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Four Strategies for Coping With Triggers

Healthy Ways to Cope

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Updated September 12, 2010

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Most people with borderline personality disorder (BPD) have BPD triggers, that is, particular events or situations that exacerbate or intensify their symptoms. Triggers can lead to intense fear and anger, impulsive behavior, self-harm, and even suicidality. What are some strategies for coping with triggers?

1. Avoid Triggers

One of the easiest ways to cope with triggers is to avoid them in the first place. There are some triggers that are easy to avoid. For example, perhaps you had a favorite movie you used to watch with your ex-girlfriend that now triggers you. Don't watch it!

Unfortunately, there are many triggers that either can't or shouldn't be avoided. For example, if you are triggered by someone in your family, you often can't avoid them, or may choose not to avoid them because you love them.

Avoidance is a strategy that you should use sparingly. If you start to avoid all the people, places, or situations that trigger you, you could end up with a very limited life, and that is certainly not the goal.

2. Approach Triggers Strategically

Another option is to take a more strategic approach and gradually face your triggers. This may be one that is best tried with the help of a therapist.

To do this, first you must know what triggers trouble you. Pick something small, make a plan for how you will cope with the trigger once it happens, and then intentionally face the trigger.

For example, perhaps the thought that you have failed at something is a huge trigger for you. Pick a yoga pose that you know you can't do, try it, and when you fail notice all of the emotions and responses this brings up, but cope with those emotions in a healthy way (e.g., practice relaxation, or tell yourself, "It's okay.") Notice that you can face failing without doing something destructive.

3. Develop a Trigger Plan

If you know what triggers tend to send you for a loop, you can make a plan to manage those triggers constructively. Once you have identified your top two or three triggers, write down five things you can do to manage your distress the next time one of those triggers happens. Keep the list in your pocket.

When the trigger comes along, pull out that list, and start with the first coping skill you wrote down. If that doesn't help reduce your distress, try the next, and the next. Go through the whole list if you need to (and start again at the top) until your distress resolves.

4. Talk With A Therapist

It is not uncommon for people with BPD to do dangerous things when they are triggered. These types of behaviors can range from unsafe sex to self harm or suicide attempts. If these types of impulsive events happen when you are triggered, you should have professional help. It is possible to get these behaviors under control, but a therapist knows how to guide you through it in a way that keeps you safe.

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  5. Four Skills For Coping with Triggers - Coping with Triggers in Healthy Ways

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