Let’s Talk Triggers

For those who are not used to the “language” of living with Borderline or a loved one who has Borderline Personality Disorder you may say, “What is a trigger”. The fact is that most people that struggle with the symptoms of BPD suffer from triggers. A “trigger” is an event or situation that intensifies the symptoms of BPD. The event can be external or internal and they can make you feel as if your BPD symptoms are going off the charts.

I personally have many triggers that can put me “over the edge” and most of them go back to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that stems from my upbringing. The biggest trigger for me deals with abandonment issues...especially when it comes to family members or close friends.

My husband has witnessed, time after time, if I place a call or a text message to a loved one or a friend and they do not respond back in what I feel is a “timely” fashion (which is immediately for me)...I will start to go off thinking that, first of all, they are ignoring me. Then the thought changes to “they don’t care for me or love me anymore”...which escalates to “something bad and terrible has happened to them”...which then turns into “they’re dead”. You are probably laughing right now at this narrative, but it is the truth.

Physically and emotionally, the changes that occur in me are immediate and very intense. My hands will start sweating and shaking, my body starts trembling, my voice gets louder, I start to hyperventilate, I then begin the exercise of calling the person, over and over and over again. Non stop! If it is my mother who I can not reach, I have been known to call the police and the hospitals. I will pace the floor, wringing my hands in despair and then the crying sets in. Many times, this turns into a full blown Panic Anxiety Attack if the person does not appear and/or call me back.

I remember one incident, when Niki was a teenager and she had just started babysitting. She was on her first babysitting job and I placed a call to check in on her. (I check in a lot!) Her cell went to her message after ringing several times, no answer. My heart skipped a beat. I called again, and then again and so forth. It escalated to a full-blown Panic Attack very quickly and my husband was trying to cope and calm me down off the ceiling. I was ready to get the Police involved and go over to the house where she was. I was shaking from head to toe!

Eventually, she called me back and explained that she had been giving the child their nightly bath and didn’t want to leave the child to answer the phone. Perfectly normal event and reasoning...but for me I was trashed, spent, in a total frenzy. This type of specific behavior plagued me for years when I was growing up, through my early marriage and even now, I still can slip and revert to this behavior if I don’t exercise my skill set that I know from Dialectical Behavioral Therapy.

Another type of trigger that I experience is what is known as an internal trigger. This one comes out of seemingly nowhere. Most BPDs that have experienced child abuse or a traumatic childhood will have triggers like this. Something will happen like seeing a person who “looks like your abuser”, or listening to a song that reminds us of something negative, or a particular scent of perfume can even do it. Even the sound of someone’s voice that sounds like your abuser from the past can trigger you internally. Instead of bringing good and pleasant memories back from the past, it will cause an internal trigger of fear, dread, doom and gloom and can lead to depression.

This will sound like a weird and funny one, but my father used to use the door jams or the wall to “scratch an itch” on his back. Now, my husband does that. When he does, it can immediately “trigger” me internally to memories of my father abusing me. Just the sight of it sends me back to that time. Even certain words that someone will say, like “tasty” or “moist”, which my father used to say, can instantly trigger me back to those dark days. My husband thinks I am blowing the situation out of proportion, but it is a very real tangible, physical, raw emotion that happens spontaneously inside of me.

Triggers are very individual, so it is important for you to know and realize what triggers YOU. Then, once you have identified what your triggers are, you need to see how you can avoid your worst ones. For instance, if a movie causes a trigger, don’t watch the movie! If a place or restaurant creates triggers - stay away. Avoid what you know will trigger you as much as you can. Not all triggers can be avoided however.

The methods I use now, I learned from my DBT training mostly. Many are easy to carry out if you are home and in your safe environment. If you are at work or school, that’s another issue. Then you will need to make what my therapist calls a “soothing” bag to bring with you. I do this on long road trips, which are also a trigger for me.

We can calm ourselves down by sight, smell, audio, tactile diversions. In my “soothing bag” or at home, I have for “sight”, pictures of loved ones or scenes of a beach that engage me. For “smell”, I have my favorite lotions or perfumes or a scented oil that I use. For “tactile”, I have a piece of my blanket or a soft smooth stone that I can rub. For “audio”, I have my favorite songs on my phone to which I can listen. I have a few in particular that work to get me out of a trigger or a mood really well. I was a child of the 1970s so I like upbeat Disco and Motown music and it works every time!

Take some long deep (what I call) Yoga Breaths. Get yourself into a quiet place and try to relax your whole body and just focus in on your breathing. Try to block out all that is going on around you and just listen to your gentle breathing as you slowly release the tension from your muscles. This is a technique, I learned from taking Yoga Classes and is very helpful in a stressful trigger situation.

If you can, take a hot shower. Pay attention to the smell of the shampoo, the body wash, the conditioner. Rub yourself gently with a large fluffy towel and put scented lotion on to sooth you. Wrap up in your favorite bathrobe and just snuggle on the couch with a blanket and a cup of herbal tea. The trick is finding what works for you.

I will go to my husband and just have him hold me and wrap my blanket around me so I feel “cocooned” and safe from the situation or trigger. He simply holds me gently while talking softly to me and tells me everything is going to be okay.

Learn what can and will work for you as you deal with your personal BPD triggers. I promise that, over time, your ability to cope and recover from a trigger situation will get better and more quickly as you utilize the methods that work for you. Good luck and let us know what else works for you!

4 thoughts on “Let’s Talk Triggers

  1. Bee A-B

    Hey this makes a lot of sense! I bn told i have BPD but the system (health care )has basically abandoned me. My GP can’t /won’t deal with it, and mental health system just wanted to get rid of me and sent back to her? She said that the fact I’m hostile to the system is why they washed hands of me. Hostile yes after 30+years of abusement (so called treatment )why wouldn’t I be. So many diagnosis and massive amounts of pscyh drugs that didn’t work. I have talked and talked but they hear but not listen, “treat ” ? the symptoms not the cause/issues. They know that at high risk of self harm /suicide still don’t care. Left me to deal with on own, so have by suppression of the crap in my life and now I’m suffering from pscyh deferred pain in leg. GP still frosty when I visit (rarely what’s the point) scared /unwilling to offer effective pain relief, and pain has now pushed me to think about “risky thoughts “again.

  2. Bee A B, first I want to welcome you to the site and thank you for reading. I understand and can feel your frustration and pain in trying to maneuver your way through the system and be heard. It sounds to me from what you shared that it might be time to change your primary care doctor and seek a new psychiatrist. If it’s been 30 years, then you,like me, have been through this Rodeo for some time. I wish I could say the symptoms will go away, but you know that’s not true. Please reach out to your local Nami (National Alliance for Mental Illness) group and they will tell you the calendar of classes they provide for group sessions and other resources. It is free and there for you to utilize and be understood by people who are willing to help and that are trained in this field I sincerely encourage you to call them locally and get in a group as soon as possible. I know you know that if you are having “risky thoughts” and self-harming, then you need to reach out to your local hospital or call 911. Sometimes with BPD it feels as though the pain will never go away, but I know that with the proper medication, doctors that are educated and willing to help you sincerely with your symptoms and Nami you should find some relief. Please keep me posted on your progress. With you on the Journey, Alice M. Pirola

    • Bee A-B

      Hey too late for reaching out, here in Oz (au)system is not going to help me. I have been accessed by a specialist service for BPD, and I was stupid to think that they would be different (I was played big time ) told me things were going to be different from the report it was just the same thing as always. I need to engage, be less idealistic, and the other stuff go back to the meds for what? I had a bad spell out of the report /pre-Xmax, and got one of the nice meds the Doctor in report said that just came to Zombiefy me with (1) dose they (the drugs ) have never been anything else but that. I was also told to contact the Area Mental Health Services for case management! The People who earlier in year washed hands of me and sent me to GP for referral to Spectrum (specialist BPD )(authors of the report ) ? Thanks if I had any hope in the system is truly dead now,
      signing off the Lone Ranger (as that’s what I have become )
      ? Bee

  3. Anonymous

    Is there a difference between reading something that is simply uncomfortable to read about and something that is triggering? Many situations are uncomfortable in life and often, you can t ignore them and you have to deal with them.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.