Are You Hot or Cold?: Recognizing Your Inner Thermostat

By Heidi S. Lepper, Ph.D.

My last blog (Just Chill, Be Still) was about a single trick with our bodies that will serve to reduce excessive worry, fear mongering, the licking of old wounds. It is one trick to be used within a larger set of adjustments to one's inner life that this blog will share with you (please do read it if you you've not, the rest of you will begin now to float your tongue). In reading my blog and others like mine you will learn easy way to shift in positive ways and come to all those things you 'want'...daily joy, less conflicted and happier relationships, less stress and more success at work, and those smaller jeans you've had your eye on. So grab a pen and a piece of paper for you will be drawing a tiny bit today.

Now I want to ask you: Are you a hot one or a cold one? And I don't mean your physical temperature!

Day in and day out, even moment by moment, 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 but also cause a lot of the problems in our relationships and make for a bit of unhappiness. You in your hot- or cold-ness are interacting with others in all of theirs. Some of us struggle with being 'overly emotional' -- we run HOT! While that may carry a bad connotation for you or even some nasty stereotypes, it is not all bad. It simply means you feel a great deal. Hot ones have a tendency to overreact emotionally to situations, to other people, to their own thoughts and, in fact, 'feeling states' themselves. Things easily get a rise out of hot ones, they react strongly and quickly...but for them it may be toward feeling fear and anxiety, or getting angry, or it may lean toward feeling sad and down. Lately the term 'the highly sensitive person' has been coined to describe this type of person.

If you don't run hot, you may instead swing on the other side, and run COLD. Cold ones appear to react very little or very slowly to feel anything and in the extreme we may take on a Tin-Man or Dr. Spock-like experience (okay am I dating myself with these references? I need to ask my son whom might be a more youthful example!). Cold ones are more numb to the emotional aspect of living, seemingly triggering little toward any emotional experience and so come across as aloof, unaffected, detached.

And so I ask once more: Are you hot or cold? Long ago Aristotle (I am not so old to have met him!) wrote about differences in emotional behavior and described what he considered to be a style that is "constructive" or 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 in the relationships with others that we have. Keep in mind a physical thermometer tells us how hot or cold it is outside or inside our rooms and we use this information to help us decide, for instance, how we should dress before we head out for our morning jog or if we need to grab a sweater while we sit down in front of Pinterest. But this thermometer is only as good 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 running too hot or running too cool. And how we then interact with others imparts being too hot or too cool and they then react to us in kind, thus making this a lifelong pattern.

Decades of research on healthy versus unhealthy emotional styles suggest strongly that being temperate is advantageous to us, to our relationships, to our physical health and to our success in life:

  • Being temperateultimately means responding appropriately to our inner thoughts, others' behavior and statements, to situations and so forth. It means we respond in proportion to whatever the event is (we don't under nor over-respond). Have you ever not responded or not responded with enough gusto when later you wish you had? Have you ever responded with great gusto and later kicked yourself for having done so? If you answer yes, then that exemplifies a NON-temperate response.
    • I will use a personal example for I admit I tend toward the HOT. I used to get head-exploding upset when someone cut in line in front of me as I have a rule in my head that says "We wait our turn." I'd marvel at people that from my view were unperturbed or would even tell me mildly to not get my feathers so ruffled as I cannot control what other people do, it is not a big deal. I began my own temperature shifting years ago and I can say without a doubt that I am vastly more temperate, things that ruffled me before fail to ruffle me now.
  • The temperate person expresses emotion at the right time (she knows when and when not to respond). Sometimes we need to speak up and sometimes we need to keep quiet -- the temperate person gauges this well. The HOT one tends to speak up way too fast and with too much gusto given the situation. The COLD one tends to not speak up given the situation. Now just imagine these two together in a relationship?!
  • 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. When we run too hot or too cold, that emotional experience within us DOES impact those around us and if we are not ourselves responding temperately then we are harming others. It is okay to admit this, because we have a fix.

So think about this again: Do you run HOT or COLD?

How does your temperature relate to the way in which you live emotionally:

Are you too hot? Do you tend to react too quickly or perhaps react inappropriately given the situation? An example referring back to an earlier blog about responding to the weather comes in here: How dramatically do you respond to poor weather forecasts for instance? Furthermore, 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 are you too cold? Do you tend to under react to things, whereby others view you as unemotional or aloof and uncaring? Perhaps this is a strong defense system. Do you not show a display of emotion when the situation largely calls for it? 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,  and loving, tolerant 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 to be comfortable.

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 keep reading my blogs to learn ways to reset that emotional thermometer! You and all those around you will be greatly benefitted for your effort!

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