Identifying Our Triggers

One of the tasks that is generally a part of any recovery program is identifying people, institutions, and situations that often move us in the direction of acting out. As we recover and begin to recognize these triggers, we will be more equipped to prepare and respond to them without acting out. So, how do we identify triggers in our lives?

When describing Step 4 and Step 6, The Big Book of A.A. gives us some very useful suggestions that can help us identify triggers.

As part of our work in Step 4, we make a list of resentments and we make a list of fears. Resentments and fears seem to be universal triggers for all types of addiction. When we list these and talk through them with our sponsor, we begin to see some of our triggers more clearly.

Step 6 asks us to list our “defects of character” and become willing for God to remove them. As we write down our defects of character, we see things in ourselves that often lead to acting out. As we become more aware of resentments, fears, and defects of character, we can take action when they rear their ugly heads in our lives. Later in this post we’ll discuss some possible actions we can take.

Another very helpful tool that will help us identify our triggers is counseling. A professional counselor or therapist who specializes in working with addiction can be very good at listening to our stories and helping us see those things that have often led us to acting out. Awaken can refer you to many qualified therapists who can help with this (click for link). There are also intensive programs such as the Roots Retreat men’s and Roots Retreat women’s where a lot of work will be done to help identify triggers. I highly encourage anyone in recovery to get some sort of professional counseling.

Once we have identified our triggers, how do we deal with them without acting out? One terrific tool for helping with triggers is the Three Circles. This tool was developed by SAA and is outlined in their Green Book. The gist of the Three Circles is that we list our acting out behaviors in the inner circle of three concentric circles. In the middle circle, we list our triggers or any other behavior or situation that might move us toward acting out. In the outer circle, we list behaviors that help us in recovery – things we can do that uplift us physically, emotionally, or spiritually. To me, the middle circle is where our awareness should be when we are in recovery. When we find ourselves in a middle circle situation, that is the time to take action. We should call our sponsor, pray, or read some recovery literature (see the previous blog series on Daily CPR!). We can go to a meeting or find something in our outer circle to do. Taking positive action when we feel triggered is a critical part of recovery and something we must learn to do in order to stay healthy. 

The Big Book also suggests in Step 10 that we take a daily inventory of ourselves. We are told to continually watch for “selfishness, dishonesty, resentment, and fear. When these come up, we ask God to at once remove them. We discuss them with someone immediately and make amends if we have harmed anyone. Then we resolutely turn our thoughts to someone we can help.” That’s pretty clear, isn’t it? When we see our triggers come up, pray about it, talk to someone about it, make amends, then look for someone to help. 

If you haven’t yet done the work to identify your triggers, I encourage you to do so as quickly as you can. Once you have the list, also make a plan for what to do when they come up. I hope that you find the suggestions in this post to be helpful to you today.

-A grateful member of the Awaken community

Awaken is a Birmingham, AL based ministry walking with individuals, couples, and ministry leaders who have been impacted by sexual brokenness & addiction. Our goal is to help people experience hope, connection, and healing through the gospel and the recovery process. If you want to know more about Awaken or our resources, email us at!