Porn Addiction: What To Do When You Feel Triggered

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Robert Weiss PhD, LCSW, CSAT

Unfortunately, triggers for problematic porn use are unavoidable. There will always be an attractive person walking past, a billboard that gets your attention, an unexpectedly sexy scene in a movie, etc. Such is life. You will encounter triggers on a regular basis no matter what you do. Recognizing this, it is helpful to have a set of easily utilized in-the-moment tools you can turn to when triggered (or think that you might be triggered).

Tools you may wish to develop and implement include:

  • Bookending: You can arrange to ‘bookend’ potentially triggering events with phone calls to a supportive friend in recovery. During the ‘before’ call, you commit to sobriety, and you may even discuss plans to avoid relapse. The ‘after’ call provides an opportunity to discuss what happened, what feelings came up, and what you might need to do differently next time.
  • Gratitude: A great way to combat ‘stinking thinking’ is to create a gratitude list. Writing a ten-item gratitude list nearly always counteracts almost any trigger and halts the cycle of porn use.
  • HALT (an acronym for Hungry, Angry/Anxious, Lonely, and Tired): As a problematic porn user, you must learn to ask yourself: When was the last time I ate? Did I get enough sleep last night? Is there some conflict in my life that I need to resolve? Would a few minutes spent talking with someone who understands me help me to feel better? More often than not, a catnap, a candy bar, or a five-minute phone conversation will greatly diminish your desire to view porn.
  • Rubber Banding: With this, you place a rubber band around your wrist, and whenever you recognize a desire to engage in an inner circle behavior, you pull the rubber band and release it so it snaps against your arm – ouch! – as a way to distract yourself.
  • The Three-Second Rule: As a problematic porn user, you cannot control the thoughts you have or the fact that you feel triggered. You can, however, control what you do with those thoughts and feelings. For instance, if you find yourself thinking about porn, you can acknowledge that you are human and it is normal to feel sexual. However, as a problematic porn user, you need to turn away from the triggering thought within three seconds. Sometimes it helps to think about the other person as someone’s wife/daughter/sister or father/son/brother, wishing that individual all the best in life. In other words, when you catch yourself objectifying another person in your mind, you should immediately try to humanize that person.
  • New Thoughts: This is a variation of the three-second rule described above. Essentially, after recognizing a porn-related thought, you give yourself a maximum of three seconds to focus on something else – the score of last night’s game, what you need from the grocery store, how much you love your spouse, the trouble your kid is having with algebra, etc. Of course, during difficult periods, unwanted thoughts of pornography may pop into your head almost constantly; one unwanted fantasy is banished and moments later another arrives. When this occurs, the three-second rule and turning it over can be used repeatedly.

The half-dozen tools listed above are hardly the full arsenal. Other tools that you may want to utilize include:

  • Journaling
  • Attending a porn-focused support group or meeting (either online or in-person)
  • Prayer and/or meditation
  • Reading recovery-related literature
  • Written 12-step work
  • 12-step sponsorship (and similar forms of ongoing outreach to other recovering porn users)
  • Any activity listed in the outer circle of your Circle Plan

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If you or someone you care about is struggling with pornography, help is available. Seeking Integrity offers inpatient treatment for sex and porn addicts, as well as low-cost online workgroups. At the same time, SexandRelationshipHealing.com offers a variety of free webinars and drop-in discussion groups, podcasts, and more.