The notion that illness benefits us in any way may not seat well with you. It might even offend you that I’m using these words illness and benefits in the same sentence, if so I apologies in advance but suggest you keep on reading just in case it does make sense. The Power of Secondary Gains in Illness In psychology the term Secondary Gains, describes “any advantage, as increased attention, disability benefits, or release from unpleasant responsibilities, obtained as a result of having an illness” ~ Dictionary.com In medicine, a secondary gain is described as a significant psychological motivator in reporting symptoms. The phenomenon of secondary gains is well documented in professional literature. It’s a cause and effect pattern which we may have learned in early childhood when illness was often a time for emotional compensation, a time where we got as much attention as we needed. Working with clients over many years with Immersive Healing I was privileged to witness and I am able to describe a wide spectrum of Secondary Gains (SG) and how they relate to a person’s particular challenges, yet there are some common SG at work. Examples of Common Secondary Gains A common SG will be to avoid chores, work and responsibilities. Another common and more personal use of secondary gains is to use illness (head ache etc’) as excuse to not engage in arguments or personal conflict or even make a decision. Another dominant secondary gain to illness is the fact that for some, something has to be wrong in life in order to feel important and lovable. This is may be common, but it is difficult to assess about ourselves, and even harder to admit. Have you ever considered that you may be using your illness, limiting condition or situation to either hold on to someone, or that you use your illness as a way to push people away, make yourself so unattractive that no one will get close to you? Now this may not apply to you but this is a real example from the lives of real clients. All of the above are powerful examples of hidden aspects and secondary gains which may promote the state of mind in which illness can thrive. Secondary gains do not imply that the illness or the symptoms are unreal or unimportant. To the contrary! They tell us that there is more to the illness than meets the eye, the stethoscope and the x-ray. If you can think of other secondary gains I did not mentions, please share with me?
About Avinoam Lerner
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Entries by Avinoam Lerner
We keep hearing about the importance of the power of positive thinking. Books and magazines, new-age experts and mental health professional all praise the benefits of positive thinking as if it’s the magic cure we all hoped for. Even motivational gurus tell us that being positive is essential to our success and happiness and still, danger lurks in the mind that focuses only on the positive in the form of denial. The Danger in Positive-Thinking A positive attitude can add healthy happy years to our lives and is considered to be the key to happiness. This happiness help cancer patients boost their immune system and therefore support healing. However, there is a great difference between manufacturing positive thoughts by denying all else and seeing things as they are. By denying reality we delay our healing. Taking a realistic approach and still choosing to focus on that which is well and valuable, that which promote a feel-good state of mind will strengthen your resolve to heal and support your journey toward health. In my perspective, the positive-thinking-theory took a wrong turn when promoted itself as a substitute to the realistic approach. That wrong turn stripped its healing value and began broadcasting the message of false hope. Riding the Emotional Roller-Coaster of Illness When illness strike and we are riding the emotional roller-coaster it’s very tempting to deny the shock, the fear and the uncertainty we fill. It seems that as long as we don’t look at that which is wrong we won’t have to face it and therefore it will not affect us. That plan however, is set for failure right from the beginning. It will fail because it takes effort to deny our true feelings and experience. Based on the concept that “what we resist persist” we only suspend the eruption of our emotional volcano. This eruption of emotions, if not exhausted beforehand, will take place within us and only serve to suppress our immune system even more which means allowing illness to progress. Since the path of healing is aligned with the path of truth, evaluate your thoughts on a regular basis. Make sure to see things as they are, and allow yourself to express the rising emotions regardless of their quality i.e. negative or positive. As you see the big picture, the bad and the good, choose to focus on that which uplift you and makes you feel hopeful. Share with us your view of positive thinking?
One of the most prominent affects we experience when faced with cancer is change in identity, the way we view ourselves. Although change in identity is seen more as an outcome of illness, it may also be a “motivator” for the development of illness. If this last statement makes you want to terminate this post, please keep on reading and let me explain. Illness & Change in Identity To explore if change in identity is a hidden aspect, a contributor or motivator for the development of illness consider the common changes described below. If anyone of these descriptions resonates with you, then you will know which of these aspects is holding you back from recovery and which one you need heal. The obvious change happens as we begin to identify ourselves as sick rather than healthy. When this takes place, the focus of our thoughts shift from future oriented (our goals and dreams) to the present moment (healing and coping). Our ability to earn money and provide for our family is also a big change. This is a side effect to our inability to maintain our routine, when we can no longer work. Then we shift from being a person who earns money to a depended one, from a productive person to a disabled one and from a contributing person to one who is in need of care. As if the above changes are not enough, it is the nature of illness that make one feel more isolated than ever before. Healthy people have the freedom to be spontaneous and therefore do not feel trapped; those struggling with illness often will feel trapped. You Did Not Wish to Be with Cancer I have never met anyone who wished to be sick with cancer or any other illness for that matter. But I often do hear about those who’ve healed from it and how they now view their illness. Those who’ve healed claim their illness was a blessing in disguise, and that the changes in their identity were necessary. They now realized their illness, challenging as it may have been, was not without benefits. Many report they were forced to grow as people, on a personal level as well as spiritual level, and that this growth helped them live healthier and more meaningful life. Discovering what brought illness into your life does not necessarily guarantee that you will overcome your physical predicament. It does however mean you will be moving more rapidly toward a state where healing of your condition is possible. If you do however discover change is a hidden aspect for your condition, embrace this insight and resolve to set forth an action plan. What you can do right now is to listen to the conditions illness created within your body. Doing so, you can find out more about your personal internal needs i.e. mental, emotional, physical or spiritual needs.
Today’s posting was inspired by a comment from one of my colleagues in respect to our discussion about the shock and fear one experience when diagnosed with cancer. My colleague said that talking to his “fear” as if a different and separate entity was very helpful and made him feel better. According to him, disassociating himself from his feelings in this way granted him clarity, freedom and sense of control. Have You Talked to Your Fear Lately? Talking to your fear in this way may sound odd to you but many of my clients have benefited from doing even long before their treatment. I highly recommend this approach because so many have found it to be effective as well as freeing and rewarding. This approach is helpful whenever you’re struggling with fear, whether you are facing cancer or not. Now this is not breaking-news, after all we all talk to ourselves either in thoughts or out loud in front of the mirror, but this is a whole different level of discussion, a more serious one because fear is often debilitating. If talking to your fear makes sense to you, and it’s something you wish to do, keep on reading and find out how. This can be done in one of two ways, first in the physical sense of placing another chair in front of you (where your fear can sit) or secondly in your mind’s eye by simply imagining the scenario. Here is how to start your conversation with your fear: As described in my book The New Cancer Paradigm I found it helpful to actually take two chairs and place them face to face, about six feet apart. If you rather visualize the scenario simply imagine, see in your mind’s eye, visualize if you will that you are entering a room where these two chairs are facing one another. Once this is done, place yourself in the first chair (physically or in your mind’s eye) and invite your fear to sit in the other chair. This means that you allow your fear to present itself in any shape, form, color, texture, sound or any other characteristic that make sense to you. It’s helpful to remember that some people are more visual than others and therefore may “see” an image rather than “hear” a sound or get a feeling toward their fear. Once you “see” or “hear” or “sense/feel” your fear, ask it what it is that you need to learn or know? And then listen inward or tune in to what we call our automatic thoughts. Please be patient if you never done this before. Automatic thoughts are those thoughts that just pop up in the back of our mind, they are not a conscious thought-process but rather a though-chatter originating in the subconscious mind in respect to what we consciously think. This is a great tool to get in touch with our fear or any other inner experience which threatens our peace of mind. Please share with us some of your insights about your fear?
Everyone has bad days where everything around seems dark and negative, but when dealing with cancer, associated treatments and their side effects, we can’t really afford the luxury of these negative experiences. When our guard is down, we run the risk of illness impressing our minds with poor self image. Because no one ever wished for cancer, it’s common to feel self-pity in the form of “why me” type of thoughts and feel the “need” to punish ourselves in one way or another. You may have heard the saying “As a man thniketh so he is”. What this means is that what we focus our mind on tends to manifest and influence our life. It’s therefore vital that we’ll keep our mind focused (to the extant it’s possible) on those aspects of ourselves which we like and appreciate. And yes, we all have something that works well or that is balanced even in the most difficult of times. Your Life Needs a Hero As kids we often dreamed of heroes, we met them in our books, television shows and movies. A hero was usually someone we looked up to and admire for either skill or character. Unfortunately it was also suggested that in order to be a hero one must pay a price. My perspective on the last statement is that although the idea of being a hero is noble and associated with wealth and fame, for the most part, we don’t want to pay the price or be in the lime light. What if however, irrespective of whether or not you really want to be a hero, a person who can overcome great obstacles and challenges, you are forced to? What then? In the context of illness and cancer especially, it seems that if life chose you for that part, there’s only one thing you can do and that is to show-up and step-up. As you get into character, keep in mind the following: Remember that your thoughts create your feelings, and your feelings are the motive for your actions, and our actions determine the results you get. Therefore, rehearsing the “why me” thoughts frequently reinforces the “victim” attitude which make you feel sad and angry. Feeling sad and angry often result in a hostile behavior which tends to alienates those who wish to support and love you. Also remember that your feelings (emotions) have a direct impact on your body (the mind-body connection). Negative feelings have shown to weaken the immune-system, cause stress and fatigue. A hero in this case will be a person who is both able to see things as they truly are and still choose to focus on that which is well and balanced in his/her life. We cannot choose what will happen TO us, but we can choose what happens IN us. What do you do to keep your mind balanced, strong and positive?
When we allow circumstances and events to define who we are, what we can and cannot do, we are literally “trading our heroes for ghosts” as the Pink Floyd song “How I wish You Were Here” state so beautifully. This trade is devastating to our self-image and suggests we are helpless and hopeless. These two emotions proved in research to suppress our immune system and therefore lower the body’s ability to defend itself against disease agents. Although this trade takes place for the most part unintentionally and only if we have an already existing limiting or negative self-image, it doesn’t mean it’s without the power to affect our health. The important question here than is what we can do to stop this harmful trade and strengthen ourselves mentally, emotionally and physically. The aim of this post is to: first, explain why our self-limiting beliefs and negative perception which make this trade possible in the first place, may no longer be relevant or appropriate. Secondly, to reveal what we must do in order to resolve negative perception and limiting beliefs and therefore their meaning or effect in our lives. As mentioned in my book The New Cancer Paradigm, these limiting negative perceptions may no longer be relevant. This statement is based in the knowledge that much if not all of what we know about the world and who we, was learned at a very young age. It’s clear that as kids our mental, emotional and even spiritual capacity to process information or see things in their true perspective was very limited. As adults, reviewing these same events or conditions which have impressed upon us negative perception or limiting-beliefs, we will inevitably come to a different decision about their meaning in our lives. This change in meaning therefore dissolves the need to trade them for they are no longer negative or painful. Cancer Patients Three Part Action Plan to Eliminate Negative Beliefs Here is your three part action plan to avoid this common mind-trap our physical reality set before us: • Be vigilant • Challenge the evidence • Adjust your perspective Be Vigilant – When a negative self-image comes to mind, or when you feel that your illness define who you are it is because you have allowed an external aspect of your life to be more than it actually is. Nothing outside of you defines who you are. Challenge the evidence – In your mind’s eye review those thoughts supporting the way you feel carefully. (Most likely you’ll find they were formed in early childhood). Then, bring to mind current evidence from your life that does not support those limiting or negative perceptions. Adjust your perspective – When done correctly you will notice a gap between the early childhood perception and the current adult one. This is good news because it means your negative self-perception is not based on fact but interpretation. This insight means you are free. Free to simply let go of the old and identify with the new, with who you are today. When done correctly, this new found freedom will help you stop this harmful trade and strengthen your ability to face the challenges of your illness better. If you found this exercise to be helpful, please let me know?
Some people have the power to inspire us and emerge as heroes even when all hope is lost. I often wondered if these powers exist within all of us, and what is it that galvanizes them. A client said to me “bad things happens only to good people”, referencing to his stage three colon cancer. There was little that I could say right there and then to convince him otherwise but I did offer him a quote by Dennis Wholey, who wrote “Expecting the world to treat you fairly because you are a good person is a little like expecting a bull not to attack you because you are a vegetarian.” Few days later we spoke and he mentioned that this seemingly humors quote transformed his outlook and helped him realize he is far from being a victim. For me, this client is a hero, a person of courage and strength, one which faces that which he fears most, feeling helpless and hopeless. In a following session he said, “I just refuse to let my fear of dying run my life anymore, if it’s my time to go I’ll do so fighting for my life”. Once again, the hero emerged, strong and powerful, no longer helpless. He chose to see his physical symptoms such as fatigue and discomfort as part of the natural world, part of the eternal cycle of life, in all of its terrible beauty and this takes great courage. For some, being diagnosed with cancer serve only to magnify or reinforce an already existing negative self-image. But when we take the time to re-examine some of the so called “evidence” supporting our negative view of self, we will recognize that our perception is outdated and limited. We will come to realize that we gathered these “facts” in the early years of our lives and therefore may no longer be relevant. This is an exciting revelation which has the power to set you free and help you resurrect the true you, the hero, the healthy, the part of you that is larger than life itself and has the potential to overcome any challenge be it emotional, mental and yes, even physical. Tell us about the hero within you?
From a spiritual perspective the state of disease is seen as the ultimate act of separation from the source, the source of life and well-being. If true, than by restoring our connection to that part of ourselves which is whole and healed, we restore our body’s health and overcome illness. This may be easier said than done because most people have little or no awareness at all to that part of us that is whole and healed, let alone the knowledge of how to restore that connection to source. I stumbled upon this wonderful quote by Sarah Ban Breathnach who points us in the right direction. She wrote: “The authentic-self is the soul made visible”. This quote wonderfully reveals the character of that part which is healed and whole within and suggests the authentic-self as the bridge between the spirit (intangible) and our experience (tangible). But what is the authentic self, why is it so difficult for us to grasp it, and how can it help us heal? The authentic self is the sum of our values, beliefs and perceptions. It is our inner compass or inner guidance system, which makes it possible for us to stay true to who we are as we meet life’s challenges. If you ever observed a baby or a child playing or expressing themselves, they don’t hold back. Kids are by nature completely authentic. Though we started our lives being completely authentic, as we grew up and met social and family dynamics head on, we changed and morphed. For the most part, as adults we are accustomed to wearing different masks and costumes, some that serve us very well while many don’t. This essentially is what makes is so hard for us to remember what it felt like being truly authentic and reconnect with that part. Nevertheless, rediscovering and reconnecting with our authentic-self, is certainly worth our effort. There are many benefits to doing so on all levels of our experience especially from the perspective of our health and well-being. Generally speaking, people who remain true to their inner values and live in alignment with their moral codes tend to be healthier. These people seem happier, less concerned with the harsh aspects of reality or other external stressors and therefore less vulnerable or affected by them emotionally, mentally and physically. Want to live more authentically? Here is your action plan to rediscover and reconnect with your authentic-self: Step # 1: Identify your core values and evaluate which changes need you make in order to fit them in your life. For example, if one of your core values is honesty, communicating with those around you in an honest way will make you feel better and increase your self-esteem. Step #2: Bring to mind some of your childhood dreams, goals or people who’ve inspired you. Write them down and evaluate which of these goals and dreams made you feel most excited or happier? Which qualities or personality traits you admired the most about those people who’ve inspired you? Step #3: Consider what is standing in your way and how you might overcome those barriers, so that you can live more authentically. Please share your experience with this exercise?
The interconnectedness of our body and Mind still baffles researchers. Despite decades of effort, it’s 2013 and we still have more questions than answers. True, studies repeatedly show a promising potential of this phenomenon, especially when it comes to our health but we know very little about how to employ this relationship and its mechanism to our advantage. If we could only learn how to tune-in and read the accurate feedback our minds and bodies provide, we would be able to anticipate, intervene and even stop illness at its track. Unfortunately, we are not there yet and may never get an absolute clear cut answer or protocol we are hoping for. I for one believe we need not wait for a scientific confirmation so we can tap into our own experience. We all are equipped with the ability to pay attention to what is taking place within us, our own thoughts, sensations and feelings. An example of some of the most common messages we may “hear” (and ignore) are headaches, nausea, fatigue, insomnia etc’. The outcome of acknowledging these messages and not just numbing them with medication or other numbing substances will be “health promoting” rather than “health limiting”. How to Tune Into Your Own Experience Here are some ideas about how to tune-in and tap onto the flow of information your mind-body provide. Follow the process below and practice it whenever you can, either when you wake-up, on your lunch break or just before you go to bed. When you have the time, close your eyes, take a deep breath and exhale slowly. Now ask yourself… • How am I feeling right now? • Listen to the most dominant or loud emotion/physical sensation. • If the answer is “I feel good” or the sensation in your body is of comfort, acknowledge it and thank your mind-body for taking such good care of you. • If a negative emotion arises, or you feel stressed, afraid or notice any physical discomfort, ask yourself what is this pain/stress/emotion is trying to tell you? • Once again, listen, sense or feel the answer. • Then ask yourself, what steps need I take to resolve this pain/stress/emotion? • Resolve to follow through. • Check in with yourself on a regular basis to make sure your attending to your needs. This process should take about 15 minutes. Tuning-in doesn’t mean belly gazing or soul searching; it means you are checking-in with yourself, emotionally and mentally for greater clarity of your experience. Different people may get the answers to their questions in different ways. As humans use our senses to process information i.e. Visual (images), Auditory (sounds), Kinesthetic (touch and internal feelings), Gustatory (tastes) and Olfactory (smells). If you are an auditory person it is likely that you would “hear” the message in your own inner-voice. If you were a person using the visual system it is likely that you would “see” the answer in your own mind’s eye, and so on. Pay attention to what takes place inside of you.
A growing body of evidence suggests that we have within us valuable resources to heal. After all, when the body suffers a cut or a bruise and even a burn, it heals and when we catch a cold or any other virus we usually overcome it, right? From published scientific literature we learn that the question is not whether we have this innate healing capacity or not but rather how can we harness this healing mechanism to heal even the most advanced illnesses such as chronic conditions and even cancer? It may seem foolish to compare a simple passing cold or a bruise to aggressive and advanced cancer, but to the body illness is illness; it uses the same healing mechanism to fight this disease or the other. This is good news because it means we have a say and we can participate and intervene in our own healing process. The Scientific Study of Psychoneuroimmunology and Cancer The answer is within, where it has always been. Findings in Psychoneuroimmunology or PNI for short, which is a science dedicated to researching the relationship between our mind and the nervous and immune system validates the ability of our mind to intervene with the immune system via the Central Nervous System. This points us in a very exciting direction because it means we can use the mind’s language i.e. imagery and thoughts to perk-up and boost our immune system. Finally we have the proof that healing starts within. By thinking thoughts that are joyful and positive in nature and creating mental images of ourselves healthy, happy and full of life we support our health. This is an exciting message because we all have the ability to think and imagine, even if we were conditioned to believe we are not good enough, smart enough or anything enough. The ABC of Guided Imagery for Cancer So how do we connect with that part of ourselves that is whole and healed: the healer within? Here are a couple of ways to do it right. The power of imagery: a) Create images in your mind’s eye that represents health and well-being. b) Visualize yourself doing things that make you feel good and positive. c) Imagine your condition/illness as a separate entity, with its own shape, color, sound or texture melting, dissolving, clearing, healing, fading etc’. Self-talk. Your Body Believes What Your Mind is Saying Pay attention to your mind’s chatter. If your inner dialog is negative or full of doubt and criticism resolve to change it. Changing your self-talk is a process and may require some learning of how to formulate better and more appropriate sentences or affirmations. Hopefully now that you understand the purpose and necessity of such change it may be easier to remain on track and focused. After all, your health depends on it. Paying attention to your thoughts, expressing your desire to heal and nourishing your experience with healthy and positive mental images, feelings and emotions you access and harness your body’s innate healing capacity, you awake the healer within. Please share how it felt to get in touch with you?
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About Avinoam Lerner
Avinoam Lerner is a Practitioner in the Field of Complementary Medicine specializing in Cancer Wellness & Recovery. Author of The New Cancer Paradigm.
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