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  • Writer's pictureHeather Keenan, LCSW

How To Break Toxic Patterns (or Behaviors)

Do you ever find yourself repeating the same behaviors over and over again and just feeling stuck? Whether it is finding yourself in toxic relationships or engaging in self-sabotaging behaviors, such as substance abuse, you just can’t seem to understand what continues to lead you back.

If you are finding yourself in this vicious cycle of trying to change these behaviors but are having trouble maintaining those changes, you may have underlying “secondary gains.”

What is a Secondary Gain?

Secondary gains are the underlying benefits that we receive from remaining in self-sabotaging behaviors. Oftentimes, we may not even be aware of these benefits. Rationally, we tell ourselves, “How could this benefit me? It only brings me consequences.” However, these behaviors serve a purpose and can be meeting a need for you. 

If you desire a change; however, feeling stuck in making and maintaining the change, it may be helpful to explore your secondary gains. 

How Do I Begin Identifying and Working Through My Secondary Gains?

To begin exploring secondary gains, you first have to recognize the repeated unhealthy behavior or pattern. Once you identify that pattern, ask yourself, “What needs are being met in this pattern of behavior?” As humans, we have certain needs: shelter, food, support, love, and validation. Once we recognize that these are basic human needs, we can eliminate the shame that is often associated with repeated unhealthy patterns. 

Getting these specific needs met are necessary as humans; however, how we go about doing so, can be healthy or unhealthy. Once you identify the specific need, start exploring how you can satisfy that need in a more healthy manner. 

For example, if you find yourself repeatedly in codependent relationships, you may be seeking the validation that comes with feeling needed in a relationship.  The benefit of feeling needed in these relationships can also bring about consequences such as increased conflict with your partner or even loss of friendships. Once you recognize that validation is what you are receiving, you can explore healthier ways to receive validation.

The same can apply for those struggling with ongoing substance abuse. Exploring your secondary gain can reveal that you have been abusing substances to mask the effects of childhood trauma. Once you have that awareness, you can explore healthier ways to process these past childhood traumas by going to counseling and/or participating in EMDR therapy

Identifying secondary gains is a process, especially when trying to do it alone. If you continue to find yourself repeating the same patterns but wanting to change, it may be helpful to reach out to a therapist for guidance and support.

For a free 15-minute consultation call, please call Heather Deecken, LCSW at 954-391-5305.


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