Learning what triggers are and how to best handle them is such a valuable lesson in our recovery journeys. This week, we identify healthy and unhealthy avenues to take when you feel pulled down the wrong direction. Enjoy!
If you and your spouse are struggling and would like help on your journey, please feel free to contact us! Or, if you’re a wife and need some extra help from another wife who’s walked through what you have, head on over to the “Support for Wives” section and shoot Tracey a a message by filling out the contact form. All communication is strictly confidential.
For those who want to end their use of pornography, the first step is admitting the problem. After this, you need to identify your triggers. A trigger is a person, place, thing, emotion, or experience that can easily lead one into viewing pornography.
Some triggers can be easy to identify, such as a day at the beach with young girls running around in bikinis. Others, however, can be more difficult to trace. This was the case with Jeff. He was in sales and worked from home, and would often find himself viewing Internet pornography throughout the day. To Jeff, life seemed good, and he couldn’t think of any reason why he kept viewing porn.
In order to identify various triggers, it’s important to understand the different types of triggers. While there are countless triggers out there, we can divide them into two categories: sexual and non-sexual.
Sexual triggers are usually things that are blatantly sexual, such as the day at the beach as mentioned above. They can also include things such as pop-up ads on the Internet, television commercials during sports games, lingerie catalogs, sexual scenes in cable/satellite television shows or PG, PG-13 or R-rated movies, men’s lifestyle magazines, etc. Advertisers (and pornographers) know that men are visually stimulated and that “sex sells.” Thus, any type of media geared toward men will often have sexually suggestive (or explicit) content. Such content could easily become triggers for pornography use.
In addition, for some men, just the sight of a computer, television, cell phone, tablet, etc. could be a sexual trigger, especially if those devices are used to access sexual media. Even memories of past pornography viewed can be triggers. We call this euphoric recall.
Looking at his use of media and when he would fall into viewing pornography, Jeff realized that it often began when he was surfing sports websites. Often there would be advertising links that would lead him to view pornography. Lingerie ads on the Internet and in newspapers were also sexual triggers for Jeff.
Non-sexual triggers can be harder to identify; however, they are far more powerful than sexual triggers. They are usually rooted in painful emotions. Men can then turn to pornography to cope with these painful emotions. To help identify non-sexual triggers, I use the acronym: BLAST. The letters stand for the following:
B: Bored or Burnt Out
A: Angry, Apathetic, Afraid, Ashamed, or Abandoned
S: Sad, Stressed or Selfish
For Jeff, the most common non-sexual triggers were boredom, loneliness, stress, and being tired. While he was successful at his job, he no longer found it mentally stimulating or fulfilling. Being alone all day at home left him feeling lonely. Making sales wasn’t difficult for Jeff, so he found himself with a lot of free time during the day and he would easily get bored. Not having a fulfilling career was also stressful for Jeff. He was tired of the monotony. He longed for more excitement in his life.
Experiencing these negative emotions would lead Jeff to surf the Internet. He would end up on sites that would be sexually triggering, and the combination of sexual and non-sexual triggers would lead him to view pornography. Jeff used the excitement of pornography to deal with the boredom and monotony of his career.
One doesn’t always act out with pornography immediately after being triggered. It could take hours or days before falling. For example, a man who is triggered to use porn may wait several days until he is on a business trip to view pornography. Some act out with pornography and have no idea how or when they were triggered. In these situations, I recommend an exercise called “Clocking.”
Clocking Exercise: Thoroughly review the 48 hours prior to viewing pornography. Try to identify any sexual or non-sexual triggers during that time. Many people are surprised at how many triggers they can identify when doing the clocking exercise.
Developing New Strategies
Once sexual and non-sexual triggers are identified, strategies can be developed to properly deal with those triggers. This can help one avoid acting out. For example, Jeff began to look for new opportunities within his company to make his job more interesting and challenging. Instead of working from home, he began to go into the office more often to work so that he would be surrounded by other people. On days when he did work from home he would make plans to have lunch with friends or colleagues. He also limited his Internet use during the day and installed Covenant Eyes on his computer to monitor his Internet use. Altogether this helped him overcome his use of pornography.
Once you understand what your sexual and non-sexual triggers are, it’s not difficult to develop strategies to prevent you from falling into pornography use. Remember, the pornography use is the symptom. Understanding triggers can help you uncover and effectively deal with the root causes of it. This can contribute to lasting sobriety.
About the author, Peter Kleponis
Dr. Peter Kleponis is a Licensed Clinical Therapist and Assistant Director of Comprehensive Counseling Services in Conshohocken, PA. He holds an M.A. in Clinical-Counseling Psychology from LaSalle University in Philadelphia, PA and a Ph.D. in General Psychology from Capella University in Minneapolis, MN. Dr. Kleponis specializes in marriage & family therapy, pastoral counseling, resolving anger, men’s issues, and pornography addiction recovery. He is the author of Integrity Restored: Helping Catholic Families Win the Battle Against Pornography.
Oftentimes, when we’re triggered it’s so much easier 2 RETREAT into isolation. Instead, we need to REACH out 2 someone for support & encouragement. Remember if at all possible, the time to reach out is before the slip, not after.
You’d think that the answer that question would be pretty obvious, but I believe more often than not, people get confused when it comes to these two topics (especially Christian people).
Here’s the thing:
You can lust after anything, not just the opposite sex.
You can lust after money.
You can lust after a car
You can lust after power.
And the list goes on.
The word lust simply means having a passionate or overmastering desire or craving for something. It’s just that, in our culture, we generally connect lust with “sexual lust.”
Looking, however, is a bit different.
I can look at something without having a strong desire for it.
I can even admire something (like a car) without lusting after it.
But because sexual matters are so sensitive, we often have a hard time trying to distinguish the difference between looking and lusting when it comes to those we’re attracted to.
Your spouse probably would have no problem with you saying, “Hey, that new sports car our neighbor got is pretty great-looking.”
However, try saying that same thing about your neighbor’s spouse.
Wow! It’s off to couch city for the next few nights.
But the truth is, looking and lusting are entirely different. The reason we have a hard time recognizing this fact is either because of “religious guilt” or insecurity.
So, for those of you who are constantly asking yourselves, “Am I looking or lusting?” here are 3 ways you can tell:
1) You just can’t look enough.
Hey, she’s good-looking.
I get it.
You didn’t ask to see her; she just ended up crossing your path today.
Looking at her and noticing that fact is not wrong. And it’s not lust.
But how many times do you need to go back to the well for a drink?
Chances are if your head keeps turning like it’s on a swivel, you’re doing more than just “looking.” You are looking for a reason.
And often that reason is lust. You like what you see and you want to see more because there is some strong desire there.
2) You are “coveting” what you see.
Take my earlier example of the neighbor with the “new” good-looking spouse.
Whether you end up on the couch or not, the truth is, you are not lusting after your neighbor’s spouse simply because you acknowledged that they have some visual appeal.
However, if you follow up your look and unwelcomed observation with the thought, “Boy, I wouldn’t mind if that person was my spouse,” then there is a problem.
You now have crossed the line.
You are coveting.
Coveting is an older term we find in the Bible a lot but basically means “to have a strong desire for.” So in this case, since your “strong desire” is for someone other than the person you’re committed to, then it’s safe to say you’ve wandered into the lust territory.
3) It makes your “special areas” all warm and tingly … and you want more.
Now, I know I may catch some heat for this one, but the truth is men are wired very differently than women and respond accordingly.
While women visually process things, men are far more visual, and our biological responses to what we see are practically hard-wired.
If a man sees a woman who’s very attractive (and especially dressed in a provocative nature), he is going to feel some sort of primal response. In other words, his brain is going to let him know it likes what it sees.
Not much we can do about that.
However, it doesn’t have to go any further than that. There are ways to keep that look from drifting into the lust arena (I wrote a post on that HERE).
But, say you feel all warm and fuzzy and decide to let that look linger because you want more of that feeling. Or, after you are done looking, you keep recalling in your mind what you just witnessed and how great it made you feel.
Well, now you officially crossed over into the lust area.
You see, the first situation is a physical and biochemical response. But the continuation is an intentional decision to elicit sexual pleasure from what you’ve seen.
And if what you’ve seen is not your spouse, then it’s time to have a talk with that accountability partner of yours.
Hey, I understand. This topic is a little sensitive.
Especially if you are talking about it with your spouse.
But don’t confuse looking with lusting.
Don’t let religious guilt or insecurities lead you to self-imposed and needless shame.
But at the same time recognize that looking can lead to lusting very quickly if left unchecked.
So be aware.
And seriously, be honest enough to talk about this stuff.
Carl (@carl_t) is a husband and father of two who, typical of his New Jersey roots, doesn’t mind pushing boundaries or challenging the norm. He is an ordained pastor & holds a Masters in Theological Studies graduating with High Distinction from Liberty University. Carl struggled with pornography and sex addiction for over 17 years until he finally found lasting freedom in 2010. He now leads the operations of XXXchurch.com and is the Director of their Small Groups Online and X3pure recovery programs. When Carl isn’t working he enjoys spending time with his family, hanging out with good friends, or preparing for his next obstacle course race.
Winning the war against lust is by far the most common theme of all the emails we get in our inbox. Today’s question comes from an anonymous listener. “Hello, Pastor John. Thank you for taking my question! I am a female college student in Maryland, and I love listening to your podcast. Thank you for the encouragement and truth that you put out each week. My question is this: How exactly does one transform the way they think? The Bible talks about letting your mind be transformed, but I feel it’s not so cut and dry as it is laid out in Scripture. Lately, I’ve been struggling with lustful thoughts that make me feel very insecure and guilty. So how do I deal with this, especially in a sex-crazed culture? I want to fight the temptations. Every time a lustful thought occurs, I feel like I’ve let God down. How do I let my mind get transformed, as the Bible says, so that I can win this overwhelming and exhausting battle?”
“How exactly does one transform the way they think?” That’s where she starts. Let me pick up there. There are so many pieces to her words that I’m probably not going to touch on every one of them, but let me give our college-student friend in Maryland a simple two-part paradigm for transforming the way we think. Then I will try to fill it out with a few details.
Let me use the analogy of becoming physically fit or physically transformed into fitness to illustrate how we may become spiritually or mentally transformed in fitness. Almost everybody would see the common sense of saying that if you want to be physically fit, there are two aspects of the process of transformation. I think these same two are going to apply spiritually. Let’s call them resistance and reception.
By resistance I mean the kinds of exercises that put your muscle under a great deal of unnatural strain. For example, you want your biceps to be stronger so you can lift heavier packages or lift light ones more easily. You curl a weight up and down — say ten, fifteen, or twenty pounds — and you do it enough times that on the last one, you can barely do it because the resistance is so strong against your bicep.
In that process of resistance, the bicep, ironically, becomes stronger. It’s strange that you make yourself look like an idiot, trembling and pulling and unable to pull it up for the tenth or twentieth time. But out of that weakness, a few weeks later — lo and behold — your bicep is stronger.
By reception I mean you receive healthy foods and sufficient sleep and a kind of activity that is not so much pushing against something, but rather welcoming right and good things into your body.
So there’s the analogy, and you can work with it and see if I’ve got it right physically, because I don’t know much about that. But it seems to work for me.
Push Back the Darkness
Now let’s apply it to spiritual and mental fitness the way the Bible says it happens. Of course, resistance and reception are not sequential. They’re not sequential, like some days you do resistance and some days you eat. No, it’s simultaneous, at the same time.
First, there’s the biblical principle of resistance. James says, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). Paul says in Romans 8:13, “If by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” So we kill specific sins by targeting them with lethal resistance.
James 1:3 reads, “The testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” So the testing of faith corresponds to the resistance of the barbell by your bicep. Some temptation or some suffering comes into your life and threatens to conquer you and ruin your faith and your holiness. You have to lay hold on a promise of God and push hard against the rising doubt and unbelief with all your might, as you rely upon the promise of God.
So, push back the encroaching darkness just like you push on the floor when you do push ups. Why? Because this produces steadfastness or endurance. This means that those tests — those pressures of unbelief and temptation, those tests that have to be resisted by faith — result in two things.
1. These tests enable us to resist greater tests, greater temptations, and greater suffering in the future.
2. These tests enable us to meet all tests that used to make us stumble with relative ease so that we’re not thrown into a crisis every time we meet some sexual temptation, for example.
Now, all of this applies to lust and sexual temptation because those are thoughts and tests that we have to resist. We have to take hold of a promise of Christ, believe it, and then use it to push — actively push — the thought out of our minds.
We say, “No, no, no!” I mean, I do this. I’m not kidding here. Some lustful thought or some image comes into your mind, and you’ve got about five seconds to decide whether you’re going to let it take over or whether you’re going to push on it with “No — you’re out of here. In Jesus’s name, you’re out of here!”
You must direct your attention to some superior promise: “Jesus is better. Jesus is enough. He said this. You’re out of here.” And you keep pushing until it’s gone.
So that’s what I mean by resistance — the first half of the transformation. I want to encourage you that even though it may feel or sound exhausting at first, it really does yield a peaceful fruit of righteousness. Read Hebrews 12 and you’ll see what I mean.
Running on Empty
Now, here’s the second half. That’s only the first half, and so many Christians try to solve the problems of their temptations and their defeats only by the resistance half of sanctification. It won’t work. It just won’t work in the long run.
Let me give what I mean by the reception part. Paul says, “We all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18). Notice, this comes from the Lord, the Spirit. We are receivers. This is the reception side.
We are fixing our gaze on the glory of the Lord, and we do that mainly in the word. We linger over the sweet and beautiful descriptions of the person and the work of Jesus Christ. We marinate our minds receptively by faith in the Crock-Pot of God’s word. We fix our eyes, the eyes of our hearts, on Jesus.
The more we receive into our hearts the beauty of Christ through the eyes of the heart as we read and meditate, the more we will have his desires, his preferences, and his convictions. We will be receptively transformed.
Oh, how sweet to have that receptive transformation so that the hooks of the devil don’t even lodge themselves anymore!
Here’s another passage to stir in. Colossians 3:10 reminds us that in Jesus we are new creatures, we have new selves. But we must put on the new self. That is, receive the new self. Put it on like a coat — consciously receive it.
But there’s a phrase in Colossians 3:10 that tips us off to how it happens. It says, “Put on the new self” — and here comes the phrase — “which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” So, the transformation of the mind and the desires and the thoughts of the new self happens in knowledge.
This is just like saying, “Look to Jesus more and more, and your thoughts and your feelings will be changed. You will experience your newness.”
Here’s the last passage I’ll mention that relates to newness through beholding Christ — newness through knowledge. It relates specifically to sexual temptation. Here’s what Paul says: “This is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor” — and here comes the key — “not in the passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God” (1 Thessalonians 4:3–5).
Notice where Paul lays the fault of sexual passion taking control and ruining our lives. He says that passion, that sinful passion, rules in people who do not know. Just like Colossians 3:10, they don’t know. Just like 2 Corinthians 3:18, they don’t see, don’t meditate on, don’t know, don’t absorb, don’t receive the knowledge of God.
In other words, they haven’t been renewed in knowledge. They haven’t set their minds to behold the glory of Jesus day and night so that they become like what they admire. They are at the mercy of their sinful passion because they haven’t been transformed by putting on the new self, renewed in knowledge.
That’s the biblical pattern of transforming our minds and our hearts so that we are less vulnerable to sexual temptation. It’s both resistance against unbelief and temptation and doubt and Satan, and it is the sweet and enjoyable reception, through God’s word, of the preciousness and the beauty and the greatness of Jesus. Both resistance and reception, over time, transform our hearts and our minds.