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I am Mona Parikh, a 19 year old commerce graduate. I have noticed that since the past 3 years, I somehow land up in tremendous problems. I find that I am not at all aware about my reactions to situations. I land up in fights with lots of people, am unable to have one friend for more than 1 month, no one in my family talks to me and I have difficulty staying cheerful. I am terribly depressed sometimes and feel like attempting suicide also. I was diagnosed as having borderline personality traits. I do not wish to take medicines or any other treatment for this problem. Is there something I can develop on my own to help me in my problems?

The description that you have given about yourself matches that of a borderline personality and medicines as well as psychotherapy do seem to be the best alternative for the cure. Apart from it (and not as a substitute) you can develop the concept of self-awareness. At the moment it seems that you are swamped by your emotions and am helpless to escape them, as though your moods have taken charge. As the moods are mercurial and you are not aware of your feelings, you are lost in them rather than having any perspective. As a result you do little to escape the bad moods, feeling you have no control over your emotional life. You often feel overwhelmed and emotionally out of control.  This enhanced sensitivity means that for the least provocation there is an emotional storm unleashed – heavenly or hellish and sometimes there is barely any experience of a feeling even under the most dire circumstances. When the body is in a state of edginess, the subsequent emotion – whether anger or anxiety is of especially great intensity. Every successive anger-provoking thought or perception becomes a minitrigger and a second wave of anger comes before the first has subsided, quickly escalating the body’s arousal. At this point, you become unforgiving and beyond being reasoned with, thoughts revolve around revenge and reprisal, oblivious to what the consequences may be. Sometimes you may be clear about what you are feeling and also tend to be accepting of your moods and so do not try to change them. You feel you can do nothing to change the moods despite the distress and are resigned to their despair. On the contrary if you become self-aware, you have some understanding about your emotional life. You may become clear about your emotions and personality traits and hence become autonomous, be sure of your boundaries and tend to have a positive outlook on life. When you get into a bad mood, you do not tend to ruminate about it and are able to get out of it sooner. Your mindfulness helps you to manage your emotions. 

There is a crucial difference between being caught up in a feeling and becoming aware that you are being swept away by it. It might seem at first glance that our feelings are obvious; more thoughtful reflection reminds us of times we have been all too oblivious to what we really felt about something, or awoke to these feelings late in the game. The process is self-awareness – reflection and observation of the experiences of the self, including emotions. Such attention takes in whatever passes through awareness with impartiality, as an interested yet unreactive witness. Self-awareness is not an attention that gets carried away by emotions, overreacting and amplifying what is perceived. Rather, it is a neutral mode that maintains self-reflectiveness even amidst turbulent emotions. Self-observation allows an equanimous awareness of passionate or turbulent feelings. It manifests itself as a slight stepping back from experience; aware of what is happening rather than being immersed and lost in it. It means being aware of our both our moods and our thoughts about that mood. Self-awareness can be a non-reactive, non-judgmental attention to inner states. Self-awareness is the first step in acting on feelings to change them. Without self-awareness, one would be acting on an emotional impulse.

The emotional life is richer for those who notice more. Much of our emotional life is out of our awareness. Emotions that simmer beneath the threshold of awareness can have a powerful impact on how we perceive and react even though we have no idea they are at work. Once you are aware of your emotions, you can evaluate things anew, decide to shrug off the feelings and change your outlook and mood.