We once heard about a tribe in Africa whose worst punishment wasn't jail or fine, nor the death penalty. No, the worst punishment they would hand out for serious crimes was that the person who committed the crime had to stay in the village. No one in the village would look at him, make eye contact with him, speak to him or in any way acknowledge that he existed. The people who got sentenced to this quite often became sick after a while, some even died due to the lack of human acknowledgement.

The need for acknowledgement/confirmation is a human necessity and can make an infinite difference in a child's upbringing, an employee's performance and a loved one's willingness to share a passionate life. The author Hjalmar Söderberg writes the following in his book "Doctor Glass" from 1905:

"You want to be loved, failing that admired, failing that feared, failing that hated and despised. You want to inaugurate people in to some sort of feeling. The soul shivers of emptiness and wants human contact at any price."

A story in the newspaper

Markus once read a newspaper article that described a really dumb attempt to escape prison. There were three people trying to escape, two who originally had come up with the idea and who both had long sentences left to serve. The third one to jump on the idea had already served three years of his sentence and only had a couple of months to go before being released. They all managed to get over the first wall but were caught by the guards before they managed to get over the second and outer wall.

In front of the judge, who was assigned to sentence them for their attempt to escape prison, the third person was asked why he had such a big smile in his face and why he had agreed to this dumb idea of escaping when he only had such a short sentence left to serve. The man replied "Your honor, when the guard grabbed me on my way to the second wall it was the first time in almost three years that my existence was acknowledged and that feeling made all of this worth it"

It's tragic how we often at our work places, and sometimes even in our homes, forget to confirm and acknowledge each other as people amongst stress and other things that occupy our senses.

Markus: I think it's all too easy, especially when we live in an intimate relationship (or at least one that we think is intimate) that we over time forget to acknowledge the other person.

There are too many tasks to do and other things to think of, maybe with a bit of stress, and then all sorts of weird things starts happening in the relationship.

There can be unexplained arguments or frustration which in many cases will stem from an experience of not being confirmed in depth.

The acknowledgement scale

One way of looking at the acknowledgement is the below scale:


The most inner and greatest feeling is if we can be accepted for who we are (+ BE). Just the fact that we have been born to this earth makes us a miracle worthy love and attention. As it doesn't matter what or how we or what we perform, we feel loved for the one we really are deep inside.

If we don't receive attention and acknowledgement for this, we tend to seek attention by doing it instead. We become high performance individuals who get attention when we complete deadlines and bring in big projects, when we get good grades or score the most goals (+ DO).

If none of the above works to give us the attention, the natural thing is "not to do". That way we will get the attention and acknowledgement we so desire. We fail to deliver the report on time, and then the boss will see me. I fail going to school, then dad will see me (- DO).

As a last resort we resume to a non-being. We become some sort of non-identity, someone we really are not, a trouble maker or vandal. The worst kid in school or the black sheep of the family. That way everyone will see us and we might even be mentioned in the papers (- BE).

Markus: I easily slip down to the lower part of the scale if I don't actively make sure I stay on the top when I give confirmation. In the everyday life I easily put more focus on something that my partner hasn't done rather than what she has done, for example something we agreed on she would be doing.

There are even moments when my giving of confirmation has slipped all the way to the bottom and I have given her attention because she hasn't lived up to the person I wish her to be. These are moments that I'm not particularly proud of and therefore I work actively with reminding myself to acknowledge her for what she does and especially for all the wonderful things she is as a person.

It truly is a gift to be acknowledged for what I am as a person. For me it creates an inner peace, sometimes tears from being touched by something and mostly an enormous invisible force. Jim Rohn, a wise man who is a known American business philosopher (exciting title isn't it?) has said: "A man who can feel his woman's arms around him when he has left home in the morning, who can get him to fall? He is invincible!

Use it in everyday life

We recommend that you for one day try to really see the people around you. Acknowledge them for who they are or if this is too hard, then at least for what they do. Try it for one day and see what a difference it makes in your surrounding and in your life.

Do you want more attention and acknowledgement? It is with this as it is with love and feedback, which we will talk more about in the next section, if you're not getting enough then give a little bit more!

Filippa: I have experienced that people feel acknowledged when they get to talk about themselves and you ask questions that make them think about things that make them feel good, for example: What makes you happy? What are you proud of? What's good with what happened? (Good to ask when a person has got stuck in a negative thinking pattern)

I am, however, careful with agreeing with a person who sits for too long and thinks about something difficult that has happened. It can lead to that person getting even lower and choose to stay there as a way to get attention.

I can acknowledge myself by acknowledging others, I get an amazing feeling when I give a person, that I don't know and probably will never meet again, a compliment that makes them light up. For example, I was walking behind a woman who was wearing an incredible beautiful coat. I walked up next to her and told her what I thought about her coat. She really loose up and thanked me for giving her the compliment. I guess that she in turn took that feeling with her and passed it on to someone else.

Everything spreads like ripples in the water and you can be one that starts the first ripple... I acknowledge to myself that I can make a difference in the world and that I am important.

Homework assignment

Take a moment to yourself and sit down with a piece of paper and a pen and then reflect over:

When do I really feel acknowledged as a person? In which situations? What are other people doing or saying that makes me feel acknowledged?

How do I usually acknowledge other people? Am I doing it actively and consciously or is it happening unconsciously?

What did I get acknowledge for as a child, for who I was, what I did or was it perhaps because I didn't do something?

Choose a person that you really want to give an exceptional gift of acknowledgement the next 24 hours; it can be your partner or a good friend. Then think of a way of how you can give this person a lovely acknowledgement as a person and then spring in to action! Do it now!

Couple with laptop studying relationships