What Triggers a Person with a Borderline Personality Disorder?

Here’s what you need to know about borderline personality disorder.

Borderline Personality Disorder

Table of Contents

What Is Borderline Personality Disorder?

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a profoundly misunderstood condition often misdiagnosed. However, its unique mental condition is separate from bipolar disorder, depression, and anxiety.

Borderline personality disorder is a mental health condition that impacts the fundamental way that individuals think and feel about themselves and others. With borderline personality disorder (BPD), individuals have trouble regulating their emotions, self-image issues, and a history of intense yet unstable relationships. BPD impacts how individuals feel and think about themselves enough to affect their everyday life negatively.

A Closer Look At BPD

BPD causes an intense and overwhelming fear of abandonment and instability at the core. It’s characterized by difficulty with being alone, inappropriate anger, frequent mood swings, and impulsiveness.

Typically, borderline personality disorder begins in early adulthood. It’s most prominent in young adulthood and gets better with age. Medical health experts traditionally avoided diagnosing a personality disorder before 18 because the personality is still forming. However, many specialists today are encouraging younger diagnoses so that individuals can get help early on.

While there is no official count of those diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD), one 2007 study found that of a sample of 5,692, approximately only 1.4% of respondents met the diagnostic criteria for BPD.1

Women are more likely than men to receive a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder (BPD). However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that women are more likely to have the condition. It’s more likely that men are often misdiagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or depression.

Difference Between Bipolar and Borderline Personality Disorder

People often conflate bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder (BPD) because they both present with extreme changes in mood and behavior. Often, those who have BPD are misdiagnosed initially with bipolar disorder. However, the frequency and nature of these changes are different in these two conditions. In addition, borderline personality disorder often presents with a fear of abandonment, a history of unstable personal relationships, and an unsteady sense of self that doesn’t usually occur with bipolar disorder.

What Triggers a Person with Borderline Personality Disorder?

There is no one cause of borderline personality disorder (BPD), and it’s most likely several factors together. Some of these include:

Family History

Is borderline personality disorder genetic? There is a potential genetic component to BPD. One study found that in identical twins with BPD, the other had a 2-in-3 chance of developing it.2

However, it’s critical to note that it’s not settled science, and no identified gene is a BPD trigger.

Environmental, Cultural, and Social Factors

Several social factors seem to be common and widespread BPD triggers:

  • Experience long-term distress or fear as a child.
  • Neglect from one or both parents.
  • Victim of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse.
  • Growing up with a family member with a severe mental health condition, such as substance misuse or bipolar disorder.

Early childhood relationships, especially with family and caretakers, significantly impact how an individual grows up to see the world and their relationship with other people. Unresolved anger, stress, and fear experienced in childhood can result in unhealthy adult thinking patterns:

  • An expectation that others parent them.
  • Idealizing another individual.
  • Acting as though other people are adults and they’re not.
  • Expecting others to bully them.

Brain Function

Some experts think those with borderline personality disorder (BPD) might have issues with the neurotransmitters in their brain. In an MRI, researchers pinpointed three parts of the brain that were unusual in those with borderline personality disorder:

  • The amygdala, where emotions are regulated, especially negative emotions such as anxiety and fear.
  • The hippocampus, which is where self-control is regulated.
  • The orbitofrontal cortex, which is where planning and decision-making are formed.

The unusual activity in these areas may contribute to the symptoms of BPD.

Signs and Symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder

Borderline personality disorder is easy to misdiagnose and requires a medical diagnosis. However, there are certain borderline personality disorder symptoms to look out for, including: 

  • Frequent and intense mood swings often cause their emotions to shift frequently and suddenly.
  • Intense and inappropriate anger, including losing their temper over everyday activities, being bitter or sarcastic, or getting involved in physical fights.
  • Impulsive and dangerous behavior can cause substance misuse, reckless driving, fighting, gambling, and unsafe sexual behavior.
  • Trouble maintaining relationships, including friendships, marriages, and family members.
  • Self-harm. Those with BPD can injure themselves or have suicidal thoughts. They also often sabotage their own self-progress, such as ruining relationships, failing tests on purpose, or getting themselves fired from work.
  • Paranoia, especially when it comes to relationships. BPD abandonment triggers can cause them to worry others don’t like spending time with them.
  • Depression, especially worthlessness and self-loathing.
  • Fear of abandonment causes those with BPD to feel uncomfortable being by themselves. This can manifest in tracking loved ones and stopping them from leaving or pushing people away before they get close.

Borderline Personality Disorder Diagnosis

Borderline Personality Disorder Diagnosis

Borderline personality disorder must be diagnosed by a professional. Because it’s easily misdiagnosed, it’s critical that a mental health specialist conducts several interviews and may talk with loved ones as well to get a fuller picture.

During the interview, they’ll typically ask questions concerning symptoms, relationships, mental health history, and behaviors. It’s possible to have more than one mental health condition, so a specialist can help get a clearer picture of their overall mental health.

Borderline Personality Disorder Criteria

According to the DSM (a guide for mental health professionals to diagnose mental illness), those who have the condition show signs of at least five of the following borderline personality disorder symptoms:3

  • Panicked efforts to avoid real or imaginary abandonment.
  • A poor sense of self.
  • A history of intense and unsteady relationships that fluctuate between idealizations (or fondness and love) and devaluation (or anger) called “splitting.”
  • Suicidal threats or self-harm.
  • Enduring feelings of emptiness.
  • Extreme mood shifts that last only a few hours.
  • Issues controlling anger.
  • Feeling cut off from reality or severe dissociative symptoms.

It’s important to note that an individual could experience some of these borderline personality disorder symptoms and not have the condition. It requires continual and ongoing symptoms.

Borderline Personality Disorder Treatment

There is borderline personality disorder (BPD) treatment and help for BPD triggers. Therapy and medication can provide significant relief from symptoms.


Psychotherapy is the fundamental approach to borderline personality disorder treatment. A therapist can help individuals adapt the therapy to meet their needs.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

The first line of BPD treatment is typically dialectical behavioral therapy, or DBT, a form of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) adapted to help treat BDP triggers. This form of borderline personality treatment helps individuals learn and practice emotional regulation skills and improve relationships. It includes individual and group therapy meant to be used primarily as a borderline personality disorder therapy.4


The Food and Drug Administration approves no drugs specifically to treat BPD triggers. However, sometimes borderline personality disorder medication is necessary to manage symptoms. Mood stabilizers are sometimes prescribed to help those with intense and frequent BPD triggers regulate their emotions. Also, antidepressants and antipsychotics can help with specific symptoms.


Although many with BPD live very healthy and meaningful lives, there are times when more intense treatment is needed. Hospitalization can help keep individuals safe from self-harm or tackle suicidal thoughts or behaviors.

Finding Help at The PAC Program

Learning to manage thoughts, impulses, and emotions takes time. Most people with BPD improve with age, but some may always struggle with BPD triggers. Treatment is the best way to improve your ability to function, feel better about yourself, and live your best life.

Here at The PAC Program, we can help. Our therapists can help tailor your treatment plan to work best for you. Contact us today to start getting the help you need to live the life you want.


If you or a loved one needs help, please call us at
623-523-4748 and our team at Blueprints For Recovery in Arizona will help.

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