How to Identify Your BPD Triggers

Many people diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD) find it difficult to identify things or situations that exacerbate their symptoms. At times, they may feel like their reactions appear "out of the blue," but a closer look often reveals specific triggers that caused the emotional response.

BPD triggers can range from relatively simple things like a song on the radio to a more complex response that is triggered by a specific person.

Here is an exercise that might help you learn to identify your BPD triggers. Once you understand how certain people, things, and environments can influence your BPD symptoms, you can work on developing effective coping strategies.

Before You Start

Ask your therapist or counselor if you are ready to start working with your BPD triggers. They can help you prepare to complete this 20-minute exercise.

A woman recording observations about her BPD triggers in a notebook.
Gianni Diliberto / Getty Images

Step 1: Get Ready

Arm yourself with a pen or pencil, journal, notepad, or your preferred way to make notes. Next, find a quiet, private place where you feel comfortable thinking about and recording your thoughts and feelings.

Make sure you are mentally prepared and practice good self-care before, during, and after this exercise. You will be asked to think about situations that trigger your symptoms, which might be distressing.

Step 2: Make Columns

In your journal or on a piece of paper, make three columns.

  • On top of the first column, write "Trigger."
  • On top of the second column, write "Emotion."
  • On the top of the third column, write "Response to Emotion."

Step 3: Remember an Emotional Event

Try to remember the last time you had an intense negative emotional response. This could be intense anger, loneliness, fear, sadness, shame, or emptiness.

Under the "Trigger" column, make a note about what was happening just before you felt the emotional response.

Remember: A trigger can be an internal or external event.

You can be triggered by something that happened in the environment around you, such as a fight with a friend, or something that happened in your mind, such as a memory or thought. 

Step 4: Identify Your Emotions

In the "Emotion" column, write the emotional responses you had to the trigger. You might have more than one emotional response to a single trigger.

If you struggle to identify your emotions, you can leave this column blank, but try your best to identify at least one feeling.

Step 5: Consider Your Response

In the "Response to Emotion" column, record the response you had to the emotions you listed in the second column.

For example, perhaps you felt intense shame in response to a trigger and engaged in self-harm in response. Maybe you felt angry but were able to use coping skills to manage your anger effectively.

Record whatever emotion you felt, as well as your response to it. Try not to be hard on yourself or pass judgment about your feelings or how you responded to them.

Step 6: Repeat With Recent Memories

Identify two or three recent instances where you experienced an intense emotional response. Then, repeat steps 3, 4, and 5 for each episode.

Step 7: Look for Patterns

Review the list you have created. In particular, look at the column labeled "triggers." Do you notice a pattern developing? Are there particular types of situations, people, or things that repeatedly appear?

See if you can identify one or two categories of triggers that consistently bring up strong emotions for you. For example, many people with BPD report that experiences of perceived rejection are a strong trigger for their intense emotional responses.

Step 8: Keep Track

Moving forward, when you experience episodes of intense emotion, add these experiences to your list. For each episode, reflect on the event that triggered the emotion, the emotional response you had, and what you did in response to those feelings. As you reflect, see if you can identify other patterns or triggers.

Step 9: Make Predictions

As you add to your list, you will become more familiar with the types of situations that tend to trigger your symptoms. This knowledge will help you learn to predict when a situation might be likely to trigger your BPD.

When you are able to recognize and make predictions, you'll be able to create a plan for coping with triggers.

Step 10: Share Your Observations

Share your list with your therapist. They can help you develop coping skills and give you strategies to practice handling your triggers more effectively.

A Word From Verywell

If you have BPD, you might find it difficult to put a name to the strong emotions you feel. Even when you are able to identify your feelings, it might be challenging for you to figure out what caused you to feel a certain way.

Over time, many people with BPD realize that there are certain things, situations, or people that tend to bring up intense feelings for them. Once you can recognize these triggers and understand how they influence your symptoms, you'll be able to develop more effective ways to cope with them.

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Article Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Fox DJ. The Borderline Personality Disorder Workbook. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications; 2019.

  2. Linehan MM. Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment of Borderline Personality Disorder. New York: Guilford Publications; 2018:221-230.

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