Trauma Triggers: Tips for Handling Visits From Estranged Family Members (BPD)

Enjoy this post via the Roanne Program for young adults with BPD or BPD traits..

The holidays often inspire estranged individuals to attempt to restore contact with the family. If the estranged individual acts as a trauma trigger for your Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), just the thought of direct contact can suddenly intensify your symptoms. Unexpectedly ending up face-to-face with the individual has the frightening potential to send your condition into a tailspin.

Thankfully, you can remain in control by resisting the urge to flee (the “fight or flight” reaction), utilizing your established toolkit of coping skills, challenging emotional responses, and seeking professional assistance for care when needed.

Resist the Urge to Flee

Upon noticing the offending individual, you have the opportunity resist the urge to immediately flee the area. If you give in to the urge to flee, this act of avoidance only serves to intensify the trauma trigger in your mind. As long as you are not in physical danger, you can consider attempting to face the trigger head on. By curtailing avoidant behaviors, you reinforce that your adult self is strong enough to face the people your inner child could not.

You may only be able to stand this level of internal confrontation for a few minutes, but that is okay. Once you face your fears, you can cease the interaction and retreat to use your coping tools to head off rising BPD symptoms.

Utilize Your Coping Tools

Give yourself permission to immediately and actively utilize your established coping mechanisms to keep the BPD symptoms at bay. Distraction, meditation, and breathing techniques work really well to distance yourself from overwhelming emotions caused by the trauma trigger. You may need to go into a separate room so you can quiet your mind enough to work through your coping mechanisms and find one that works in the moment. You will need to return to your coping mechanisms for several days after the initial interaction to keep negative thoughts and behaviors from overwhelming your being.

Challenge Emotional Responses

Even after bringing out your coping tools to deal with acute reactions to the trigger, you may find harmful thoughts and emotions bubbling to the surface. You must remind yourself that you are responding naturally to a challenging situation that you did not cause. You will also benefit from positively reframing the situation by looking at it as a chance to reinforce your recovery skills, including mindfulness and meditation. After all, every time you are triggered, you are given the opportunity to restore your balanced state with the toolkit you built, especially if you have had some experience with Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT).

Seek Help When Needed

If you cannot quickly return to a state of calm, you may need to seek help for your Borderline Personality Disorder symptoms. Without professional assistance, your symptoms may continue to rage out of control and cause your thoughts and behaviors to negatively impact your life

A skilled therapist can help you confront emotions and thought patterns that lead to destructive behaviors typically seen in cases of Borderline Personality Disorder in young adults. 

Your response to the trauma trigger of seeing your estranged family member will tell you a lot about your location on the road to recovery. You can use the information to prepare yourself for future triggers. With each triggered event, you will further hone your coping skills and recovery response. Eventually, you will find that you have the ability to maintain a calm, centered state of mind, no matter the trigger you face.

Do you anticipate encountering relatives over the holidays who might create a triggering experience due to the past?  How do you plan to cope effectively?

1 reply
  1. Emiko Venlet-Mizukami
    Emiko Venlet-Mizukami says:

    Hi, I just discovered your blog and website and it has been so helpful to read about BPD and especially recovery stories. I didn't know where to contact to you, and this blog article might be in the same category as the question I have for you and other readers of your blogs out there.

    Well, I am not diagnosed BPD, but when I had a particularly hard week two weeks ago even though I have been seeing a therapist for a while to deal with my anger issue, I had sort of a panic attack and suicidal thoughts which I hadn't have for a while… I couldn't function as a wife or as a mom to two busy boys and I just cried and cried not being able to control any emotions, I decided to look up on google what was going on and I for the first time heard about BPD. I read up many medical website to learn about BPD and I was astonished by some of the symptoms I have had for years were actually symptoms of BPD. I have been criticizing myself for all the BPD unique symptoms for years and when I read about it, it was almost a relief…

    Anyway, I dont know what to do next. Im going to see my therapist tomorrow ( I've already emailed about this to him) and i guess we'll discuss what to do. He might not think I have BPD and maybe I just have traits of BPD, but that doesn't matter.. I think I want to learn skills of DBT to cope with my emotions and more… The reason is… I have an autistic son who is now 6, and it has been very very challenging and I have a relationship problem with my husband too. If I don't learn the skills, I am afraid I will destroy not only this marriage but also my sons' future (my youngest is two, very very busy too).

    You see, before learned about DBT, I didn't even think that it is actually skills I need to learn in order to feel ok in daily life, but it really makes a lot of sense now because raising my autistic son, i have learned that he needs to learn social skills which he didn't get to born with. It is very hard, challenging and confusing for him to understand social world but he needs to learn and he is learning every day with us who are not in a training with a consultant of RDI ( Relationship Development Intervention). Now, my son is learning to his best ability despite his autism diagnose, and it is my job ad his mom to learn the skills I didn't get to learn as a kid so that I can regulate my emotions first to help my son do his best to regulate his…

    My question is, do you know any people who are in the same shoes ad I am. A mom struggling to cope with daily life as a mom and their children are special needs like mine. I believe being a mom with BPD to special needs kids can be especially vulnerable because, literary there is no time to sit and contemplate! Your child becomes your triggers… It is very hard!!

    Thank you for reading and I look forward to hearing from you.


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