What is Secondary Gain?

Why do some people stay stuck?

My Client Robert (not his real name) had a fear of success. He came to me because he felt he wanted to remove whatever was blocking his success.

He was in middle management for a major corporation and had the talent and bona fides to move up into the executive ranks.

After exploring in more detail, he revealed there had been several opportunities over the past few years to enter an executive coaching program sponsored by his company’s HR department.  He said he hadn’t taken advantage of either opportunity.

After questioning why, he felt he had an unconscious block to success.  We explored more about this possible block he thought he had. 

We found the reason he was stuck.

He had been in his middle management position for close to a decade and had been acknowledged as one of the best in his position.  He held the esteem of his colleagues and had received awards for achieving his management goals.

He also had a large group of department friends who socialized outside of work and had become a tight knit community.

Robert realized that he didn’t want to move up into an executive position because he was afraid if he accepted the position, his friends would look at him differently and he would lose the closeness of his work family.

The benefit for not moving forward in his career, was keeping his close friends and the security he felt from that community, and the admiration from his department colleagues.

In NLP (neuro-linguistic programming), there’s a term called Secondary Gain.

Secondary gain is often why a person stays stuck. By stuck I mean people who can’t seem to conquer a particular obstacle in the way of achieving their goal.

There are many reasons that people stay stuck, but this is one reason that often causes blocking issues or staying stuck.

When a person finds some kind of benefit for staying stuck, that is called secondary gain.

Why do some people stay stuck? What are the advantages for staying stuck with their problem or blocking issue?

Why do some people stay stuck in difficult, painful situations? Why do they seem to lack the ability or willingness to escape their problems?

This is a complex question, but I think a useful way of thinking about it is as a problem of secondary gain. Staying stuck is a way of keeping an unworkable status quo—not just for yourself, but for everyone around you. And while the situation may be bad for everyone else, it might be just fine for you.

As a coach, I have discovered that the most important thing I can do is help my clients understand their own behavior. When we understand why we do what we do, then change becomes possible—because only then does it become possible to choose what we will do instead.


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