While almost everyone claims to want a happy, fulfilling, healthy, sustainable lifestyle, most of us engage in behaviors or beliefs that sabotage this aim in one or more areas of our lives.
Why? What would compel intelligent, conscious humans to move in any direction less than the fulfillment of their happiness and health?
Everything we, as humans, do has a secondary gain. At some level, we are convinced that our behaviors, even those that are dysfunctional or self-destructive, are leading us toward our desired goals.
For instance, you may strive to keep yourself in shape so that you are attractive to the opposite sex. Or you may over-indulge in alcohol in an attempt to feel more attractive. Sometimes the secondary gain of a negative behavior is not obvious, but invariably it is a misguided attempt at the happiness, health and fulfillment we all seek.
But counter-productive behaviors cannot really take us to our goals, so they tend to escalate. Take the example of a child who, in her desire to receive love and attention, acts out by hitting or biting. Later the behavior may become promiscuity, jealous rage, or addiction. If her underlying issues are unaddressed, she may manifest physical symptoms such as diabetes, auto-immune disorders, or cancer.
While there may be environmental causes of disease, there is compelling evidence of underlying psychological and emotional connections. A 30–year study by Psychologists Suzanne C. Segerstrom, Ph.D., and Gregory E. Miller, Ph.D.,revealed, “Stressful events reliably associate with changes in the immune system and…characteristics of those events are important in determining the kind of change that occurs.”
In other words, the nature of the stress incurred will determine the nature of the resulting condition. And the main cause of stress? Years of research indicate that the root of most stress is a misalignment between a person’s true core values and their beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors. This misalignment is the difference between the bright, expansive being we can sense that we are (“deep self”), and our everyday experience of being bound to tradition, expectations, duty, obligation, or misconceptions about reality. Minor misalignment might appear as trivial bad habits. Major misalignment often presents as disease.
Abraham Maslow, the noted psychologist who pioneered studies of the human personality, gave a classic description of the experience of the deep self: ‘These moments were of pure, positive happiness, when all doubts, all fears, all inhibitions, all tensions, all weaknesses, were left behind. Now self-consciousness was lost. All separateness and distance from the world disappeared…’ Maslow labeled these as “peak experiences” because of their rarity, and yet described their curative power as going far beyond their brief duration.
But these states of consciousness and connectedness can be readily achieved. Through a series of techniques and strategies that encourage alignment, many of us can achieve such “peak moments,” enhancing self-discovery, positive personal growth, and health.
A case study:
One of my clients, Lena, was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, a condition that puzzles the medical community and creates pain and sensitivity in its victims. Through techniques and strategies of Awareness Engineering™ combining hypnotherapy, NLP, psychology, and philosophy, Lena discovered that her symptoms were directly related to her dissatisfaction with her career. Further discovery lead to the understanding that her dissatisfaction had much deeper roots in her basic philosophy concerning life, expectations, and self-worth.
To unearth the secondary gains of Lena’s disease and begin the process of realignment, we began with four questions:
1) In what way does having Fibromyalgia benefit my life? (Though it may seem outrageous that such a painful syndrome could have “benefits,” remember that all behaviors, attitudes and even diseases have underlying secondary benefits or we wouldn’t maintain them.)
2) In what way is having Fibromyalgia a detriment to my life?
3) How would not having Fibromyalgia be a benefit to my life?
4) How would not having Fibromyalgia be a detriment to my life?
Lena discovered that Fibromyalgia allowed her to say “no” without guilt, avoid social events she was not interested in, and take time off work that she could not obtain in any other way. These answers revealed even deeper problems in her philosophical perspectives: She realized that her self-worth had been completely tied to her ability to perform and please those around her. As she began to restructure that perspective and experience a sense of self-worth beyond performance (her “deep self”), she was able to release the symptoms of her disease.
While exploring secondary gains is a first step in creating the life you dream of, it reveals interesting information about the resistance we may experience as we strive for what we truly want.
Choose an area of your life where you feel blocked or have symptoms of stress. In a relaxed, meditative, frame of mind, ask yourself those four questions. Perhaps you will uncover hidden factors that are operating in your own life. By revealing these factors, you will be empowered to address them or satisfy their needs in ways that are beneficial to you and support the achievements of your personal goals.