Updated: Jul 14
An emotional episode from someone with BPD is so intense that they completely lose their ability to control themselves. The sufferer cannot function properly or think rationally while experiencing an outburst of anger, depression, or anxiety. Surprisingly, there is a straightforward way to get through these episodes, but the individual must develop discipline.
In this article, we'll discuss what can trigger a BPD episode, what an episode looks like, and how to manage a BPD episode.
What can trigger a BPD episode?
Before addressing how someone could manage a BPD episode, it's important to understand what could trigger an episode. If you or a loved one has BPD, you are probably well aware of the emotional ups and downs that the condition brings with it. Navigating these emotions, controlling the outbursts, and preventing BPD episodes altogether seem impossible when the triggers can be minuscule. Each individual has different triggers, but the following are some common ones:
Being forgotten or left out
Strong emotional reactions from other people
Someone not following their promise
Discussions or places that bring back traumatic memories
People that prioritize something or someone else
An end to a relationship
People not texting or calling back in the expected time
The loss of a job
Getting told to calm down
The most common triggers for someone suffering from BPD are imagined or actual abandonment, rejection in any form, and the resurfacing of traumatic events. These triggers can lead to excessive feelings of self-loathing and poor self-image, which can trigger episodes of anger, anxiety, and depression. The triggers are different from person to person, and knowing what yours are is essential for minimizing BPD symptoms and episodes.
What does a BPD episode look like?
If you want to be able to manage a BPD episode, it is worth being self-aware of what the behavior in an episode may look like. Everyone experiences it differently, but here are some common behaviors:
An increase in impulsive behaviors like excessive spending, binge eating, or reckless driving
Intense outbursts of anger by throwing objects, getting physical, acting verbally, or impulsive revenge-seeking. Losing all sense of time and self-control, which is often known as having a "rage blackout"
Intense mood swings and an unstable self-image
Dissociating and feeling out of touch with reality
Anxiety or depression outbursts in the form of panic attacks or self-isolation that are accompanied by physical pain, typically in the upper part of the body
Suicidal or self-harming behavior
Giving other people the silent treatment
Because their emotions are so intense, people with BPD often have a difficult time recalling how their lives were before an episode.
How long is a BPD episode?
There is no set length of time for an episode of BPD. Episodes can last from a few hours to a few weeks, depending on what caused it. An episode is triggered by something that threw you out of your emotional balance, such as a fight with a loved one, job loss, academic mistakes, etc. Typically, the episode will continue as long as the trigger is present.
How to manage BPD episodes
Knowing the triggers and typical behaviors of a BPD episode will allow us to start learning how to manage one. In the midst of an episode, it is preferable to make an effort to defuse the situation rather than escalate it. Instead of allowing yourself to be drawn into the extreme highs or lows, try to find anything to divert your attention from the current situation.
I like to describe emotions in terms of ''energy''. Albert Einstein taught us, with the law of conservation of energy, that energy can neither be created nor destroyed because it can only be converted from one form of energy to another. I believe that our emotions function the same way. There is a lot of (negative) energy present during a BPD episode that has to be transformed into another form of energy. When you do nothing, the energy and negative emotions will linger. When you physically do something, it will not only redirect your thoughts from the situation, but it will also reduce the negative load of emotions since you are converting that energy to another form of energy. The only problem is that for someone with BPD who lacks self-control, it can be difficult to not feel the need to dwell in a dark room.
When I'm experiencing a BPD episode because of, for example, my intense fear of abandonment, I begin to write down all the real and imagined thoughts that trigger the episode, and once I've finished, I write a part in which I attempt to rationally explain the situation. With this, I set my mind to work. Then later that day or week, when I start to feel anxious about the same situation, I force myself to read back what I've written, and it helps me realize that I'm experiencing an emotional episode that will soon pass.
With most of my episodes, this is not enough to completely get my emotions stable. To further get me through a BPD episode, I sometimes go for a walk because physical movement does wonders for the mind. Distracting yourself and getting away from any triggers is the best thing you can do. When I start walking, I'm still tunnel-visioned on the negative thoughts, but after about an hour of walking, my mood changes, and I'm calm again. At that point, I come to my senses, and I remember that I have to walk all the way back home again. I convert emotional energy into physical energy, such as movement, which helps me get through my BPD episodes. What's worth mentioning is that by going for a walk, I prevented myself from acting recklessly and impulsively by, for example, verbally pushing loved ones away due to my fear of abandonment. Because that is, personally, the worst thing about a BPD episode. I've ruined many relationships because of it.
What works for me may not work for you. So, here are some additional ways to distract yourself from the symptoms that could lead to or trigger an episode:
Engage in physical activity like going to the gym
Take a shower or bath
Listen to music
Talk to someone who can comfort you
Draw, paint or write; or any other creative expression
Try relaxation exercises like meditation or yoga