Medically reviewed by: Reshawna Chapple, PhD, LCSW

Reviewed On: February 3, 2023

Emotional regulation is difficult for people with borderline personality disorder (BPD). Mood swings, emotional outbursts, and impulsive behaviors are all common with the condition. Perhaps the most well-known sign of BPD is BPD rage, but other intense emotions include intense fear. Knowing triggers, though, can be an effective way to manage BPD.   

What triggers a person with borderline personality disorder? While not everyone with BPD experiences the same triggers, identifying and understanding what might “set off an episode” can help. Keep reading to learn more about BPD triggers.

What Is a Trigger?

Borderline personality disorder triggers are situations, people, places, or events that set off — or trigger — BPD symptoms. While situational triggers are typical for people with BPD, triggers can also be internal. For example, thoughts, feelings, and memories can bring on or intensify a borderline personality disorder episode.

“Just as it sounds, a trigger is a ‘stimulus’ that encourages recall or recognition of a historical incident from the past to resurface. Oftentimes, it burdens one with dysregulation or somatic complaints related to what may have happened or what someone was previously exposed to — either traumatically or negatively — prompting the memory of extreme resilience or a toxic level of emotional pain.”

Talkspace therapist Elizabeth Keohan, LCSW-C, MSW

Triggers are essentially a catalyst for a BPD episode, a period in which symptoms become more severe. In many cases, triggers create a chain reaction. After a trigger prompts an episode, for instance, it might lead to other triggers, making the episode worse. 

Common BPD Triggers

Triggers are unique and highly individual. An event that’s triggering for one person may not necessarily bother someone else. With that said, there are some triggers that many people with BPD share. Common examples of BPD triggers include the following:

Feeling rejected or abandoned

Fear of abandonment is a common symptom of BPD. Anything that causes someone to feel rejected or abandoned could be a trigger. While these fears are especially common in romantic relationships, any real (or perceived, for that matter) abandonment could escalate BPD symptoms. Breakups, canceled plans, or losing a job can all be triggering. 

Fearing rejection or abandonment can make people with BPD jump to conclusions or overreact to events. If someone with BPD sends a text and doesn’t receive a response immediately, they may assume the person will never talk to them again. Many examples of BPD triggers can be traced to sensitivity or fear of abandonment.

Traumatic memories

Many people with BPD have a history of trauma. Whether that’s adult or childhood trauma, when they’re reminded of a traumatic event, those memories can be a catalyst for a BPD episode. Trauma triggers are highly personal and can include smells, sounds, or situations that remind someone of past trauma. 

You’ll see many similarities if you compare a BPD triggers list to a list of trauma triggers. In addition to triggering BPD symptoms, recalling trauma can also lead to other symptoms, like flashbacks or panic attacks. 


People with BPD can be emotionally sensitive and often struggle with low self-esteem. This can make it difficult for them to deal with criticism, even when it’s constructive or well-intentioned. People with borderline personality disorder often view criticism as a personal attack or threat. 

Any disapproval or negative feedback can trigger BPD symptoms, even if it occurs alongside compliments or praise. When people with BPD are criticized, they often obsess over it. The critiques can lead to hurt feelings, increased anxiety, and self-consciousness, ultimately triggering symptoms.

Intrapersonal conflicts

Arguments, disagreements, and other conflicts can trigger a behavior phenomenon known as splitting. BPD splitting is a defense mechanism that causes someone to see things in black and white. When a splitting episode occurs, someone’s feelings about themself or others can quickly shift from positive to negative. 

During a split, it can be difficult to hold opposing thoughts. As a result, someone may view people or situations as fully good or entirely bad. This can lead to other BPD symptoms, like explosive anger or extreme mood swings.

“More often than not, common triggers can include feeling particularly vulnerable, including when emotions, environment, or relationship are compromised by safety. Exact scenarios do not have to occur for a stimulus to resurface. Sometimes the sheer similarity mimicked in a circumstance can be enough of a reminder to prompt a response.”

Talkspace therapist Elizabeth Keohan, LCSW-C, MSW

How to Identify Your BPD Triggers

What triggers a person with borderline personality disorder will vary from one person to the next. While a BPD triggers list can provide insight, identifying your specific triggers requires you to look deeper within. 

Learning to recognize when BPD episodes are about to occur can help you understand what your triggers might be. During an episode, people with BPD may experience one or several of the following symptoms:

  • Intense emotional outbursts
  • Thoughts of self-harm
  • Impulsive or self-destructive behaviors
  • Extreme mood swings
  • Feeling paranoid or out of touch with reality
  • Suicidal thoughts or threats

Working with a therapist can help you discover your borderline personality disorder triggers. When you learn to spot signs of an episode, you’ll be able to manage triggers more quickly and easily before they progress. In short, knowing your triggers means you can take steps to avoid or challenge them.

“I often chat with clients about not just feeling overwhelmed but also recognizing when they’re feeling oversaturated or emotionally maxed out, so much so that the panic register begins to prompt the ‘feeling’ that safety is perceived as unattainable and distant. A professional can help you understand how to work through your triggers and develop a toolbox for increased management and coping. It can feel hopeful when you relearn to gain control of your emotions and better understand how they manifest in your body.”

Talkspace therapist Elizabeth Keohan, LCSW-C, MSW

How to Cope with BPD Triggers

It’s important to note that understanding BPD triggers won’t necessarily make the feelings go away. However, by increasing awareness, you can develop coping mechanisms and learn how to deal with BPD

Many people find a practice called mindfulness helps them cope with the emotional dysregulation that’s common in BPD. Mindfulness involves accepting your feelings without judgment and focusing on what’s happening in the present. Studies show that mindfulness training can reduce the severity of BPD symptoms. 

Dealing with BPD triggers is difficult, but therapy for BPD with a qualified mental health professional can help. Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) is a type of psychotherapy (talk therapy) developed specifically to treat personality disorders. It’s a highly effective intervention, according to research. Other therapeutic techniques, like mentalization-based treatment, can also help manage BPD.

If left untreated, people with BPD are at risk of substance abuse, suicidal thoughts, self-destructive behavior, and even developing another mental health condition, such as anxiety disorder or antisocial personality disorder. 

Manage Your BPD Triggers with Talkspace

While BPD triggers can make symptoms of BPD more severe, there are ways to manage and cope with them effectively with BPD treatment. Unfortunately, since triggers differ from person to person, figuring out this piece of the puzzle can be challenging. Thankfully, a good therapist can help you learn to recognize your triggers so you can deal with them in a healthy way.

If you (or a loved one) are struggling to identify and manage BPD triggers, Talkspace can help. Our online therapy platform makes connecting with a licensed therapist easy. Our therapists have experience treating borderline personality disorder and its triggers. Don’t let BPD take over your life. Get help from a professional who can ensure you develop healthy coping strategies to manage your BPD.