How Identifying Your Triggers Can Help You Overcome Your Porn Addiction

Journal

Recently I wrote a guest post for Your Brain on Porn about 5 habits to avoid so you don’t relapse. As I was writing, I realized one of the biggest problems with overcoming a PMO addiction (or any addiction for that matter) is that people have difficulty recognizing their triggers.

Triggers are to addiction what the big red button is to the end of the world. But we give it so little attention really, often focusing on the more superficial aspects of overcoming dependence. The truth is, you can be as fit as a fiddle, but if you’re confronted with a trigger, your physical health really only plays a small role in resisting the temptation.

What’s possibly the hardest aspect of recognizing your triggers is that you have to look inward and be honest with yourself (admittedly not always the two easiest things to do). In doing so, you not only give yourself the opportunity to grow, you also learn about how your mind works, why you hold on to your porn addiction, and exactly how you can rewire your brain, the easy way.

Triggers come in all shapes and sizes. This means you’re going to have to do a little homework, so grab your pen and paper, get ready to take notes, and let’s get started right away.  (Remember: Reading this article without ‘doing the work’ won’t get you anywhere – you HAVE to do the work)

How to recognize a trigger

Triggers are often very subtle and unexpected. Sometimes they’re seemingly unrelated to the addiction itself. In the case of a porn addiction, most people expect triggers to come in the form of a suggestive photo in a magazine or a sex scene in your favorite HBO series. However, the most dangerous triggers are often psychological and emotionally invested ones.

Why your brain gravitates toward addiction

Previously, addiction of any kind was considered to be limited to chemical drugs: cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines, nicotine… But now scientists are starting to look at the nature of triggers and cravings that lead to long-term addiction very differently.

In reality, many different things can become addictive, based on a few crucial elements. To put it all into context, the Harvard Medical School published an interesting post regarding the way the brain works to accommodate compulsions.

Here’s how the addiction mechanism works with porn:

Watching porn creates a stimulus that offers a pleasant reward. Your brain reacts to this by producing dopamine (yeah, the feel-good hormone) and “accepts” the reward. However, as time goes on, two things start to happen:

1) Your brain produces less and less dopamine for the same stimulus and you’ll need to find new and novel ways of exciting the brain’s dopamine levels.

2) Your brain begins to form associations with certain elements – this is what we refer to as triggers.

Pinpointing your conscious triggers and your subconscious triggers can literally make or break your recovery.

Emotional triggers could look like, but are not limited to:
  • Boredom
  • Loneliness
  • Feelings of failure
  • Feelings of apathy
  • Hopelessness
  • Depression
  • The desire to please
  • The need to be pleased
  • Being out of control over parts of your life, with the desire to control them
Physiological triggers could look like, but are not limited to:
  • Arousal over a specific image, event or experience
  • A look someone gives you
  • A certain smell that you associate with something emotional
  • Lack of confidence
  • Feeling unhappy about your physical state

More importantly, triggers are often abstract. As mentioned earlier in the article, it means that they take on the form of something unexpected – you may not even know that your crave response has been stimulated.

These sort of stimuli prompts are also deeply personal. What sets you off in a downward spiral may not be the same for another person. So the key here is understanding yourself: why you keep turning to porn, and what you can do about it.

You’ve got to:

  • Be honest with yourself

Confront yourself about who you are, who you would like to be and how you’d like to get there. Don’t let the honesty department cut the budget either, give it all up. It often makes it easier to just jot down point for point, so that you can go back later in order to look for clues as to what your triggers could be.

  • Be committed

Knowing what triggers you gives you the advantage of being able to predict when you’ll have to face a potential relapse trigger. This means you can either run in the opposite direction before it gets to you if you know you won’t be strong enough to deal with it. Or stand and face it with considerable preparation behind you.

  • Be curious and willing to grow

Going on a trigger hunt is the perfect time to bond with your own character — not narcissistically, but just to find out who you really are. If you’re curious enough you’ll find your way to the base of “addiction mountain.” And if you’re willing to grow, you’ll get over that mountain faster.

I’m a big fan of tackling problems head-on, so my general go-to response is to uproot and eject anything from my life that’s not worthwhile. You can try this approach too, but in this case, I strongly suggest balancing the head-on and throw out approach with finding effective ways of reprogramming your brain to register a completely different response when it receives a stimulus.

While you can make sure that your home is porn-free and that your internet’s nanny search is activated, it’s not so easy to steer clear of stimuli outside of your personal and controlled environment. That means that you have to learn how to deal with that temptation possibly on a daily basis.

Dominoes
How can trigger-hunting make overcoming a porn addiction easier?

After reading this article, you may well be feeling like the road to your goal is more abstract. But the truth of the matter is that without acknowledging what could set you off in the wrong direction, you’re a walking target for things that could set you back a few days, months or even years.

Knowing your triggers allows you to make positive decisions and can give you back a sense of control over your life and help you overcome this.

Action Steps 

In your journal, write down any and all triggers you can think of.  In other words: What states of mind, emotions, or situations seem to correlate with you watching porn?  Is it when you’re feeling lonely; when you come home after a few drinks?  Does it usually happen at a certain time of day?  When you feel bored or stressed at work?  Again, honesty is key.  I think you’ll find that just the act of writing this out will help you be better equipped to resist.

Bonus points: share about your triggers in the comment section below. It might just help someone else realize their own triggers.

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    About Brian

    Brian overcame a long-standing addiction to Internet porn and fully recovered from serious porn-induced erectile dysfunction and performance anxiety. For more about Brian, see my story.

    Comments

    1. Brian many thanks for your helpful writing. Personally my triggers are when I feel like I have procrastinated or wasted my day, and then I am using my computer in my bed. Now that I recognize this, I will make some changes~

      • Hi Sudhir,
        Thanks for the kind words.
        I think you’ll find that knowing your triggers and restructuring your life around them can be a big turning point in your reboot.
        Best of luck!
        Brian

    2. Hello brian. Do you know this post is kinda God gift or support! Bcoz it coincides with my now mood. I’m 4 days PMO free. Today I’ve detected some triggers trying to take me down. I wasn’t aware of them as triggers till I read this post. Everybody has its own reason to get over this addiction. Things which really pushed me forward to go ahead with cutting out the PMO were: 1_ lack of confidence 2_ removing the brain fog so that I can think better, see better, speak better, be more alert and concentrated and … .3_ To eliminate the shyness and awkwardness toward the oppsite sex 4_ Be more active and sociable
      And …
      Well as you know most of guys want to heal their sexual issues like ED and etc. But me things are different so are my triggers. Today I had a cementing job with help of my friend. I spot that he’s too stronger than in work (physical state) and also he got a rich vocabulary than me and speak faster non stop while I’m too slow. These all led me to hopelessness(trigger!).
      I felt down that I’m still unable to recover and get heald. I know this funny bcoz it’s my forth day of rebooting and we all know that I need more time to get better but believe me the triggers have no language they understand nothing they just wanna hit and wreck as if they’ve programmed this way to only hit and wreck! There’s mor to say about other triggers I’ve confronted with in this streak and in the pasts but seems the pont went too long 🙂
      At the end, Brian I have a question and want you to answer it
      Now I’m living in a hellish situation where the hopelessness,depression, feeling empty, feeling weak and etc strongly present
      Well,
      Will the good days show up, when I feel better,more confident, more coherent, extremely more sociable and …???
      Rings a bell,
      An absolutely essential trigger could be the one which tries to convince you all the benefits within the cutting out the pmo are just a lie!!!

    3. Thanks a lot Brian. I have not found what my trigger is yet but after a series of failed attempts I have finally found my key to a successful reboot. I recently read about finding a physical activity to replace M and P. That is what I lacked in my previous attempts. I purposely started this reboot on the same day I finally got a guitar. So every time the urge comes I pick up the guitar and quickly start practicing and the urges die like a matchstick flame in the cold. I feel like for once in 6 years I actually have power over the urges. Now that I have learned about triggers, when I find mine then I will be even more powerful against the urge. I would recommend all of you who are also fighting these battle to try this. Find something you have always had a passion for and use it as your replacement.

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