Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a type of mental illness that hinders a person’s ability to manage their emotions. People with this condition may experience overreactions to certain triggers, so learning personal triggers can help them cope.


BPD can affect how a person feels about themselves and their relationships with others. Some triggers may be unavoidable, but understanding them may help someone with the condition respond better.

This article examines common BPD triggers, including how to identify, avoid, and cope with them.

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Experiencing emotional, physical, or sexual abuse is a risk factor for developing BPD. Another risk factor is neglect or exposure to long lasting fear during childhood. Since these previous traumas occurred within relationships, aspects of even healthy relationships can be triggers.

The underlying reason for these triggers may stem from a fear of abandonment, distorted self-image, and stress-related paranoid thoughts.

Some examples of relationship triggers include:

  • constructive or unconstructive criticism
  • an increase in a partner or parent’s work commitments
  • disagreements
  • rejection of any kind
  • the ending of a relationship
  • the loss of a job
  • a stressful life event that affects the relationship, such as:
    • moving
    • financial struggles
    • the death of a family member

BPD may also cause a person to jump into serious relationships quickly or feel intense love for someone that quickly shifts to intense disdain.

Read about borderline personality disorder.

Cognitive BPD triggers are internal triggers that relate to a person’s thought process. Certain thoughts may trigger a BPD episode.

Boredom and isolation can be BPD triggers as well as self-concept threats. Self-concept threats are messages from an external source about someone that misalign with how they view themselves.

Some examples of cognitive triggers include:

  • intrusive thoughts that seem to come from nowhere
  • spending a lot of time alone
  • failing to meet a personal goal
  • flashbacks to traumatic events in life

Many BPD triggers are unavoidable. However, someone with BPD can focus on what they can control in relation to triggers.

Identifying

The first step in managing a BPD trigger is identifying them. A mental health care professional can help someone with BPD examine previous episodes and encourage introspection about potentially triggering thoughts or events.

Keeping a journal may also be helpful to encourage self-reflection, help the person with BPD identify triggers, and work toward positive changes.

After identifying triggers, it may also be helpful to identify the types of triggers. Examples of common mental health triggers include:

  • External triggers: These are triggers due to outside sources, such as a person, something on TV, or social media.
  • Internal triggers: These involve experiencing certain feelings, such as betrayal.
  • Trauma triggers: These involve exposure to a place or person that has caused severe trauma.
  • Symptom triggers: These are triggers due to an unmet physical need, such as lack of sleep.

Avoiding

While no one can control the actions or choices of others that trigger an episode, there are certain ways to avoid or limit exposure to certain triggers.

For example, if driving by a certain place brings up traumatic feelings that can lead to a BPD episode, a person can consider taking a different route. Or, if reading books or watching movies with certain themes brings up triggering thoughts, it may be best to read a synopsis ahead of time.

Establishing clear boundaries may help avoid triggering conversation topics or actions. People in a relationship with or who are a child of someone with BPD may also need to set boundaries to maintain the relationship.

Learn more about BPD and relationships.

Coping

Exposure to triggers will happen from time to time. Creating an action plan for responding and dealing with them ahead of time can help someone with BPD respond from a place of calm and logic.

Coping with a trigger may involve:

  • setting boundaries
  • leaving the room to cool off before addressing the situation
  • engaging in breathing exercises
  • taking a walk

Research from 2020 indicates that activating the part of the brain that handles logic through a problem-solving activity or puzzle, such as sudoku, may help in the cognitive remediation of psychiatric conditions such as BPD.

There are multiple therapies mental health professionals may recommend for people with BPD, including:

  • dialectical behavioral therapy, which teaches skills for coping and accepting difficult emotions
  • mentalization-based treatment, which helps people better understand their thoughts and emotions and the way they respond to them
  • transference-focused psychotherapy, which involves examining the person’s thoughts about their therapist
  • schema-focused therapy, which identifies negative thought patterns

Doctors typically do not prescribe medications to help with BPD.

Learn more about medications and BPD.

The following are answers to common questions about BPD triggers.

How can someone calm down with BPD?

Calming down after exposure to a BPD trigger may involve physical removal from the trigger and breathing exercises. Temporarily focusing on something else that activates the logic part of the brain, such as a puzzle, may also help.

What kind of trauma triggers BPD?

Childhood neglect or physical and sexual abuse can trigger or put someone at risk for BPD.

Can I get disability for BPD?

To qualify for disability from the Social Security Administration, a person with BPD must show evidence that this mental condition is ongoing and completely interferes with their ability to perform any work.

Borderline personality disorder is a mental condition that makes it challenging to control emotions. It affects self-perception and relationships, and those with the disorder can experience intense reactions to certain triggers.

Identifying these triggers is important for coping with the condition. Triggers can relate to relationships or internal thoughts. Relationship triggers may stem from past traumas, leading to fear of abandonment, self-image issues, and paranoid thoughts. Cognitive triggers relate to thought processes, including boredom, isolation, and threats to self-concept.

Managing triggers involves identification, avoidance, and coping strategies.

Mental health professionals can assist in this process. Evidence-based treatments, such as dialectical behavioral therapy, are available for individuals with BPD.