Tips for Coping With Borderline Personality Disorder Triggers

Most people with borderline personality disorder (BPD) have certain triggers: particular events or memories that exacerbate or intensify their symptoms. For some people, something as common as an intense movie scene or a sad song can be enough to bring up these triggers. This can lead to intense fear, anger, impulsive behavior, self-harm and even suicidal behavior.

While it can be difficult to manage your symptoms, it is possible with these four strategies to help you cope:


Avoid Triggers

Woman watching a movie at night.
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One of the easiest ways to cope with triggers is to avoid them in the first place. There are some triggers that are easy to avoid. For example, perhaps you had a favorite movie you used to watch with your ex-partner that now triggers you. Toss out the DVD and skip it when it's on TV, and you won't have to be confronted with those bad memories. 

Unfortunately, there are many triggers that either can't or shouldn't be avoided. For example, if you are triggered by someone at work, you can't avoid them because he or she is part of your job and to avoid them would jeopardize your career. 

Avoidance is a strategy that you should use sparingly. If you start to avoid all the people, places or situations that trigger you, you could end up with a very limited life, and that is certainly not the goal. Instead, avoid triggers while practicing how to manage your symptoms until you feel prepared to face them. 


Approach Triggers Strategically

Another option is to take a more strategic approach and gradually face your triggers. This may be one that is best tried with the help of a therapist.

To do this, first, you must know what triggers trouble you. Pick something small, make a plan for how you will cope with the trigger once it happens and then intentionally face the trigger in a limited and controlled way.

For example, perhaps the thought that you have failed at something is a huge trigger for you. Pick a yoga pose that you know you can't do, try it and when you fail, notice all of the emotions and responses this brings up.

Instead of feeling rejected or disappointed, cope with those emotions in a healthy way such as meditation or laughing about how yoga just isn't for you!

Recognize that you can face failing without doing something destructive.


Develop a Trigger Action Plan

If you know what triggers tend to send you through a loop, you can make a plan to manage those triggers constructively. Once you have identified your top two or three triggers, write down five things you can do to manage your distress the next time one of those triggers happens. Keep the list in your pocket.

When the trigger comes along, pull out that list, and start with the first coping skill you wrote down. If that doesn't help reduce your distress, try the next and the next. Go through the whole list if needed until your distress resolves.

For instance, if you know your rude uncle is a trigger for you at family gatherings, one way to manage your distress is to take a break by stepping outside for a walk. Having a distinct plan ahead of time will help you better manage your emotions when confronted by a trigger. 


Talk With a Therapist

It is not uncommon for people with BPD to do dangerous things when they are triggered. These types of behaviors can range from unsafe sex to self-harm or suicide attempts. If these types of impulsive behaviors happen when you are triggered, you should have professional help. It is possible to get these behaviors under control, but you may need the help of a therapist to work on coping with these feelings and symptoms in a safe way. 

If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

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  1. National Alliance on Mental Illness. Borderline Personality Disorder. Updated December 2017.

  2. National Institute of Mental Health. Borderline Personality Disorder. Updated December 2017.