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Secondary Gains - Helpful or Not?

Does this thought process sound familiar to you? “I know what I am thinking is not true or logical, but I can’t seem to change it.” There are several reasons why you or someone you know may be holding onto those beliefs. I’d like to offer a possibility that may at first seem counterintuitive, but also offers a new way to look at our thoughts.

What you may be encountering is what is referred to as a negative core belief or cognitive distortion. Sometimes, these beliefs have hidden benefits or advantages that you may acquire and maintain unconsciously. These advantages are referred to as secondary gains. The secondary gains that are commonly found with negative core beliefs include, safety, protection, gaining support, avoidance, and familiarity.

I usually share with clients who have experienced trauma or other adverse experiences that our brains have a beautiful ability to protect us-even when it doesn’t make sense. That means that at times, we may develop negative core beliefs that provide a sense of safety and protection by creating a predictable and familiar narrative about ourselves or the world. This could look like blaming ourselves for something that happened to us in an effort to prevent it from ever happening again. Although our feelings are valid, our underlying beliefs may not be entirely accurate.

It is important to understand that these secondary gains are often unconscious and can perpetuate the cycle of negative thinking and self-defeating behaviors. Recognizing and understanding these hidden benefits can be a crucial step in challenging and overcoming negative core beliefs as it allows people to address the underlying psychological dynamics that keep them trapped in negative patterns.

Know Thyself Healing & Therapy can provide valuable space and guidance in identifying and working through these beliefs to foster a better sense of self. We offer trauma informed care that can help facilitate cognitive restructuring, processing of trauma, and strategies for you to become your authentic self.

Contact Know Thyself Healing & Therapy, at (952) 222-7936 or visit our website to schedule a consultation with one of our experienced therapists at

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