Secondary gain is the receiving benefit from a problem. Sometimes having a problem gets a person something that they want (their spouse’s affection, attention) or removes something that a person does not want (responsibility).
Secondary gain can be a great motivator to hold on to a problem. For example, a wife might notice that the only time her husband pays attention to her is when she is depressed. Because she believes she needs his attention, she intentionally or perhaps, unintentionally resists measures that would make her feel better.
The benefits of secondary gain are often not really thought about consciously, but they remain motivators nonetheless. Without realizing it, a father’s anxiety might bring about a calming of family conflict because the family members do not want to upset dad. Therefore, the benefits of the family peace help to maintain the anxiety, even if the anxiety’s cause had nothing to do with family conflict.
Secondary gain usually is based on one of two mistaken believes:
“The only way to get what I want or need is to have a problem “or “The easier way to get what I want or need us to have a problem” and it makes sense to go the easier route. Let’s examine the two ideas
“The only way for me to get what I want or need is to have a problem” We certainly want to challenge this belief because I cannot think of a single time when this belief was accurate. Is it indeed the case that the only way a person’s spouse would be willing to provide and affection is if he were to remain depressed? Might the client’s spouse enjoy providing attention and affection if the client were to satisfy the spouse’s desires?
If you believe that you must hold onto your emotional state or behaviors because you need them to obtain what you want or need, obviously you believe you are correct, or you would not waste your time feeling and behaving that way. However, I urge you to challenge that belief. Share this belief with your therapist and allow him or her to work with you.
“The easier way to get what I want or need is to have a problem”
Sometimes, what seems easier and less costly really is more difficult and more expensive. For example, some people believe that drinking alcohol to deal with their problems is easier and less costly than would it be to work on their problems through therapy. However, is it really easier to get drunk every day and suffer social, economic, and health problems than it is to go to therapy? How much would one spend on alcohol over man years compared to the cost of going to a therapist over a few months? Is it really harder to discuss one’s problems (as unpleasant as that might be) with a therapist every week than it is to wake up with a hangover every morning or deal with cirrhosis of the liver?
Realize that feeling miserable and behaving irrationally takes a lot of work. Getting what you want directly, the right way, is usually much easier, you just ned to know how. New mind, new beliefs, and new habit.