Emotional Payoffs

When we think of Payoffs we typically see them as positive things that will be beneficial to us at some point. We strive to get both short-term and long-term Payoffs.

A short-term Payoff could be receiving a thank you for a job well done. A long-term one might be receiving a promotion after proving yourself worthy of additional responsibility. While these are positive Payoffs, negative Payoffs also exist and we seek them out more often than most of us realize.

Judy and her husband, Gary, have fallen into a trap of arguing  over the way they discipline their children, John and Jessica. Gary thinks Judy is passive and too easygoing, while Judy thinks Gary is too much of a dictator in needing to control and limit everything that John and Jessica do. The argument continues to be the same, with the same results. Judy gets hurt and feels controlled and manipulated. Gary feels angry and justified that he is doing the right thing. Both of them are frustrated because nothing changes.

It may not be obvious, but each of them is getting a Payoff for this interaction. In this case both Judy and Gary are getting the Payoff of not being emotionally heard. Judy is also able to be justified in her emotional pain and Gary is justified in getting angry and letting it out sideways. While these may not seem like Payoffs because they are negative, they are still Payoffs that continue to perpetuate the arguments. Many times, a negative Payoff is no more than continuing to get what we are used to receiving.

We seek Negative Payoffs as a way to maintain the negative messages that many of us tell ourselves every day. For example, we might tell ourselves that we are dumb, ignorant, stupid, not smart, etc. A negative Payoff for this message might be not needing to try as hard as a way to show others our ignorance. By not trying as hard or giving it our all, we might receive attention, even if it might not be the most positive. We might also be creating a scenario for others to feel sorry for us or even to take over a task.

When we seek to have others feel sorry for us, we get attention. We also get to remain stuck, meaning this behavior does not afford us the opportunity to grow. This pattern also allows others to look down on us as not being capable and to step in with their caretaking. All these patterns are created to reinforce our need to fulfill the prophecy of not being smart that we hold to be true. It may not actually be true, but the negative messages we received have taught us to believe it.

While most negative emotional Payoffs are ones we don’t desire on a conscious level, our subconscious embraces them because they are familiar. Many clients share that they dislike the Payoffs they have learned to embrace to maintain their negative messages, yet they continue to hold onto these negative emotional Payoffs because that is all they know.

To help move forward and not embrace the negative messages and Payoffs, we need to first recognize what the negative Payoffs actually are. Finding them can be difficult because most people do not want to admit to themselves that these Payoffs even exist.

When we are ready and willing to admit the actual Payoffs we are receiving, we have our first opportunity to explore how these negative Payoffs are helping us or hindering us in what we want from life. When we see that we have choices about the Payoffs, we can explore new options if we want to create change.

Initially most people tend to say they want to change the negative massages and Payoffs because they want to better themselves. While this thought is true, fewer people are actually willing to create the change because to do so would require them to do something different and unfamiliar. The unfamiliarity is scary and is an obstacle in a person’s forward progress. To get the desired changes will require us to go where we have not gone before, responding in ways we have not responded in order to get different outcomes.

While the change can be scary, it is also very rewarding. Taking the risk to let go of negative Payoffs frees us to seek out positive Payoffs that will help us move forward.

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