The power of acknowledgment

Dr. Lawrence Johnson

In the past two articles I have described the “needs cycle” as it relates to relational needs. In the next series of articles I will define each relational need and give life examples. The relational needs are the ingredients to every person’s desire for an intimate relationship.
In order to clarify relational needs I will be discussing them individually. However, in reality they function simultaneously. When one need comes to the foreground the others remain in the background. When the need in the foreground is fulfilled it moves to the background, while another need moves forward. For instance, the need for validation often follows the need to be acknowledged.
The need to be acknowledged begins with recognition of an individual’s presence. The pain of being ignored brings the need for acknowledgment to our awareness. No one likes to be ignored. There are times when simply acknowledging another person will make their day and possibly help them climb out of their darkness.

A deeper level of the need to be acknowledged is the need to be known and understood. We all have the need to be known, hoping someone in this world will understand us by taking the time and interest to know our story. This requires empathy, which is the process of gathering enough information about another human being in order to be able to imagine the experience of that person’s life. In other words, the “nutrition” necessary to satisfy the need to be acknowledged is not only recognition, but also, at a deeper level, empathy.
I have spent a large portion of my career working with severely traumatized individuals. I have come to realize that most everyone has a trauma story, a way in which they have experienced danger – i.e a threat to their life. Trauma comes in many forms. This may be an experience with a life threatening illness, threats to belonging, physical abuse, sexual abuse or a life threatening accident. The current state of society reawakens trauma experiences in all of us. The threat of illness (COVID-19), and the recent societal turmoil arouse the traumatic emotional responses and core beliefs formed from the individual’s trauma.
So, at this time it is most important for us to slow down and quiet ourselves in order to sharpen our listening skills. You probably are sitting with someone ( six feet away of course) who needs to tell their story. Just simply listen to them until you are able to feel their story.
We not only need to acknowledge others, it is also very important for us to acknowledge ourselves. Many people go through life diminishing their own experiences. The need to be acknowledged is extremely important within ourselves. Acknowledge your own story!

Lawrence J. Johnson, Ph.D., FAPA, is a clinical psychologist with over 38 years of diverse experience in the field.

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