This is a great question! And, luckily for us, has a great answer from our psychological Grandfather - Freud. Freud of all people. Again, I'm forced to give credit to a model of therapy that I really don't give a lot of energy towards. STILL, I do believe we have blind spots and that correlates to our unconsciousness so there you have it - a connection between my CBT world and Freud.
Secondary gains are from Freud and they explain a lot about our behaviors. As humans, we are motivated to do certain behaviors. When we are sick, we're motivated to stay in bed. When we are angry, we're motivated to yell or scream or hit or whatever. Even 'addiction' has motivation underneath. Let's start there.
The behavior of doing drugs BEGINS with the need to cover up negative emotions (rejection, abandonment, trauma...) so in actuality, doing drugs gives the primary gain of covering up hurt. Now, the secondary gains are less obvious. Freud says they're in our unconscious but I like to think that it doesn't take much digging to figure them out. As I list a few off, pay attention to how you feel about them and whether they ring a bell or not. Here goes...
1. People expect less from someone doing drugs. This is largely because they've been trained to believe that stress or anxiety or some external force 'triggers' your use and they think they can actually help by lightening their life expectations of you.
2. People give you stuff. And by this, I mean they pay for your bills. Cell phone, insurance, food, housing...it all adds up to a pretty inexpensive way to exist.
3. You have a reason not to work full time...or part time if you play your cards right.
4. You get a LOT of attention. Good attention and bad attention - it's all attention. This comes to play especially when there are rejection issues going on. Sometimes, there's a jacked up belief system of 'contingent acceptance' going on and the pattern of drug use and seeing of the family still 'supports' them is acknowledged again and again.
Has your kid ever been sick at school. The behavior is to go home with the primary gain to become well again. Secondary gains may include:
1. kid learns they don't have to turn in homework that day...homework they may not have remembered.
2. They don't have to sit through classes and potentially do uncomfortable brain work.
3. Maybe when they went home, they were allowed to watch TV or play video games...or play with _________ (anything fun). If so, it's likely that they'll get 'sick' again and again - largely because they have a lot of secondary gains from the behavior.
Anger is another biggie. Let's go over this without the bullet points. The primary gain always involves manipulating control of some kind but the secondary gains are more subtle. Have you ever been around an 'angry person' and felt like you had to walk on eggshells? Having spoken to people with anger issues, when they're honest about it, this behavior from others gives them a sense of power and - they - like - it. Another secondary gain correlates to motivation - some people are actually MOTIVATED by being angry. They use the feeling to go out and exercise or even get out of bed and go to work. I once had a client who came to me for 'anger issues' but the more we peeled the anger onion, the more it became clear that he was quite fond of his angry feelings because in his own belief system, they assisted him in accomplishing a lot of life goals. After a few sessions I advised that if his goal wasn't to get rid of his anger, therapy was likely not going to help and we parted ways. The experience taught me something invaluable - and it goes a little something like this and you can quote me.
"If the secondary gain is too high, people won't change."
Back to Freud. And it's a question that I'm still batting around in my head - it looks something like this. If secondary gains are gains that are 'unconscious' - what happens when the awareness rises and the gains are understood? Do they become primary gains?
Thanks for reading and I hope you've checked out my 'meaning to live life hacks' youtube station!
Till next time,
Jed Thorpe, CMHC