(Post written by Anne Smith, mother and healthcare professional)
Everything comes with a ‘trigger warning’ nowadays. Some people consider these a bit sissy – but for people struggling to overcome things like trauma and addiction, trigger-warnings can prevent exposure to media or situations which really could damage their health. With pornography addiction becoming an increasing concern for many young people, a lot of emphasis is being put upon reducing the kind of ‘triggers’ which may produce abberant and addictive sexual behavior. However, is it right to reduce exposure in this way? A big part of overcoming addiction is recognising one’s ‘triggers’ – the moods or situations which drive one to addictive behaviors – and learning to deal with them. While it’s important to understand one’s triggers, just how careful does one have to be about them?
How ‘Triggers’ Work
Addictive behaviors rarely simply pop up out of the blue. An alcoholic, for example, is likely to be more ‘triggered’ to give in to their impulses in a bar than they would be in a church. An internet porn addict may be ‘triggered’ by boredom, by internet access, by being alone, by stimulating media, by any number of things. A ‘trigger’ is basically anything which either causes or enables an addictive impulse. And they’re very, very powerful. ‘Triggers’ develop in a kind of Pavlovian-association method within your brain. When your brain associates certain things with its addiction, it will prepare to get its customary ‘hit’. When that ‘hit’ does not arrive immediately, it starts to demand it from you pretty powerfully. Battling against your own brain is never easy. Even someone with the best of intentions may succumb to their brain’s insistent nagging. It’s easy to see, therefore, why some people prefer to avoid ‘triggers’ altogether, and never expose themselves to that devastating temptation.
The Danger Of Over-Avoidance
However, those who take strenuous pains to avoid everything at all which could ‘trigger’ a relapse run into the danger of never developing any resilience against these ‘triggers’. There’s a delicate balance to strike between keeping out of situations which you know are likely to provoke a slip back into addiction, and developing the coping skills you need to handle these situations with equanimity. In an ideal world, after all, recovering addicts should be able to face potentially behavior-triggering situations without feeling the slightest impulse to relapse. The only way to develop these kinds of coping skills is to expose yourself to triggering situations until you’ve built up a certain resistance to them. Of course, this is a very tricky business. Nobody wants to shove a recovering addict into an addictive situation in the hope that they’ll ‘get over it’ instantaneously – that would be a terrible idea. The trick, therefore, is to find ways to ‘vaccinate’ (as it were) recovering addicts by giving them small amounts of access to controlled situations with the aim of building up coping skills. This is a very play-it-by-ear area, which needs to be treated with great caution and monitored well, as the potential for relapse here is high. However, if it can be achieved (and be prepared for a lot of minor ‘failures’ as tolerance levels build!), it’s more than worth it. Anyone who feels that they have to, for example, avoid every movie which deals even tangentially with addiction or addictive situations could potentially miss out on a great deal of material which could actually help them, by speaking to their experience through the sensitive portrayal of addiction. So not only are addicts who can tolerate a certain amount of ‘triggering’ more able to withstand unexpected ‘triggers’, they are also more able to seek out and gain aid from helpful but nonetheless potentially ‘triggering’ sources.
Acceptance And Awareness
A lot of what we’re saying here concerns the acceptance and acknowledgement of one’s condition. There is a danger that by avoiding triggers, one simply slams a door on the problem, without ever truly acknowledging it or working on a deeper level to overcome it. However, this works the other way as well. Those who recklessly march into triggering situations may also be in danger of failing to acknowledge the seriousness of their condition, of ‘turning a blind eye’ to their own reality. Both attitudes carry a huge potential for relapse, for basically the same reason – the addict is not acknowledging the deeper implications of their problem, and is avoiding truly getting to grips with their embattled psyche. In order to begin to heal, one first needs to recognise and accept one’s situation. Developing this kind of self-knowledge is the first step to working out just how careful one has to be with stimuli. Self-awareness regarding your condition will help you to judge what you can and cannot deal with – and will serve as a useful guide should you wish to build up your tolerance of ‘triggering’ situations. But this is always an area which should be treated with caution. Tweet
Remember, relapse doesn’t have to mean the end of recovery.
Anyone taking steps to increase their tolerance of stimuli is likely to experience certain relapses. This doesn’t mean that it’s over. Each small failure lays the foundations for a greater success and, if treated with the right attitude, brings with it more determination to succeed next time.
Download Josh McDowell’s pornography presentation and research from the Set Free Summit here.
- A Call to Arms (Presentation)
- A Call to Arms (Notes)
- Facts & Stats About Pornography (Vol 1)
- Facts & Stats About Pornography (Vol 2)
- What Josh is saying…about internet pornography
- What others are saying…about internet pornography
- Recommended Resources to Help with Overcoming Pornography