Handling Triggers – Refresher

Lately I’ve had several conversations with guys in recovery who look at eliminating triggers as an integral part of their recovery plan. Unfortunately, this is an incomplete and, possibly even detrimental, way to go about recovery.

Triggers are a very real part of life. And when we talk about triggers, we’re talking about sexual and non-sexual types. Of course sexual things can be triggering; from billboards to TV, internet sites to euphoric recall of our own experiences we can’t escape them. Beyond these overt, sexual triggers are the emotional triggers; fear, failure and loneliness to name a few for me.

For those of us who have misused our sexuality and struggled with sexual integrity issues, we want these triggers to go away so as to not struggle anymore. I can say for myself, there are times when I feel bombarded by temptation and triggers, and I just want to find a cave and hide. So how do we deal with these things?

Eliminating triggers is a good part of the recovery plan as it pertains to overt, sexual triggers. Don’t visit the websites with sketchy ads or blog teasers, take a different on-ramp where there’s no billboard, stop watching prime-time TV, sit somewhere else in church, etc. We cannot entirely escape our culture, and we needn’t do that anyway. Where we can’t eliminate these triggers, we can pray for God to help us see them through his eyes and from his perspective.

As it pertains to emotional triggers, elimination isn’t always the best option. In fact, these can become the cues we use to engage our hearts and connect with God and others. It is imperative to identify the emotions that propel you towards entering the addictive cycle, along with the situation where those emotions manifest. A few examples:

  • Feeling belittled because your kids ignore you
  • Feeling shamed by your boss
  • Feeling disappointed with yourself
  • Feeling overwhelmed with financial issues
  • Feeling frustrated with traffic
  • Feeling sad about someone forgetting your name

You can see why elimination isn’t an option; we can’t control other people or the situations we’re put into. Instead, a better way is to be aware of these, how they affect us, and how we want to handle them.

Early in my recovery it was difficult for me to even identify what a trigger was. It helped to realize there are particular (unhealthy) thought patterns that are associated with them. A telltale sign of something being emotionally triggering is a serious of thought patterns that specifically attempt to offset or eliminate those feelings. Continuing with the previous examples, here’s how those thought patterns might go:

  • Feeling belittled by your kids-
    • “These kids never listen. They have it better than I ever did. I slave away so they can have it so good and this is what I get in return. We’re too slack with discipline.”
  • Feeling shamed by your boss-
    • “He’s so critical. He’s always picking my work apart. Doesn’t he have anything better to do? I’m the only one he does this to. What’s his issue? If he weren’t friends with so-and-so he wouldn’t have this job”

The thought patterns are aimed at making the pain go away. Rather than simply acknowledging that it hurts, and the emotions are what they are, these mental gymnastics become a distraction. Recognizing and acknowledging them can be a sign to yourself that there is something to engage. Here’s where we can do life in recovery different than in our addictions- practicing intimacy.

Connecting with someone and sharing the frustrations, feelings of shame and being ignored can be healing itself. Especially when you talk about it with folks that get it, that can relate and know what its like to be in your shoes.

This can also be a good time to connect with God. Take that stuff to him, in prayer and petition. Perhaps go to scripture and see where the folks in the bible can commiserate. In some cases, this can even be the prompt to engage intimacy with the very people who are hurting you. It may be time to try a different approach to connect with your kids on their level. Or time for a new conversation with your boss.

Where you can eliminate triggers, do it. Where you can’t, engage it. See what kind of character change and relational mileage you can get out of working through it.



Exoneration or Empathy

How do you handle conversations when your wife is triggered…

When our wife is asking us questions it can often feel like an interrogation or cross-examination. Once we’re on the witness stand, we can easily adopt a defensive posture, where we try to say enough to satisfy our questioner but not so much that we incriminate ourselves. Genuinely, we don’t want to make things worse or hurt our wives any more. We also don’t want to be indicted for crimes we didn’t commit. So we get hung up trying to navigate the details rather than engaging our hearts and emotions.

Sometimes we end up responding to the questions (usually after there are a lot of them) in a way that looks like we’re seeking exoneration. Here’s a quick definition of exonerate:

-to prove that someone is not guilty of a crime or responsible for a problem, bad situation, etc.

I know my tendency is to get released on a technicality. In the past, when my wife didn’t have her facts straight, I’d argue the loophole. And, truthfully, we know were that ends up don’t we? Very little healing happens in those conversations.

Instead, a better way to engage is to practice empathy. To feel her pain. Answer the questions asked and try to connect the pain, fear, disappointment, shame and sense of betrayal that may accompany them. Most wives in my office say that when their husband try’s to argue/correct/restate the facts it seems like he is trying to get out of being responsible.

The next time the conversation unfolds and you start to feel like you’re on trial, remember that to pause before you respond and ask yourself: “Am I about to practice empathy or am I trying to be exonerated?”

Faulty Core Beliefs – Is sex a need?

Is sex a need?

This is one of those issues that, month-after-month, sparks a great conversation at the Every Mans Battle workshops. I thoroughly enjoy the discussion, even though sometimes it can get pretty heated. It is amazing to see how many different angles there are to answer the question too; biblical, single vs. married, natural/instinctual, physiological, psychological.

In an effort to start a discussion [not an argument] I’d like to invite feedback on this post.

Dr. Patrick Carnes, guru of sex addiction work, says in Out of the Shadows that people who are sexually addicted believe sex is their most important need. A lot of guys argue this point. At face value it is in fact easy to argue; especially when we apply Christian principles and understand that God designed sex, it is good, and it is part and parcel to marriage. But the more we unpack what it means to believe sex is a need, the more we see how our lives reflect our beliefs.  Let me explain:

Is sex a need to perpetuate the species and “go forth and multiply”?  Yes, it is. The species and multiplication cannot occur without it. (Ok, we can debate the logistics and mechanics of modern medicine related to reproduction, but at the end of the day a sexual act is still involved). So, in this sense, sex is a need. But, does that mean every time we engage sex with our spouse we are doing so to reproduce? No. So is sex a need for us personally?

Is sex a need based on physiology? Yes, there is a cycle to the development of sperm/semen that requires release. While the interval varies, for most men there is a regular cycle of production that physiologically requires a release. In this sense too, sex is a need. However, this assumes sex is the only vehicle to appropriately provide release. And by sex, I mean sexual acts – from masturbation to sexual intercourse. But is this true? What about nonsexual nocturnal emissions; where the body releases without a sexual stimulus? If you’ve talked to someone who has had a vasectomy, you know that once a vasectomy happens, sperm production does not immediately stop. Instead, the body has ways of dealing with the production through absorption and excretion. So, here we are again, asking the question: is sex a need in this regard?

What about if you’re married? If the person we love the most on the planet changes her last name, does sex automatically become a need? God ordained sexual intimacy in marriage and in fact encourages it. Some would say He commands it! Does this make it a need? And if it does, what about marriages where one spouse or the other cannot physically engage in sexual intimacy? I digress. Can we agree that marital status neither confirms nor denies whether sex is a need?

Do we need sex to feel loved? There is a cultural saying thrown around that goes, Women need to feel loved to have sex, Men need to have sex to feel loved”. Do you believe this? Is that to say that there are no other ways for men to feel loved other than to have sex? Is it the chicken or the egg – do men only know how to feel loved via sex because they’ve never know true intimacy and thus love without sex? I’ve digressed.

If we don’t get food, we die. If we don’t get water, we die. If we don’t get air, we die. Those are needs. We all believe, at a core level, that we need them. As such, we’ll go to great lengths to get them. We would cross lines we swore we’d never cross, go places we promised to never go, do things to people we never imagined ourselves doing, and breaking vows we swore we would never break.

Want to guess what a lot of guys have done to get sexual pleasure?

Most guys I talk to have crossed lines, gone places, broken vows (that they truly meant) and have done things to themselves and others they swore they would never do. Why?

Because they have a core belief that sex is a need, and fear the negative consequence on their life if they surrender it.

Do you believe sex is a need?
Do you fear negative consequences on your life if you surrender it?

Have you crossed lines or broken vows you swore you’d never transgress?