One thing that’s clear in the journey of healing emotional wounds is the challenge that comes from moving forward and letting emotions go. Let me ask you for a moment: How many times have you told yourself you ‘can’t’ let go of a particular emotion? You can’t let go of the anger, the hurt, the sadness, the shame, the guilt, the whatever it is from events from your past. And do you know the reason you do it? It’s most likely because there’s a secondary gain.

What’s a Secondary Gain?

A secondary gain is an unconscious ‘benefit’ or need that you obtain from an action or feeling, and it’s what causes you to hold onto what you. So, it’s not that you can’t let go of an emotion (because, let’s be real, you do have the ability to), but you’re choosing not to due to what you feel you’ll lose as a result of letting go — that secondary gain. Let me give you an example.

During a session, one of my clients discovered that in her teens, she connected anxiety with getting closer to Allah (God) because whenever she got anxious and a fear came up, she’d turn to Him in supplication and feel a connection with Him. She did this so often that her anxiety became a route to gaining comfort from Allah. Her brilliant unconscious mind associated a benefit for her anxiety: Getting closer to Allah, and this was the secondary gain. It registered that the only way for her to feel close to Allah was to continue having anxiety. So, when it came to letting that anxiety go and working to dismantle it, it brought up feelings of loss for her because getting rid of anxiety, in her mind, meant losing her connection with Allah. Hence why nothing seemed to work in her overcoming anxiety — she’d lose her secondary gain.

Letting Emotions Go

For my client, the moment we got to the root of her anxiety and unearthed the secondary gain, it was a real light bulb moment. A revelation. A moment of relief as she became mindful of the limiting beliefs and decisions leading to her struggle to let anxiety go. The result? She was liberated to explore other ways to meet the need for her closeness to Allah, and take back her power to make different choices.

A key component of how to let go of negative emotions is understanding what you’re gaining from choosing to hold onto them; what the secondary gain is. In knowing the secondary gain, you can take steps like my client did in meeting it more resourceful ways that work for you and help you be the woman you desire to be.