Trigger Mechanisms

Bob Damrau

INTRODUCTION
Trigger mechanisms are painful emotions that are not adequately identified and which lead to compulsive thinking and addictive behaviors (or tension reducers).
All people look for ways to reduce the stresses of life. Some chill out in a whirl pool while others cozy up with the latest novel. Some drop in at Starbucks and others drop dead from exercise. These tension reducers are, for the most part, legitimate. It must be said, however, that any good thing when taken to an extreme can become unhealthy.
We, as people with a bent toward sexual compulsivity, should pay attention to the trigger mechanisms that serve as stimulants to our addictive cycles. We need to find alternative ways of responding to our feelings.

THE ESCAPE ROUTE
Emotions are tricky for compulsive people because most of us have not developed our feeling skills.

When we can’t tolerate feeling depressed, we tend to seek relief (fantasy thinking)

When we can’t tolerate feeling isolated, we tend to seek stimulation (unhealthy relationships)

‘ When we can’t tolerate feeling like a failure, we tend to seek control (entitlement thinking)

‘ When we can’t tolerate feeling anxious, we tend to seek tranquility (masturbation)
‘ When we can’t tolerate feeling criticized, we tend to seek self-mastery (perfectionism)

STAYING WITH THE FEELING
When a sex addict experiences a negative emotion he generally fixes it by taking a drink of lust in order to medicate the feeling. Most addicts have not had any experience from their family of origin in the area of how to have and share feelings.

Dealing with feelings is a skill that you can develop and acquire levels of mastery over, once you have practiced it. It’s kind of like growing up and not learning how to maintain a car. It doesn’t mean that you are less intelligent or worthwhile because you can’t fix a car. You’re simply untrained. If you were to take a class on car maintenance, you would probably be a good mechanic. The difference is that the skills you are exposed to and have learned will dictate how you handle your emotions.

Now, expressing feelings in recovery is very important for several reasons.

In your acting-out days, if you had a feeling, you probably would not know what it was. But if you acted out in some way, the feeling would go away. In this process, you may not have learned to identify feelings and hence can not meet your own real needs.

In your early recovery, between usually the third to sixth week of abstinence from your acting out behaviors, you may begin to start recognizing feelings. This can seem almost like a thawing out of emotions. It is best to have already begun to identify your feelings so that they don’t confuse or overwhelm you and activate the cycle (unidentified feeling -> act out -> feeling disappears). In recovery, you get to feel without acting-out.

As relapse prevention, if you can identify your feelings, you may better know how to handle or manage these feelings in order to prevent relapses.

If a slip or relapse occurs, you may be able to track down what emotion(s) preceded this and move forward in your recovery process (identified feeling -> corresponding need -> needs met).

TALK ABOUT IT
It is important that you begin to communicate your feelings to a safe person. A safe person is one in your recovery group or a person to whom you are accountable. The person’s role is simply to listen, not really give feedback.

When sharing your feelings, it is important to maintain eye contact with the person you are sharing them with. This eye contact with a person may feel uncomfortable at first, but will eventually be comfortable to you. This is part of the benefit of this exercise.

TRY IT

1. Identify a feeling . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . lonely

2. Generate the need present in that feeling . . . . connect with a safe person

3. Act to legitimately meet that need . . . . . . . . . . call a group member

Need some help? See Every Man’s Battle.

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