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How Relationships Can Trigger Suicidal Thoughts in BPD

August 30, 2022 Mel Bender

Trigger warning: This post involves frank discussion of suicidal thoughts and behavior.

Like many people who live with borderline personality disorder (BPD), the relationships in my life have been turbulent: I've been estranged from my family on several occasions, and my friendships rarely last longer than a few years. However, the most dysfunctional relationships I've had have been with my two long-term romantic partners. I don't like how I behaved in either of those relationships, yet I felt helpless to find a way to behave differently. I watched myself become passive-aggressive, demanding, argumentative and possessive. I witnessed the hurt I caused and wrestled with intense shame, despair, and self-loathing. The turmoil I struggled with in my relationship with my first boyfriend was so intense that, after our breakup, I ended up overdosing as a cry for help.

I believe I was engaging in this toxic behavior because I was getting triggered so often, which eroded my mental health and interfered with my ability to be a good partner. It makes sense that I was getting triggered frequently in those relationships: If my childhood trauma was related to unhealthy relationships with adults, it's not surprising that my biggest triggers as an adult would be related to relationships, too.

The Roots of My Relationship Triggers 

From an early age, I learned that I had to present a curated version of myself in order to be accepted and praised by the adults in my life. I learned to act more confident and comfortable than I was, despite the fact that many things were going on in my life that brought me confusion, anxiety, and shame.

As an adult, I find security in presenting that same curated self to the world. When I'm able to act confidently and comfortably, I have the world on a string and feel worthy of the relationships in my life. However, when the curated version of me starts to fall apart, my repressed emotions show through, and I get triggered. It comes from the childhood vulnerability I felt when I was met with the disapproval of the parts of me that I was led to believe were unacceptable.

How Fear of Rejection in a Relationship Leads to Getting Triggered

There are several key triggers I deal with in my adult relationships when I feel vulnerable to rejection:

  • Feeling like I'm being excluded from some aspect of my partner's life
  • Doing things I'm not comfortable with, especially in the realm of physical intimacy
  • Feeling like I'm not attractive enough for my partner
  • Failing to hide my social anxiety when we're around other people

I need endless reassurance that the sides of me that are hidden behind the mask of my curated self won't deter my romantic partner from their unconditional love and acceptance of me. When they fall short of my expectations, my BPD symptoms take over, and I become someone I don't want to be. I can't handle any sign that my partner is interested in other people as potential romantic or sexual partners; I can't handle the familiar shame in the pit of my stomach when I do things I don't want to do because I'm afraid of being rejected; I can't handle the feeling of being ugly, and the belief that this makes me unlovable; and I can't handle behaving awkwardly, out of fear that I'll be shamed like I was by mean girls and bullies, both inside and outside of school walls.

Managing My BPD Symptoms on My Own

The two long-term romantic relationships I had were both emotional rollercoasters, and the breakups were prolonged and painful. I haven't been in one since. Perhaps it's for the best.

Believing that I don't have the control over my mind to behave in a healthier way in relationships has been heartbreaking. At worst, it's led to suicidal thoughts and behavior. Ultimately, I've felt safer and saner being alone. I've dated over the years, but only casually. The less emotional investment there's been, the less vulnerable I've felt. The less vulnerable I've felt, the less intense the triggers have been.

Sometimes I have gotten triggered badly on dates, but it's much easier to break it off with someone I've only met once or twice than it is to do so with someone I've shared my life with for a few years.

At 44 years old, I've accepted that I may never have another long-term relationship. Loneliness is painful, but until I can manage my triggers well enough to have a healthy relationship with someone else, I'm going to focus on improving my relationship with myself. 

If you feel that you may hurt yourself or someone else, call 9-1-1 immediately.

For more information on suicide, see our suicide information, resources, and support section. For additional mental health help, please see our mental health hotline numbers and referral resources section.

APA Reference
Bender, M. (2022, August 30). How Relationships Can Trigger Suicidal Thoughts in BPD, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2022, December 7 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/relationshipsandmentalillness/2022/8/how-relationships-can-trigger-suicidal-thoughts-in-bpd



Author: Mel Bender

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