Dr Judith Orloff's Blog

The Grace of Forgiveness: Even on 9/11

Judith Orloff - Thursday, September 08, 2011

Adapted from Dr. Judith Orloff’s NY Times bestseller “Emotional Freedom: Liberate Yourself From Negative Emotions and Transform Your Life” (Three Rivers Press, 2011)

In my book “EMOTIONAL FREEDOM” I emphasize the importance of forgiveness and why revenge doesn’t work. Forgiveness is the act of compassionately releasing the desire to punish someone or yourself for an offense. It’s a state of grace, nothing you can force or pretend. There are no short cuts. Mistakenly, some of my patients, wanting to be “spiritual,” have prematurely tried to forgive after someone emotionally knifes them in the gut. First, you must feel anger before you can begin to forgive. I gradually guide patients to the large-heartedness of forgiving injuries either caused by others or self-inflicted.

Revenge is the desire to get even when someone does you wrong. It’s natural to feel angry, to say “I’m not going to let that **** get away with this,” whatever “this” is. However, revenge reduces you to your worst self, puts you on the same level with those spiteful people we claim to abhor. Additionally, studies have shown that revenge increases stress and impairs health and immunity. Sure, if someone hits you with a stick, you have the impulse to hit them back--the basis for wars. To thrive personally and as a species, we must resist this predictable lust for revenge, and seek to right wrongs more positively. This doesn’t make you a pushover; you’re just refusing to act in a tediously destructive way antithetical to ever finding peace. As Confucious says, "Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves."

What I’m suggesting is a version of “turn the other check” yet still doing everything to preserve what’s important to you. The hard part, though, is watching someone “get away with something” when there’s nothing you can do about it. Yes, your wife left you for the yoga instructor. Yes, your colleague sold you out. With situations like this in my life, I take solace in the notion of karma, that sooner or later, what goes around comes around. Also know that the best revenge is your success, happiness, and the triumph of not giving vindictive people any dominion over your peace of mind.

Forgiveness refers to the actor not the act. Not to the offense but the woundedness of the offender. This doesn’t mean you’ll run back to your battering spouse because of compassion for the damaged person he or she is. Of course you want to spare yourself mistreatment. However, from a distance, you can try to forgive the conscious or unconscious suffering that motivates people. Our desire to transform anger is a summoning of peace, well worth the necessary soul stretching.

To experience forgiveness, try this exercise from “EMOTIONAL FREEDOM’

Emotional Action Step. Be Bigger Than Anger--Practice Forgiveness Now

  • Identify one person you’re angry with. Start with someone low on your list, not your rage-aholic father. Then you can get a taste of forgiveness quickly. After that you can proceed to tackle more challenging targets.
  • Honestly address your feelings. Talk to friends, your therapist, or other supportive people, but get the anger out. I also recommend writing your feelings down in a journal to purge negativity. Then, decide whether you want to raise the issue with someone.
  • Begin to forgive. Hold the person you’re angry with clearly in your mind. Then ask yourself, “What emotional shortcomings caused him or her to treat me poorly?” This is what you want to have compassion for, the area to forgive. Definitely, don’t subject yourself to shabby treatment, but reach for compassion for the person’s emotional blindness or cold heart.
  • Here’s how forgiveness can work in a range of situations where you’d have every right to be angry. It establishes a kinder mindset whether or not you decide to confront someone.

  • A good friend acts inconsiderately when she’s having a bad day. Remember, nobody’s perfect. You may want to let the incident slide. If you do mention it, don’t make this one-time slight into a big deal. Give your friend a break--forgive the lapse.
  • A coworker takes credit for your ideas. Do damage control, whether it means mentioning this situation to the coworker, your boss, or Human Resources, and don’t trust her with ideas in the future. However, try to forgive the coworker for being such a greedy, insecure, mean-spirited person that she has to stoop so low as to steal from you.
  • Your mother-in-law is needy or demanding. Keep setting kind but firm boundaries so over time you can reach palatable compromises. But also have mercy on the insecurities beneath her neediness and demands--perhaps fear of being alone, of aging, of being excluded from the family, of not being heard. This will soften your response to her.
  • You suffered childhood abuse. The healing process of recovering from abuse requires enormous compassion for yourself and is facilitated by support from other abuse survivors, family, friends, or a therapist. Still, if you feel ready to work towards forgiveness of an abuser, it necessitates seeing the brokenness and suffering that would make the person want to commit such grievous harm. You’re not excusing the behavior or returning to it, but grasping how emotionally crippled he or she is, a huge stretch of compassion, but the path to freedom.
  • Forgiveness is a paradigm-shifting solution for transforming anger. It liberates you from the trap of endless revenge so that you can experience more joy and connection. Forgiveness does more for you than anyone else because it liberates you from negativity and lets you move forward. Forgiving might not make anger totally dissolve but it will give you the freedom of knowing you are so much more.



    Judith Orloff, MD is author of The Empath's Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People, upon which her articles are based. Dr. Orloff is a psychiatrist, an empath, and is on the UCLA Psychiatric Clinical Faculty. She synthesizes the pearls of traditional medicine with cutting edge knowledge of intuition, energy, and spirituality. Dr. Orloff also specializes in treating empaths and highly sensitive people in her private practice. Dr. Orloff’s work has been featured on The Today Show, CNN, the Oprah Magazine and USA Today. She is a New York Times best-selling author of Emotional Freedom, The Power of Surrender, Second Sight, Positive Energy, and Guide to Intuitive Healing. Connect with Judith on  Facebook and  Twitter. To learn more about empaths and her free empath support newsletter as well as Dr. Orloff's books and workshop schedule, visit her website.

    cyndi commented on 10-Sep-2011 09:52 AM
    I think this is so hard to do but when you do it you are filled with a huge sense of freedom.
    Judith commented on 12-Sep-2011 12:37 AM
    Hope you enjoy my blog on forgiveness! It is hard but it's worth the effort!
    shipra commented on 12-Sep-2011 07:31 AM
    I have read your book FIVE steps ....10 years back.It helped me in my life ,when i needed support.I became self confident person ...I always wanted to express my thanks to you. Simply reading you work calm`s me inside ..It feels great.Many many thanks
    for enlightning us with ur work. LUV YOU.. shipra
    Lisa Giordano commented on 12-Sep-2011 11:14 AM
    Forgiveness keeps your heart young. Thank you for these guidelines, Dr. Orloff.
    Katie Haley commented on 13-Sep-2011 12:59 PM
    I have heard the quote several times recently that not forgiving someone is like drinking poison yourself and hoping the other person will die. Forgiveness is the path to freedom: Yours.
    Lisa commented on 13-Sep-2011 01:11 PM
    I needed to read this today. Over the past week, I've realized I have some forgiveness work to do around a situation. I thought I was done. I suppose there are layers of forgiveness that help to heal. I once read that forgiveness is more doing it for yourself
    versus for the other person. Yet, that didn't sit right with me. I think the other person/people will feel it when you work on yourself since we're all One and connected. Thanks for this post :) Great reminders.
    Gina Passini commented on 13-Sep-2011 01:41 PM
    I've read your book and thought that I moved on and forgave my ex-husband for all the hurt and wrong that he did while married to him for almost twenty five years, in fact, if I hadn't forgiven him I wouldn't have been able to drive 18 hours in the same
    car to bring our only child to college together. I'm proud of myself for being able to accomplish that. I was strong! It was what we had to do for our daughter and I'm glad I did but somewhere after returning home, all that anger and resentment boiled back
    up that I said I would never put myself through so I'm slowly getting my ground again. I was mad at myself for putting myself through that hurt once again. But I have to keep telling myself that what he does is not a reflection on me nor does it control me
    or will it ever control me again. I make my own decisions and I choose to be happy without his control. He is not my problem. He was not the right person for me and everything I am putting myself through, he doesn't know nor does he care so why should I? It
    is possible to get past all of this if you allow yourself to feel it and know that your emotions are true. Acknowledge it but you don't need to carry that with you wherever you go in life.
    Karen Sebastian commented on 13-Sep-2011 01:45 PM
    Thank you so much for this! It comes to me just when I am beside myself about another person's maliciousness which is hurting me a lot. I read this on my birthday..thank you so much for your gift! I'm getting your book off the shelf to read. Katie, thanks
    for your quote about drinking poison yourself..I had not heard that one before. God bless each person here. Thank you again, Dr. Orloff!
    Kim commented on 13-Sep-2011 01:46 PM
    But how do you do it when you are angry at the organization that laid you off? It involves many people.
    Osvaldo commented on 13-Sep-2011 01:58 PM
    I believe to be the right gift to pass through generations. It is so beautiful to see most people embracing this attitude. Thank you for such inspiring messages. Best wishes.
    DULCEMARIA ORELLANA commented on 13-Sep-2011 04:25 PM
    Forgiveness leads to freedom and also to the revovery of our holistic health, since we stop thinking, feeling and acting in relation to the person who caused us suffering. I do consider it is the best gift we can all give to ourselves. There is nothing
    that we do by taking revenge, because that is not going to change what happened. However, we can transform our lives thru the interpretation of the meanings of any painful experience, reconstructing our future with a new perspective of life and ourselves.
    Carol commented on 13-Sep-2011 06:56 PM
    I think I have experienced more trauma than most, and the only path towards healing and freedom is forgiveness. But this is something I could not do by myself. After much therapy by psychologists and even after reading all of Judith's books and listening
    to her CDs, I still struggled with bitterness, resentment and thoughts of revenge. I finally turned to the Lord Jesus Christ, and took it to Him, He has given me the grace to forgive, which is through His spirit living in me. I highly recommend trying that
    for those who struggle with forgiveness.
    Anne Dalton commented on 13-Sep-2011 07:01 PM
    Sometimes NOT forgiving someone is appropriate if it is not accompanied by feelings of revenge, etc. However, all people operate at the level of their 'own' understanding from their own conditioning or life experiences. It's rather like "forgiving" a dog
    that bites us. I like to ask for help from God/guides/angels/etc to "feel better" about some people from time to time. I'll often have a dream that gives me the ability to feel more love, understanding and compassion for the one I perceive as having harmed
    me. However, repeat offenders are difficult to deal with but perhaps that comes back to the dog that bites. Stay away from them! :D
    KKK commented on 14-Sep-2011 02:03 AM
    Reading this has helped me so much. I am single and I have a co-worker (who I also have to share a residence with as we are seasonal workers in different cities to where we live) who is in a serious relationship with another woman but who has been pressuring
    me for over a year now to have an affair with him and lying to his girlfriend who is very insecure. I continuely say NO cos he has a gf but also cos I'm just not attracted to him but I have played along with it trying to make a joke of it as my job is so important
    to my way of life. We have maintained a friendship and he always says to me that we will be friends even though I say no to sleeping with him BUT a few months ago I met a man and since that time this co-worker has been a total @sshole and has treated me so
    badly and I'm just so angry...I presume he is jealous! I have been considering revenge by sending a letter to his gf and telling her what a horrible man he is. I have written the letter and I'm so close to posting it but the whole idea of getting revenge just
    doesn't sit right with me... I have been trying to rise above it and not stoop to his level. I strongly believe in Karma and I feel that a man who is so deceiving and horrible and repulsive will one day get what he deserves. So reading this blog has given
    me some comfort. Thanks :)
    Teffany commented on 15-Sep-2011 12:14 AM
    The bible simply states to forgive but I believe that Dr.Judith is an angel sent from heaven to explain what forgiveness really is. Thank you so much Dr. Judith for helping me so much in understanding what forgiveness really is. God is a God of Justice
    but his Compassion is more that his Justice, WHich is a relief for all of us if we look also at our own failures. Thanks again and God BLess Teffant
    Rachel commented on 15-Sep-2011 08:06 AM
    Forgiveness can sometimes take a long time to work through the layers of emotions that are attached to the situation.Be gentle and kind to yourself,it will happen when you're ready.Sometimes it's gradually,other times more quickly.Once you achieve forgiveness
    feel proud of yourself for it.You,ve done it once,next time you'll be equipped and ready to forgive again.Now that's emotional freedom!!.Thankyou for your wisdom Judith.It's been invaluble to me.;)
    Holly commented on 15-Sep-2011 09:17 AM
    from experience, I know that forgivness comes more naturally to some than to others. My Mother was this way. She was amazing, a very Christ like person. I inherited many of her traits and it is also a more natural thing for me to forgive. I have also seen
    the damaging effects of an unforgiving heart. It is ugly and toxic. My Husband is one of those who is self destructive with his anger and unforgivness. This is also a generational thing. He not only destroys himself but anyone close to him. I have lived and
    experienced the extreme of both sides. I feel sorrow and compassion for those who enclose themselves in a self made prison. Trust in what Dr. Orloff says. We truly will find the freedom and the person we truly are inside. Good, loving compassionate, joyful
    Brain Green commented on 16-Sep-2011 03:05 PM
    So much of the anger and bitterness/resentment is based on feeling like a victim or martyr, the latter being a subsection of the former. The cry of the victim is, "You did this To ME." The cry of the martyr is, "After all I've done for you." Basically
    it is re-acting as a hurt child/teen. As a young woman said to me, "It's so hard to give up the moral superiority of the victim." Clinging to this gives a sense of self righteousness and an illusion of power. Letting go, with or without forgiveness, involves
    giving up illusions and delusions of (future) power and control, and accepting the "hurt" and feelings of powerlessness. Brian.
    scotty commented on 20-Sep-2011 01:14 PM
    hi i'm scotty here in santa monica famous 3rd street promenade know your friend mark "the whale" he's waiting to have contact from you or see you soon. we see each other at starbucks on 3rd street promenade & santa monica blvd. he's a great man with a
    cause & speaks highly of you
    Andrea commented on 20-Sep-2011 03:46 PM
    What more can I say? Please share my thoughts I outlined in my blog posted in May this year: Today I want to talk about forgiveness. I met with my friend Rob today and as we got chatting he told me about an incident where a friend had hurt his feelings
    and he had now written her off and cut her off for life. I challenged him on his thinking and it led me to document my thoughts. What if that were to happen to me each time I offended someone; would I have any friends or family left? I don’t think so. We are
    often too quick to condemn others, to write them off because of some small mistake. We need to remember that we are not perfect ourselves. "Forgiveness is not an occasional act: it is an attitude" (Dr Martin Luther King, Jr). We are not photocopies of each
    other; we will hurt each other from time to time. Do we not want to be forgiven? Forgiveness – the willingness to let go of pain, resentment, bitterness and anger – is the beginning of a healing process. Often those who caused the pain are long gone, oblivious
    or uncaring of the effects of their actions. The healing therefore takes place in the person who has the strength to forgive and move on. This healing is holistic – mind, body and soul; for our thoughts, bodies and behaviour are all interconnected and in they
    in turn affect our soul. Nothing dries sooner than tears (Latin proverb). Life has enough hills to climb; we do not need any more baggage. A refusal to forgive can lead to hatred and “hatred has no medicine” (Ghanian proverb). It eats at your body and soul.
    What role does forgiveness play in business? Throughout my study of business I have never encountered any theory that explored corporate error. Is there no place for mistake and forgiveness in business? Sure there is! Do you not forgive your co-worker who
    fails miserably in pitching for an important contract or a boss who makes bad decisions? In one of my previous roles I was working with a senior colleague who totally lost focus and started to neglect the business because of a dangerous romantic liaison. He
    was totally blind to the fact that this was hurting the business badly. Consequently, the business struggled and eventually failed, resulting in the loss of employment to several people. Did I forgive my colleague? No one should deny that it hurts tremendously
    when things like that happen and people deal with those situations differently, taking more or less time as necessary. I can’t deny the fact that for a while I felt disgusted at my colleague’s behaviour and blamed him for the chaos that ensued but I engaged
    with him and eventually forgave his actions and we are still friends today. The act of forgiving demands immense courage. It is freely given to people, whether they deserve it or not. It is not mere words but bold actions that support and bring meaning to
    those words. In the workplace it is particularly important to forgive. Your employee may be late because of a host of issues unknown to you: domestic abuse, childcare issues, basic needs, lack of key resources or support. Sometimes our reality is so far removed
    from the experience of the other person that we simply cannot appreciate the challenges. The Jamaican proverb “A stone at the bottom of the river doesn’t know how hot it is at the surface” encapsulates it well – if you are not au fait with a situation, you
    cannot truly understand the dynamics. Chances are there is a lot going on that is impacting on that person’s behaviour. If you are affected, express your concerns and offer assistance where possible. Forgiveness in organisations is also important because customers,
    clients, suppliers and other stakeholders can suspect discord within the company and may not want to do business with you. Allowing ‘bad blood’ to fester will adversely impact on the company image, staff morale, production levels and ultimately, revenue. You
    may find it difficult to forgive. I’ll tell you what works for me: I focus on the good times. I think about moments when that person was good to me in some small way and I recall the good qualities of the person (we all have some!). I focus on the positive
    and it becomes bigger and bigger until the negative is insignificant. I’ll give you a personal example: one evening, several years ago my partner and I were robbed by armed men as we returned from a stroll. The men were particularly threatening with their
    long guns and knives. They took our stuff, tied up my partner and commanded him not to move. They then disappeared as fast as they had emerged. We both dashed for home. My relatives were enraged when they heard what had happened. I, however, had a different
    mindset - I was pleased that I was not physically scarred. I forgave them instantly concluding that I did not know their reality – why they embarked on such an action – but I was happy to have my life. It might have been divine intervention or it could be
    a case of “cats and dogs don't have the same luck” (Jamaican proverb). As far as I was concerned they had the power to kill and maim and they chose not to use it. Not many people in such situations live to tell the tale. Needless to say, my family thought
    I had lost my mind but to this day I hold that view. The ability to forgive says a lot about us. It shows our maturity, sensibility and humanity. It appreciates diversity and promotes tolerance, personal growth and emotional development. We learn to forgive
    ourselves for our own failures; we learn the significance of an apology. It helps us to rise above the blame culture and find solutions. There is a Spanish proverb Haz el bien, y no mires a quién - Do what is right, not what will gain approval. Just let it
    Bob Moyers commented on 21-Sep-2011 07:20 AM
    On 9.11.11 we presented a world-wide "The Event 9.11.11" broadcast which started a 50 Days Of Forgiveness campaign (9.11 to 10.29)designed to ask good people to "set themselves free from being under the emotional control of other people, situations, and
    past events, by exercising a "Prayer Of Forgiveness" and sharing copies of a "Be Healthy" plan of love and forgiveness with as many people as possible by e-mails, e-newsletters, social networks, etc. Please visit our web site, download the forgiveness "Be
    Healthy" information and help us reach between 5 and 50 million people with this information. You will not be disappointed. Please reply. Be Jesus to everyone you meet. See Jesus in everyone you meet. Love to all. Our prayer is as follows: Please forgive them.
    Please help me to forgive them. Please forgive me. Please help me to forgive myself. Please take away my bitterness and unforgiveness. Please restore my joy. Amen.
    John Schinnerer Ph.D. commented on 21-Sep-2011 11:25 AM
    I absolutely agree. In my online anger management course, I teach the importance of forgiveness and how to do it based on Dr. Fred Luskin's work (out of Stanford). It's massively important to learn this skill for a more peaceful, satisfying and less angry
    life. Thanks for the reminder!

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