Extreme BPD / NPD Behaviors Are Internally Triggered

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August 20th, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

Recently a reader of our site wrote a comment about our article Talking With A Borderline citing how it didn’t show how non-Borderlines trigger the negative behaviors associated with Borderline Personality Disorder. The comment seemed to be intended to place some of the blame for Borderline behaviors on the people around them, particularly people who are essentially the targets of Borderlines who do not suffer from a personality disorder or engage in abusive behaviors themselves. This is mostly a mistake in my view. It also makes me wonder if the comment came from somebody with a Borderline son or daughter or who is personally suffering from BPD and therefore may be prone to blame-shifting as a means of coping with his or her own guilt or shame.

Most of the people around a Borderline are not abusive, yet they may trigger reactions in Borderline akin to an actual abuser even when they aren’t displaying an iota of aggression or hostility. In most of these situations, the Borderline perceives aggression or abuse in their own minds, even when a neutral disinterested person would say none is present, and then launches into a reaction that is similar to what they might do if there actually was an abuser trying to harm them. The trigger is much more internal, in the mind of the Borderline, than external. This is what makes is so difficult for others to understand why the sociopathically inclined individuals, be they Borderlines, Narcissists, or something else, behave as they do.

Extreme Reactions Product of Child Abuse

Borderlines are sometimes said to suffer from “emotional dysregulation” because they react in extreme ways to normal stimuli. This extreme reaction in many cases developed from their experience as child abuse victims, an experience most of them share, and trying to find ways to avoid being abused again. Many of them have found that extreme reactions including false blaming, projection, lying, and other behaviors associated with Borderlines and Narcissists alike are reasonably effective at either drawing fire away from them and making somebody else the target of their abuser. Other times, their extreme behaviors may somehow justify in their own minds why they are deserving of abuse, perhaps giving them some delusional feeling of control over the abuse. Over time, many of them may generalize these maladaptive behaviors by applying them to people who are not abusing them but by whom they are reminded of what it feels like to be abused.

For instance, a partner who discovers a Borderline’s stash of drugs or alcohol and expresses displeasure at the discovery may cause the Borderline to feel intense disapproval and the threat of a rage or physical abuse. That’s because when they were child abuse victims, they probably had similar feelings before an abuser attacked them. The triggers for the abuse may have been coming home late, getting a C on a report card, forgetting to buy groceries, or some other even more minor “just cause” cited by the abuser as being a valid reason for ensuing physical, verbal, or emotional abuse.

Borderlines generally learn a few things from such repeated experiences. One is that relatively inconsequential observations, words, or actions may be the direct precursors to abuse. They become hypervigilant and may “detect” impending abuse even when there is none forthcoming.They also learned to detect feelings in others and in themselves that they have associated with impending abuse, feelings like disapproval, uncertainty, guilt, shame, and apprehension.

Even a simple polite request can be viewed by them as a warning sign or precursor to abuse. This is particularly so if their abuser turned on them after making requests or demands. Such people are likely conditioned to react to request and suggestions including phrases or words like “give me that” or “you should do (or say) …” as if they may be quickly followed by abuse.

But perhaps most disturbing, they learned that abuse is appropriate and expected in such situations. As they desperately want to avoid being abused again, they may quickly resort to blame shifting or even instigating abuse against another person in such a situation as a sort of pre-emptive attack to ensure they will not be abused again. They may attack the person they perceive as the abuser, or they may attack another person in proximity, perhaps in hopes that the perceived abuser will turn on that other person.

BPD / NPD Abusive Behavior Often Has No Apparent External Trigger

The behaviors of a Borderline or Narcissist can be extremely aggravating and puzzling to people who do not understand the maladaptive behaviors. A simple and polite request such as “can you pass the butter?” might trigger a rage about how you are so demanding, unfair, unreasonable, and never do anything for the emotional abuser. Or it may trigger blame-shifting, attempting to get some other person at the table in trouble for not having passed the butter. “The butter is right next to Sarah, she moved it away from you and didn’t put it back like she should have done!”

Even a simple and genuine compliment like “wow, that was a tasty dish!” might also trigger such behaviors rather than a normal response such as “thank you” or “glad you enjoyed it”. It is possible these people are so conditioned by emotional abuse via manipulation that they perceive this is what is happening even when it is not. They may perceive that a compliment is tightly couple to emotional abuse and therefore assume that the only reason you might compliment them is because you’re about to make some emotionally abusive demand of them. Often, this is a projection on their part as they believe that others would do this because this is how they themselves function.

If you as a non-Borderline get such a disproportionate and nonsensical response, you’re likely to be taken aback by it and instantly put on the defensive. You may apologize that you were misunderstood, try to disengage, or respond back with retaliatory aggression of your own. But no matter what you do or say, it may have very little impact on what happens next. That’s because Borderlines are often entirely unable to hear or process your words once they have entered an emotionally triggered state. They may spew hate and aggression continuously once enraged like this. If you don’t cower and act injured, they may feel they are expected to spew more hate and aggression until they are sure you will not abuse them back, you run away in fright, or they manage to trigger a physical altercation in response.

No matter what you do or say, you are likely to be blamed for their words and actions. “You made me… (scream, hit, kick, etc.)” is a common sentiment from Borderlines. Many of them seem to be unable to stop the hate and aggression unless their target leaves and thereby becomes inaccessible or physically responds against them. If they don’t get the response they seek, they may initiate physical violence against their target. It is like they have a compulsion to repeat the cycle of abuse and become a victim of abuse again, even though at the same time at some level they are trying to desperately avoid it by being abusers themselves.

While Borderlines are not the only ones who behave in such a fashion, it is reasonable to hazard a guess that a person who responds in this way to non-abusive behavior has suffered from abuse to the point of it severely impacting personality. Such people are likely to exhibit behavioral traits of the DSM-IV Axis II Cluster B personality disorders including BPD, NPD (Narcissistic Personality Disorder), HPD (Histrionic Personality Disorder), and ASPD (Antisocial Personality Disorder) and related conditions such as PPD (Paranoid Personality Disorder).

If you realize that a person emotionally close to you often responds similarly to the above discussion, it is very likely that you’re dealing with a person suffering from a personality disorder. Such responses and behaviors appear abnormal and unreasonable to you because you had no intent to abuse and little or no experience being abused yourself prior to the abusive relationship in which you now find yourself.

Avoid Contact For Your Own Sanity

For your own safety and sanity, one of the best things you can do is to stay away from people who respond like this, avoiding all contact with them, if you possibly can. At a minimum, dealing with such people is emotionally draining and exhausting. More importantly, however, you are at extreme risk of being put into a position in which you will be abused, suffering potentially severe psychological damage of your own including depression, anxiety, PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), sleep disorders, and even suicidal ideation.

You may also be pushed so far that you break and engage in retaliatory abuse against the PDA (personality disordered abuser), thereby turning yourself into an even more compulsively tempting target.

It is very hard to disengage from these people once they get going. You may find they follow you around, screaming and yelling at you, refusing to let you leave and escape their wrath, even going so far as to block your path, hold you back, or otherwise trap you so they continue to abuse you. At some point, you’re likely to reach a boiling or breaking point yourself. People can only take so much of this kind of abuse that will not stop before they resort to increasingly extreme measures to try to make it stop, be it by yelling back or even escalating to their own physical violence. While there’s no doubt that even this kind of retaliatory violence is also wrong, what may be surprising to people who have not experienced a Borderline or Narcissist raging is that almost anybody short of a saint or a person in a coma can be so severely affected by such attacks that they may engage in very atypical behavior in response.

You can be assured if you reach the point where you retaliate, the Borderline will engage in extensive blame shifting against you. This is especially dangerous for men around Borderline women as so few people can understand the level of aggression and abuse these people can dish out and therefore they are likely to swallow the blame-shifting distortions hook, line, and sinker. You may find that your retaliatory reaction to being abused, no matter how minor, is painted into some story in which you were the primary aggressor, you initiated violence, and you are entirely to blame.

The best policy, whenever possible, is to totally avoid Borderlines, Narcissists, and people like them. If you must move, change your phone numbers, and quit your job to do it, all of those sacrifices may still be far preferable to the risks of remaining in danger from their abuse and manipulations. The main exception to this rule is for parents who would be abandoning children to be raised by a personality disordered abuser, a topic I’ll discuss further in my article Escaping Sociopathic Abuse Almost Impossible When Children Are Involved.

Further Reading

Relationships and Divorces with Someone Who Suffers Borderline Personality Disorder

Borderlines Can Make You Feel Insane Via “Gaslighting”

Co-parenting With A Sociopath (Borderline, Narcissist, etc.)

Personality Disordered Abusers in Family Law Courts

Personality Disordered Abusers in Psychological Evaluations

Recovering from Personality Disordered Abusive Relationships

Murderous Mentally Ill Mothers and Government Negligence

Are the Diagnoses of Borderline, Narcissistic, Histrionic or Antisocial Personality Disorder Helpful or Harmful for Non’s?

Letter from an Adult Child of Cluster B Personality Disorder Parents: The Damage Done

  1. mary
    April 11th, 2011 at 11:41 | #1

    I am someone to whom it has been suggested by a psychologist quite recently, that I may have BPD. This is by no means a diagnosis but I share a number of the traits. Its worth noting that there is an overlap of a lot of the symptoms of Bpd with ADD, Bipolar, and other disorders. So an identification of those behaviours and traits does not automatically mean a person has BPD. However, I have taken on board that diagnosis and am provisionally accepting it. And working to modify behaviours, thinking, etc. I mention this because I feel there is so much that is simply not understood about this (BPD) and other personality disorders. What has struck me from reading all the various comments here and elsewhere, is that many or even most of the people commenting, other than trained professionals who may or may not have done extensive research into this subject (and indeed knowledge is limited in any case on this disorder) don’t seem to have any real knowledge or understanding/interest in BPD. And display little or no empathy. Quite ironic that I ,someone who potentially has BPD,should remark on a lack of empathy! But I guess I’m just making a point. Sometimes we think we know ….and sometimes we just don’t. I would like to echo an earlier post by a lady whose name unfortunately I don’t remember. But her point was a lot of the people posting on this site come across as being disgruntled, bitter exes with an axe to grind and not much to offer that is either constructive or particularly well-informed. Their bitterness is entirely understandable, but perhaps counselling would be a better forum to air that, rather than on a site which I guess seeks to promote understanding of a disorder which adversely affects the quality of life of a great many people. Not just the victims of abuse. I am not denying for one moment their absolute right to have their say. But the tone of a lot of the comments comes across quite spiteful and vengeful in intent. And without any kind of constructive basis. In agreement with the lady, I dont feel this is helpful or the way forward…and is actually very destructive to sufferers of BPD, whose lives have been characterised by abuse, a lack of understanding, validation or empathy…who may come to this site for some guidance or support in trying to make a positive change. Its not a blame game. But its a point worth making I feel.And this brings me back to Robs post about the BPD girl who mentioned triggers. I appreciate your points Rob, that others should not take responsibility for behaviours of a BPD sufferer but I feel its more complex than that. People with BPD have emotional dysregulation. They are often incapable of controlling impulses, anger, etc. particularly if ADD exists and if often co-exists ,or some other disorder. And the key triggers for this behaviour is emotional stimuli and /or the fear of being either controlled and/or abused. When I saw my psychologist, a key strand of the treatment was listening, validation, and careful empathic communication. And it makes a big difference to someone with these issues. These are all things which can be learned and don’t require you to take responsibility for the abusive person. But can help avoid triggerring them So I think the BPD girl makes a good point. You don’t validate the BEHAVIOUR but the PERSON and the EMOTIONS fuelling it. The final point I would like to make is that I, as someone who may have BPD, on a purely personal level ,and it is just my perception which may be faulty for obvious reasons,but also may not as I have received some corroboration for this from a specialist in BPD, is that I believe firmly in my gut that all of this BPD and possibly other personality disorders are emotionally driven and very much over-pathologised. Behaviours which are essentially a defence mechanism have all kinds of sinister, irrational motives attributed to them. Which is why triggers do come into play, if long-term harmonious relationships are to be achieved. You (the well) are not dealing with you. You are dealing with damaged, defensive, emotionally repressed, abuse victims with trust and intimacy issues who are emotionally scarred. So the usual communication won’t work. But often all that is required is listening, validation of their feelings and experience and the stability of a reparative relationship…where somebody doesn’t leave. You could be that relationship if you came to know the triggers and not end up being a victim yourself. And that’s quite a big deal. I welcome your comments.

    • April 11th, 2011 at 19:03 | #2


      Thanks for your insightful comments. Most of the people who have read and commented on my articles are targets of abuse themselves, often from a person with a personality disorder. It’s been my observation that people with personality disorders who are actively working on coping with them are very different than those who deny their problems. It sounds as if you realize you have emotional dysregulation and behave in destructive fashions at times because of your deep-seated fears and insecurities caused by past abuse. As you said, it is like you want to maintain control and behave to make that happen even if the behaviors are inappropriate.

      It seems to me that many of my comments about “personality disordered abusers” (PDA) probably do not apply to you because you are self-aware enough of your problems and intent on working to fix them. That is vastly different than a PDA. PDAs generally are in denial of their problems and are so focused on getting what they want (control and domination of anybody who they perceive as a potential threat, generally without any legitimate basis for that perception) that they will destroy a person’s life and even abuse their own children to make themselves feel more secure.

      I have a great deal of sympathy for people who suffer from BPD. Most of them were severely abused and didn’t ask for the problems they have. However, I also have a great deal of sympathy for the victims of Borderlines and and other PDAs who abuse others. Frankly, the victims often end up behaving somewhat like they themselves have a personality disorder because of the intensive abuse to which they are subjected. The PDAs usually learned to abuse from abusers who were so destructive that they were able to cause a personality disorder in another person. So it is not a big leap to say that a “normal” person who is subjected to that abuse is going to start to pick up some of the same reactive and worried emotional behaviors even if they do not develop into a full-blown personality disorder. Basically, you could say that personality disordered abusers spread their misery by “infecting” other people with the same fears and traumas they suffered. I very much believe in the “communicable disease” model of personality disorders. I don’t mean to say that they are spread by a bacterial or viral infection, what I mean is that once somebody has one of these Axis II Cluster B personality disorders and lacks the awareness and self-control to work on moderating their behaviors, they tend to abuse others to the point that their targets of abuse are prone to develop similar personality disordered traits as their abusers. Usually it is not as severe, but in the case of the children of these people, it often develops into a full-blown personality disorder. I suspect that someday scientists will figure out that epigenetics (this involves DNA activation patterns determined by environmental stimuli) may explain how this “psychological infection” process works and why it is particularly likely to result in spreading personality disorders to the children abused by such parents.

      What I’ve noticed is that generally the victims of abusive personality disordered people are triggered by the genuinely abusive behaviors they encounter and not simply by extreme interpretations of their worries. Their triggers are things like severe false criminal allegations, emotional blackmail, parental alienation child abuse, etc. This is by contrast to many of the abusive Borderlines and other personality disordered abusers who internally exaggerate their fears and concerns into justifications for severely harmful behaviors. For instance, a spouse comes home late from work at 1 AM many days because the whole company is working to meet a critical deadline and this is a well-known fact in the company. But the spouse at home lays into accusations of the tardy spouse having an affair, sleeping around with coworkers, using drugs, going to bars, not being a good husband or wife, etc. The resulting screaming, emotional threats, etc. is totally out of proportion to the actual problem. The tardy spouse is just trying to do his or her job and probably doesn’t want to be working so late. But the at-home personality disordered spouse interprets it as a personal attack that merits all-out warfare in response.

      Could the tardy spouse have done something to prevent this? Perhaps he or she could have called every couple of hours to reassure the spouse at home? Maybe. Then again, such contact is often twisted by a PDA into justifications for further attacks of lying about the person’s whereabouts and activities or demands for the person to come home immediately or else there will be some severe consequence (threatening divorce, taking the kids and leaving, destroying property, telling all your friends and family about your fictitious “affair”, etc.). It is no wonder that many of these people would rather just avoid contact as much as possible. Any contact with a person who suffers from a personality disorder who is not actively working on their problems carries with it a high risk for intense emotional abuse.

      Ultimately, I do not believe it is safe for most people to be in a relationship with a person who suffers from an Axis II Cluster B personality disorder unless both parties are in regular counseling, there are safeguards put into place to avoid the more extremely ruinous behaviors such as the use of false allegations of domestic violence and child abuse, and pretty much everybody in the extended family, family friends, and work supervisors know about the problems and are helping the personality disorder sufferer to work on them and the partner to maintain sanity in the face of dire problems. Unfortunately, this seldom ever happens. Perhaps in your case, it might happen and it will be instrumental to your eventual improvement and perhaps even recovery from these problems.


  2. October 3rd, 2013 at 01:33 | #3

    I have NPD and BPD with PPD, so I feel I am qualified to speak on the subject here. I think it’s important to remember that we are not from cookie cutters and there is great degree of variation and levels to all these PD’s. There are highly functional (me) and low functional and every thing in between too. There are sub groups for each too. I find the usual articles and stories about PD’s to all have one thing in common, to demonize people with these PD’s. And frankly I am surprised at the lack of empathy the so-called “normal” people and educators have regarding these PD’s and yet we are the one’s that lack empathy 🙂
    If you really want to know about any of these PD’s I suggest you ask some one who has them. Thank you for your time. I don’t expect this comment to be approved.

  3. Lindsay
    January 11th, 2015 at 16:23 | #4

    I would like to preface that I am diagnosed BPD who has been in treatment for years and feel as though I have made tremendous progress. First, the over-generalization of sufferers is simply not accurate nor helpful. There are many “types” and manifestations that this article does not take into account, and assumes that all borderlines are the “outward” acting, low-functioning types.

    In addition, it concerns me that you suggest that non-borderlines remove themselves from the lives of the borderline sufferer. This truly lacks any sympathy or empathy for the borderline individual who is sometimes doing the best they can in their own reality and under the unfortunate circumstances that life has dealt them. Encouraging that those around the BPD abandon them just perpetuates the pain for the borderline sufferer.

    I am not suggesting that non-borderlines stay and be abused in any way, but I think a more helpful approach would be to teach those in any type of relationship with a BPD that the reality of the borderline is “distorted,” and to learn ways to try to maintain relationships with the person. If the person no longer wants to be involved, I would encourage them to be as kind and gentle as possible; do not be abusive and do not abandon them without a word.

    I truly believe that a key step in easing the pain for BPD sufferers, so that they can truly start making effective progress in treatment, can be for them to understand that they have just one person who cares about them and will not abandon them. Although the confidence will come from external validation and through the eyes of what some would call “distorted” reality, it may be enough to start to build the self efficacy in treatment that can open the door for progress towards a true recovery or maintenance stage.

  4. Shara
    February 13th, 2015 at 18:07 | #5

    @ Lindsay
    I appreciate that bpd sufferers are all very different but the average person should not be held responsible for deciphering how harmful or not that person can be when they have been on the receiving end of abuse.
    Encouraging contact be maintained with a person with a personality disorder is counter intuitive, and also unproductive to all parties. The abuse will continue unabated and of course that is too much to ask of any person to endure. Nobody should be asked to endure abuse, not for any reason. Teaching people to maintain contact with a person that inflicts abuse wether intentional or not doesn’t make any sense.
    The only way to recover from an abusive relationship with a personality disordered person is to cease contact with them. That’s when recovery begins, it’s not possible to recover whilst engaging with the source of abuse.
    Empathise and sympathise by all means but if you want to protect yourself you can do that from afar. I don’t lack empathy or sympathy for bpd sufferers but it’s selfish to expect a person to maintain contact. I don’t want sufferers of bpd to be alone but the solution isn’t expecting non bpd’s to maintain relationships or even contact. Would you stay in contact with someone that devastated your daily life for the sake of them?
    The relations are not in any way healthy for either person. I couldn’t imagine expecting another person to endure any kind of abuse from me, I would rather be alone.
    Sometimes for safety’s sake, it’s not possible to break off a relationship in any other way then without a word. I had to flee for my life and not tip off my abuser, the last thing on my mind was letting the person that had made my life hell down gently. He would have manipulated it anyway.

  5. Joe
    June 16th, 2016 at 22:56 | #6

    BPD doesn’t get any empathy because it is a waste of breath. BPD has one single objective to cascade their misery onto others. Every behavior of the BPD is designed set people up for the fall into their trap. They are so sick and repeat the same behaviors trpped by a bad brain.

    The abuse that BPD mothers dish out is criminal. BPD people should be charged as criminally insane and removed from the general population.

    Currently, there are no laws to stop BPD from casting the their bolts of madness on reasonable people, but there should be. Rendition for the BPD and torture is what they want and know so they should live it the way they give it.

  1. September 25th, 2010 at 02:54 | #1

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