The Problem with the Payoff
A few weeks ago, I was driving listening to Doctor Eve on Redi’s show. I just caught a bit of the show, and I think it was about alcoholism linked to sex addiction. A woman had phoned in to complain about her friend who constantly embarrasses her when they go out on the weekend, because she gets totally pissed and then flirts with strangers and would go with them if the caller did not stop her.
The caller said that the experience was really horrible for her and that she did not know how to manage it. Doctor Eve responded,
‘Sweetie,’ she said, ‘there is a payoff in it for you, otherwise you wouldn’t be doing it.’
And she went on to speculate about what the payoff could be. I can’t remember clearly, but it was something like the caller liked the spill over of male attention, which maybe she couldn’t get on her own. Or perhaps, she liked being in the position of taking care of her friend. Whatever it was, this conversation stayed with me for a few weeks, until it dawned on me why I keep thinking about it. We all do that! On the surface or consciously you may think it is a crap situation and you hate it, but somehow, you stay in it, because there is a payoff.
Let’s take the caller from Redi’s show as an example. She is in the situation. If you had to ask her why she keeps going out with her friend, she will probably have a million reasons. I can think of a few myself.
It is her best friend, how is she going to keep the friendship if she refuses to keep going out with her friend.
Her friend really depends on her and she is her only friend.
Who else is going to look after her friend?
No one else cares enough about her friend to look after her like that.
What if she goes out and gets into serious trouble? Etc., etc. you get the picture. And I bet that she was HORRIFIED by Doctor Eve’s suggestion that there is a payoff. (I was! And I even heard Redi gasping ).
But I think there is real value in looking at our negative patterns this way. Yes, indeed, there must be a payoff on some level, otherwise why would you be doing it again and again? How do you get to see the payoff? That is the real question.
Let’s use another example.
A woman is in a negative relationship. Why does she not leave her partner? She has children whom she can’t support on her own, or she does not have an infrastructure around her to support her, and so forth. She may even say that she does not want to be alone or that he does love her. Or maybe she is afraid, afraid of the repercussions if she had to leave him. Anyway, there are a million reasons, but which one is the payoff?
So she doesn’t need to work, or whilst she is with him, she has every reason in the world to complain. She does not have to take responsibility for her life being a disaster, it is all his fault. Perhaps she is perpetuating an abusive dynamic left in her from her childhood. These are all speculations and would it help her if she could identify the payoff?
I smoked from the age of nineteen and finally stopped when I was about thirty seven. How did I manage to stop? Well, I figured out the payoff. Eventually I smoked 1 cigarette every night at about 6.00. I realised that what I projected onto smoking was time out for me. This was when I was self soothing in a sense. Caring for me, taking a breather, slowing down. Once I identified the payoff, I could deal with that issue ‘ that fact that I felt that I did not give myself space to relax. And of course then I could address it and eventually stopped smoking. (Now I do Sudoku equally addictive).
So I think that identifying the payoff can help, because it is usually something that has nothing to do with the negative pattern. It is a neurosis that uses the negative pattern to perpetuate it. And I can hazard a guess that if it is a really debilitating neurosis, start looking at your childhood. Are you repeating a pattern that one of your parents displayed? It could be helpful viewing it as such, because looking at someone else’s problem is so much easier than looking at your own.
But honestly I think that the real problem with identifying the payoff is that the truth is usually ugly. It takes a tremendous amount of courage and honesty to look in the mirror and acknowledge that you work 14 hours a day because if you didn’t, your life would be meaningless and you would be no-one. Or that you are a failure, and hanging around that problem (partner/job/family issues etc) is a convenient excuse. Or like the first example, you feel so much better about yourself when you have friends who can’t keep it together. No, the mirror that reflects the payoff is not easy to look into, and worse of all, once you have looked into it, you know. And then what, do you just carry on knowing that there is this monkey on your back or do you change it?
And there you have it ‘ the long road to consciousness ‘ only for the courageous.