In a previous post we discussed triggers, which are catalysts that create a desire to look at pornography. We looked to the expertise of Rob Weiss, who says that common triggers are “boredom, anxiety, stress, anger, depression and loneliness” among others. Research indicates that once a person is triggered it becomes extremely difficult for them to not look at pornography if the trigger is not dealt with quickly. This can also lead to issues with porn withdrawal.
When a person is triggered, they become preoccupied with the need to use and enter the “ritualization” stage, or a habitual setting the scene for using pornography. In Healing the Wounds of Sexual Addiction, Mark Lasser says that rituals are unique to the individual and always precede acting out. He says they can be short or long in duration, such as a person immediately isolating themselves to act out by closing the bedroom door, to something longer like visiting the same websites, reading certain content, playing certain music, etc.
A friend of mine, let’s call him John, told me about his pornography rituals and gave me permission to discuss them here. Interestingly, they exactly follow the stages Dr. Weiss describes in the sexual addiction cycle. John said that his rituals start with preoccupation, such as listening to music with suggestive lyrics or thinking about being intimate with his wife. These are, of course, triggers that cause preoccupation.
After becoming triggered, John begins his rituals. He said the cycle for him always happens when no one needs his direct attention or when he is alone. One example he gave is when he has some time to kill, so will decide to watch a movie. Instead of watching something he knows is safe for him, he will look up an unsafe one on IMDB and while there, he reads the review of sexual content. Then he continues reading content from other films that are sexually explicit, and eventually acts out. Another example John gave is when he is researching something by himself that is just fine, but then clicks over to google images. Inevitably, he sees a pornographic image, clicks on another, and once again heads down the rabbit hole.
Focus On Rituals, Not Triggers
John knows that he should not be switching over to Google images, or reading content on IMDB because they are his rituals that precede acting out. But not looking at Google images or going to IMDB seems difficult, right? Aren’t those normal things that normal people do? Like we discussed before, people can become triggered by nearly anything, from a lyric in a song, to a billboard seen for a second while driving by, to a t-shirt design at the mall. A person with an addiction of any kind will get triggered by normal things, so taking healthy steps to manage the ritual is what we can focus on and what John wisely understands.
The first step to setting up roadblocks to acting out is to identify rituals. Lasser suggests making lists of rituals, alongside the healthy roadblocks that must be managed to prevent the rituals from happening. He says that in the early stages of this process the roadblocks will be more severe, but will lessen over time, but the guiding principle is always “I must go to any length to recover.” The key is mindful self-discipline with the understanding that by blockading rituals, a person’s quality of life improves.
Some examples of mindful preventative discipline are:
- Eating healthy snacks throughout the day. Did you know that hunger is one of the most common triggers for looking at pornography? Instead of filling the physical body with food, a person feels hunger and tries to fill that need in another way.
- Getting enough sleep. Sleep deprivation is another of the most common triggers because again, the body feels an emptiness that a triggered person tries to fill with pornography.
- Keep devices like phones out of the bedroom and isolated rooms of the house. If the basement office is the place where a person is most likely to ritualize, consider moving that office to a more frequented part of the house or installing Ever Accountable on that computer. And, it must be avoided if a person is hungry, angry, lonely, or tired (the four most common triggers).
- Deleting any social apps that focus on images, such as Instagram, Facebook, or Snapchat.
- Decide to talk about it RIGHT AWAY and have trusted friends on speed dial. If a person becomes triggered, research shows us that talking about the trigger helps it disappear.
- Committing to avoiding isolation. This is different for every person and particularly challenging for people who live alone, but commitment to recovery might mean a drastic life change, like finding roommates, only being home to sleep, shower, and eat, or living with parents for a while. Remember, the severity of discipline often lessens over time.
- Committing to self-care. Remember that addicts of all types typically neglect themselves. Lasser says they must learn to “eat nutritious foods, get enough sleep, exercise regularly, or stop smoking. It is always amazing to find out how much better they will feel emotionally and spiritually if they do some of these things.” Keeping in mind that pornography consumption is part of larger emotional wounds is a good reminder to commit to self-care.
John gave us some excellent ways that he roadblocks rituals, including:
- Put my phone on the kitchen desk or someplace right when I get home from work.
- Update the family budget. This may sound silly, but it helps me understand what I can or should not spend, thus keeping me from browsing the internet for things that I want to buy.
- My wife and I are now no longer keeping our phones in our room at night. When I get home from work I put my phone in the kitchen and keep it there. My wife keeps her phone in the kitchen as well. This has helped me to get up earlier in the morning and be more diligent on my scripture study. I have also noticed significantly less temptation during the time I have done this.
- Add good radio stations to my car radio and to my Spotify account.
And then he gave us a short list of “Things I still need to do” including:
- Install Ever Accountable on my wife’s laptop and tablet.
- Get a few good books that I can draw from when I am bored.
Blockading Against Rituals Works!
John’s list includes specific ways to block his rituals, mostly by taking away the tool (his phone) that would cause him to ritualize. His actions are preemptive and mindful. Support groups, counselors, 12-step programs, sponsors, and treatment providers are excellent sources for helping people identify their rituals and follow-through with blocking them.
In conclusion, identifying and managing rituals can be a powerful tool in helping us avoid falling back into the pornography trap. We can gain strength to short-circuit or roadblock the ritual early, so we can spend our energy on better things!