Book ‘The Gift of Forgiveness’ by Katherine Schwarzenegger Pratt

PDF Excerpt 'The Gift of Forgiveness' Book by Katherine Schwarzenegger Pratt
Inspiring Stories from Those Who Have Overcome the Unforgivable
Written with grace and understanding and based on more than twenty in-depth interviews and stories as well as personal reflections from Schwarzenegger Pratt herselfThe Gift of Forgiveness is about one of the most difficult challenges in life--learning to forgive. Here, Katherine Schwarzenegger Pratt shows us what we can learn from those who have struggled with forgiveness, some still struggling, and others who have been able to forgive what might seem truly unforgivable. The book features experiences from those well-known and unknown, including Elizabeth Smart, who learned to forgive her captors; Sue Klebold, whose son, Dylan, was one of the Columbine shooters, learning empathy and how to forgive herself...
Publisher: Penguin Life (March 30, 2021)  Pages: 224 pages  ISBN-10: 1984878271  ISBN-13: 978-1984878274  ASIN: B07W3J798V

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Katherine Schwarzenegger Pratt is a New York Times bestselling author, animal advocate, daughter, sister, wife, and step-mom. As a passionate animal advocate, Katherine works as an ambassador for Best Friends Animal Society and the ASPCA, lending her time, voice, and energy to spread awareness about animal rescue. As an author, Katherine has skillfully translated her own personal experiences into all four of her books that speak to her generation. Katherine lives with her family in Los Angeles.

Book excerpt

This book is dedicated to my family and to all those who have practiced, or are brave enough to start practicing, forgiveness. It is dedicated to all those who have granted it, and received it as well. It is my hope that all of us come to realize that we are all struggling in some way, and that each of us can be a force of compassion, empathy, understanding, and love in another person’s life.

“About Forgiveness”

The pain was necessary to know the truth but we don’t have to keep the pain alive to keep the truth alive.

This is what has kept me from forgiveness: the feeling that all I’ve been through will evaporate if I don’t relive it; that if those who have hurt me don’t see what they’ve done, my suffering will have been for nothing. In this, the stone I throw in the lake knows more than I. Its ripples vanish.

What it really comes down to is the clearness of heart to stop defining who I am by those who have hurt me and to take up the risk to love myself, to validate my own existence, pain and all, from the center out.

As anyone who has been wronged can attest, in order to keep the fire for justice burning, we need to keep burning our wounds open as perpetual evidence. Living like this, it is impossible to heal. Living like this, we become our own version of Prometheus, having our innards eaten daily by some large bird of woundedness.

Forgiveness has deeper rewards than excusing someone for how they have hurt us. The deeper healing comes in the exchange of our resentments for inner freedom. At last, the wound, even if never acknowledged by the other person, can heal, and our life can continue.

—Mark Nepo


I remember the exact moment when I knew I wanted to delve deep into forgiveness. I was standing in the parking lot of a local restaurant I love when, out of the blue, up walked the girl I’d once called my best friend.

We weren’t just best friends—we were like sisters, inseparable since birth. We’d shared everything, from our birthdays to our clothes, our friends, our families, our secrets, and our dreams. We felt like we were one and the same; in fact, most people said our names together, viewing us as the pair that never split.

Then, more than twenty years into our friendship, we had a falling-out—one that shattered me down to my core. Her absence left a profound hole in my life. For the very first time, I was living without my best friend by my side, and I didn’t know who I was without her. The end of our friendship affected all areas of my life. It was awful and it broke me.

After I was able to gain some distance and take time to process this change, I told myself I was okay and that I had forgiven the person I once thought of as blood. Shortly after declaring that I had moved on, though, I ran into my old friend and knew immediately that I was nowhere near over the end of our friendship. In fact, I wasn’t even close to being over it. Standing in her presence, I felt anxious, scared, hurt, angry, and tremendously emotional, and I knew at that moment that I never wanted to feel like that again, especially around her.

It was then and there that I made a promise to myself: I would reengage in the work of forgiveness. This time I would go deeper. I decided to go to therapy weekly, and sometimes I even went twice a week. I sought help from my priest, my pastor, and I spoke to people of all faiths and no faiths. I talked to those of all ages, all backgrounds; I spoke to friends, and even to people I didn’t know that well. I found that there were many who had similar experiences with unhealed ruptures. I went in search of stories of those who had forgiven so I could be inspired to forgive and move forward in my own life.

Some might think that having a fight with your best friend sounds trivial, but for me—and many others with whom I’ve spoken—it is not. I’ve come to learn that ruptures in relationships come in all shapes and sizes. And no one can tell you how to process a hurt like yours, what it will mean to you, or how it will affect your world. I knew that, when it came to forgiveness, I had my work cut out for me—and if I didn’t get this right, I would have that pit in my stomach for the rest of my life.

I knew it would end up traumatizing me. The moment my old friend reappeared, I realized that forgiveness was a far deeper and more complicated subject than I had thought, and it was something I wanted to get better at practicing. I am so grateful I decided to start the work of understanding forgiveness then, because it’s truly the work of a lifetime. It’s hard to get through life if you don’t know how to forgive others, those you once loved and still love, and oftentimes, most challenging, how to forgive yourself. Forgiveness isn’t about simply saying, “I forgive you”—it’s about doing the work of letting go, which for me has proven to be the gift that keeps on giving.

When I look back on my journey of forgiveness, the most important thing I have learned is how powerful the gift truly is. I encourage everyone to try to welcome the gift of forgiveness into their lives. It is an endlessly fascinating journey that will allow you to continue to grow and be tested over time.

I am, of course, by no means an expert on forgiveness—in fact, I consider myself a student of forgiveness. I am constantly learning about the process, which is why I wanted to write this book and interview the people within about their unique journeys with forgiveness. The conversations we shared cover some of the most incredible accounts of inspiration, heartbreak, awe, and hope I have ever witnessed. But before I tell you how the relationship with my old friend ended up, let me take you back to the beginning, when I had my very first brush with “I’m sorry.”

I WAS ON THE PLAYGROUND at school in kindergarten. I distinctly remember the anger in my five-year-old body when my friend lied to me about a playdate I had not been invited to. I remember going home and crying to my mom about how sad I was that my friend had lied to me. My mom explained that everyone makes mistakes and that we have to learn to forgive our friends. So that’s exactly what I did. I went to school the next day and told my friend that I forgave her. She said she was sorry and we hugged and made up.

Years later, I came to learn that that was not, in fact, forgiveness. Forgiving too easily can lock you into unhealthy patterns that can last for years. By not properly addressing an issue or event, we avoid things we actually need to confront. We bury things that should, in fact, be unearthed, and we protect people who need to be given boundaries. I’ve learned that forgiveness can sometimes make you feel weak and other times can make you feel strong. It can trap you or it can set you free.

What I have come to learn is that real forgiveness is much more nuanced than what you learn in kindergarten on the playground. It’s not a single step; it’s not a simple “I’m sorry”: forgiveness involves honesty, courage, self-reflection, the ability to listen closely. It involves the desire to forgive, and maybe not forget. And most importantly, it involves a lot of love, over and over again. Practicing forgiveness is its own reward, a gift both for yourself and for the world.

NOW, BACK TO MY OLD FRIEND. Today, I am happy to say we are friends. That pit in my stomach—and all the anxiety that once existed—is gone. Now we both have a lot of love and respect for each other, and we wish each other only the best. When we see each other, we laugh, share old stories from our past, and catch up on our present lives. This forgiveness is one that is ours ; it is a shared journey, a choice we both made and continue to work on together. The goal was not to have the same closeness we had growing up; rather, it was about being able to make amends and move forward. I call this kind of forgiveness conscious forgiveness —a conscious choice we make and remake over the course of our lives to forgive and move on. Whether it’s in your family, in your friendships, your marriage, separation, divorce, or even in death. It is a choice we make and continue to make forever.

The work I did on my own to understand the fallout from the break in my friendship has also allowed me to take a deeper look at myself and at my own role in the friendship’s demise. It also enabled me to look at other relationships, to see where I may have forgiven too easily, not communicated clearly enough, or buried resentments that came up in other ways. In learning how to forgive my friend, I also learned how to forgive myself, and others who I felt hurt by. All of this is what has pushed me to do my own brutally honest work, and to find a new way forward with love and forgiveness. I’m proud to say I have done so in all areas of my life. And all of that brings me back to kindergarten.

It turns out that the lesson I learned so many years ago on the playground had some truth to it after all. We are all human, we all make mistakes, and at some point in our lives we will all be in the position of either asking for forgiveness or granting it. The good news is that the power to ask for, or to give, forgiveness resides in us. So I urge you to move at your own pace, follow your heart, and embrace the journey.

I have struggled with forgiveness myself over the years in my own friendships, relationships, and family. I’m sure there will be moments in the future when I’ll be challenged to forgive or ask for forgiveness again. That’s why I’m so grateful to the people who shared their stories of forgiveness in this book. Each of them has walked a different path and lived a different story. What I take away from their journeys is personal to me, just as what you take away from reading them will be personal to you. That is why this book isn’t about me. It’s about the incredibly inspiring and moving people I interviewed, and it’s about you. I wanted this book to speak to everyone—people of all ages, all backgrounds, and all faiths—because there is no right way or one way to forgive. There’s only your way.

Each person I interviewed for this book has taught me that you have to stay the course, remind yourself that forgiveness is a process that comes with ups and downs, and never judge yourself or others along the way. My hope is that this book will make you feel less alone. I hope you will read it slowly, maybe one story at a time, think about it, and come back to it time and time again. That’s what I did in writing it. Forgiveness done right is a gift, and, done well, it can work miracles.

What follows are stories of forgiveness—from names you may recognize, and others you won’t. All can teach us valuable lessons. My hope is that you’ll find inspiration within the pages of this book to help you on your own pathway to forgiveness.

Elizabeth Smart

Innocence Reclaimed

“Forgiveness is the answer to the child’s dream of a miracle by which what is broken is made whole again, what is soiled is again made clean.”

—Dag Hammarskjöld

In June 2002, when she was fourteen years old, Elizabeth Smart was kidnapped from her bedroom in Salt Lake City, Utah. She spent nine months in captivity, during which her captors—a husband and wife—tied her up, raped her daily, and threatened to kill her family if she made any attempts to escape. In March 2003, she was rescued by police officers and returned to her family. Such an ordeal would leave many of us in a permanent state of rage, but, incredibly, not Elizabeth. Shortly after her release, she made the decision to forgive her captors for all the horrible things they had done to her—and to move forward with her life.

Forgiveness did not come instantly; it was a process. Like many, Elizabeth grew up with the idea that forgiveness was something simple, something she had learned on the playground: “When someone pushes you down, you’re the bigger person when you say, ‘It’s okay. We can stay friends.’” When she returned home after being rescued, she still thought of forgiveness in this way. It took time for her to realize that forgiveness is not a gift you give to others; it’s something you do for yourself—while also not excusing what happened to you. The horrible acts committed against her were in no way justifiable, but she discovered that she could accept her past in order to reclaim her future.

It wasn’t until Elizabeth was trying to reacclimate to everyday life that she realized her childhood version of forgiveness no longer served her. She realized something crucial: “Forgiveness is not necessarily a two-way street. It’s a very personal thing, and you don’t need two people for forgiveness to happen.” She learned that at the heart of forgiveness is compassion: compassion for the person who harmed you and, more importantly, compassion for yourself. As she told me, “It’s loving myself. It’s allowing myself to feel whatever emotions I feel and to deal with them. And if it’s anger, you know what? I think that is just fine.”

When Elizabeth first returned home, her mother told her that she should try her best not to relive her ordeal. Her captors had already taken so much from her; allowing them to maintain their grip on her by revisiting her captivity would be giving them too much control. She knew that staying angry at her captors wouldn’t make any difference to them—it wouldn’t punish them or erase any of the harm they had caused her. It would only trap her in her own cycle of trauma and rage. For her, holding on to this anger meant that she would never be fully happy: “I’d never be able to enjoy my life.” Only once she recognized what was important to her—reclaiming her life—was she able to let go of that anger.

Despite all she went through, Elizabeth was still able to find reasons to be grateful. She pointed out that many kidnappings are committed by someone the victim knows. She told me, “I actually feel so lucky that I was kidnapped and abused by strangers, because most people who have experienced similar things know their captors. For me, I didn’t have to have relationships with them. They were out of my life, so that made it much easier.” Recognizing such glimmers of light, even in her darkest hours, has helped her on her journey forward.

While Elizabeth has chosen a path of forgiveness toward her captors, she admits that she still has moments when she struggles. She says it’s normal for her anger or sadness to overwhelm her at times. “When you have those moments when you feel like you are falling back into anger or sadness,” she told me, “allow yourself to feel those feelings, and then love yourself enough to let them go and to try to embrace your life moving forward.” She advises people in similar situations to take their time. Working through these feelings is something that everyone must do at their own pace. Beating yourself up about still feeling those emotions only makes moving on even harder. Elizabeth suggests that recovery starts with acceptance: “Accepting that you’re angry, accepting that you’re hurt, accepting that something traumatic has happened to you. Then I would recommend doing your very best to start loving yourself. Don’t even think about forgiveness at that moment. Just try to start loving yourself. I think as your love for yourself grows, you will be able to let go of what’s happened to you.”

To help strengthen her inner resolve, Elizabeth surrounds herself with supportive people—her friends and, above all, her family—who have helped her through her process of forgiveness and renewed her strength during her moments of backsliding. Setting goals for herself and relying on this network of positive people have helped her stay on track, especially when she experiences “emotional potholes” that might otherwise set her back. “I do everything I can to fill my life with the positive emotions, positive people, positive activities.” Surrounding herself with love also means distancing herself from people who might drag her backward. Her former captors have no role in her recovery. As she explains, “I didn’t want to live my life under my captors’ control, whether they were standing next to me or a hundred miles away locked up in prison. I did not want to live my life in fear, and I didn’t want to feel like I had to be scared about everything and everyone.” For Elizabeth, it was clear: dwelling on her captors would only hold her back, and she wasn’t going to sacrifice her future for a past she could not change.

About a year after she had been rescued, Elizabeth was asked if she had forgiven her captors. She vividly remembers searching for an authentic response. “I felt like I had this sort of epiphany of what I felt true forgiveness was, and I remember feeling like, ‘Yeah, I have moved on. I have let it go. I have forgiven.’” Her epiphany was that forgiveness is an act of self-love. Holding on to a traumatic past does nothing but consume your present emotional space. She has come to understand that “just loving yourself and giving yourself the freedom to live your life fully” is the key to moving on. Her understanding of forgiveness came “with growth and experience, and listening to other survivors, and going through a process of introspection that finally enabled me to articulate it.”

Elizabeth’s ability to move on was tested again when it was announced that her female captor, who was scheduled to get out of jail in 2024, would be released early, in September 2018. Although it was an incredibly stressful time, her forgiveness wasn’t shaken; the self-love she worked so diligently to maintain over the years held firm. And the key to her remarkable strength is the love she has for herself. “I feel like I have a pretty good relationship with myself, and I’m proud of the person who I’ve become. I mean, I’m certainly not perfect . . . I definitely have plenty of flaws that I need to work on. But I like who I am.”