What triggers a person with borderline personality disorder?

In the following article you will learn about what triggers a person with borderline personality disorder, as well as the difficulties they have in regulating their emotions. 

What triggers a person with borderline personality disorder? 

 Triggering a person with borderline personality disorder is relatively easy.

A misunderstanding with a person, a frustrated desire, a gesture of disapproval from a family member, a common misunderstanding with a friend.

All of the above are examples of what could be a trigger in these cases.

But we need to understand this more deeply.  

Next, we are going to understand and learn why it seems so easy to trigger an emotional response in a person with borderline personality disorder. 

It is important to establish that the core of the difficulties of people with borderline personality disorder is the difficulty in regulating their emotions effectively.

In this context, these people usually develop a high emotional reactivity, which allows a series of non-adaptive consequences to be generated for daily life. 

High emotional reactivity refers to the greater ease with which a person can experience and manifest an emotion.

Under normal conditions, emotional reactivity is usually average, with changes (which can be intense) often returning to a normal level.

In people with borderline personality disorder these levels remain high most of the time.  

It is not that something external or contextual is particularly difficult or aversive. No.

The core of the situation is how the different systems involved in emotional regulation (abnormally hyperactivated) interact with the events of daily life.

In a sense, the difficulty lies in the assessment or evaluation that the person makes of the world around him.

In borderline personality disorder, this assessment is usually negative, threatening or full of uncertainty, which generates a non-adaptive disposition of the person towards the events he or she will face in his or her daily life.

Valuation is something that happens, partially, automatically, is what we have learned over the years.

For that reason, people with this personality disorder cannot absolutely be blamed. 

Borderline personality disorder 

Borderline personality disorder is part of a group of clinical mental disorders, in which difficulties in regulating emotions is the main focus.

People with this disorder experience emotions very intensely and for longer periods of time than normal. 

A number of difficulties arise from the above.

In general terms, the main ones are dysfunction at the interpersonal level and an unpleasant subjective experience.

Specifically, people with this disorder may be impulsive, have stormy or unmanageable interpersonal relationships, and have a heightened response to everyday stressors. 

On the other hand, it is common for people suffering from borderline personality disorder, given the previously mentioned difficulties and as a consequence of ineffective emotional regulation, at some point in their lives they may hurt themselves, attempt suicide or perform continuous acts of self-harm, in order to lessen the discomfort they are constantly experiencing.

What triggers a person with borderline personality disorder?

What is a personality disorder? 

Before continuing, it is important to define what a personality disorder is in general, since there are different types, of which the borderline disorder is a part.

Some of this symptoms and characteristics can be found in different types of personality disorders; actually, sometimes is quite hard for specialist to determine which of them is causing the dysfunction. 

A personality disorder is a complex syndrome, characterized by a wide range of symptoms of subjective and interpersonal relevance.

For a person to be diagnosed with a personality disorder, he or she must experience at least two elements: dysfunction at the interpersonal level and a subjective experience that is also dysfunctional or unpleasant. 

This implies that the person not only has interpersonal problems occasionally, but is constantly and frequently involved in difficulties with other people.

Other people distinguish them as conflicting, impatient, and isolated. It is really hard for this people to cope with this, because they don’t want to behave that way, it is something out of control most of the times.  

Also, the inner (private) feeling of the person with a personality disorder is very unpleasant.

There are constantly doubts and questions about yourself and the things that happen on a daily basis.

This happens very intensely and frequently, to the extent that it interferes with the person’s daily activities and makes it difficult to lead a normal life. 

Difficulties with emotional regulation: the main symptom 

As mentioned at the outset, the most common and striking symptom in borderline personality disorder is the difficulty in regulating emotions.

It is important to mention that, in general terms, all people find it difficult to regulate their own emotions, in everyday life contexts. 

However, it is much harder for people with borderline personality disorder to do that same job.

The high intensity and frequency of their emotional reactions means that they are constantly on a “roller coaster of emotions”; their emotions are more easily triggered.

Sometimes they just get caught in emotional cycles where they are trying to figure out what is going on inside their own minds. 

This is partly because people with borderline personality disorder have learned a number of emotional regulation strategies that are not effective for them.

For example, when their emotions are triggered they express them very intensely, they want to “get rid of the feeling”: this is called catharsis.  

As with catharsis, there are other examples of ineffective emotional regulation strategies.

For example, people with borderline personality disorder often overuse rumination and concern.

Both strategies are used by almost everyone in everyday life, but in this case they are much more frequent and the person is more intensely involved in them. 

When such strategies are ineffective, a constant environment of internal instability is generated, which can interact negatively with the person’s external context.

Remember, this is always about interaction between people and their contexts. 

What is rumination? 

As mentioned, rumination is a strategy we all use, but on a normal and moderate level.

Rumination is the act of thinking, over and over again, about a situation, an emotion, a memory, in a repetitive and cyclical manner.

The person who is ruminating stays inside himself, trying to understand a situation from the past, something that has already happened. 

When this happens, people are more easily distracted, find it hard to concentrate on routine tasks and outwardly look “lost”, “in another world”.

People with borderline personality disorder are constantly “inside their minds”, trying to resolve or answer questions about what has happened in the past to themselves or others.

What is concern? 

The concern is very similar to rumination, and in fact its consequences are virtually the same.

The difference from rumination is that the concern is about things that have not yet happened, the one who is concerned thinks about the future and not the past.

The future becomes a constant challenge for which we must be prepared. 

People with borderline personality disorder often use this strategy of emotional regulation.

They tend to worry frequently and intensely; it’s normal for them to spend large amounts of time trying to prepare for what’s coming.

They try to anticipate, consider different variables and their possible consequences. 

Can you imagine how it feels to be constantly worried?

For this is how, in a certain way, people with borderline personality disorder feel.

The feeling of anguish is frequent because, let’s be honest, no one can be fully prepared for the future.

Human life has many setbacks and elements that are not easy to predict or that are downright unpredictable.

 Risk factors for developing borderline personality disorder 

There are several elements involved in the development of personality that may increase a person’s risk for this disorder.

Two of them are mentioned below and are of great importance:

  • Predisposing genetic elements: it is possible that within the family line there is a history of this disorder or a similar one. Because of emotional regulation difficulties, other affective disorders (e.g. bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety) may also be at greater risk. 
  • Episodes of stress during childhood: these can be of different types. One of these may be sexual abuse (in fact, many patients with borderline personality disorder report having been sexually assaulted in the past). Another event could be abandonment by parents or the absence of a permanent caregivers. 


People with borderline personality disorder can be easily triggered.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that it is particularly difficult for them to regulate their emotions; it is something that generates much more discomfort and costs them more work.

This does not mean that these people intentionally react more frequently and intensely to external stimuli. 

This is not an intentional act. After all, who wants to create interpersonal problems and feel like they’re losing control of themselves?

One of the first steps with people who suffer from borderline personality disorder is to make an effort to understand their situation and to let them know that their problems and their thoughts matter to us, that they are not wrong or “crazy”.


Recommended links 

Handbook of Emotion Regulation, Second Edition

The Borderline Personality Disorder Workbook

Calming the Emotional Storm: Using Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills to Manage Your Emotions and Balance Your Life

 Recommended video 

Watch a real case. My Friend with Borderline Personality Disorder.

FAQs about what triggers a person with borderline personality disorder 

What are the 9 symptoms of borderline personality disorder? 

The 9 typical symptoms of borderline personality disorder are: fear of abandonment, unstable interpersonal relationships, acts of self-injury, chronic feelings of emptiness, impulsive behaviors, extreme emotional changes, unstable self-image, explosive anger, feelings of suspicion or estrangement from reality. 

What triggers a person with borderline personality disorder?

Triggers are usually related to interpersonal issues or subjectively generated stress. 

How serious is borderline personality disorder?

Borderline personality disorder is a very serious mental disorder, which greatly affects a person’s functionality on an interpersonal level, as well as their subjective experience, making everyday life very difficult.

How can you tell if someone has borderline personality disorder?

The most common symptoms of borderline personality disorder are: feelings of emptiness, loneliness and misunderstanding, difficulty regulating emotions, instability in interpersonal relationships due largely to emotional outbursts.

However, to be certain of this, a mental health professional should be consulted.

Can you love someone with BPD?

Yes, it is possible to love a person with borderline personality disorder.

As part of the relationship, there should be a high dose of understanding and validation.

The couple should be aware of the problems facing the other and do everything possible to help them.

Just because a person has borderline personality disorder does not mean that his or her emotional and/or interpersonal responses are always dysfunctional.

What age does borderline personality begin?

The usual onset of symptoms occurs in teenage years and early twenties.

But, in some less frequent cases, the symptoms can occur after the age of thirty. 


Borderline Personality Disorder

Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5®)

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