Reader Q/A: How Do I Deal with Triggers?

Question: “Sometimes I can’t hear the word ‘sex’ or ‘masturbation’ because it makes me think of past events and I become aroused. How can I stop and control myself from these reactions?”

Reader Q/AThanks for reaching out. I believe the issue you mention here is a common (and difficult) struggle for most guys who are trying to develop a healthy sexuality in today’s pornified world.

The term I would use for words (or anything) that awaken unwanted thoughts or behaviors in you is “triggers.” So your question then becomes “What should I do when I encounter triggers” and “How can I eliminate or reduce them from my life?”

What should I do when I encounter triggers?

Unless you live alone in the middle of the Arctic without wi-fi, there’s no way to avoid triggers in today’s world, which means you need to develop a plan of what to do when it happens.

The first thing I would recommend is to avoid giving them more power than they deserve.

You use the word “sometimes” in your question, and I think that is wise. Many guys would have said “always,” which may feel true, but that subtle shift in language shows they’ve already resigned themselves that their response to triggers is out of their control.

And that’s right where the enemy wants you.

By recognizing it’s only sometimes for you, you’re admitting that you do have control over your response. You may feel like you’re in a boat being pulled by the current in a direction you don’t want to go, but you also know you’ve still got oars to paddle with. Sometimes the “oar” is to get up and walk away—to flee from the trigger. Sometimes it’s to ask God to remove an impure thought from your mind and replace it with something true and holy (the girl in this photo is not a sexual object, she is a daughter of God, loved by Him to the same extent that He loves me…)

The trick here, is to not only remember that you have these oars, but to learn how to sense the pull of the current as early as possible so you can begin paddling away before it’s too late. Which brings us to the second thing I suggest:

Learn to recognize your true triggers early.

For me, my biggest triggers have always been rejection and shame, but I wasn’t aware of that until recently. I thought I was being triggered by the sight of a certain “type” of girl, or by being alone at my computer. But what I eventually realized was these were only triggers for me if something deeper had already been at work in my heart.

Once I began to recognize it was rejection and shame that were making me vulnerable to surface triggers, I could deal with them before I came face-to-face with temptation. Learning how to pinpoint these true triggers gave me a map of the river currents, allowing me to paddle around and avoid the rapids before I was forced to fight against them.

How can I reduce triggers from my life?

We’ve just looked at how to rob triggers of their power over you, but even with these tools it’s still wise to reduce the number of triggers you encounter. After all, there’s no sense in fighting any battle you have the power to avoid.

You say you’re hearing certain words that, for you, are sexually charged. That makes me wonder where you’re hearing them. If it’s in a support group with guys sharing their struggles, that’s one thing. But if you’re hearing words like “masturbation” frequently in the movies and TV shows you’re watching, you may want to rethink what you’re letting in.

If you’re only a few months in to your journey, you will likely need to give up some things that are “okay” for others who are further along, until you’re in a healthier place yourself.

When I first began my recovery, I had a phone with no internet, got rid of my TV altogether, and was extremely careful about what movies I watched. It was a sacrifice for sure, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to handle those things yet. In the years since, I’ve loosened up a bit, but I still use a filter on my computer and won’t go see a movie or TV that has nudity (which means I’m probably the only guy on Earth who hasn’t seen Game of Thrones).

I just know that for me, it’s not worth having to deal with those triggers no matter how good a show is supposed to be.


So, to recap what ended up being a rather long response:

  • Recognize that you’re in control of triggers, they don’t control you.
  • Keep digging deeper to discover what your true triggers are and invite Jesus to heal those areas of your heart.
  • Set up boundaries to limit what you’re allowing in.

I hope that helps. Thanks again for reaching out.

Grace and Peace my friend,

If you have a question about pornography addiction, my personal story, or anything else for that matter, you can send it to me by filling out the form on the Contact page (or just click my picture in the sidebar on the right). I will do my best to answer every question personally and will never post your question without your permission.

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