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Natural Awakenings

Emotional Freedom: A Conversation with Dr. Judith Orloff

Mar 01, 2009 03:00AM ● By Barbara Stahura

Psychiatrist, Intuitive and best-selling author Judith Orloff shares transformative insights. Synthesizing the pearls of traditional medicine with cutting-edge knowledge of intuition, energy and spirituality to create a new blend of healing wisdom, she believes that the future of medicine depends upon integrating all these elements to achieve emotional freedom and total wellness. Her new book, Emotional Freedom: Liberate Yourself from Negative Emotions and Transform Your Life, is due out this month.

What is emotional freedom?

Emotional freedom is your ability to love by cultivating positive emotions and being able to compassionately witness and transform negative ones, whether they’re yours or another’s. This skill liberates you from fear and lets you navigate adversity without attacking someone, losing your cool or being derailed by negativity. With emotional freedom, you can choose to react constructively, rather than relinquishing command of the situation when your buttons get pushed. If you get mired in the muck of negativity, you can’t lead a liberated, happy life.

Why is compassion crucial to emotional freedom?

Unless you have self-compassion, it’s hard to heal difficult emotional states. When a loved one is going through a trying time, being compassionate without judging them is essential. My spiritual teacher says we make progress on the spiritual path by beating ourselves up a little bit less each day. I believe that. It’s about baby steps.

Why do individuals respond to situations in such radically different ways?

I’ve defined four emotional types: the intellectual, the empath, the gusher and the rock. These are the filters through which you see the world—the default setting of your personality to which you revert, especially under stress. Each type is determined by inborn temperament, upbringing and perhaps, karma. Because emotional freedom means being able to remain sensitive, but centered, in an overwhelming world, it’s essential to know your emotional type. Without this knowledge, many people dysfunctionally hunker down in their type for decades without examining which aspects do and don’t serve them.

How can we stay free from absorbing others’ negative emotions?

Many sensitive people come to me as patients and in workshops, who have been labeled “overly sensitive.” Like me, these people are what I call emotional empaths. Because we are so sensitive, we absorb the energy of others. We sense their fear, anxiety and stress and sometimes take them into our bodies. Then, we get exhausted or feel ill. People on a spiritual path tend to gain more sensitivity as they develop. They need to learn how to stay centered and be compassionate without becoming an emotional sponge.

How can we calmly refrain from retaliating when attacked by a difficult personality?

“Emotional vampires” is my term for many difficult people such as criticizers, victims, narcissists or controllers. I say, let them be our teachers, rather than tormentors. We must ask ourselves: “How do they teach us to communicate with more heart and better boundaries? How can we deal differently with feeling irritated, controlled or insulted?”

The old way is to get nasty or withdraw. The new way is to not simply react when your buttons get pushed—a behavior that perpetuates war. Practice what I call the namaste effect, which is; “I respect the spirit within you, even if I don’t like what you’re doing.”

Your victories over emotional vampires are not small—they’re huge. With every success, you are creating more hope for the world. From an intuitive standpoint, we are all interconnected; my emotional freedom affects your emotional freedom and everyone in the world.

Can emotions serve as a path to spiritual awakenings?

It’s necessary to understand these four basic components of emotion; their biology, spirituality, energy and psychology. My book teaches the tools you need to proactively shift your biochemistry, as well as your energy, and to see the spiritual and psychological meaning of what you’re going through.
 I see difficult emotions as a laboratory for spiritual growth, whereas traditional psychiatry often views them more as tormentors; something to get rid of. I believe that emotions come to us—even wrenching ones—to spiritually awaken us.

Each emotion is a prompt for you to get more in touch with your heart and expand your light. This perspective changes how you deal with all emotional challenges.

What does it take to overcome fear in times of terrorism, economic turmoil and natural disasters?

Part of emotional freedom is making a vow not to lead a fear-driven life. That must be a deep desire in your heart. Then, do everything possible to overcome fear and worry with faith in goodness, trying to stay in the moment, rather than catastrophizing the future. Courage or fear is a choice. It’s not something that just happens to you.

You say emotional freedom offers us opportunities to be heroes in our own lives. Would you elaborate?

You become a hero in your own life as you learn to use emotions as a chance to become stronger, brighter and more. This is critical on a personal level, because it frees you from suffering. But, it’s just as important on a collective level, because if we don’t face the fear and anger in ourselves, then we risk projecting it onto a global sphere. This creates war and massive suffering to our human family. We must find inner peace before we can have outer peace. That’s why I consider emotional freedom an inner peace movement.

Judith Orloff, MD, is an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at University of California, Los Angeles. To purchase her book and for information on a free video class on emotional freedom and intuition, visit

Barbara Stahura is a freelance writer in Tucson, AZ, and has interviewed many major transformative individuals of our time. She may be reached at

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