Mindfulness and compassion are the keys to breaking the chains of our habitual and addictive patterns. Mindfulness simply means being consciously aware of something in your present moment experience, may they be thoughts, emotions, sounds, or images. Compassion means fully understanding what makes us suffer and choosing the best decision to reduce our suffering, may that be self-forgiveness, acceptance, or
a physical action.
By using mindfulness to consciously listen to and identify what the triggers are saying, we give it a voice, allowing us to begin a vital dialog with it. By doing this we engage and strengthen our Prefrontal Cortex, the part of the brain responsible for decision making and future planning, and take the power away from the mammalian brain or Limbic System. The compassion comes in to help us reduce anxiety, guilt and shame by engaging in acceptance, self-care, and harm-reduction.
What is a trigger?
For our purposes, a trigger is anything real or imagined that consciously or subconsciously drives you to engage in unhealthy sexual activities, or weakens your resolve to abstain from unhealthy sexual activities. A trigger can be a thought, a feeling, a belief, an image, a sound, a person, a smell, anything. You can change this definition based on your own personal goals.
Each individual chooses what is healthy and what is unhealthy to them. Sexuality is like food, we all need it but too much or too little can lead to an imbalanced and an unhealthy life style. In SAA, they use the 3 Circles method, a way to outline exactly what is healthy and unhealthy in your recovery. I advice you to make one to better help yourself determine your goals.
- STOP. Notice that you have become triggered. Stop what you are doing and remove yourself from the triggering situation if you can. If you are in public and cannot then make a note of the trigger for later identifying.
- Acceptance & Forgiveness. Accept that you have become triggered or that a trigger has arrived. Whatever you are feeling in this moment is OK, you are not a bad person for having these thoughts and feelings. Forgive yourself, this is simply the inner-addict at it again. You may have been engaged in an sexually unhealthy life style for years or even decades, so don’t blame yourself for what is coming up. Accept what is here in the present moment. If the feelings of guilt and shame are too strong, you can try a Relaxation Practice, then come back to this process.
- Identify the Trigger. Identify and reflect on the trigger in writing by asking yourself some of these questions:
What are my feelings and emotions right now?
What is the trigger saying?
What was I thinking just before I started to feel this way?
What images/memories does this trigger bring up?
Where did the trigger come from, a movie, someone in public, a webpage?
Was it a trigger that started earlier in the day or week?
Is it a new or reoccurring trigger?
- Alternative Thoughts. Write out a Counter Argument or Rational Belief against your trigger. Really think about how you can defeat this trigger’s logic. Avoid harsh self-criticism, guilt, or shame. Ask yourself:
What evidence do I have that these thoughts and beliefs are not 100% true?
What are the consequences if you continued with this trigger?
What advice would you give to a friend who had these thoughts in a similar situation?
Is there another way of looking at this situation?
What is really going on here?
- Trigger List. Start a collection of these Triggers & Counter Arguments into one long document, adding new ones as they come, examples bellow. In this way, we will map out all of the sneaky ways our inner-addict tries to high-jack our brain by using flawed logic and beliefs. Since it will be full of private information be sure to keep it in a secure and private place.
- Repeat. This final step comes when you go back into the world having written some of your triggers down. When a trigger that you are familiar with comes up, we again accept it and practice self-forgiveness, then bring to mind the Alternative Thoughts that you wrote out. If it’s a new trigger, we repeat the process from step one. We can also say to our trigger something like this:
“Ah, hello again, my old friend. I understand you.”
“Breathing in, I am aware of my trigger. Breathing out, I accept my trigger.”
These triggers will come up again and again, but if we are ready to catch them with mindfulness and understanding then they will become weaker over time. This may seem like a complicated process, but with practice you will be able to do them from memory. For now, print this out and put it on your wall to remember the process.
- Note: If and when you do relapse, remember it’s OK, relapse is just an opportunity for you to become more aware of new or existing triggers. Sit down and try to remember what was going through your head just before you slipped, add them to your trigger list.
With this process we learn to listen to our triggers like old friends. The more accepting and mindful of these triggers you become, the more you will degrade the power they have over you. Ultimately empowering you with the freedom to choose your next action, instead of the habitual addictive pattern. As Mister Rogers said: “I can stop when I want to, can stop when I wish. I can stop, stop, stop any time…”
The simple act of writing the triggers out makes you more mindful of them. And by writing out counter arguments your brain will learn to replace the trigger with a more rational belief or emotion, basically reprogramming and strengthening the decision making centers of the brain. Be vigilant for when they arise, especially frequently reoccurring ones. Refer back to your Trigger List often and add new triggers as they arise, no trigger is too small to write down. Try to keep it quick, sometimes I write out 5 or more in one sitting.
Most importantly, be accepting, be understanding, be forgiving. You have been addicted for a very long time, and it will take a while to reprogram or reboot. This is a process and a practice in patience. You are not personally to blame for your unconscious habits, we must take responsibility for them and learn ways to change them, that is all we can ask of ourselves. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, lets start that step today.
Example Trigger List:
Trigger: “Look, you relapsed again, you are so bad at this! You might as well just give up, throw in the towel, accept that you are hopeless and worthless. Nothing left to do, might as well go look at some more before bed time.”
Images/Memories: My father being disappointed with me.
Feelings: Guilt, shame, regret, disappointment, anger, frustration.
Alternative Thoughts: I am not worthless, many people love me. I have been abstaining from porn for longer and longer periods this year. Recovery is a process, not an event. I will not let a slip bring me down or make me feel guilty. Every slip is an opportunity to stop and review what my triggers were. As long as I remain mindful of my triggers, meditate daily, and stay connected with a community, you can only progress.
Trigger: Day after a relapse: “There was so much I didn’t get to see yesterday… I’ll just check out those other videos I wanted to finish to last night.”
Feelings: Tension, craving, agitation, desire, loss of control, curiosity.
Alternative Thoughts: There will always be new porn, always. It’s produced faster then a human can view in one lifetime. So drop it, the goal is to not look at porn, not check out all porn ever made and then stop.
Trigger: “I just don’t care, I like how it feels.”
Feelings: Childish, reckless, frustration.
Alternative Thoughts: You know who does care? Your future self. And if you are honest, you are your future self. That feeling you like won’t last, and will only be a temporary relief. In fact you will feel more pain the next day then you do now.
Trigger: “Lingerie won’t hurt, they are not naked.”
Alternative Thoughts: It will hurt you in so many ways it’s not funny. You cannot trust yourself to look at this, maybe you never will. You know yourself, it’s a slippery slope for you. Bottom line, it’s not a healthy choice.
Trigger: “I’ll just wait until tomorrow to quit. Just one more viewing.” “I’ll start tomorrow.” “Just once more before I quit.” “It (taking responsibility for my actions) can wait until tomorrow.”
Alternative Thoughts: Taking responsibility for my actions is key, they effect my life in the future, which will soon be my present. If you wait one more day, tomorrow you will just find yourself down the road having to quit again. Once is too many and a thousand never enough.
Trigger: “What else are you going to do? You don’t have anything else AS entertaining to do.”
Alternative Thoughts: You have many, many entering things to do. Sing, play music loudly, draw, do exercise. Maybe you are tired? Try taking a nap. You may feel down right now, but you will feel more energetic later. But in any case, porn is never the answer for boredom, it only makes you less content later.
Trigger: “The type of [insert fetish] porn you have looked at in the past and want to look at now disgusts me. You should be ashamed of yourself. It turns you on like no other porn. You are sick. You should go look at some right now, I bet you would be turned on you sick-o. Go ahead, I dare you.” Emotions: Desire, Confusion, Self-loathing, Disgust.
Alternative Thoughts: Your mind guilt tripping or tricking you into looking at the very thing you don’t want to do or are fighting. Again, don’t try to fight it, accept that you’ve looked at that type of porn in the past and that does not make you a terrible person. Remind yourself of your resolve not to anymore. The mind will do anything to trick you into looking at your most desired porn, especially if you have a strong emotions tied to it such as shame, guilt, or disgust.
Trigger: “It’ been x days, I am strong now. I have beat this addiction, I am master of my own domain now. Lets just look at a little without going too crazy to celebrate and prove that I have beaten this addiction.” Emotions: Hoity-toity, overconfident, denial.
Alternative Thoughts: The irony! lol Your goal is to abstain from porn, end of story. By looking at porn, it goes against your own goals that you are “celebrating.” Don’t fall for this blatant trick of the inner addict.
Trigger: “Without porn I will never be happy again.” Emotions: Disappointment, Fear, Distress, Worry.
Alternative Thoughts: Non sense, lots of things make you happy that are not porn related. Playing with pets, board games with friends, dancing, watching a good movie, walking in the grass on a beautiful day, listening to your favorite music. You can still have ALL these things without porn in your life.
This is only a sample list, feel free to build off of this one or start from scratch!