attention seeking

Why Attention Seeking Is The Defining Need Of Our Times

Ugh, they are just trying to get more attention!

A client told me once that they overheard someone say that about them when they broke down in college. They were deeply embarrassed about the breakdown, but it hurt a lot more that someone thought that they were just trying to get more attention.

Does that sentence sound familiar to you? Have you wanted to prove that you are not just doing things just for attention? Do you feel embarrassed for wanting more attention? It sounds like needing attention has earned itself quite the bad reputation.

It made me think: Why is needing attention so shamed? Why is not needing attention considered cool?

 It doesn’t make any sense because we are hardwired for connection and attachment, and in so many ways, seeking attention helps us connect with others. Take, for example, one of the most human experiences known to mankind: as shocking as it may sound, it’s crying.

Crying is essentially a form of attention seeking ; it signals to yourself (as well as others) that you're in distress. Babies are the best example; they are unable to feed or protect themselves; therefore, the ability to get an adult to attend to them is essential to their survival. Babies would be a lot quieter if we weren’t a community-driven species who are reliant on the collective for basic survival.

Interestingly, scientists have also found that emotional tears are chemically different from ones that are shed while chopping onions. That is, emotional tears contain more protein. One theory suggests that higher protein makes them stick to the skin and run down more slowly, thus making them more likely to be seen by others. Tears also help communicate vulnerability, may create an emotional response in someone else like compassion, or even have the potential to neutralise anger in others.

 In short, tears are great, friends. Keep them coming!

 Still, it is common to hear “just ignore them; they’re just attention-seeking” in everyday life, and that is a concept that is heavily ingrained in the way we interact with others. It is only expected for our bodies to react when we don’t have enough of what they need. We’ve all experienced this when we go too long without eating!

 When an individual resorts to a maladaptive strategy to seek attention, that might show that there’s a huge deficit. It is on us as a community to meet that deficit. We can help them by showing them attention in small ways and making it clear that they don’t need to do anything extreme (or exceptional) to get their needs met. Sounds doable, right?

Here’s the thing: attention seeking is not bad; it’s actually integral to us as human beings!

Let's take a look at how important giving and receiving attention is when it comes to our relationships. Dr. John Gottman conducted a research study with newlyweds. Six years later, he followed up with them and divided them into two groups: masters and disasters. The Masters were the couples who were happily married, and the Disasters were the couples who were divorced, broken up, or still unhappily together. He studied all of their conversations.

 What he found was that it might not be the agreement or disagreement between these couples that mattered. What maybe mattered the most was how these couples paid attention to each other, regardless of what they were doing or talking about.

 That means it is all about attention! Couples that happily stay together are attentive; they listen!

 Individuals in happy relationships (all kinds of relationships) repeatedly initiate and accept bids to connect. A bid is an attempt from one person to another for attention,validation, affection, or even connection. Bids can be verbal or non-verbal. Examples of bids are a smile, a hug, or asking for advice or help on a task.

So remember to seek (and give) attention.


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Zahra Diwan

Zahra has over 4 years of experience working with clients within the therapeutic framework. She works extensively with young adults, and maintains a diary on Things That Help Us which is collation of insights she gains in therapy.

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