parts in NLP

Parts Or Secondary Gain?

There are a couple of terms floating around the hypnosis and NLP communities that I’d like to talk about for a moment.

“Parts conflict” and “secondary gain.”



A parts conflict can manifest when a person has two opposing (or partially opposing) behavioral choices and is motivated to do both. In other words, they may want to stop smoking, but they like how smoking relaxes them. Or, they want to eat their vegetables, but the pasta looks really good too.

See Reframing in A Smoking Cessation Session for more on parts.

Secondary Gain

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Secondary gain can also be a component of any disease, but is an external motivator. If a patient’s disease allows him/her to miss work, avoid military duty, obtain financial compensation, obtain drugs, or avoid a jail sentence, these would be examples of secondary gain. These may, but need not be, recognized by the patient.


Parts conflict and secondary gain are both ways to describe what happens when a person feels more than one way about something and those feeling motivates the person to do different things.

Conscious Or Not?

It’s important to point out that these motivations are not necessarily conscious. Case in point; someone who has accidents and gets attention when they’re injured. It doesn’t mean they consciously “decide” to hurt themselves. But the attention that goes with the injury is a benefit (gain). And the unconscious mind has different criteria and makes decisions based on different factors that the conscious mind.

Why It’s Important

What if a person smokes to relax or gets injured and gets to feel important because of the attention and they want to change? If you give suggestions to change without taking into account the benefits they get from their current behavior, your suggestions will be battling against their internal motivations.

In other words, when the unconscious mind wants the smoker to relax, it knows that smoking is a way to do that. That motivation may be at odds with the motivation to keep from smoking.

While the suggestions may work, it’s better to take their internal motivations into account when you make suggestions. In other words, you give the smoker a way to relax even more than they would have gotten with the cigarette. You suggest a much healthier way to get attention and feel important than the injury.

That way, both motivations and needs are met. You’ve got a far greater chance of success.

How’s Is It Done?

Well, both hypnosis and NLP have ways to hook things up to other things. The old cliche of the stage hypnotist is that they snap their fingers and the participants cluck like chickens. They linked snapping fingers to clucking.

In NLP we can use anchoring to link things together.

It’s a good idea to use whatever triggered the old behavior as your trigger.

In other words, if someone always smoked on their break at work…

“From now on, when you go on your break at work, a powerful feeling of relaxation flows into every cell of your being.”

Or, we could use NLP anchoring or New Behavior Generator to link those same relaxing feelings up to going on a work break. And of course, there’s always “Parts Therapy.”

Why Scripts Aren’t That Good

Hypnotic scripts guess at what a particular person’s motivations and triggers are. For instance, some people smoke to relax, others for the feeling of rebellion it gives them, still others for the familiarity if the habit. Some smoke on breaks, others when they answer the phone, still others when they’re driving.

You can always shotgun suggestions and hope you hit their motivations and triggers, but it’s much, much better to find out what a person’s motivations and triggers are by asking. Then you can pinpoint your suggestions.

Discover More

To discover more about anchoring, sign up for my free NLP Core Skills course.
For more about how to use direct suggestion hypnosis, see my hypnosis course.
How to do the New Behavior Generator technique here.
More about Parts Therapy here.


About The Author:

Keith Livingston is the main instructor for Hypnosis 101. Keith has been studying hypnosis since he was a boy and doing hypnosis & NLP training since 1997.

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