• Suzanne Matthiessen

Secondary Gains: The Subconscious Payoffs Of Being Stuck

Updated: Apr 4, 2020

One of the hurdles many people struggle with jumping over and moving beyond is one called "secondary gains."

Secondary gains are the payoffs our old ingrained habits and patterns of thoughts, choices, actions and behaviors give to us (e.g. an old, bug-ridden, status quo Internal Operating System), even though they are usually negative, energy-depleting and goal-obstructing. And, as humans, everything we do has a payoff, whether in the Big Picture of our lives it is a beneficial or detrimental one. When we continue to run these negative patterns and programs even though they keep us stuck, it's because we are receiving something from them we have difficultly letting go of: often in the form of avoidance of a real or imagined painful experience.

In terms of the subconscious mind (that runs about 88% of the show – or roughly the amount of ice that is submerged in a typical iceberg), those old patterns lead to a predictable "known" we can count on. Since most people fear the unknown, it is more comfortable to hold onto the known, even if it doesn't make sense to do so. But by definition, the subconscious mind is not the domain of the reasonable and logical; and when you have a mere 12% of the mind devoted to consciously doing what makes sense, it's easy to see why we are vulnerable to the lure of negative payoffs.

When we are triggered by stressful events, it is easy to fall back into old auto-pilot patterns of thinking, choosing, acting and behaving - even to the point of compromising our integrity for self-serving reasons. Understanding this core aspect of human nature and behavior can engender greater empathy and compassion for others as well as for ourselves, because the truth is most of us are doing the best we've learned how to do in any given situation we find ourselves in. The majority of people are not malicious in intent, yet they also often don't fully see the impact that their energy has upon others. This is why learning conscious awareness skills is so empowering, because it optimizes that 12% of our mind to be able to non-reactively observe our subconscious patterns, and begin to choose differently.

It is also at the heart of living an ethically intelligent life.

Understanding secondary gains goes a long way in assisting you from removing yourself from their hostage-holding shackles on your subconscious mind and your heart, and spirit, yet you still have to experience the process of self-inquiry, ownership, and transcendence on a deeper mind-body-spirit level to be successful on a lasting basis. Again, that is where conscious awareness skills-building practices can be of major assistance. I invite you to non-reactively and compassionately look at every area of your life and see where you may be running auto-pilot patterns that can be holding you back from living and leading by ethically intelligent and contagiously positive example in whatever sphere of influence you have.

Here are a few examples of secondary gains:

• Any form of manipulation – subtle or direct. Using fear, blame, guilt, self-pity, shame or other abusive dark behaviors. And this includes saying things like "You SHOULD have" or "IF you loved me, you'd __."

• Being overweight to keep people at a distance in order to avoid intimacy, or believing there would be a temptation to cheat on your partner because you'd be more attractive

• Holding on to physical pain or illness in order to receive attention or avoid undesirable situations

• Compromising needs and integrity in order to be popular, gain approval, get a job, keep a relationship, etc.

• Not making positive life changes because loved ones will feel threatened.

• Procrastinating out of a fear of failure, rejection or inadequacy because it keeps you "safely" out of the game.

• Indulging in reckless/impulsive behaviors: eating unhealthy "comfort foods", getting drunk to escape, doing "retail therapy" you can't afford to feel better in the short term.

• Staying in a job you hate and engaging in harmful habits to cope because you are afraid to lose the income.

• Justifying any co-dependent relationship even when you know it is mutually destructive – the payoff is never worth the abuse and negative energy generated in this type of relationship.

• Choosing to be stuck in anger instead of moving on with your life, believing you are justified to act like a victim and solicit the sympathy you get from others who may also be stuck in victimhood.

• Underperforming because you don't want to be given added responsibilities or to avoid conflict or jealousy within co-workers.

• Acting out irresponsibly and/or treating others badly because you are under a lot of stress or have a mood disorder.

It is vital when looking honestly at your possible secondary gains that you be very gentle with yourself as well. They were likely adopted as self-protection and survival mechanisms, even though they are not empowering you in the long run. In order for authentic internal and external change to take hold, you must first learn to love, accept, respect and forgive yourself. Beating yourself up mentally for being stuck in old, worn out thought and behavioral programs is committing violence again yourself, as well as being counter-productive to transcending the pattern(s) and moving to a higher and stronger place. Remember that that one of the most compassionate things you can do for a fellow human being is not enable or tolerate darkness or abuse of ANY sort – and that includes toward yourself.

Recognition Leads To Liberation

Understanding secondary gains goes a long way in assisting you from removing yourself from their hostage-holding shackles on your subconscious mind, yet you still have to do the work and experience the process of self-inquiry and elimination on a deeper mind-body-spirit level to be successful on a lasting, sustainable basis.


Take time every day this week to look within, and actively write down any place in your life you see that you've been indulging in negative energy secondary gain payoffs: in your overall well-being physically, mentally, emotionally or spiritually; at work or school or in your regular activities; at home; within any of your relationships, personal and professional, and in whatever communities you participate in. Writing these patterns down will give you the ability to look at them outside yourself, and provide you with the opportunity to revisit your list regularly. By becoming more mindfully and consciously aware of them, you can be able to choose differently when stressors arise that triggered these patterns in the past, and build an stronger, more empowered internal operating system. Keep this list handy, and allow it to be a gentle re-minder.

It is a great act of courage to acknowledge you may need some assistance in the letting go process, and actually proactively getting it. The "what's in it for me?" payoff in choosing to fear-less-ly do what it takes to make these inner changes will be tangibly rewarding, because given the right tools, techniques and guidance, you can let go of the hold secondary gains have upon you and the barriers they create to happiness, fulfillment and greater overall well-being. Never feel that acknowledging you need some professional help to help heal old wounds is an act of weakness – it is an act of power that will ripple outward and touch the lives of others, a selfless service to everyone whose lives you have an impact upon.

© 2020, Suzanne Matthiessen, innerevolution media. All rights reserved.

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