In When Hope is Not Enough, I suggest that when asking a validating question, the question that is most effective is: “What happened?” I recommend this because it is open ended and, more importantly, with BPD something usually DID happen to trigger emotional dysregulation. There is almost always a local trigger. This is why I don’t recommend attributing emotional dysregulation to childhood trauma or abuse. With emotional dysregulation, something typically just happened to trigger it.
While the conditioned responses – rage or running away – can sometimes be attributed to childhood and the interpretation of the precipitating event can be conditioned from childhood, the actual event is a trigger that sets off emotional dysregulation. If your loved one with BPD is raging at you or running for the hills, the emotions that fuel these actions were triggered by something.
Sometimes it is difficult to see the trigger. Sometimes the trigger will seem trivial to a non-BPD.
A quick example from my life. My wife is big about feeling safe and secure. She has a trigger around money. She’s afraid that we will not have enough money and will grow old on the streets. A few months ago we got a bill from the high school for exams for our kids. This bill was rather high and the feeling of insecurity around money triggered fear in my wife. That fear quickly morphed to anger at me (because I make the money in our household). She raged at me for not being successful enough, not making enough money.
The trigger here was the bill. Ordinary enough thing to come in the mail, but that triggered the emotional dysregulation.
My suggestion to non-BPDs is to look for that trigger. Understand what triggers the emotional dysregulation. If a trigger is coming down the line, be prepared for it. It’s impossible to avoid all triggers – and you might not want to in the long run. It’s no wonder though that forums for BPD and the related behavior (like self-injury) have MIGHT BE TRIGGERING warnings.