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How to Handle a BPD Episode - Understanding the Triggers & How to Respond

Reviewed by: Melody Stone

Borderline personality disorder episodes can be intense and unpredictable, making them difficult to manage for those experiencing them and those around them. These episodes may manifest as extreme emotional states, impulsive behaviors, and thoughts of self-harm or suicide. Recognizing the triggers and knowing how to respond can help individuals with BPD and their loved ones navigate these episodes with greater ease and safety.

Suicidal thoughts and behaviors are also common during BPD episodes. Given that the average age of onset for BPD is 18 years old, it is essential to recognize and address these episodes early on to prevent further harm and provide effective care. BPD episodes can occur at any point in a person’s life, but they typically begin during adolescence or early adulthood when the disorder first emerges. 

During an episode, individuals with BPD may experience intense emotions, including anger, depression, and anxiety. They may also engage in impulsive and risky behaviors, such as substance abuse, reckless driving, or overspending. It is important to seek professional help and develop coping strategies to manage these intense emotions and behaviors during an episode.

Woman struggling with her borderline personality disorder and screaming because she's experiencing a BPD episode

What is Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)?

Borderline personality disorder is a mental health disorder characterized by instability in emotions, relationships, self-image, and behavior. The disorder usually emerges during adolescence or early adulthood and can last a lifetime. Borderline personality disorder is a common mental health issue, affecting approximately 2-3% of the general population.

Generally, the causes of BPD in individuals range between a mix of environmental and genetic factors.

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Triggers of BPD Episodes

A variety of factors can trigger BPD episodes, and these triggers can vary from person to person. Understanding these triggers can help both individuals with BPD and their loved ones to be better prepared and equipped to handle episodes. Some common triggers include:

Relationship conflicts

Disagreements or misunderstandings in relationships can often act as triggers for BPD episodes. The person with BPD might feel invalidated, criticized, or rejected, leading to intense emotional reactions and further exacerbating their symptoms.

Perceived rejection or abandonment

Even the perception of being rejected or abandoned can provoke a BPD episode. This may include not receiving a text message or phone call, being left out of social events, or experiencing a change in a loved one’s behavior. These events can lead to feelings of insecurity, worthlessness, and fear, which can result in a BPD episode.

Stressful life events

Major life events, such as losing a job, moving, experiencing a breakup or divorce, or dealing with a death in the family, can act as triggers for BPD episodes. These situations can create emotional upheaval, making it difficult for the person with BPD to regulate their emotions effectively. During such times, individuals with BPD may also experience borderline personality disorder dissociation, where they feel disconnected from their thoughts, feelings, or sense of identity. This dissociation can further complicate their ability to cope with stress, leading to more intense emotional reactions and difficulty managing daily life.

Understanding the impact of stressful life events and the role of dissociation in BPD is crucial for developing effective coping strategies. Recognizing these triggers and addressing the associated dissociative symptoms can help individuals with BPD manage their emotions better and navigate challenging situations more effectively.

Substance abuse

The use of drugs or alcohol can worsen BPD symptoms and make it more challenging for the individual to manage their emotions. Substance abuse can lower inhibitions and impair judgment, leading to impulsive behaviors and emotional instability that can trigger a BPD episode.

Mental or physical health issues

Other mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder, can co-occur with BPD and contribute to the intensity or frequency of BPD episodes. Physical health issues, such as chronic pain or illness, can also contribute to emotional distress, increasing the likelihood of experiencing a BPD episode.

BPD Episode Symptoms

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, BPD episodes can range anywhere from a few hours to a few days. This varies from person to person, as do the symptoms of an episode. Common symptoms during a BPD episode include, but are not limited to:

  • Intense emotions like rage, fear, or despair
  • Impulsive behavior, like reckless spending or substance abuse
  • Relationship struggles, like pushing away loved ones or lashing out
  • Self-harm or suicidal thoughts

People who have petulant borderline personality disorder may have a higher likelihood of experiencing episodes marked by intense anger, bitterness, or irritability, which can pose challenges in regulating their emotional responses. Learn more about petulant BPD here.

Another subtype, impulsive BPD, is a subtype characterized by a strong inclination towards impulsive and risky behaviors. Impulsive BPD can influence the nature of BPD episodes, as individuals with impulsive BPD may exhibit a higher degree of impulsivity during an episode. For more information, continue learning about impulsive bpd.

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Managing BPD Episode Triggers

For individuals struggling with borderline personality disorder, here are some coping strategies that can help mitigate the symptoms that often trigger episodes:

  • Practice mindfulness meditation for emotional regulation and awareness
  • Use positive affirmations to counter negative self-talk and boost self-esteem
  • Maintain a consistent sleep schedule to improve mood stability
  • Avoid drugs and alcohol, which can worsen symptoms
  • Journal to track emotions, triggers, and thoughts
  • Practice self-care with relaxing activities like yoga, baths, or walks
  • Use sensory tools like stress balls to ground yourself during stress or anxiety
  • Set realistic goals and celebrate small victories
  • Avoid triggers and negative people/situations
  • Have a crisis/safety plan for severe episodes


Individuals with BPD can improve their management of the condition by taking care of their physical and emotional well-being. Developing a support network of friends, family, and mental health professionals is beneficial during challenging times. Evidence-based treatments for BPD, like cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavior therapy, teach coping strategies to manage emotions and prevent episodes, including mindfulness and emotional regulation techniques.


Get Borderline Personality Treatment at Acera Mental Health

Handling a BPD episode can be a difficult task for both the person experiencing it and their loved ones. By learning about BPD, recognizing triggers, and implementing coping strategies, it’s possible to reduce the frequency and intensity of these episodes. Professional help and a support network are crucial for effective BPD management.

Contact us today to learn more about Acera Mental Health’s treatment program for individuals diagnosed with borderline personality disorder.


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