Specific trigger within relationship that I can't seem to get over

Xhaan

New Here
I was diagnosed with cPTSD at the start of the year due to emotional and sexual abuse, and I've been engaging in EMDR therapy which has mostly been a big help so far. However, there is one particular trigger that I can't seem to overcome, or even work on properly, and it's majorly affecting my relationship. My boyfriend is the most understanding, patient, sensitive, and supportive man I have across, and defies pretty much all stereotypes of the typical "useless/tactless/impulsive man". He's been exceptional during my healing journey and has been a real catalyst in some ways, making a real effort to be super aware and knowledgeable of my triggers.

However, he on occasion watches porn. This is a really big trigger of mine, however I don't want to be "that woman" that starts putting rules in place and denying him things. He says that he's an occasional watcher for his sexual self-expression, and tries to watch it ethically (though I find it impossible to believe any porn can be 100% ethical due to a previous traumatic experience) and has reassured me countless times that he watches it because he's already turned on and not because he's seeking out other women to ogle at. I was starting to make a bit of progress with the trigger at therapy however got completely set back during an incident - one morning, on a day he was coming over to stay, I had a really awful feeling of dread in my stomach and asked him if he had watched it after waking up, and he said that he had. This completely undid my progress for a couple of reasons - one, the fact that he had been watching it when I had happened to ask made me feel like he is watching it more than I thought (which my rational brain knows is highly unlikely, but still), and two, the fact that he watched it mere hours before coming over to see me made me feel so disrespected and like I wasn't a sexual priority for him, and this in particular hit me really hard as I just couldn't understand why he'd need to watch porn when he was about to see me. He has promised never to use porn on a day when he is going to see me now, but that only made a slight difference to how triggered I can now feel.

Recently I've had way more intrusive thoughts regarding porn and I tend to become suicidal with them - this is happening eight or nine times a day. Everything else in our relationship is perfect and I really want to work on this so I can be someone that isn't bothered by this (I don't believe I used to be so bothered by it years ago) and not restrict my boyfriend in anyway. It's so painful though that I'm starting to feel like I just can't do it, and I'm worried that I'm going to be this way forever (which I know is a classic PTSD thing, but it's so hard not to succumb to my traumatised brain here). Has anyone else experienced something similar, and how did you cope or deal with it? I really want our relationship to work but this one thing is making me miserable and I just don't know how long I can cope with it as it doesn't feel like there's an end in sight.
 

Friday

Moderator
Has anyone else experienced something similar, and how did you cope or deal with it?
For sure.

Which is why it makes total sense why you’re not getting any traction attempting to deal with this, like dealing with a trigger. Because it’s not a trigger.

You’re having a triggered (IE symptomatic) reaction, so the natural impulse is to treat it like it’s a trigger, or stressor… as that’s how you’ve reduced other symptomatic responses to other things, that cause the same reactions.

But it’s a squares and rectangles kind of thing.

What you’re dealing with, in this kind of situation, is actually waaaaaay more complicated than simply dealing with a trigger or stressor. There’s prolly something like (rough estimate, possibly totally underestimating) 9 pieces involved here, with porn-in-general being a stressor only 1/9th of it? Of course you’re still a hot mess / not finding much traction. You could completely eliminate porn itself as any kind of trigger/stressor, be completely nonplussed by & DGAF about porn, and STILL be eyeballs deep in symptoms.

Does that parse?
 

OliveJewel

MyPTSD Pro
He has promised never to use porn on a day when he is going to see me now,
the fact that he watched it mere hours before coming over to see me made me feel so disrespected and like I wasn't a sexual priority for him,
These two comments hint to me that you have a dynamic with your boyfriend where you need him to change his habits in order for you to feel good about yourself, which is generally a lose-lose situation. It sets you up to be lied to, as he clearly has a conflict: attend to your needs to feel good about yourself and attend to his needs to feel good about himself, except they aren’t aligning, so someone has to shift.

Asking him to change for your sense of self to be okay puts a lot of responsibility on him, which it sounds like he’s motivated to take on, however the possibility of him failing is high. And how will you feel when he either tells you he failed, or more likely you catch him in a lie?

A parent changes their behavior to help a child feel good about themselves. Adults generally find a way to avoid situations that make them feel uncomfortable or work to condition themselves to accept the situation.

That’s great that you and your boyfriend have so many ways that you get along! Of course no one has a perfect relationship. I believe you can work through this, but I wonder how much of it is your responsibility versus your boyfriend’s?
 

Xhaan

New Here
These two comments hint to me that you have a dynamic with your boyfriend where you need him to change his habits in order for you to feel good about yourself, which is generally a lose-lose situation. It sets you up to be lied to, as he clearly has a conflict: attend to your needs to feel good about yourself and attend to his needs to feel good about himself, except they aren’t aligning, so someone has to shift.

Asking him to change for your sense of self to be okay puts a lot of responsibility on him, which it sounds like he’s motivated to take on, however the possibility of him failing is high. And how will you feel when he either tells you he failed, or more likely you catch him in a lie?

A parent changes their behavior to help a child feel good about themselves. Adults generally find a way to avoid situations that make them feel uncomfortable or work to condition themselves to accept the situation.

That’s great that you and your boyfriend have so many ways that you get along! Of course no one has a perfect relationship. I believe you can work through this, but I wonder how much of it is your responsibility versus your boyfriend’s?
I completely agree with you. I know deep down that it is my responsibility, and I really really want to get over this and not have a problem with it. My traumatised brain doesn't though (as it wouldn't be) and it's just so loud right now - I'm finding it incredibly difficult to put my own desires and wants over it, if that makes sense? I really don't want to make him change his behaviour and I hate that he has had to compromise already, but then I guess it also feels like I'm making a massive compromise to my stability and ability to not feel suicidal just by saying that I don't want him to compromise. It's this ridiculous inner battle going on in my mind and it just feels a lot of the time like I'm not strong enough to win it...

For sure.

Which is why it makes total sense why you’re not getting any traction attempting to deal with this, like dealing with a trigger. Because it’s not a trigger.

You’re having a triggered (IE symptomatic) reaction, so the natural impulse is to treat it like it’s a trigger, or stressor… as that’s how you’ve reduced other symptomatic responses to other things, that cause the same reactions.

But it’s a squares and rectangles kind of thing.

What you’re dealing with, in this kind of situation, is actually waaaaaay more complicated than simply dealing with a trigger or stressor. There’s prolly something like (rough estimate, possibly totally underestimating) 9 pieces involved here, with porn-in-general being a stressor only 1/9th of it? Of course you’re still a hot mess / not finding much traction. You could completely eliminate porn itself as any kind of trigger/stressor, be completely nonplussed by & DGAF about porn, and STILL be eyeballs deep in symptoms.

Does that parse?
I think so... So if porn isn't a trigger, then what is it? And what are the triggers? The experiences I've had previously that have led to me feeling this way about porn? I think maybe I'm misunderstanding what a trigger actually is, as I thought it was a thing that evoked a triggered reaction...

I think my moral standpoint on porn probably feeds into it too, as I find it unethical, but even then I don't know whether those are my actual morals or if that stems from the abuse I experienced as a teenager. It's just all so confusing...
 

OliveJewel

MyPTSD Pro
feels like I'm making a massive compromise to my stability and ability to not feel suicidal

rational brain knows is highly unlikely,

feels a lot of the time like I'm not strong enough

I know is a classic PTSD thing, but it's so hard not to succumb to my traumatised brain here
I’m glad to see how you categorized feelings versus knowings. One PTSD mantra is “Feelings are not the truth.” From your comments it seems you can tell something you know versus something you feel. Doesn’t mean trauma brain won’t cling tightly to feelings and punish you for them, but at least you can see it sometimes!

It sounds uncomfortable and distressing, and sounds like you are motivated to get through it, if not a bit impatient (I would be too!) If you feel suicidal, or even just panicking, you can call the crisis line. I know how stressful it is to feel suicidal, and as scary as it can be to call the crisis line, just being able to talk about something hard can offer real relief in the moment when you can’t reach your therapist.

You can do this! You don’t have to solve it instantly. As long as you’re working toward a goal your body-mind will keep searching for a way. Much support to you.
 

Xhaan

New Here
I’m glad to see how you categorized feelings versus knowings. One PTSD mantra is “Feelings are not the truth.” From your comments it seems you can tell something you know versus something you feel. Doesn’t mean trauma brain won’t cling tightly to feelings and punish you for them, but at least you can see it sometimes!

It sounds uncomfortable and distressing, and sounds like you are motivated to get through it, if not a bit impatient (I would be too!) If you feel suicidal, or even just panicking, you can call the crisis line. I know how stressful it is to feel suicidal, and as scary as it can be to call the crisis line, just being able to talk about something hard can offer real relief in the moment when you can’t reach your therapist.

You can do this! You don’t have to solve it instantly. As long as you’re working toward a goal your body-mind will keep searching for a way. Much support to you.
Thank you - I actually recommend this to my clients all the time but I never consider it as an option for myself! That's a good idea, and I'll make note. And you're right, I am a tad impatient and once that "this is never going to end" spiral starts it's so hard to see anything other than that. Thank you for your support.
 

Friday

Moderator
So if porn isn't a trigger, then what is it?
Porn may very well be a trigger or stressor for you.

But you’re not the one who is watching porn and getting triggered by it.

Try it this way for a moment… since it’s usually easier to see when something isn’t hitting so close to home… look at one of mine:

Unlit rooms/ houses/ buildings trigger the f*ck outta me. You could literally replace “porn” with “unlit rooms” up there and be reading about one of my ongoing relationship & life problems. (Because, for most people, light usage is a matter of personal preference, it’s something I’m going to be running up against in virtually all of my relationships). Just to be clear, I’m not talking about the dark. I have zero issue with the dark. It’s very specifically rooms with the lights turned off (or worse, being turned on & off, but I digress).

Do you see how my boyfriend turning the lights off earlier in the day, at his house, before he saw me… or not turning on all the lights at his house before leaving to come see me… is a waaaaaay bigger series of issues than “just” my trigger with unlit rooms? Also how exacting promises to not engage in being around my trigger for 24hrs of seeing me… doesn’t address either the trigger itself, nor all of those other issues?
 
I don't know if this is at all helpful, so if not please disregard.

I really liked @Friday 's analogy.

I find it impossible to believe any porn can be 100% ethical due to a previous traumatic experience
^^ Could the meaning or beliefs you assign to this (or about the person watching it) be more the core issue?

Or- and this is very different than what's been suggested- based on all the good qualities you list (and no one is perfect), could it be self-sabotage? Or perhaps fear/ based on fear? Because feelings can be true, yet not factual. i.e. you feel (even deeply) dread, or something else: fear, mistrust, etc, , but the facts to justify feeling it aren't really there. So if there is little else to fear about him, perhaps the only thing you mention there is to fear assumes a greater importance, possibly? Even/ or perhaps fearing having a relationship in general. What does a relationship or partner look like to you? What do you expect will happen, or what do you expect they will do, and why? And i suggest this only because both viewpoints you list are more extreme; this causes you to be suicidal, and he has basically no other 'faults', for lack of a better word. And of course hopefully this is not worth wanting to end your life over, nor is anyone without 'faullts'. At the times you are suicidal, what thoughts come to you? That might give you a window in to understanding more.

Hope that makes sense. (Or it may be something else entirely, maybe being too stressed with EMDR.)

PS, I think it actually says a lot he was honest with you about it. Though far be it from trying to change anyone or expect them to, having similar core values makes an easier go of it. When you can verbalize why it's so bothersome it can sometimes help. You most of all. Though those answers will be unique to you. And might include a trigger you aren't even aware of yet. (One that shocked me was carpet, with my head down. But took YEARS to figure it out, before that I intellectualized all of it and blamed myself).

Good luck and welcome to you.
 
Last edited:

Xhaan

New Here
Porn may very well be a trigger or stressor for you.

But you’re not the one who is watching porn and getting triggered by it.

Try it this way for a moment… since it’s usually easier to see when something isn’t hitting so close to home… look at one of mine:

Unlit rooms/ houses/ buildings trigger the f*ck outta me. You could literally replace “porn” with “unlit rooms” up there and be reading about one of my ongoing relationship & life problems. (Because, for most people, light usage is a matter of personal preference, it’s something I’m going to be running up against in virtually all of my relationships). Just to be clear, I’m not talking about the dark. I have zero issue with the dark. It’s very specifically rooms with the lights turned off (or worse, being turned on & off, but I digress).

Do you see how my boyfriend turning the lights off earlier in the day, at his house, before he saw me… or not turning on all the lights at his house before leaving to come see me… is a waaaaaay bigger series of issues than “just” my trigger with unlit rooms? Also how exacting promises to not engage in being around my trigger for 24hrs of seeing me… doesn’t address either the trigger itself, nor all of those other issues?
Thank you, yes I understand. How do I get to a point where I can cope with knowing he might have watched it in the morning and not feel so disgusted by/resentful of him? I hate that I feel like that about him, but atm I can't even look at him if I know that he has which is why I asked for him not to watch it before seeing me (with the aim that that is temporary, until I have been able to deal with it). I guess this is where the EMDR comes in?

I don't know if this is at all helpful, so if not please disregard.

I really liked @Friday 's analogy.


^^ Could the meaning or beliefs you assign to this (or about the person watching it) be more the core issue?

Or- and this is very different than what's been suggested- based on all the good qualities you list (and no one is perfect), could it be self-sabotage? Or perhaps fear/ based on fear? Because feelings can be true, yet not factual. i.e. you feel (even deeply) dread, or something else: fear, mistrust, etc, , but the facts to justify feeling it aren't really there. So if there is little else to fear about him, perhaps the only thing you mention there is to fear assumes a greater importance, possibly? Even/ or perhaps fearing having a relationship in general. What does a relationship or partner look like to you? What do you expect will happen, or what do you expect they will do, and why? And i suggest this only because both viewpoints you list are more extreme; this causes you to be suicidal, and he has basically no other 'faults', for lack of a better word. And of course hopefully this is not worth wanting to end your life over, nor is anyone without 'faullts'. At the times you are suicidal, what thoughts come to you? That might give you a window in to understanding more.

Hope that makes sense. (Or it may be something else entirely, maybe being too stressed with EMDR.)

PS, I think it actually says a lot he was honest with you about it. Though far be it from trying to change anyone or expect them to, having similar core values makes an easier go of it. When you can verbalize why it's so bothersome it can sometimes help. You most of all. Though those answers will be unique to you. And might include a trigger you aren't even aware of yet. (One that shocked me was carpet, with my head down. But took YEARS to figure it out, before that I intellectualized all of it and blamed myself).

Good luck and welcome to you.
You know, it could well be self-sabotage as I have a pattern with that now - I'm constantly fearing that something might go wrong, or thinking I don't deserve a relationship because I'm going to ruin it/wear the other person down, and so on. My brain actively looks for faults with my boyfriend so it can justify ending it, so this could be linked to that at least partly.

As for what a relationship looks like to me, this is something I really struggle with as my previous relationships have been so unhealthy that I don't actually know what healthy looks like, or even what I want the relationship to be. I'm working on that though and starting to learn things. But that's a good idea to explore my thoughts in more detail, thank you!
 

caroline_13

Confident
I agree with OliveJewel. Maybe you can toy with the idea that this isn't something wrong with you; for a lot of people, porn is not something they can get used to. It's okay to accept who you are, or at least where you are at right now. You can still want to change AND accept yourself just how you are.


Kudos to you for reaching out to us about this; you deserve peace and you deserve it right now, not once you've fixed yourself.
 
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