How your unconscious mind may be sabotaging your New Year's resolutions or any other goal you se

Hi beautiful people. Today I am going to talk about something that often shows up when I work with people on their healing journey. The concept of secondary gain. It is also an issue for those of us who start out with the best of intentions with New Year's resolutions, ready for a new start and to let go of behaviours that are no longer serving us. How has this worked for you in the past? If you are like many people you are likely to be starting 2019 with a resolution that you've tried before.

Secondary gain is the term used to describe the benefit we get from holding onto a problem and is usually unconscious. It’s when a problematic or negative behaviour provides a positive, beneficial result. Sounds odd, doesn’t it?

How can we get a benefit from holding onto a problem? How can someone be better off being overweight and not losing weight? How can someone be better off hanging onto anxiety, depression or an illness? How does it make sense for someone to always struggle with money, make silly financial choices or not take up opportunities to improve their financial situation and not solve their problem?

As odd as it sounds, recognising a secondary gain goes a long way to explaining why some people cannot seem to stop a negative behaviour when logically, it doesn’t make sense to continue it. Why continue eating unhealthy junk food and being overweight when your doctor has clearly told you your health is seriously at risk? What is the reason someone overspends, has huge credit card debt and continues to spend on material things when their budget clearly can’t afford it? What leads to people sabotaging themselves?

Some questions to ask when considering whether there is a secondary gain and what it is are:

What are you getting from having your problem?

What has been stopping you from making the change?

If you solved the problem, what would you lose?

What could you gain from not making the change?


What would happen if you did solve your problem, e.g. lose weight?

What would happen if you didn’t?

What wouldn’t happen if you didn’t?

What wouldn’t happen if you did?

This second set of questions are designed to dig deep and find that secondary gain. They may sound weird but they are very effective. Just sit with each one, writing down every answer that comes to you, brainstorming all of the answer, when you feel there aren’t anymore, just sit with it a little longer as more answers will come. Then move onto the next question and do the same thing. The questions are great for getting clarity and finding secondary gain.

Some examples of secondary gain are:

A person who is overweight who sees the weight as protection and safety and who then uses the weight as an excuse to avoid intimacy and relationships, often but not always there is a background of childhood abuse.

A person who hates their job and is “sick” of going to work who becomes ill and then does not have to go to work.

A person who is often ill gets to rest when they want to and gets attention and to feel important from friends and family. This one can even stem from a time in childhood when illness meant lots of love and attention at the time.

Emotional eating is another example where a person will eat when they are not hungry to satisfy an emotional need such as stress, anxiety, loneliness or boredom.

Resorting to self-medicating with drugs or alcohol to numb negative emotions is another area where the abuse of drugs or alcohol whist being seen by the person as a negative behaviour, serves a positive purpose.

A person with a drug or alcohol problem who wants to quit but then struggles to as it means giving up their friendship group or time with family if they also use drugs or alcohol in an unhealthy way. In this instance the secondary gain is the friendships and family connection.

Initially recognising there is a problem and using the questions above can lead to an awareness of the benefits of the behaviour. This is really important and liberating, just having an understanding of what is holding us back from clearing the problem. Then there are two ways of clearing the secondary gain in an appointment with me. Firstly, by finding what the secondary gain or benefit is and the associated limiting belief we can clear it using Time Line Therapy® or another NLP process that helps to change a belief. The second way is a Parts Integration. This one is used if part of the person wants to one thing and another part wants to do the opposite. We work with the two parts until they recognise that they both want the same thing and have the same objective, then they integrate and are no longer an issue. Both of these processes take about 20 minutes and are really easy.

So, when you are finding it tricky to stop a negative behaviour, stop and consider what you are gaining from it. You may be surprised how effective it is just having that awareness.

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