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Emotional intelligence and mental health


Tina Olivero with her son, Ben. — Submitted photo

By Jaymie White Local Journalism Initiative Reporter In the heart of the holiday season, if anyone understands the impact emotional intelligence can have on a person struggling with mental health and addictions, it is Tina Olivero. Just four short months ago, Tina lost her son, Ben, after his seven-year struggle. Emotional intelligence is defined as the ability to understand, use, and manage one’s own emotions in positive ways to relieve stress, communicate effectively, empathize with others, overcome challenges and defuse conflict, which can be a significant hurdle for those struggling with their mental health. “When we think about emotional intelligence, it plays such a significant role in overcoming addiction because it involves us self-reflecting and beginning to recognize actually what’s going on with our thoughts, and fundamentally, our thoughts as a communication vehicle become our words, and our words become our actions, and our actions become our results, and that happens without us ever noticing,” said Olivero. “The results in the world that we create are founded in our thoughts. That’s where they begin. So sometimes on the path of that, we can have thoughts that are leading us to a place we don’t want to be, or we can have thoughts that are leading us to words and actions and results where we do want to be, and without emotional intelligence, we’re just like a bull in a china shop, essentially. We’re acting and reacting in the world without ever realizing that we’re the source of that reaction. So I think, intrinsically, we learn a certain amount of emotional intelligence over time, through parenting, through teaching, through all of those things, but the great religions of the world teach emotional intelligence through self-awareness.” If Olivero had her way, emotional intelligence is something that would be taught in schools all over the world. “When it comes to addiction, I think one of the biggest ways that we talk about emotions, especially in places like NA (Narcotics Anonymous), is what are those triggers? And triggers for addiction are situations or emotions or events that can lead to a strong desire to either engage in a substance or addictive behavior or not, and triggers can vary from person to person. Everybody is different. Everybody has different triggers,” said Olivero. “What triggers me could be something as simple as stubbing my toe, whereas another person might get triggered by their spouse. Another person is triggered by the news, and we’re all triggered by different things at different times, but when it comes to addiction, a lot of the times, there’s some sort of commonalities in what people get triggered by, and then people turn to substance as a way of either numbing that trigger or suppressing it or covering it over, and the garden variety triggers that we would normally experience and those in addiction tend to be things like stress. A high level of stress can be a powerful trigger for an individual struggling with addiction, so there’s the desire to escape or numb an overwhelming set of circumstances. So it’s a good case for lowering the stress of people with a brain illness addiction, because when you put them in high stress places like shelters, out in tents, we’re just exacerbating the situation.” Olivero has been offering transformational training and thought awareness to help people navigate these huge emotions. “You don’t even have to go that far. You can start just looking at exactly where you are right now. What are my negative emotions and what are my positive emotions? What emotions allow me to get the results I want, and what emotions cause me to sabotage the results that I get? And feelings of sadness and anger and frustration and loneliness, they’re all strong triggers, and they’re negative emotions, and when someone’s in addiction, they can succumb to those emotions, or they can say, ‘hey, I’m in that negative emotion. I see that trigger, but I’m going to see it for what it is, which is an opportunity for me to observe and navigate through this and actually learn something about myself’. So I don’t see negative emotions as negative. I see negative emotions as an opportunity, like a compass to navigate to a new direction. And we need certain amount of negative emotions because they tell us all kinds of things, like, you’re going in the wrong direction. It’s time for a change,” said Olivero. “It’s time to create a new scenario for yourself to get more aligned. So I think it’s important, and the contrast of emotions between negative emotions and positive emotions is a powerful thing to observe, because your positive emotions, we’re all happy with those. There’s not a lot of learning that goes on there, but negative emotions really are the driver of our learning and show us that there are better things ahead for us, and when we resist that learning and we resist taking on what it has to teach us, man, we get stuck, and the more stuck we get, the more stubborn, the more angry, the more frustrated, the more we go down that deep, dark rabbit hole, and unless you’re aware of those triggers, negative emotions, you just keep spiraling, and I think part of what mental illness is, is that it is a brain illness, and it doesn’t allow us to self-reflect at that level.” These are lessons Olivero has had to navigate through following the loss of her son. “I’ve lost Ben, and that is an overwhelming sense of emotions, and as I look into 2024, I’m very excited about 2024. I have lots of negative emotions, but how I’ve overcome those negative emotions is by looking at them and saying, ‘what do they have to teach me?’ Well, I’m not feeling good right now. I’m not feeling comfortable. I’m not happy with the way things are. Okay, well, where do you want them to be? And I architected a future that’s going to be super exciting for me, and part of that excitement is the book that I’m writing on triggers, and I think it’s so important because once we start to recognize all of these garden variety triggers, we can have power over them. Instead of us having power, it is having power over us, and you could be in a social situation, get triggered, for example, being around friends who engage in substance use, or being in trap houses, or being in situations that perpetuate that a lot of the drug den shelters and stuff, and you recognize like, I’ve got to get myself out of this situation or this environment or peer pressure or whatever,” said Olivero. “These are all triggers, and then addiction in itself has so much stigma that can be a huge trigger. Ultimately, when you start looking at all of those emotions and what they have for us, and you start to see how to navigate through them, because whatever’s in the way is the way. When you start to navigate through them, instead of numbing them, there is a possibility to recover, and I think that not all people have that as an option. In the case of Ben, he had a genetic illness. He did not have cause and effect, and that happened the moment he smoked marijuana. It was a key that unlocked an underlying mental illness and anesthegnosia. So there are a certain percentage of people that you can have all the emotional intelligence that you want, and it’s not going to make a difference, but there’s also a very large portion of people who can and do implement emotional intelligence and understand triggers and negative emotions and the contrast to positive emotions, and they come to learn about who they are through that contrast and ultimately get to answer the most profound questions. Who am I? Why am I here?” With her first Christmas without Ben looming, Olivero is choosing to see the positive. “Christmas is going to be really sad, and I’m sure I’m going to have tearful moments, but I can tell you that what Ben had to suffer through in his addiction and this genetic illness that runs through our family, what he had to deal with and the stresses that he had, it’s not like he never had emotional intelligence. Ben actually was in my classes since he was four years old. He was one of the most self-aware people I knew. But with anosognosia, you have no cause and effect. It is actually a brain illness that shuts down the frontal cortex of your brain, so you don’t have that,” said Olivero. “So that’s a physical thing that no amount of emotional intelligence is going to make any difference. You can’t reason with that. It’s like, dementia or brain damage or any of those other illnesses that we have, and it makes me super sad because I think that a lot of the people in our tent city and stuff are actually dealing with the same things. They, lots of times can’t see that they have an illness, and they don’t seek help because they don’t see that they’re a danger to themselves, and they’re left to their own devices in the elements without any help.” Olivero will soon be releasing her own book to help people identify and understand their own triggers. “Trigger Happy, it’s this really cool book that it’s not too dense in its information. It’s a lot of point forms and quotes and things like that. It’s sort of written for the modern-day reader, if you will, in that it’s presented in a way that is easy to understand and allows people to self-reflect. So it’s called ‘Trigger Happy: How to be happy no matter what triggers you’, and the very first question in the book is who are you? And the second question is why are you here? And so it poses questions that get people to start thinking about, yeah, what is my purpose? Why am I here? And then it goes in to talk about putting things in the context of our emotional intelligence on this earth, the learning planet. What are those emotions trying to teach me? And how can I benefit most by listening to them? And triggers our navigational compass into the forest of our emotions. And they’re all designed to help us find our way home,” said Olivero. “So being able to look at it with freedom and ease and not suppress emotions like they used to do, but to actually embrace them and allow them to teach us and understand the emotional paradox between our positive and negative emotions and let them be like a guiding light to fulfill on what truly makes us happy, what provides us with a sense of purpose, what allows us to be in other people’s worlds and be tolerant human beings, allow us to understand things that truly piss us off and how there’s either something to learn about our situation or ourselves, and it just becomes a very powerful road map of emotions. That is such an interesting journey, some of the most amazing work I’ve ever done.” The point of the book is to be self-reflection for the reader. “It has asked a lot of questions, and it provides people with an understanding of what triggers them. It could be something from their past, from their childhood, from their current situation, and all the different types of triggers that we have. They could be physical triggers, emotional triggers, environmental triggers, and just to kind of understand what’s actually going on,” said Olivero. “So we’re not sitting here in a sea of reactionists, and that trigger could be the one thing that could allow us to see why we continue to use that drug. That’s how powerful looking at our triggers are. It could show us why we avoid being vulnerable in relationships. It could show us how we have a theory about making money that is unhealthy, and therefore we keep ourselves broke. There’s so much to learn, and whatever is not working in our lives, we can always trace it back to what triggers us.”

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