Avoiding Triggers With Borderline Personality Disorder

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We know that with borderline personality disorder (BPD), symptoms are often made worse by certain situations, people, or events. For example, many people with BPD find that their symptoms are triggered by criticism from loved ones, reminders of traumatic events, or perceived episodes of abandonment or rejection. These memories or actions can bring on symptoms of BPD, such as extreme emotional reactions and poor impulse control.

Avoiding Triggers

One strategy you can use to manage your BPD symptoms is to avoid triggers altogether. Avoiding triggers can be an important step to get you more stabilized while you learn essential coping skills during therapy. By staying away from things that set off your symptoms, you have time to practice your skills in situations that are low risk for you. If you jump into trigger situations before you have a solid foundation from therapy, you are likely to be unprepared to handle them and will likely experience your usual BPD symptoms or outbursts.

Understanding Triggers

BPD triggers are situations, people, or events that can worsen your BPD symptoms. While specific BPD triggers vary from person to person, there are some that are very common. They can be either external, happening in the world around you, or internal, occurring only in your thoughts.

The things that trigger you will depend on your history. For example, if you experienced abuse as a child, things that could bring those memories to the forefront might include a news report of child abuse, an article in the paper, or even a movie.

Identifying Your Triggers

If you haven't done so previously, take a moment to learn how to identify your BPD triggers. If you're not sure where to start, try to think of times in the recent past when you felt intense emotion, impulsivity, or felt a desire to self-harm. Then look back to the events that preceded the emotion. Some therapists may recommend writing down a list of triggers, followed by the emotion they triggered, and the reaction you had to that emotion.

How to Avoid Triggers With BPD

Early on in treatment, it may help to design your life in a way in which you can minimize triggers. Some people find that they need to eliminate watching the news from their day, and possibly eliminate many forms of media in general. If there are people in your life who trigger you, you may need to minimize contact with them while you work through the initial stages of your BPD.

There are some triggers that your therapist may recommend you continue to avoid even later into your treatment plan. If a certain movie scene reminds you of a traumatic childhood event, there's no point in watching it or forcing yourself through it; it will only cause unnecessary pain. From movies to sad songs, these are the types of small triggers you can avoid without disrupting your life.

Other Strategies for Coping

Avoiding triggers is not always possible or even advisable, and therefore learning other ways to cope with BPD triggers is important as well.

Avoiding triggers is only one option for your recovery and not a long-term solution for every trigger. While it can be extremely helpful as you begin to work with a therapist, you need to exercise this strategy in moderation. Avoiding triggers can be very useful when the trigger you are avoiding is predictable and avoiding it doesn't limit your life in significant ways. But if the trigger is unpredictable or involves very large parts of your life, avoiding it isn't realistic or sustainable.

For example, many people with BPD are triggered by conflict in their relationships. The only way to avoid conflict in relationships completely, however, is to have no relationships at all, since conflict is an inevitable part of all relationships. Unfortunately, many people with BPD find themselves pushing away loved ones for this very reason; they may become avoidant of relationships altogether in order to avoid exacerbating their symptoms. This strategy doesn't work. It only makes feelings of rejection and loneliness worse, bringing on severe symptoms.

Deciding How to Handle Triggers

It's important to work with your therapist or doctor when deciding how to handle triggers. They will help you navigate whether or not it's practical to avoid them. If avoiding a trigger will disrupt your life in some way, such as keeping you from going to work or ignoring your partner, avoidance isn't a viable option for you. Your therapist will instead help you find another way to cope with the trigger, such as developing a trigger action plan.

Bottom Line

Triggers can set off or exacerbate the symptoms of borderline personality disorder. If you're living with BPD, learning to identify those triggers is an important part of managing your symptoms. Avoiding triggers can sometimes be helpful, especially early on when you're learning to navigate your condition. With time, however, other methods of coping with triggers become very important in order to develop and improve your relationships with others.

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