Nigerian women should have a life not tied to anybody’s existence
Oyinkansola Alabi is the lead researcher and facilitator at Emotions City, Africa’s leading Emotional Intelligence centre.
Popularly referred to as the Emotion’s Doctor, Alabi, who is also the convener of Africa’s first Emotional Intelligence Week, is a high impact trainer, who has taught thousands of executives in organisations that cut across different sectors in the economy.
With offices in both Lagos and Texas, her work has taken her to different continents. She is the first African Master Trainer in Yale University’s RULER approach, a Cornell University-trained Human Resource Executive, a Rational Emotive Behavioural Therapist, a Cognitive Behavioural Therapist, Six Seconds Network Licensed Emotional Intelligence Practitioner, and a Pastor at the Fountain of Life Church.
In this interview with IJEOMA THOMAS-ODIA, the emotions doctor, who is a member of the International Coaching Federation (ICF) and the British Psychological Society, spoke on her passion for helping people live a purposeful life.
How did you venture into being an emotions coach?
I HAVE always been interested in studying human behaviour; I later discovered that it was called Psychology. I had my first degree in International Relations and proceeded to do my MSc in a UK University, and stopped because I couldn’t afford it. Then I got into Life Coaching, then I proceeded to therapy because I wanted more; also went for Human Resource. So, it was looking like it and then finally I got into Emotional Intelligence.
I attended the two biggest schools in the world on Emotional Intelligence, so I went to finish up for my Masters, with my doctorate in process. This is what I have always wanted to do, so it does not work for me. This is life; this is me in my natural zone. I have had people come to thank me for how I pastored them in school. I have always wanted people to move from a life of dissatisfaction to satisfaction and for me, I have always wanted to help people be happy, be fulfilled, experience your life and it’s based on contentment, which is the fact that if you live in comparison, you will die of depression. He that is wise picks up what is useful to him and for him and goes with it.
What experiences for you has shaped your passion for what you do?
I lived in Mushin for 18 years; I left Mushin two years ago so I know poverty, pain and labour. I have sold stick meat in Lagos; I have sold iced-water, washed cars. Then, I moved to Gbagada; that looked very big but I remember when I was in Gbagada, I said to myself I was going to be here for two years. I didn’t know what that was going to mean, but I gave myself a timeline. Twenty months after, I moved to Ikoyi. So, I know the place of hard work and diligence.
I want to be perceived as a professional and somebody who delivers results. That’s why we extended it to the U.S to serve Africans in diaspora so I have a work permit in the U.S. We have Emotions City in the U.S and all work from home, so it’s me working with therapists that I know who are rendering services and it is under our umbrella.
What are you bringing to the table as an emotions doctor?
I want to serve Africans, so Emotions City is by an African for Africans. Even though I learnt far and wide from different schools, it is the fact that we are creating our models. When I teach Emotional Intelligence, it is from an African perspective; looking at how culture has influenced our beliefs, behaviour, parenting. It influences our behaviour because there is a way we act in this country that they don’t do everywhere else; there’s a way we attach value to things. Marriage here is different from marriage everywhere.
In Nigeria, marriage is life, not that marriage is part of life, marriage is an achievement and it’s not so. If we define it that way, people will run into crisis. Others will say the reason why you are alive is for your children, No. Especially women, you think the reason why you are in marriage is to serve your husband, No. That is why I think a lot of men have run into issues and problems because they have been taught to lead, not taught to serve. So, an average guy is wired to give instructions not to receive instructions. At every point in time when they need help, they never think of consulting or asking for help; they always pretend that they can sort it out until they get into drinking and smoking and all sorts.
For me, it’s teaching Emotional Intelligence from the African perspective and I believe that we are all here at this time to be our ancestors. Our ancestors have died, we cannot be running in that space to function in the new, the same way you cannot do business on 3310; some templates and beliefs must expire. Applications expire, beliefs expire; there are some that you need to renew, there are some you need to update. But in Nigeria, once one person says something whether it is foolish or not, we just run with it; that’s how we behave. Those are parts of the re-direction and re-generation that we need to troubleshoot. You need to ask questions; you need to live life at your pace.
I was talking to some people recently and someone said to me, ‘I am 27 and I am not yet married and unhappy’ because she had wanted to have all her children. So, I said to her, ‘now that you don’t have all your children and you are not married, what is next?’ She sounded confused; I told her that she was the one who created that standard. You are the one who wrote it in your diary, go and re-write it. Life is not that deep; it is not every expectation that will come to pass. Some people have died at this stage; some people have lost their bodies at this stage.
Talking about Emotions, COVID-19 brought a lot of stress and depression, how did you come in?
I released a research report on the effect of COVID-19 on the emotional stability of Nigerians and the whole of Africa. COVID-19 was something that nobody expected, we have never experienced it before; the last time we ever experienced any flu was in 1918. The beginning of the word ‘unhappiness’ is when your present reality does not align with your desired outcome so what that means is that what you are presently experiencing does not align with what you projected or what you anticipated or what you desire to achieve, you will land in the unhappiness zone. Landing there means that you are disappointed.
Disappointment is one of the ingredients of unhappiness, so when COVID-19 showed up, we were at first taken aback. Secondly, we were disappointed because we all just mapped out our plans for the year. We just finished Valentine and it became quarantine.
Hence, we recently launched a Trust called Emotions City Trust where we will be offering 80 per cent free therapy to Nigerians. What we are trying to do is to get people who appreciate investing in mental health and then give to people who cannot afford to pay for mental health, so they pay 20 per cent of the fee. We have spoken to 40 different therapists and psychologists who agreed that they would take a stipend for every session. So, benefactors will bring 20 per cent of the stipend and the reason for that stipend is to shade that word ‘entitlement’. It is your life; take responsibility for it so they can value it.
How do we perceive therapy here, a lot of people see it more like a psychiatric problem?
Media has made it look like mental health and mental issues are the same thing because there is a difference between the health and the illness. Mental health is emotional stability and when you are talking about mental illness, you are talking about the fact that you need to treat an imbalance. Treating it is the same way you would treat your finance; if your profit and loss are not balanced, you will treat it. If your health is not aligned, you will pay attention to it. It is the same way you treat your ignorance by going to school, so the media and movies have made it look as if you are a psycho.
In Nigeria, mental is defined as ‘kolo’, which is madness. There is a spiritual part; my senior colleagues think everything is tied to prayer – so when you are hungry you don’t pray, when you want to have sex, I don’t think you pray. It is very funny when somebody is unhappy and you want to cast out the spirit of sadness, why are you not casting out your sexual drive? Why are you not casting out your hunger? So, those battles are there and for religious people, we will subscribe to religious strategies like seeing pastor, praying and pouring anointing oil. The battle is still there with the media, so if the media helps us along with the spiritualists, it will be better. But in a situation where you are in church and someone is saying that depression is from the devil and some of us that know that the devil has no business with that.
What is your message for women?
Nigerian women should try to have a life not tied to anybody’s existence. The narrative in Nigeria is that you are an offshoot of your husband and that is why singles cannot be happy. Why would you think that God in his wisdom would tie your happiness to somebody? So, when the person dies, what are you going to do?
Men have complex and low self-esteem so they always try to control under the guise of submission. Submission is not slavery, it is not colonialism, it is not to abandon your life to serve me; both are supposed to be mutually submissive which is very simple.
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