Acknowledgment: A Powerful Aspect of Forgiveness

I have learned, after much hard experience, that if I want to de-escalate an angry person, an argument, a panic attack, a sense of being overwhelmed, depressed, embarrassed, anything and everything, the secret is acknowledgment. It is simple, but not easy.

At first, acknowledgment wasn’t easy for me because it seemed impossible to say the very thing that needed to be said. I was afraid of hurting the person’s feelings, and also afraid of the consequences of saying what I needed to say. What if I was attacked or rejected? Plus, I didn’t even know how to put into words what needed to be said. So, it goes like this: let’s say you’re claustrophoboic. As the elevator doors close, if you find yourself breaking into a sweat, feeling like you need to scream, your heart is pounding in your chest and your stomach is turning to mush … tell yourself: “Wow, when the elevator doors closed, I broke into a sweat, felt like screaming, my heart is pounding and my stomach is turning to mush.” There is a power in describing precisely and in detail what is happening inside of you to yourself. Then acknowledge your worst fear about what could happen, e.g., I could have a stroke or a heart attack and die! Notice that you are not dead yet. Ask yourself if you have ever had this feeling before. If so, chances are the feelings will move through you within a matter of minutes (anywhere from 3 to 20 minutes is typical). Even though this is a dramatic example of claustrophobia, we find ourselves becoming reactive (involuntary and bursting) or repressive (holding everything in and numbing ourselves) versus responsive (the voluntary ability to respond) in many situations.

Emotion is e-motion, or, energy in motion. When we freeze up in alarm (by tensing our muscles and holding our breath), we prevent the energy from moving through us. Identifying what is happening, even if you don’t know what to do, helps move your experience along. As you do this you educate yourself and can build a vocabulary of helpful self-talk to bring yourself off the ledge, so to speak. Some part of us answers the other part, so if we acknowledge the elephant in the living room, we usually release some fear and relax a bit. Physicists have proven that what we resist, persists. Acknowledgment is the antidote for fighting off fears. Whether the experience is personally happening within you, or you see someone else getting upset, acknowledgment basically works the same way.

Haven’t you noticed that telling a frazzled or angry person to “calm down” or “relax” only makes things worse? The secret is to acknowledge what they seem to be going through. Some people call it mirroring, some empathy. Although there are distinctions between these terms that we can get into, the idea is to name the feelings rather than fix the situation. This can mean stating the obvious. To paraphrase Denzel in Philadelphia, he told Tom Hanks, “Speak to me like I’m a five-year-old and spell it out for me.” So what you do is, say something like “That’s upsetting” or “It sucks when that happens” or “I’d probably feel the same way.” Use the person’s actual words when you can–they will feel understood. If a co-worker says, “I’m so frustrated!” after listening for a while, you can say “Sounds frustrating” and watch how well this works. If you say something that comes from you, such as, “That’s stressful” it may still work, but not as well because hearing our own words reflected back at us has a deep subconscious effect. Feeling understood must release positive hormones because a high percentage of time, acknowledgment works like a charm.

If acknowledgment further upsets the person you are dealing with then he or she is either inconsolable, feels deeply misunderstood in general, or, possibly, is a rage-aholic. Chronic inconsolability is a form of depression. Feeling misunderstood is a form of alienation and anxiety. Reactive rage is abusive. Past a certain point, stop trying to reason with these people. They want to dump their despair and anger onto you, so they can relieve themselves of it. Best thing to do in these cases, is take a time-out. Perhaps a permanent time-out (evaluate the relationship and assess whether, in general, it’s an energy-gain or an energy-drain). It can feel scary to let go of relationships, but at least acknowledge to yourself that you might benefit from spending less time with a particular person. Measured doses can go a long way towards your emotional health.

A Course in Miracles gives us a non-dualistic understanding of acknowledgment, “Your own acknowledgment you are one Self, united with your Father, is a call to all the world to be at one with you.” (W-95.15) In any given situation we always have the option of turning to the Holy Spirit, and allowing our right-mind to guide us. When we have the presence of mind to be lucid dreamers and acknowledge that we are outpicturing everything that seems to be happening in the world, we acknowledge the insanity of ego-mind. We can remember we are in this world, but not of it, and choose again. Each acknowledgment in this process dis-identifies us from the ego, and re-identifies us with God. At which point, nothing more need be said.

Copyright © 2011 Amy Torres. All rights reserved worldwide.