An article by Dr. Heidi Lepper, Ph.D.

Are You Hot or Cold?

Day in and day out we experience changes in our moods and emotional states. Some days we are joyful, other days we are angry, some days we are blue, while others we are energized. These changes make for the wonderful differences among each of us. Some of us struggle with becoming overly emotional. We simply have a tendency to overreact emotionally to situations, to other people, to our own thoughts and, in fact, 'feeling states' themselves. Others of us seem never to feel anything, in the extreme we may take on a Tin-Man or Dr. Spock-like experience, having become quite numb to the emotional aspect of living, we seem never triggered toward any emotional experience.

Are you hot or cold?
Long ago Aristotle discussed this aspect of differences among us and wrote about what he termed "constructive emotional behavior" or the temperate person. I liken this notion to an internal emotional thermometer. This thermometer is our internal gauge of how to respond to events in our lives and the relationships with others that we have. Keep in mind a physical thermometer tells us how hot or cold it is outside and we use this information to help us decide, for instance, how we should dress before we head out for our morning jog. But this thermometer is only as good and helps us maintain a good body temperature insofar as it is accurate in its hot or cold reading. Are you following me?

I take what Aristotle wrote about (as well as others since him, especially Dr. Paul Ekman) and I apply that to our emotional lives and an internal reader of how hot or cold we run. How does your emotional thermometer function? Does it tend to overestimate the heat of a situation or come in ten degrees too cool? Most of us have emotional thermometers that are not fully functional, we get stuck at times running too hot or running too cool.

In Aristotle's view he defined the temperate person as that person who first expresses emotion in the right amount, felt and expressed emotion equals the event that triggered it. Given that most of us are not temperate (being temperate however is the goal of a healthy personality), this means:

  • First, that we tend to overreact or under react emotionally to important events.
  • Second, the temperate person feels and expresses emotion at the right time. It is simply a fact of social living that there are times at which emotional displays are more or less beneficial to us. Knowing the difference means you run at the right temperature.
  • Finally, the temperate person feels and expresses emotion in the right way. In my view this is the most important aspect of being a temperate person, our felt and expressed emotion occurs in such a way as it does not negatively impact other people. For instance, we can become angry, but our anger does not hurt another; we can become afraid, but our fear does not scare another; and, we can become sad, but our sadness does not burden another.

So think about this again and how it relates to the way in which you live emotionally. Do you run too hot? Do you run too cold?

    Do you run too hot?
  • Do you tend to overreact to things?

  • Do you tend to react too quickly or perhaps react inappropriately given the situation?

  • And do you at times cause harm or hurt others in your emotional display?

  • Have you ever said something in the throes of anger that you later regretted, for instance?

    Or cold?
  • Or do you run too cool?

  • Do you tend to under react to things, whereby others view you as unemotional or aloof and uncaring?

  • Do you not show a display of emotion when the situation largely calls for it?

  • And do you at times leave others feeling unloved or unattended to because of your "coolness?"

Learning how your emotional life and relationships can be run by a thermometer that needs a bit of adjusting can go a long way toward becoming a happier, more satisfied person. You can become aware of your internal thermometer and adjusting it by remembering to think about how the thermostat on your wall at home gauges an accurate room temperature. The goal ultimately is to develop an awareness of your emotional thermometer so that you can cool yourself off if you are running too hot or heat yourself up if you are running too cool in much the same way as you want your home thermostat to assist you in how to dress for the day.

To help you remember this, go ahead now and draw yourself a thermometer, put a set point of 75 degrees - this is the temperate person... he or she who responds in the right proportion, at the right time and in the right way (does no harm). Pencil in where you honestly think you are temperature wise and work to re-set that emotional thermometer! It works!

1 Comment

Great article! Helped me understand a few things.

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Copyright © 2009 Dr. Heidi Lepper, Ph.D.  All rights reserved.