We all have a desire for attention or to be seen by those that matter to us. This need is rooted in the foundation of our development and ensures our survival. Through our development, we rely on our caregiver’s attention, nurture, and care. However, when we enter adolescence and then adulthood, how we go about getting the attention we inevitably crave becomes more complicated. We are less dependent on others care, and we are no longer just acknowledged for our innate being, due to our cuteness, smallness, and innocence. We go about receiving attention from the things that we are either doing or not doing.
Attention can be given because of the positive aspects of our actions and efforts: being considerate or caring, accomplishing an achievement, being helpful to others, our status among others, or being good at something, but it can also be received for the negative patterns we develop: our problems, failures, reliance on others, relationship challenges, and mistakes. Often this method of receiving attention begins so early, that we are not even conscious of its cycle. For example, a toddler plays quietly in his room and his parents ignore it because they can finally relax and enjoy some solitude. However, then the toddler hits his sister, and his mother stops what she is doing and starts to engage with him, bringing attention to his negative act. This toddler learns that playing quietly and nicely alone does not engage his mom, but being violent and disruptive is a quick way of getting her attention.
If the boy becomes reliant on negative attention for his recognition, the behaviors will adapt into more age-appropriate methods, instead of disappearing as he matures. As a teenager, he may engage in reckless behaviors, such as getting speeding tickets or getting into trouble at school. Going into adulthood, he may constantly lose jobs because mom and dad are quick to react or bail him out every time he lets them know, this one didn’t work out. Negative attention seeking behavior could look like self-sabotage but often results in feeling the support and concern of others. Some people may find that it feels good to be bailed out of their problems. The only time some individuals feel noticed is when they are in a crisis, and somehow, they continue to move from one state of crisis to the next.
These principles apply to positive attention or praise, as well. They are often engrained in our drive and desire to achieve things and create success. If we do something well, better than the others, or when we win, we get the blue medal. We hear “you’re amazing”, “you did great”, “I’m proud of you”, and the eyes are all on you. This feels good. However, there comes a point when we can’t always win, and we’re not always the best. Are we able to handle it when the eyes are no longer recognizing us?
Our self-worth cannot stem from the validation of others. If we are not reflecting on what kind of attention we are getting and what motivates us to get it, we are stuck in a never-ending cycle, never really feeling fulfilled. This attention we crave and seek from others throughout our adult life in short lived. Our car won’t always be the newest, our house not always the biggest, someone in our field will eventually pass us up in skill or technique. When we give up this need for attention, we can finally experience peace.
Our patterns of how we learn and how we feel connected are engrained in our programming, and this is why the process of change in challenging. Often our norm throughout our childhood continues to be our norm throughout adulthood, and the norm we pass down to our children and generations to come. These norms can be positive and helpful, but sometime they are not. Sometimes we are stuck in a cycle that does not benefit us or those around us. Maybe they seem like positive things such as a drive to be successful, but then that desire clouds our mind or the ability to be present in relationship. Therapy can be a time of reflection on the patterns that have developed in your life. It is time to observe your own programming and the way this impacts how you engage with others. This process all comes down to a matter of where you direct your attention.