Triggering & Over-reacting


Triggering - Small, insignificant or minor actions, statements or events that produce a dramatic or inappropriate response.


People who suffer from personality disorders are often prone to over-reacting or being triggered into a dramatic emotional response by small, seemingly irrelevant or arbitrary events or situations. The nature of the triggers is not necessarily communicated in advance or consistent with past behavior.

Examples of Triggers & Over-reactions:

  • A man becomes verbally abusive when his child accidentally breaks an object.
  • A wife accuses her husband of having an affair when he is five minutes late coming home.
  • A mother disowns her daughter because after receiving a birthday gift that she doesn't like.
  • A brother becomes violent towards his sister when they disagree over the TV channel.

There also exists a special set of triggers which tend to occur on holidays, anniversaries and when certain memories are recalled. Click Here to learn more about Holiday, Anniversary And Memory Triggers.

Triggering and over-reactions by people who suffer from personality disorders are often so unpredictable because their mood cycles are so dramatic and unpredictable and they often accept their feelings as facts. If the person with a personality disorder is feeling wonderful, then they may believe the world is a wonderful place and will often treat others accordingly. However, if the person with the personality disorder feels a fear of abandonment, then their feelings may be accepted as facts and they may believe that others do not love them, hate them or are abusing them. By accepting these feelings as facts they can justify extremes in behavior to themselves.

What it feels like:

Episodes of triggering often lead to fear and avoidance and leaves victims with a feeling of "Walking on Eggshells" or second guessing where they may have gone wrong. The victim often feels resentful and angry while at the same time powerless to change the situation. Anxious to protect themselves from future harm, the victim may become hyper vigilant and try to change things about themselves that they suspect may have possibly caused the perpetrator to behave in such a way. This can lead to additional hardships for the victim which may be ineffective in solving the problem.

Coping With Triggering:

Remember the 3 C’s of being a Non-PD - you didn’t cause it, you can’t control it and you can’t cure it. Since triggers are not based on your own behavior and will occur with a randomness that you can’t predict or control it’s best to get on with healthy living yourself. If the person with the personality disorder wants to join you in your healthy lifestyle, that’s great. If not, that’s their choice too. Either way, try to make healthy choices regardless of how they respond. This means it’s OK to pursue healthy relationships, enjoy healthy recreational activities, work in gainful employment and take care of people and things that are important to you, regardless of the potential response of the personality-disordered person in your life.

What NOT to do:

  • Don't blame yourself or take responsibility for someone else's bad behavior. Judge yourself by your own behavior.
  • Don't try to change yourself as a way to try to regulate or control another person's behavior.
  • Don't stop doing things that are healthy and good for you just because someone with a personality disorder doesn't approve.
  • Don't allow yourself to become isolated with no friends, no support and no independence.

What TO do:

  • Remove yourself quickly and calmly from any violent or verbally destructive situation.
  • Learn about personality disorders so you can understand that triggering is a symptom.
  • Figure out what is good for you, what is good for your children and ultimately good for the person with the personality disorder. Then do that consistently.
  • Surround yourself with supportive people who understand personality disorders and know what you are going through.