery” have greater self-efficacy as compared to those who identify as “addict” or “alcoholic.” So why do Alcoholics Anonymous and other twelve-step fellowships place such great emphasis on members self-identifying by their greatest vice?

The answer lies in humility, one of the cardinal virtues of Alcoholics Anonymous. Interestingly enough, many of the steps of Alcoholics Anonymous have the aim of producing or encouraging humility. Humility is considered a cardinal virtue in the twelve steps because it allows for a thorough self-examination. The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions goes into further detail on the role of humility in recovery:

“Indeed, the attainment of humility is the foundation principle of each of A.A.’s Twelve Steps. For without some degree of humility, no alcoholic can stay sober at all. Nearly all A.A.’s have found, too, that unless they develop much more of this precious quality than may be required just for sobriety, they still haven’t much chance of becoming truly happy. Without it, they cannot live to much useful purpose, or, in adversity, be able to summon the faith that can meet any emergency.” (p. 70)

And while humility may seem antithetical to self-efficacy, exploring the way humility is defined in the social sciences allows for a more harmonious coexistence of the two principles. Humility is defined operationally, with this set of two over-arching traits: an accurate view of ones-self while also being other-oriented rather than self-focused. In that sense, maybe self-identifying as an addict doesn’t engender humility at all, because doesn’t the identity of “recovery” yield a more accurate self-view? Shouldn’t it?

Encouraging clients to identify as being “in recovery” can have a positive influence on the culture and success of treatment centers, but also on the lives of the individuals they serve. Building humility in recovery allows people to thoroughly examine their weaknesses, to highlight and overcome them. Building self-efficacy in recovery allows people to thoroughly examine their strengths, to highlight and expand them. Recovery programs need to foster both virtues.