Develop empathy — One must acquire the skills to have an emotional relationship with another human being. Whether it is a dog, a cat, or another person, search to connect with someone or something you care about. Take the next step in the relationship and start showing you care and strive to become closer. If you are trying to connect with a pet, for example, spend some more time playing with it and petting it. If you are seeking to connect with a person, make an effort to talk more often.
As a part of our series about “Emotional Intelligence, I had the pleasure of interviewing Rev. Dr. John W. O’Connor, PhD.
Rev. Dr. John W. O’Connor, PhD has been practicing for over thirty years as a therapist. His first book, Farming Industrial Hemp Not Your Daddy’s Tobacco, won him and his coauthors an international award. He resides with his wife and children in the Appalachian Mountains of Western Virginia.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I was born in the Bronx and went to St. Francis of Rome and Cardinal Spellman high school. Fun fact: Having Steven Tyler’s father as my music teacher freshman year, Mr. Tyelerico, began a life-long passion for music for me. I was able to meet and play with some of the top rock musicians at the time.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
I met a Freudian psychologist when I was very young at an event. His speech was very moving, and at that young age, I understood everything he spoke about as if I was born with a Freudian gene. As far back as I remember, other students in elementary school always came to me and asked me for help or told me the trauma that they experienced. This progressed into working in the field of psychology in many different aspects. I worked in the field for quite a while through hard-earned experience, but then, licensure became a requirement, so while I was working as director of the methadone clinic, I went back to school and continued on until I finished two PhD programs in psychology.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
My father was the number one person who made me the person I am today. I owe it to his love, guidance, strength, and ethics that he instilled in me that I try to live up to every single day. The other would be my wife Kirsten. Without her support and love, I probably would not be here today.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
One mistake I made led me to a major realization about mental health systems. I worked for a private psychiatric hospital as a counselor. While I was there, I tried to treat the patients there in a most ethical way I could manage. You see, when you counsel, it helps when you can get to know the client on a few different levels, through their relationships with other people and how they interact with you on a social level. When they are in a relaxed state, it helps me gain insight into what ails them and how to help them live as healthy of a life as they can manage.
The mistake occurred when I sat down with the clients in the dayroom where the clients could watch television and play games. I went against the norm established there. The staff all sat behind this wall that divided them from the clients. They wanted me to sit at my desk in a corner, but I had nothing to do. I got bored quickly, so I got up, went to the day room past the three-foot wall, and asked the clients how their days were going, and we sat down and played a game of cards. There were no outbursts for the day, and they seemed happy that I took the time to sit with them.
The head nurse went ballistic and dragged me back over to the other side of the wall. The clients got angry that they were not able to finish the card game with me. The head nurse accused me of upsetting the patients for that day, and two days later, I was fired.
These techniques that I used were culled from years of experience within psych hospitals, halfway houses, and state mental health institutions. My mistake was not working within the system established for that facility.
However, this experience taught me that not every facility is run in an ethical manner. Also, a lot of times, the people who manage and run the facilities have more issues than the clients, which was the case with this particular organization.
The road to success is hard and requires tremendous dedication. This question is obviously a big one, but what advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your success?
While I was at Purchase College in New York, I had several professors trying to talk me out of getting my PhD, telling me it was not worth it the money, it was too much hassle, and most people lose their minds before they ever finish it. With all the comments and statements they had against getting my degree, I have an internal subconscious desire pushing me until I obtained my PhD. It is a long road, and at many times, it is not a very pretty one.
First and foremost, everybody should always protect themselves and make sure they can keep their own mental health as stable as possible while venturing into this field, but if you have the desire and mental capability to complete all the coursework, it is a very rewarding and monumental moment to stand up on that stage and have your PhD handed to you.
Is there a particular book, film, or podcast that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
So much of the world today concentrates on short-term, surface problems. I have made the most impact with clients through working with the subconscious. I was able to make so much progress with patients because I read Sigmund Freud’s works. A lot of people try to claim that his work is outdated or no longer relevant, but the man wrote so many things that are a basic part of human nature, so to me, to say that his works are no longer relevant is confusing. The only way his works will no longer be relevant is when either everyone in the entire world has evolved and resolved every single emotional issue they have had since birth, or the human race has evolved into a robot species and emotions are no longer relevant.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
“Unexpressed emotions will never die. They are buried alive and will come forth later in uglier ways.” Sigmund Freud.
I found this quote to be true all throughout my practice and within my own life. When we avoid our feelings, they’ll only resurface later. It’s an unavoidable fact.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
I am currently working on three different books projects: a book series on relationships, one on my work as a Freudian, and the third one is our new CBD book. All three books will help many people with the issues they have going on both in personal and professional lives.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. Can you briefly tell our readers a bit about why you are an authority about Emotional Intelligence?
In my 30 years of working in the field of mental health, I have worked with every population that is out there. Finishing two PhD programs and obtaining my PhD in Psychology has pulled together all my work and training into an eclectic therapy practice working with people on their emotional states. This includes working with the prison populations, recovering addicts, returning veterans with PTSD, law enforcement, celebrities, and musicians, among others.
Emotional Intelligence is the core of psychological practice, but it didn’t really become a term until recently. From the beginning, it has been the one thing I have taught my clients, how to recognize when they’re having an issue or when they’re having an emotional reaction, different ways to handle those triggers and reactions they go through, and seeking a more positive outlook while learning to understand the issues and problems in the daily stress they experience.
For the benefit of our readers, can you help to define what Emotional Intelligence is?
Unfortunately, at the moment, there is not one unified definition of Emotional Intelligence. To me, based on my years of experience, Emotional Intelligence is a skill set that people use to manage one’s emotions and thought processes. For example, when the boss is riding your tail at work and you get stressed out, how do you deal with it? Do you get a few drinks after work to blow off steam, or do you meditate and have a conversation with yourself so that the stress your boss is imposing on you doesn’t affect you negatively? If you choose the latter most of the time, this means that you have developed the skills you need to promote your own emotional wellness.
Emotional Intelligence also includes how well people cope with emotional issues. When we are confronted with trauma, when we have a childhood issue, or if we are experiencing problems at work or with our relationships, we need to develop a skill set that will enable us to work through those issues so they do not continue to hinder us in life.
How is Emotional Intelligence different from what we normally refer to as intelligence?
Emotional Intelligence is the ability to comprehend your emotional state and regulate your emotions. In order to do this, you need rely on different aspects of intelligence, such as reasoning, logic, and the mental capacity to problem-solve. In order to develop Emotional Intelligence, you need some degree of intelligence to properly apply the strategies people benefit from to lead productive and emotionally healthy lives. Thus, Emotional Intelligence refers to how effectively people can manage their interior world.
Can you help explain a few reasons why Emotional Intelligence is such an important characteristic? Can you share a story or give some examples?
People who can develop a better sense of Emotional Intelligence will have less stress, anxiety, and will be able to live up to their full potential. People who have a low level of EI are apt to experience more anger, anxiety, unhealthy relationships, and depression, mostly because they are not able to manage their emotions in a positive or healthy way.
For example, a client of mine who was suffering from narcissistic personality disorder would get very upset and emotionally unravel at the slightest incidents in his life. One time, he was in a coffee house, and the coffee was not made to his specifications, so he threw the coffee at the kid at the counter, yelling and screaming at him. The police got involved due to the fact that he threw hot coffee at someone. People suffering from narcissism have a classic lack of insight as to their own emotional states and how it affects their thoughts and behavior, and because of this, they fail to empathize with other people. Therefore, they tend to have a low comprehension of Emotional Intelligence. This story shows that it is important to develop this characteristic so that we can function in our daily life, without police involvement.
Would you feel comfortable sharing a story or anecdote about how Emotional Intelligence has helped you in your life? We would love to hear about it.
My father was a computer genius and taught me many things, so I had the capability to provide consultation from time to time. There was one time when I was consulting and working for a major cable company in Manhattan. They brought me in to take a look at the system and see if I could find the origin of the errors. Everything was going wrong, and then the service would not stop blinking out. Their servers had multiple IP errors coming up all over the place. Even their printer system went haywire.
When I walked into the company, it was near chaos and bedlam. The director said no one could figure out what was going on with it. The management had been yelling and screaming at everybody in the down line. None of the guys who were pacing back and forth and all the other people screaming at each other outside the door could do it. People called up and screamed that their printer went haywire and was just shooting pages out. They could not get anything working on the system. It was like a techno nightmare.
As I was going through all the of the server issues and data logs, all of a sudden, bingo! I found the error where the server was putting in multiple invalid characters and broadcasting them over every network. It placed these repetitive characters that were not connected to the IP server. The staff claimed they went through the files. The system was generating multiple IP addresses for different terminals throughout the building and it would generate multiple errors and reboot the servers.
So I found and fixed the problem with people standing around with their jaws wide open. And all of a sudden everybody started screaming in frustration about having to reset all the terminals in the building.
For myself, working with all these people yelling and screaming, angry management losing it in the hallways, my meditation and calmness and the work I did on my Emotional Intelligence made it very easy for me to remain calm, find the issue, and fix it where it had been going on in the company for months.
They fired people over this issue, brought in new people, and even hired so-called expert consultants, and nobody could find the issue with their servers. I was able to fix it simply because I had the ability to remain calm through using my Emotional Intelligence and not let everyone else’s emotional state affect me.
Can you share some specific examples of how Emotional Intelligence can help a person become more successful in the business world?
People who have a better grasp on their emotions will function better in corporations. Sometimes, corporations can be negative places to work, just like anywhere else, as in the above scenario I described. People who are able to cope better are less stressed.
There was one person I worked with who would smile while people were screaming at him. At that time as well, he was coping with cancer. Amazed, I asked him what his secret was in remaining so calm. He seemed to have a good grasp on the fact that other people’s stress had nothing to do with him. If it’s their stress, why let it affect me, he reasoned. It shows how people can be happier even when confronted with negativity and how effective Emotional Intelligence can be in helping people cope with everyday situations.
Can you share a few examples of how Emotional Intelligence can help people have better relationships?
In order to have healthy relationships, we have to work on learning ourselves, which is really the first step in developing Emotional Intelligence. If you want to have deeper relationships, you have to work on your own issues so that they do not influence your relationships in a better way. When you develop your Emotional Intelligence, it helps you become a calmer, happier person, which is a great head space to be in when you include other people in your life. Relationships are where you see a lot of progress when you have Emotional Intelligence skills. When you use these skills, they help you focus inward and resolve a lot of negativity in your life. It helps you sort out what works in your life and doesn’t work, and to make changes for the things that do not work. When you become healthier, you attract healthy, positive people.
Can you share a few examples of how Emotional Intelligence can help people have more optimal mental health?
It depends on the diagnosis. For some of the more severe mental disorders, you’re lucky to be able to help the clients take their meds every day and be able to physically take care of themselves. Emotional Intelligence may not even come into play.
For people who want to develop their Emotional Intelligence, learning how to develop skills that will help you deal with daily stress and overcome life situations helps people eventually become able to work through their own issues and be free of their influence. This can lead to a life with far less stress and more stability.
By learning new techniques in handling emotional issues, it goes a long way in reducing the stress and anxiety they feel on a daily basis. This improves people’s mental health.
Ok. Wonderful. Here is the main question of our interview. Can you recommend five things that anyone can do to develop a greater degree of Emotional Intelligence? Please share a story or example for each.
1. Develop empathy
One must acquire the skills to have an emotional relationship with another human being. Whether it is a dog, a cat, or another person, search to connect with someone or something you care about. Take the next step in the relationship and start showing you care and strive to become closer. If you are trying to connect with a pet, for example, spend some more time playing with it and petting it. If you are seeking to connect with a person, make an effort to talk more often.
2. Take personal responsibility for your actions
Own your part in every relationship, and consider how your actions might have affected the outcome. Taking responsibility for your own actions can help healthy relationship patterns flourish. Even when it seems like it’s all the other person’s fault, consider what you could have said or done differently in that situation. For example, at times, if we let pride get in the way, we might be tempted to deny any responsibility in a fight or want to be the one who is right. However, it is much healthier for each person to acknowledge their part in the miscommunication or conflict and then sit and talk about how to avoid those types of conflicts in the future.
3. Develop healthy boundaries
Personal boundaries are always a good thing to have. Everyone needs space to themselves. Everyone also has a right to their own body. Emotionally speaking, developing healthy boundaries involves knowing what you can control versus what you cannot control. Often, I see people becoming stressed over things they do not have any influence in, and this is stress that can be avoided.
4. Communication skills
Without good communication skills, pretty much everything falls apart. Communication is the key in helping to regulate your emotional states will understand how different stressful environments affect you and provide you with ways of protecting yourself when you need it most.
5. Work on emotional regulation
Outbursts, antics, flying off the handle, and losing it are all associated with a complete lack of emotional regulation. In order to start working on Emotional Intelligence, you need to work on your emotional regulation. Have you ever tried to speak with someone who is angry? It never really goes very well. Productive conversations occur when both people are calm, but you have to be able to calm yourself down if you are upset.
Do you think our educational system can do a better job at cultivating Emotional Intelligence? What specific recommendations would you make for schools to help students cultivate Emotional Intelligence?
Yes, most definitely, the educational system can do a better job at cultivating Emotional Intelligence. First, we have to teach the teachers how to effectively model healthy behaviors and emotional processing as well as learning how to communicate and solve problems among people. Many students do not receive this sort of training at home. If teachers were able to integrate this knowledge into students’ days through modeling constructive behaviors and social interactions, it would help a lot of students learn healthy behaviors they need to lead happy and productive lives. Teachers are on the front lines in dealing with the entire nation’s children, and children spend many of their waking hours with their teachers. Teachers need to be trained more effectively in emotions, mental health, and in understanding human behavior. Teachers also need help in resolving their own issues so that they can deal with other people’s children more effectively. They need to know how to provide emotional support to children and when to intervene appropriately and seek further help. These strategies should be standardized throughout the country for maximum effectiveness and equal application of such a program.
Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I would inspire a movement for free mental health for everyone. You can’t resolve major mental health issues in five to ten sessions. Maybe it would help decrease the amount of mass shootings we experience.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂
At this moment, I would love to speak with the coach of the New Orleans Saints, Sean Payton. I see a lot of potential with that team, and I think I could be really useful to that organization.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.