One of the places where we can get emotionally or relationally stuck is when we are unaware of what we call secondary gains. These are benefits that are derived from remaining trapped in a particular situation or mindset.
For example: A relationship has long ended, but we continue to talk about it every chance we get, or we continue to pursue the relationship with telephone calls & emails well past the break-up. What is the gain? It feels like the relationship is still alive at some level, and shields us from having to face the full weight of grief.
Another example: A person who has a fixable problem refuses to deal with it, but continually talks about it. Or someone with a chronic problem (maybe physical or medical) doesn’t come to grips with it and also must persistently make it a topic of conversation. What is the secondary gain here? It is the attention and sympathy that the person may receive by delaying action in the first scenario or not making peace with the reality in the second. I am not being callous of legitimate pain and suffering and our need for support. I am talking about excesses that produce negative results.
Ultimately, secondary gains delay the grief process that we must go through.
How about this one: We provoke someone into a conflict and although it is unpleasant and maybe even destructive it produces a secondary gain. What is the gain? The person has to interact with us. They can’t ignore us and so we feel closer to them in a weird sort of way.
The reason why secondary gains can be toxic is because people tend to distance themselves from us after a while – and as a result we have less access to resources to meet our legitimate needs for comfort and support.
I am sure that you can come up with other examples of secondary gain: acting helpless so you can be rescued, etc. But the result will be the same – risking relational disharmony.
Are you living with any unconscious secondary gains? If you need aid recognizing or eliminating them – there is always help.