Avoiding Triggers With Borderline Personality Disorder

Whether or not you avoid triggers is a complicated decision

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Question: Is Avoiding Triggers a Good Idea?

I was recently diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD). My therapist has worked with me to identify specific triggers that make my symptoms worse. She mentioned that one strategy for managing BPD is to avoid these triggers. Is that a good idea? 


It's true that 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, like extreme emotional reactions and poor impulse control. 

One strategy you can use to manage your BPD symptoms is to avoid triggers altogether. This is often recommended in BPD treatment plans as you begin to get a handle on your symptoms. 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 it and will experience your usual BPD symptoms or outbursts. 

This is only one option for your recovery and is 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 does not limit your life in significant ways. But, if the trigger is unpredictable or involves very large parts in your life, avoiding it is not realistic or sustainable. 

For example, many people with BPD are triggered by conflict in their relationships.

However, the only way to avoid conflict in relationships completely 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 does not work. It only makes feelings of rejection and loneliness worse, bringing on severe symptoms. 

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. 

It's important to work with your therapist or doctor when deciding how to handle triggers. She will help you navigate whether or not it is 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 spouse, avoidance isn't a viable option for you. Your therapist will instead help you find another way to cope with the trigger.


Hayes SC. Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life: The New Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, New Harbinger Publications; 2005.

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