I see you. I hear you. It is so: The powerful tool of acknowledgment in achieving self actualization

Have you ever worked hard to complete a task, and your efforts seemed to go unnoticed? Have you ever been the one who was guilty of not being cognizant? As the receiver, it can feel incredibly frustrating and dehumanizing not to enjoy the privilege of receiving acknowledgment.

According to Abraham Maslow (1943), our psychological health is predicated on the fulfillment of certain innate human needs. He believed that after negotiating our basic physiological, safety, love/belonging, and esteem needs, we’re well-positioned to embark upon our self-actualization journey. As I thought about the construct of acknowledgement, it became clear that this intentional activity could possibly be a game changer at every single level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Let me explain.

Acknowledgment is the acceptance of the truth or existence of something. If we employed this action at each tier, here’s how it could be instrumental in moving the needle toward personal fulfillment and potential for all:


The bystander effect (1968) tells us everything that we need to know about why it’s easy to pass people who hold ‘will work for food’ signs at intersections. We rationalize that someone else will give, diffuse our responsibility, and hope for the light to quickly turn green. It relieves our awkward discomfort. But how human would it be to say “Good morning,” give a nod, make eye contact, or offer a smile even if you’re pressed for time? Acknowledgment in this situation doesn’t have to be attached to a monetary value.


Likewise, as many struggle to ensure physical survival and security, we can effortlessly turn a blind eye. Many blame the victim for their plight without considering a personal narrative and variables that may have contributed to the cause. Enduring societal structures reinforce this conceptualization of the individual, and focus is placed on the effect. It’s hard for some who haven’t been in this place of humility to empathize.Their ‘advantage’ point keeps them insulated from needing to understand. But exposure through dialogue, seeking new information, and observing is the type of acknowledgement that alters perspectives and worldviews for the common good.

Love and belonging

After we’ve taken care of our basic physiological and physical needs, we’re ready to share ourselves with others. Social media is perhaps the most impactful teacher in showing us how important love and belonging are. People will strive to achieve these ends at any cost. If we’re healthy in our functioning, we all have the desire to be connected and a part of something. Likes, follows, DMs, metrics, and analytics are ALL yardsticks by which we measure acknowledgment. In real life, this plays out in the makeup of our social circles, the events we attend, and the partners we choose. It’s not difficult to notice the people who we like and care about. Acknowledging them fosters intimacy and builds trust. But when is the last time you’ve reached out to someone who may be on the margins? This activity requires intent, but could be the difference between someone deciding that they matter or not.


When we acknowledge others and their efforts, we are saying that we value them. This is a natural self-esteem booster. But when we ignore their endeavors, we are communicating that their value is not extraordinary enough to be noted. Partners in intimate relationships often struggle with not feeling regarded. Over time, there is a breakdown in communication and one or both persons may shut down. Behind the wall of defense, there usually lies a vulnerable lover who feels bruised. A simple salve of being ‘seen and heard’ is often all it takes to begin the healing process. Many employers struggle to figure out how to get their employees to work harder, produce more, and shore up the bottom line. But the solution to their goals is usually staring them squarely in the face. Research has consistently proven that employees work harder and more efficiently when they are recognized as competent, and appreciated for doing what they already love to do. This is acknowledgment in action.


Self actualized people see and accept others just the way that they are, without expecting them to be any different. They are motivated by their core desire to be treated in the same way. They are sensitive to others and see reality as it is. Instead of trying to levy judgment or apologize for the traits that make them distinct, they are able to acknowledge that we are all flawed and make allowances for our individual differences.

Imagine a shared reality where we could be more keenly aware of the truth and existence of someone or something. It’s harder to ignore what we’re determined to see. Acknowledgement says, “I see you. I hear you. It is so.” Acknowledgement doesn’t seek to propose a counter argument or defend a position. Acknowledgment is a period…not an ellipsis. And the more we see things, the easier it is to express or display an understanding and appreciation for it. Are you ready to put this tool to work? Let’s be more purposeful in our practice of helping ourselves and others become everything that we are capable of becoming.

About the Author

Dr. Barbara Ford Shabazz Dr. Barbara Ford Shabazz is currently the Psychology Program Director at South University, author of Intentional Balance, and the owner of Intentional Activities. For over 20 years, she has served students, clients, and the larger community as an instructor, advisor, speaker, consultant, therapist, and coach. Her clinical training commenced during an undergraduate practicum, where she initiated a collaborative partnership among the community elementary school teachers, parents, students, and university practicum enrollees. She has worked primarily in the Hampton Roads Virginia area with the community services board, various high schools, therapeutic foster care agencies, a pediatric medical practice, and a non-profit organization. Dr. Shabazz had the opportunity to hone her expertise in the mental health field through participating in her doctoral internship with Kern County Mental Health and practicing as a Resident in Psychology with a local psychotherapy practice, which provides services to a broad spectrum of clients. Close relationships with community organizations have helped to inform this educator's roles and responsibilities in academia. Dr. Shabazz not only facilitated a myriad of psychology courses for her alma mater's undergraduate and graduate programs, participated in student advising, and created a student-led colloquium series for the senior citizen neighbors, but she also had the honor of being recognized as favorite faculty. Additional classroom experience has offered invaluable lessons for practical application. Her position as an online professor helped to ensure competence with current trends and best practices in the field. More recently, Dr. Barbara has been drawn to the study of positive psychology, which was the impetus for seeking certification with the Coaching and Positive Psychology Institute. As a practicing certified personal and executive coach, her goal with Intentional Activities is to tap into the inherent strengths of each client, equipping them with the tools necessary to live a more action-oriented and authentic life. Dr. Shabazz earned her B.A. in psychology from Norfolk State University. She subsequently attended Regent University where she completed the requirements for her M.A. in Community and School Counseling , and Doctorate in Clinical Psychology. She is in a unique position to effect change from the classroom to the community, as she adeptly bridges theory and practice in her work with diverse populations. BARBARA FORD SHABAZZ PSY.D. , CPEC CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGIST, CERTIFIED PERSONAL AND EXECUTIVE COACH 757.305.7656 [email protected] www.intentionalactivities.com

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