Most people I’ve come across immediately say “No, I don’t get anything out of it”, but the truth is, if you’re still struggling with your weight, you probably do.
This is what’s known in psychological fields as secondary gain, it is defined as social, physical or financial benefits that arise from illness, mishap or injury. A simple example might be that if you are ill you get more attention, sympathy and love from your family, or workers compensation from an injury.
So with that in mind, do you get ANYTHING at all out of being overweight?
Do you ‘get to’ skip your exercise sessions? Or have that piece of cake? Or do you ‘get’ sympathy and attention from friends and partners, or your personal trainer?
Sometimes really thinking about the secondary gains that you ‘get’ out of being overweight is enough to make them dissolve, as it really hits home that you don’t get anything worthwhile out of staying that way, and it’s not worth the pain! Often these gains are unconscious, so you have to dust them off, out of the back cupboards in your brain and bring them into the light to make them disappear.
However, some secondary gains are deeply unconscious and these are what really cause people to struggle with their weight. The easiest way to explain this is through case studies, (obviously these are individual cases and are to illustrate the secondary gain. Everybody is different so read these case studies as examples only.)
One woman who had struggled with her weight since her teenage years, was perplexed as to why she kept sabotaging her weight loss efforts, with late night binges. She mentioned that she had been raped in her early teenage years and had never really felt safe since then. When we dug a little deeper, she realised that she had been a very pretty, slim young woman and after the trauma, she had a deep fear of being attacked again, and a belief that how she looked were factors in her being attacked, so she had unconsciously kept herself plain looking and overweight to prevent this. Every time she began to lose weight, which she consciously wanted very much, her unconscious belief would kick in and she would sabotage herself. Obviously there were also other emotions and beliefs at play, supporting this pattern, but this was the root of it. Once she cleared the trauma of the attack and the beliefs that she was not safe as a slim person, she found that she no longer sabotaged herself and has been steadily dropping the kilos since then by just living a healthy lifestyle.
Another woman was very focused on her career. She wanted to get slim, but was struggling with her motivation. When we explored secondary gain, she confessed that she was in an unhappy marriage with a man who she respected very much but did not love anymore, she realised that her weight was a barrier, protecting her from facing that underlying issue. She said that if she lost the weight she might get attention from other men and would then have to face the fact that she was in an unhappy marriage and would have to hurt the husband she cared about very much. It was easier for her to dance around the problem of losing weight, rather than deal with the relationship problem. After becoming conscious of this she realised that it was not helping her at all by avoiding facing either problem. After clearing the unconscious barriers and negative beliefs she has since easily lost the weight, worked out an amicable divorce with her husband, started a new business and recently told me she is now is happier than ever.
As I said, these are individual case studies cannot be generalised at all. They simply describe the unconscious process where your mind protects you from a perceived bigger or worse threat by maintaining some problem or challenge.
If you want to discover if there is unconscious secondary gain at play for you reflect on these questions.
Take the time to reflect on these questions, or even better write out the answers, and allow them to begin to shift your thinking. The first set are to bring up the fears out of the recesses of your unconscious mind and the second set are to help you begin to overcome them.
If you need any help with letting go of secondary gain or self sabotage, that’s my specialty!
Remember that you do have the inner resources and strength to overcome even the most challenging obstacles, so remember your big reason why you are making this change, be kind to yourself on the journey, and keep at it.
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