React in anger – Take a step back

“Anyone can become angry. That is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way – this is not easy”


Crimes of passion are common. We’ve all heard about the sudden violent outbursts of “normal” people, who lose control – who lose themselves – in the heat of the moment, and are later filled with regret. Thankfully, most of us can curb our powerful emotions, and we do not actually follow through and kill the person we feel like killing. And yet, most of us are guilty of minor crimes of passion. We raise our voice at our child for dawdling when he is late for school; we fire off an exasperated e-mail to a rude customer; we curse a driver who has just cut us off. Whenever we feel the heat rise, we need to take a step back, or count to ten (or a hundred). At every given moment we have a choice – to be a slave to our emotions and react, or to take a step back – a “time – in” – and exercise restraint.

Psychologist George Loewenstein has conducted research on “hot” and “cold” states. A hot state is when emotions are at a high intensity and we feel a strong urge to do something or refrain from something; a cold state is when the intensity of the emotions is low and our rational mind is more dominant in the decision – making process. We think, and usually act, in very different ways depending on which state we are in. for example, research by Daniel Gilbert demonstrates that people who shop on an empty stomach will buy more than will people who shop when they are satiated. Hungry shoppers overestimate how much they could eat, as they are feeling “hot” for food.

Shopping on an empty stomach is relatively harmless; however, a decision to act when we are in a hot state can have extremely harmful consequences. Road rage is a typical example of the danger of acting in a hot state. And teenagers, of course, are more likely to practice unsafe sex when they are aroused, no matter how aware they are of the life- threatening risks involved. All of us have had times in our life when we wished we could have turned back the clock and with it erase something we did or said.

Merely labeling a situation as a hot- state situation can help a great deal in coping with it in a more rational way. The act of labeling takes us from being immersed in the situation and reacting to it, to taking a step back and observing it. Awareness of the state makes us more likely to take the necessary precautions when in a sexual encounter, or decide to take some time to cool off when in the throes of anger.