It’s unlikely someone with borderline personality disorder (BPD) will suddenly show symptoms. Instead, they’re triggered into feeling the way they do. From an outside perspective, this can be confusing. Leaving you to ask what triggers someone with borderline personality disorder.
BPD triggers vary depending on a number of factors, including previous experiences and overall personality. However, there are some factors that remain consistent among everyone with BPD.
Throughout this article, we’ll look deeper at what triggers someone with borderline personality disorder. At the end, we invite you to ask further questions.
BPD Triggers Defined
Many use the term “trigger,” but its exact meaning remains misunderstood.
Simply put, in terms of BPD, a trigger refers to an event that causes BPD symptoms to be apparent. This event can be external (something you experience from outside) or internal (something you experience from inside, such as thought or memory). ¹
Therefore, triggers can develop by other people or the person struggling with BPD. If you’re helping a loved one with BPD, recognizing triggers is essential for helping them manage their condition.
External Triggers – BPD and Relationships
When it comes to external triggers, the most common occurs in interpersonal relationships. While you may guess such relationships are exclusively romantic, this can also infer friendships and family.
Within interpersonal relationships, someone with BPD is most concerned with rejection, criticism, and abandonment (also referred to as rejection sensitivity). ² If these events play out, it puts the person with BPD at risk of:
- Impulsive behavior
- Intense fear (anxiety)
- Suicidal ideation
Are you or someone you love at risk of suicide?
In cases of emergency, call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room. In other cases, you can reach out to the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988.
If you know someone with BPD, you may find confusion as to how such events can play out. In many cases, a seemingly uninteresting event produces BPD triggers.
For example, you may receive a text from someone with BPD while you’re busy. If you leave this text on read without a response, it could trigger BPD thoughts such as, “This person must be upset with me.”
While such events may seem insignificant to someone without BPD, to the person struggling with it, it’s monumental. For that initial BPD thought can spiral into unforgiving patterns, such as, “This person must hate me,” or “I’ll never have a true friend.”
And it’s this spiral of thoughts that can lead to the BPD symptoms listed above.
Internal Triggers – BPD and Cognition
Sometimes, BPD symptoms trigger internally – seemingly out of the blue. In most cases, these internal triggers are caused by previously-experienced traumatic events, such as childhood abuse. ³
Trauma is a very complex matter in and of itself, with many factors determining what triggers post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) attacks. ⁴
For example, if you experienced childhood abuse, chances are you’ll avoid going to where that abuse occurred. Or, if you were in a car crash that left you with PTSD, the color of the cars involved may trigger bad memories.
Still, while bad memories often trigger BPD, good memories can also have this effect.
When a good memory appears, it can remind the person with BPD of happier times. Therefore, fueling certain aspects of their BPD, such as rejection sensitivity. ⁵
How to Cope with BPD Triggers?
If you struggle with BPD, there are ways to manage triggers before the onset of intense symptoms. While the best course of action remains treatment, some have incorporated the following steps in order to relieve triggers:
- Identifying Triggers – You first want to understand where your triggers are coming from – what events, situations, thoughts, or memories trigger BPD symptoms. In order to do this, it can help to keep a journal.
- Avoiding Triggers (if possible) – With triggers identified, you may be able to avoid certain ones. For example, if you find certain movies that trigger you, you can avoid those movies. Naturally, not all triggers can be avoided. In such cases:
- Managing Triggers – For triggers that can’t be avoided, you must overcome them. Of course, this is easier said than done. But with the right therapy, medication, and support, it is possible.
Since BPD triggers are abundant, it’s important to identify them as soon as possible. Whether they’re internal or external, you can tackle each with the right coping mechanisms.
If you struggle with BPD, it’s best to seek out treatment while you’re managing triggers. This treatment will help to ease BPD symptoms and make the process more bearable.
Still have questions about what triggers someone with borderline personality disorder?
We invite you to ask them in the comments section below. If you have any further knowledge to share – whether personal or professional – we’d also love to hear from you.
¹ Heels Care Network (UNC): Understanding Mental Health Triggers
² Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy: Rejection sensitivity and borderline personality disorder
³ frontiers in Psychiatry: The Role of Trauma in Early Onset Borderline Personality Disorder: A Biopsychosocial Perspective
⁴ National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH): Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
⁵ Borderline Personality Disorder and Emotion Dysregulation: Rejection sensitivity and symptom severity in patients with borderline personality disorder