I come across the phrase ‘attention seeking’ on a semi regular basis, and I also know it’s something that I, myself, have mentioned on several blog posts. It’s a phrase that is ingrained in society and used on a regular basis.
‘Attention seeking’ is seen as a derogatory term, used by so many people and seems to be something with such negative connotations. There are also times, when it seems to come hand in hand with ‘manipulative’.
But what actually is ‘attention seeking’?
Something that a lot of people misunderstand is that it is vital to someone’s survival to have attention- to all our survival. Everyone needs and has attention. As I write this, I’m hoping that my words get someone’s attention; that someone reads this. Everytime someone speaks, they are hoping that someone listens (i.e. that someone gives them their attention). Anytime someone posts on social media, that is for someone to see it and to know what has been posted, and maybe even to evoke a response from someone. Anytime someone applies for a job, sees a doctor, a dentist, a therapist, a friend, makes a phone call, is served at a shop… anything… essentially, any interaction with another person, there is a need to be acknowledged, to have that focus on you, for that moment. Without that focus, that notice, that validation of existence, we, as human beings, are unable to thrive and survive.
For some people, if life hasn’t treated them kindly, if they haven’t had that focus doing everyday things or if a parent wasn’t able to meet the need of attention and care for whatever reason, then sometimes, subconsciously, children have to learn to be creative and resourceful to get that need met. These children also grow into very creative adults because we are all a product of our past, and these children have had to learn and adapt, to get their needs met. That creativity can range hugely, and there is no one way to group it, but it is all about getting a very basic and human need met.
Equally, if someone has been ignored, or invalidated, or disregarded, then that person (often initially as a child) will need to find other ways to communicate any distress or confusion or anything at all. This, often, will be subconscious again, but most of our communication is nonverbal, as are many of the strategies that people can use to communicate.
What am I saying? Ultimately, it’s ok to need attention. It’s a really healthy thing. If someone isn’t doing it in a typical way then it’s a sign that at some point in the past (and possibly the present) that person hasn’t had that need met and has had to find other ways to get that need met.
Often, the actions that are labelled by people as ‘attention seeking’ are actually a way to communicate or to be validated as a human being or have some focus on them.
Someone once said to me ‘if someone is attention seeking, give them as much attention as you can’ and I thought that was an amazing view, although sadly often not practical due to constraints and boundaries and life in general. Mostly, people seem to judge someone who is needing attention, to look down on them, to remove any focus, to withdraw and/or to refuse to meet the need in that moment. The idea of giving as much attention as possible can help to heal the need for that focus from people or in particular situations. This can work especially well with children. For adults, it can only be about being consistent, having empathy, being aware, not judging and accepting the person regardless. Alongside that, different kinds of relationships will have different dynamics and boundaries.
Are you someone that relates to this? In whatever way.
What do you relate to? Is it seeing someone who is creative in how to get their needs met? Or are you someone who has had to be?
What do you do to draw people to you?
What need does it meet for you?
What is it’s purpose?
Is there another way you could get that need met?
Is it a healthy strategy?
Is it a ‘left over’ strategy from the past or a useful one in the present?
If you’re someone who views ‘attention seeking’ negatively, or has people in their life who you feel may be ‘attention seeking’, rather than label someone as ‘attention seeking’, maybe think ‘I wonder why that person needs the focus on them?’ or ‘what happened to that person to lead them to need to do this?’ or ‘what is going on for that person?’ or ‘What does that person need right now, and why?’
You’ll be able to see that I haven’t particularly looked at being with or interacting with or having a relationship (professionally or personally) with someone who has had to develop creative methods for getting their needs met, or how that can impact on other people around them. I also haven’t looked at working through this with someone, or anything from a therapeutic setting, because every individual is just that; an individual. I’m merely looking from a position of an understanding around behaviours, reasons and needs and, I guess, looking to create an empathy or understanding for those who weren’t aware of the reasons for the behaviour labelled as ‘attention seeking’.
After writing this, I continued reading one of the books I’ve been reading. This one is ‘Relational Integrative Psychotherapy; Engaging Process and Theory in Practice‘, by Linda Finlay. It’s a beautiful book. Really oddly, in the first few lines was this passage
‘In the gestalt tradition, symptoms or behaviour defined by others a ‘pathological’ or ‘maladaptive’ are seen as a creative adjustment for the person in the face of a painful damaging situation. These are relational patterns which developed in order to survive and the behaviour is there because it had an important function. The gestalt view is that people adjust to the demands of a situation while creating a way of being which meets their own needs and, in this way, problems can be solved’ (page 21).
Which is a beautiful explanation for what I was trying to say.