The Importance of Recognizing Triggers




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Carl Thomas

Pastor | Live Free Founder | Lover of Jesus, Philly sports, fitness, tattoos, sarcasm, and craft beers.

If you have ever read a book, done a course, or attended a support group

focused on porn and sexual integrity like the ones we offer through Small Groups Online, you’ve undoubtedly heard the term “trigger” or “being triggered.”

The word trigger is often heard in the recovery world and refers to something that stimulates a craving to “act out.” There are both internal and external triggers that commonly work together to cause these cravings and when we face said trigger moments, often it feels impossible to say “no” and stop our trip down the old familiar rabbit hole of unwanted sexual behavior.

Admittedly, triggers can be difficult to identify.

Sure, most guys understand that a bikini pic or a woman in tight clothes can be triggering (these are examples of sexual “triggers”). But what about when we are sitting home alone in our office and suddenly feel the overwhelming desire to act out? 

How do we identify triggers in those situations when the answer is not so obvious?

The truth is identifying our triggers can take time. Sometimes we need to journal for weeks or even months until we see patterns that point us in the right direction. Other times we might need professional help like a counselor to help us figure out our triggers. 

Whichever the case, ultimately it is an investigative process that requires concentrated effort.

And with all the stuff we face every day, all the distractions and challenges life throws at us, we might be tempted to ask, “Why does it matter?”

Why is understanding and identifying our triggers so important for our recovery?

The answer to this question could fill a book, but here are three reasons to get you started if you might be otherwise tempted to ignore the significance of triggers in your life.


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First, when you recognize that you are experiencing a trigger moment, it gives you the opportunity to recognize that fact and choose a better option than the unwanted sexual behavior you are contemplating.

This is one of the reasons that having some sobriety is so important. Because without it, you’ll find it very difficult to recognize that you are even being triggered in the first place. 

But when you do, you’ll find that there’s a huge difference between being drawn to porn or masturbation and not knowing why, versus being drawn to it and having the awareness that there is a reason. 

And when you know that reason, you have a much better chance of walking away from those poor choices you’ve been contemplating. 

Second, when you recognize certain triggers such as locations, situations, or visuals, you also have the opportunity to make a plan to avoid those problematic scenarios. 

What I’m talking about here is not the same thing as white-knuckling. I’m not suggesting that if you know how to avoid all your triggers you’ll then experience freedom. 

It’s far more complicated than that.

Understand, true freedom is never found in boundaries and restrictions. But there is great value and wisdom. And if you can avoid a known trigger, then why wouldn’t you just do that and simplify your daily decision-making? 

It’s like potato chips for me.

I value fitness and my health, and so I don’t generally keep potato chips in the house because I know that I’ll often be tempted to pick at them when they are sitting in our cabinets. And potato chips don’t work well with a healthy lifestyle.

Realize though, not keeping potato chips in the house is not the key to my fitness goals, but I know that potato chips won’t help me reach those goals. So why not just remove the option and make my choices simpler each day? 

That’s just practical wisdom.

However, while recognizing triggers is valuable to your overall decision-making, the real value in recognizing your triggers is that you have an incredible learning opportunity when you do.

That’s the third reason.

Triggers can serve as breadcrumbs, and if followed, those breadcrumbs can help you unlock the hidden pains and anxieties that lie behind your desires, fantasies, lust, and reasons for looking at porn in the first place. 

Unfortunately, we’ve been taught in evangelical culture that we must flee sexual fantasies and lust and avoided such things at all costs. But if those fantasies and lustful desires are faced and explored, they can actually lead you to the root of your addiction, sort of like a roadmap. 

In other words, they can lead you to real and permanent healing.

Triggers offer you the same type of opportunity because when you realize you’ve been triggered, you can start asking probing questions such as the following:

What is it about this trigger that bothers me so much?

When has something like this happened to me in the past?

What were the circumstances around that trigger?What emotion am I feeling that has triggered me, and why is that emotion so problematic?

What fantasy or desire is behind this trigger?

What value system or measure of success am I running into that is making me feel anxious, uncertain, and unworthy?

These are all questions that can help you dig deeper and get to the root of your unwanted sexual behavior.

The big point is this… 

When you know you are triggered, you have an awesome opportunity to move forward in your healing. 

Don’t waste those opportunities. Instead, pursue them. And you can only do that if you recognize that you are being triggered in the first place. 

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