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Secondary Gain: #1 Saboteur of Success [Definition & Explanation]

Secondary Gain: #1 Saboteur of Success [Definition & Explanation]

What is Secondary Gain, aka Sickness Gain? How does it keep you from changing behavior and achieving your goals? How does this self-sabotaging behavior have to do with ‘gain’? In this article you will learn what disease gain is and how you can deal with it. Read along…

What is Sickness Gain (Secondary Gain)?

Sickness gain is – often unconscious – resistance to solving a problem. For example, with anxiety complaints or depression: you unconsciously do not want to get rid of it because, for example, it is quite safe to stay in bed at home all the time.

For example, a child gets attention when it is sick, so a child craving attention will be sick more often.

That gain, or illness gain, is an invisible force that prevents us from moving forward with our lives. You could see illness gain as the reason for self-sabotage. Perhaps gain in illness is holding you back from letting go of a bad habit right now, or perhaps this is the case with your child.

In English, sickness gain is also called ‘secondary gain’.

Examples of sickness gain

sickness gain examples

Sickness gain, for example, is the reason why people cannot get rid of their anxiety symptoms. That fear persists because there is a positive intention – the disease gain – behind it. In other words, that fear makes for a nice profit. That could be protection, for example. And that protection is a gain that is very welcome.

The positive intention of destructive behavior, also called ‘disease gain’ or ‘secondary gain’, is one of the most important components of a problem.

Another common example of gain from illness is feigning illness for attention. The attention of being sick is a nice gain. As a result, many people – consciously or unconsciously – remain ill for an unnecessarily long time. This is also referred to as Munchausen syndrome.

As long as I maintain my allergy to cats, I don’t have to go to my mother-in-law, who has a cat.

Sickness gain is also referred to in the same breath as ‘ecology’ and ‘congruence’

If someone unnecessarily clings to worthless behavior, then there may be a gain in illness . For example, a child receives attention when it is ill, so the child will be ill more often. That’s why the ecology question is so important: ‘If this problem is solved, what other areas of your life can object? Perhaps the need for attention!

That need for attention – or some other positive need – is the positive intention of negative behavior. The recognition and attention that someone unconsciously wants has to do with the basic needs  of every human being.

In short: the following terms are very closely related:

  • Sickness gain, or secondary gain
  • Ecology: What other people in your life are affected by this?
  • Congruence : What other areas of your life are affected by this?
  • Positive intention and basic needs
  • Zelfsabotage
  • Munchausen syndrome

Marie wants to quit smoking, but when she achieves that goal, she misses social moments with her fellow smokers. Moreover, she no longer supports her favorite cigarette seller, who is already having a hard time with his shop. She always buys from him with a lot of love.

The Treatment for Sickness Benefit: “I want to get better, but how?”

resolve disease gain

How to deal with gains from illness? There are a number of effective ways to resolve disease gain. Below you will find the three main ways:

  1. Asking preventative questions about the ecology and congruence of a goal.
  2. Reframing the sabotaging behavior afterwards (disease gain).
  3. Using intense pain and pleasure as leverage to improve your situation.
  4. Emphasize the context in which the goal may be achieved: where, when and with whom may this goal be achieved – and where, when and with whom not?
  5. Don’t take old behavior away from anyone. In NLP we never throw away old behavior. We don’t change people. We’re just adding new options and finding new contexts, executions, and other reframes for old behavior.
  6. Identify, know and become aware of a list of all the drawbacks of achieving the goal. Create peace with those drawbacks. Now you move forward with responsibility, knowing that the goal is worth it, despite the drawbacks.

Let’s start with the right ecology questions …

Questions to Ask for Disease Gain (Treat by Prevention)

Do you want to help someone to get better, is the other about to test a new approach or do you want to do something to deal with your own theme? Then stop and ask the following questions:

  • Can you agree, so do you really want it?
  • Does what you do or have it done match your standards, values ​​and beliefs?
  • Ask the sickness gain question very directly: “Would you benefit if you did not achieve the goal?
  • Are you aware of problems or difficulties that could arise if you had this goal now? Are there any things you would lose in achieving this goal? Identify, know and become aware of a list of all the drawbacks of achieving the goal. Create peace with those drawbacks. Now you move forward with responsibility, knowing that the goal is worth it, despite the drawbacks.
  • What is the effect on your life if you make it?
  • What is the effect on other areas of your life? How does the goal fit into your other priorities, goals and your current lifestyle? Won’t there be conflicts there if you live up to the goal? What are the consequences in those areas? What is the cost of making this change? Are you willing to pay that price? What else will improve or deteriorate in your life? What will get better in your life with this new purpose? And what will get worse in your life? What are the costs of change?
  • Ask about the ecological concerns: What are the consequences for the people around you? Can those involved agree?
  • Look at the pain of improvement and the pleasure of the current situation.  Are you comfortably unhappy? Do you like it this way, in that comfortable security and do you not have to take the risk to become free and happy? Is success and happiness scary?
  • Use the pain and pleasure to create motivation to improve the situation. What terrible things are going to happen if you keep it the way it is now? And what good will happen if you improve the situation?
  • Use the Cartetic coordinates : What will happen when you reach your goal? What will happen if you don’t reach your goal? What won’t happen when you reach your goal? What won’t happen if you don’t reach your goal?
  • Is now really the appropriate time to fully commit to your goal and achieve it?
  • Pay close attention to his / her physiology with these questions. Do you notice things that contradict it, such as a doubting or a no-nodding head ( incongruity )? Then ask the client if he / she notices whether or not his / her emotions, thoughts and behavior match when expressing his / her desired outcome.
  • You can also ask the subconscious through a biofeedback mechanism. Using the biofeedback mechanism, ask if the subconscious really wants to solve the problem.
  • Literally ask about the positive intentions of the status quo: “Is it OK for your subconscious mind to make this shift, and allow it to stay there, comfortably?” ‘What is the positive intention of your status quo and how can we respect that positive intention and maintain those effects?’ ‘How can we bring the positive intentions of the current situation and the desired changes closer together?’
  • Sometimes someone wants to keep a current behavior in certain contexts . That is why you now elaborate on where, when and with whom the goal will be achieved. And in what context do you not want this goal?
  • Find out if there is incongruity in the different logical levels of the person in question. Perhaps a number of beliefs are getting in the way of achieving the goal.
  • Future pace  to achieve the goal in all representation systems and associated. Also step into the shoes of someone else close to you. Are there any objections? What will stop you from achieving this goal? Are there any disadvantages – for yourself or others – if you have achieved the goal?
  • In addition, you treat the positive intention and create alternatives to the positive intention.

How does achieving your goal affect other areas and needs in your life?

The above questions are not there to bully you

The above congruence and ecology questions are not there to limit your goal. Your goals will actually improve! you create a more complete picture of your situation, which gives you more insight. How does this affect my friends, colleagues, family? And you use that information to refine your goal.

If all the above things have not been discussed, these are all reasons why a certain method, step-by-step plan, action or goal does not work. These are all reasons why ‘NLP doesn’t work’.

Are there situations where you want to keep your old response? I don’t want to take that away from you. We only create additional options to respond.
– Steve Andreas

Treat Secondary Gain via Reframing (of the basic needs)

refreming in case of disease gain

Do you suspect that there is a gain of illness? And do you want to solve that disease gain? The solution lies in the recognition of the disease gain. Those sickness benefit parts of a person want to be recognized along with their positive intentions.

Investigate the disease gain: what does it want? What is it afraid of?  Identify, know and become aware of a list of all the drawbacks of achieving the goal. Create peace with those drawbacks. Now you move forward with responsibility, knowing that the goal is worth it, despite the drawbacks.

This does not necessarily have to be done in a conscious way. It can also be done without having to consciously think about it – via hypnosis. We have a great technique for that: searching for the positive intention – or even the fundamental needs – and reframing it.

First, look for the positive intention of the sabotaging behavior. Then ask yourself how that positive intention can be reframed so that there are more choices . That can be done in different ways:

Treat secondary gain with intense pain and intense pleasure

People often want to stay calm with the harmful old situation because the pain is not great enough and there is not enough necessity, so we just walk on and fiddle a bit.

Would you rather be comfortably unhappy … than happy with an uncertain future? The pain-pleasure technique offers a solution. Every day you have a choice: keep dreaming or wake up and chase your dreams.

The method to apply the pain-pleasure technique can be found in this article. You also saw these kinds of questions already appear in the questionnaire a few paragraphs ago.

So don’t always be the gentle healer (who only feeds the disease gains more)

Do not get inappropriately comforting someone, because that could be someone’s sickness gain. With consolation you confirm the old story and the sickness gain of comfort and connection.

Limiting beliefs also linger because of disease gain

overcome disease gain

Does someone stick to a limiting belief, such as, “I’ll never find a partner” or, “I’m a procrastinator”?

Even then it makes sense to investigate the benefit of this belief. “Is this unwanted belief also functional in some ways? In what ways is this a source for you?”

An answer to this may explain why a limiting belief persists. “I’ve been working on this for a long time … for years … and it just won’t change.” And that can lead to other beliefs: “I can’t change.” Or, “NLP doesn’t work.” Or something completely different.

That is why with every form of change – such as behavior or beliefs – the preliminary discussion with the coach model is so important. Then you can really see the landscape of how the belief is held.

To your success!

About The Author


Hello! Thanks for reading these articles. My intention is to make happiness as simple and clear as posssible. By the way, excuse my English. I am not a native English speaker since I live in Amsterdam. Much appreciated if you use the comments to make suggestions on my grammar. See ya in another blogpost!