The truth about triggers

Are unhealthy habits triggered and if so, how and by what. In treatment programs the expression HALT (an abbreviation for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired) is often used to indicate risk factors that could trigger undesirable unhealthy habits. The truth is that it is your thinking that is at the root of your unhealthy habits, and you can say farewell to them by applying 7 fundamental principles.

Unhealthy habits, including unhealthy thinking are a form of adopted behavior. In my book Addiction farewell I explain how over time we have come to believe that we benefit from such behavior and we believe it benefits our self-image.  Initially, we are often unaware, unconscious of this mechanism. But when you really think back, you will somehow find that the first time you engaged in that behavior, you got something out of it. The first cigarette probably didn’t even taste that great, but the great feeling of belonging to “the group`’ or of being an “adult” more than likely did. Your first high or rush may have been a euphoric experience, possibly connected to being around friends or a loved one, and maybe even great sex. For some, losing weight, or an injury or sickness may have led to the first truly felt compliment or attention of otherwise uninterested parents… And you want these “benefits” again and again. And this leads to the increased use, intensity and frequency of the behaviour. And as the “benefits” keep occurring they get anchored in our minds; the behaviour becomes a habit, a pattern.

As we begin to realise that this behaviour is in effect unhealthy for ourselves and/or others we often tend to deny or repress it (see my previous posts on denial). We do this to avoid humiliation, shame and guilt and for fear of losing the benefits we believe in. We come up with excuses for the unhealthy behaviour of ourselves and others, we blame, we lie, we hide. We start to suffer. Our self-image is so negative, that we are afraid to lay down our masks and be who we truly are. We would sometimes rather die than let go of the illusion, the false self- image.

If you believe that external factors (people, places, things, moods) can trigger your unhealthy habits this logically implies that you also believe that the effect of engaging in your habit will somehow make the feelings that accompany these triggers easier to deal with, make them go away, end the unease, calm the stress, numb the pain, etc. The fact of the matter is that it does not.

Therefore this belief is obviously an illusion. The reality is that people, places, things, moods or events don’t trigger your habit. What they do trigger are thoughts that you attach to them. Anger for example, arises only and as soon as  you start thinking that your self-image, your ego, is under attack. An insult ony becomes an insult when you think it, believe in it.  This is true for any negative emotion, whether it is fear, guilt, shame or jealousy.  Your thoughts cause the unpleasant state of mind.  You falsely believe you can get rid off it by engaging in your unhealthy habit. Your thinking triggers your own state of mind.

The ego will do anything to preserve the distorted self-image it has created and it uses the thinking mind to achieve this.  If you would just observe, without thinking, you could not be in a negative state of mind. The mind would be still.  No thought, no trigger, no trouble.

We are all made perfect. As young children we do not need a self-image. We simply are. Then, our parents, families, friends, teachers, preachers teach us who we are (boy, girl, white, black, tall, little, smart, stupid, rich, poor, winner, loser, etc) and what is expected of us. This convinces us that we can never be good enough.

So we play along. We create an image – or several – of ourselves to comply with who we think we are supposed to be, and with what is expected from us. We wear masks and play roles. And these start colliding because we deny our true self and we deny reality. We pretend to be successful, rich, the perfect husband, parent or co-worker, but we cannot fight reality. We lose our job, we are in debt, we have an affair, we divorce, we neglect our children, we gossip about a colleague…. and we hide our unhealthy habits that are supposedly making our unhappiness and our suffering go away.

Applying the following 7 fundamental principles continuously and with dedication for 21 days, is the key to saying farewell to your suffering and unhappiness:

Speak truthfully,

Mean well,

Judge not,

Forgive instantly,

Give unconditionally,

Be thankful,

and most of all, Love.

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