In a recent group meeting, the topic of triggers came up in our discussion as I followed up on someone’s check-in. The man who had just shared about his week had shared that it was a tough week, and that there were a couple “slips” in the last few days. (Side note: In my experience, a slip is most often associated when someone acts out sexually in some way. Some men may also use the word relapse). In this instance, I followed up with him with a question I’ve asked to other men before who’ve shared the same experience:
“Do you know what your triggers were?”
As we let this question sit for a while, I could see he was really putting some thought into it. Finally, he answered with a question: “Frank, could you explain to me what exactly you mean when you say triggers?”
His response reminded me of the continual need for this conversation amongst men. Do you understand your triggers are? Or let me even say this: What drives you or pulls you in the direction of acting out sexually? No matter where you are in recovery, you should at least know a few of the most powerful triggers in your life.
Let’s zoom out a bit further. The late Dr. Mark Laaser had what I think if probably one of the greatest definitions for what triggers actually are:
“Triggers are ANY stimuli that a person interprets as sexual. This varies from person to person and depends on the person’s past experiences and memories. We can interpret as sexual input from any of our senses. For example, looking at certain pictures in the newspaper may trigger one person while the smell of a particular perfume or cologne may trigger someone else.” (From the workbook, “Faithful & True: Sexual Integrity in a Fallen World”)
I really like that definition. Because it suggests that triggers are very subjective from person to person. Meaning, they can be anything that prompts or “triggers” a sexual response. In my July 2021 article on the Small Groups Online blog, I wrote on specific triggers using a very helpful acronym: BLAST. If you’re not sure where to begin in understanding what triggers are, and more importantly, what YOUR triggers are, I would start with that article.
What I would love to devote the remainder of this article to is learning to target your triggers the older you become in recovery. The hope and the assumption on this side of the screen is that every reader would progress in recovery, heal from the pain of their past, and become the person that God created them to be. This is the ultimate goal. And as we grow and heal from things that once kept us in chains, the reality is that we will come to a place where we don’t struggle in the ways that we used to. So what does it look like for the man or woman who’s 10, 15, 20 years into recovery? Are they triggered in the same way they were in year one?
Yes and no. We all learn and grow at a different pace. Some of us faster and some of the us slower. I think a key question I like to try and always keep on my radar is this one:
“How is my heart doing today?”
Take some time to really think about that one. There’s a lot in that question to consider. One of the healthiest commitments a person can make is to their heart. If we maintain a consistent connection to what is happening in our internal world, we won’t be at the mercy of our flesh and our desires. There are nothing wrong with those things, but too many today are being led by their hearts instead of being the ones who do the leading. I’m sure you know what Proverbs 4:23 says, but if it’s been a while, let this be a fresh reminder for all of us:
“So above all, guard the affections of your heart, for they affect all that you are. Pay attention to the welfare of your innermost being, for from there flows the wellspring of life.” (The Passion Translation)
I love how the Bible tells us that what we hunger will essentially be expressed in our lives. We’re told to give special attention to the welfare of our innermost being. Another word for welfare here is the word “health”. And as we keep our hearts healthy, our entire lives will overflow with health. How we think, how we talk, & even how we treat people will all come from a place of life because we have treated our hearts well.
One last thought about triggers: You don’t have to walk through them alone. Small Groups Online helps men find community with other men who are also walking through the same struggles involving pornography addiction, masturbation, & any other sexually compulsive behavior. Each week, you’ll have the opportunity to meet online with a group of men who can help encourage and support you on your journey.
Frank is passionate about helping individuals live with sexual integrity. He also works alongside his wife Tracey in helping spouses who have been devastated by their partner’s addiction. Frank & Tracey live in beautiful southern Delaware with their two children: Nathan and Addison.