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Secondary Gain (Weight Loss)


Have you "tried" to lose weight but somehow manage to sabotage your efforts every time? If so, you could be suffering from a psychological problem called secondary gain.

Definition: “Secondary gain is an indirect benefit, usually obtained through an illness or debility." The concept of secondary gain goes back to the 19th Century and was re-popularized by Sigmund Freud, who talked about patients "clinging to their disease" as a way to hold on to the benefits their illness provides them.

Secondary gain can include anything from getting more attention or sympathy from others to escaping from punishment or responsibilities. Examples of secondary gains for adults include guilting your spouse into staying married to you, losing benefits, gaining access to pleasurable drugs, getting out of onerous household chores, not having to live up to your career potential or a way to avoid sex and/or having more children. Children also attain secondary gains from illness. They may complain of a stomach ache to get extra attention from their parents so they can stay home sick from school.

My first weight management client, who came to me whilst I was in training, was a lovely lady who was suffering from weight problems and adult onset diabetes. She told me she wanted to regain the health and fitness she had enjoyed in her early 20s (she was nearing 50), but after talking with her for a while, we both discovered there was a defiant part of her that wanted to remain overweight. She was married to a man significantly older than her and she was no longer physically attracted to him. Through our work together, my client identified and acknowledged the fear that if she regained her slender figure, men would start hitting on her and she would be tempted to cheat on her husband.

So how do you know if secondary gain is holding you back? Hypnotherapists and other people involved in change work typically identify clients' secondary gains by asking them questions in the initial consultation such as "What are the possible upsides to holding on to this problem?" and "What are the downsides to having the solution?" Clients are often surprised by their own answers to these questions since they are often not consciously aware there is a benefit to being sick or overweight. Ask yourself "In what way will not having this problem be unsafe or stressful?" and "Will having the solution change others' expectations of you?" The answers to these questions can shed important light on why you are not achieving your goals. So ask away…..


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