ATTENTION SEEKING IN BABIES
It is an innate behaviour of a baby to demand attention in order to meet their basic requirements for survival – to be fed, protected and nurtured. The latter for me includes being loved, being made to feel safe, being made to feel clean, and being made to feel special. I am certain that, even as a post-war baby with the uncertainties that the timing involved, that I was nurtured in this way. It gave me a strong foundation on which I was able to develop my emotional well-being. This formed the backdrop against which I have been able, with varying degrees of success to weather the storms that life has thrown my way.
What of those babies who do not receive such necessary, such vital attention from a parent or carer? Oh how I remember the heart-breaking scenes played out on the news of the very many children in the orphanages of Romania. Seeing them sitting and rocking in an effort to self-sooth and replace the loving touch so yearned for. They had given up on a baby’s first line of demanding attention – crying. They had soon come to realise that their cries were not heard. Crying is exhausting, so the self-soothing rocking took its place. It broke my heart and I was upset that the only way that I felt able to support these children was through monetary donations and frantic knitting when I found a reliable charity that transported the efforts of myself and others out to Romania. Oh how I tried to knit love into those little tops etc that I made and how I wonder about their ability to cope with life after such harsh beginnings.
This same self-soothing behaviour is also evident in animals. Watching the enclosed lions, tigers pace up and down, up and down along the perimeter to their enclosure in a zoo – with them missing the element of freedom vital for their healthy survival. Sadly, I cannot knit for them, and I do avoid going to zoos – though I am not sure how this helps the captives.
ATTENTION SEEKING/GIVING IN CHILDREN
Children continue to seek attention throughout childhood – when they are learning a new skill, trying something for the first time etc – they need the reassuring pat on the back, encouraging and supportive words. If you have a child who has had some problems, maybe struggling to cope with a new sibling, the loss of a pet, a focused day of attention receiving works well. This is known as love bombing and focuses on giving your undivided attention to the child by giving your time, your consideration - as in having favourite foods, going to favourite places, doing favourite things, and of course, expressing your love to the child in as many ways as possible. They feel special, and it doesn’t have to cost a lot as the one-to-one attention usually counts for as much as a trip to the cinema, a meal out would do. So phone switched off and focus!
If children feel that they do not receive sufficient attention to meet their needs from parents or important care givers, feelings of being neglected can set in. This does NOT mean that every after-school session has to be filled with being taken to classes for this and that. In fact, many children are tired after a day at school and appreciate some wind down time – though not always in front of the TV or on a tablet/lap top, rather with meaningful human interaction. If a child is abused in any way by a parent – and in this I very much include emotional abuse, with a parent not being there for the child, this feeling can be carried through to adulthood and lead to an attention-seeking adult. When working as a special needs teacher, I had assessed a child’s reading and showed that there was a 4-year gap between her reading and chronological ages (having used 2 separate tests) at the age of 9. Mum had come in for a chat – and on being shown these figures, assured me that I was wrong. I asked if she shared a book with her daughter, to be told very categorically that she hadn’t got time as she had the horses to feed and attend to. Whilst the child was physically provided for and nurtured, she did later tell me that she felt that her mummy didn’t care about her and her reading and was usually out with the horses, so in this way she felt neglected with her needs put below those of the horses. Luckily, dad stepped up to the mark, providing the attention that the child wanted and needed – not only did she feel more emotionally at ease, valued, but also, her reading came on leaps and bounds!
Children are usually ego-centric, remaining as attention seekers as a survival strategy. Most of us out-grow the feeling that we are the centre of the universe, the most important person whose thoughts and feelings must be prioritised. For others, often through no fault of their own, this remains their default setting and they move from being an attention seeking child to an attention seeking adult. This could be as a result of under-confidence, maybe by having missed out on some aspects of social and emotional development during their teens. This could be as a result of such as abuse or ill health. They continue to seek, either consciously or unconsciously to be the centre of attention, the person whose feelings should be prioritised, whilst often actually feeling that they always put their own considerations last and genuinely being a supportive and caring person. It is important to remember that the attention seeking is only one aspect of the whole person.
So, unresolved neglect in infancy or emotional or psychological problems in childhood or teenage years can be carried through to attention seeking behaviours in later, adult years.
ATTENTION SEEKING IN ADULTS
The majority of us appreciate attention, appreciation for things that we have done. I always feel proud when people take the time to post a comment on one of my blog posts. They have reflected back some of the attention that I gave to them as my (otherwise unknown) audience. I guess you could say that I seek attention when I click through in response to an email telling me that a comment has popped up and I am (fleetingly) disappointed when it is spam. I have friends who also work in a creative way – and I am sure that they appreciate the attention they receive when a garden they have designed, a card they have made, an article they have written is acknowledged by them being given the attention of positive feed-back. Having said that, we also have to deal with any negativity, which isn’t the kind of attention we seek, but this also has to be handled and moved on from. Part of our creative learning curve and an acceptance of the fact that you can’t please all of the people all of the time, no matter how hard you try. Life just isn’t like that. You put your shoulders back, hold your head high in the knowledge that you did the best job you could, and get on with things. This need for acknowledgement by being given positive attention is common to us all and when provided in a healthy way, fulfils that need appropriately.
However, you will in all probability have come across adults who seek, nay demand, attention. The ‘Me, me, me brigade’. Active attention seekers. Those who frequently adorn the front pages of the tabloid press. The culture of the ‘celebrity’? Some known for things that they do – or may have done many years ago. Others, simply well known for being well know. Are the press ready and willing aiders and abettors of such people with feeling it necessary to persistently ask is a certain person pregnant – can they be – hey, yes they are. Then moving to – has the baby been born?? And on and on, day after day. Is it me that just doesn’t ‘get’ this need to find out stuff that is none of my business – and I have no interest in? The emphasis is so often skewed too – Amal Clooney’s recent presentation to the UN is a great example of this. Here we have an accomplished barrister talking about victims of kidnapping and rape. The press? Their focus was on her baby bump, or seemingly more important even, on what she wore. Why? I have other far more interesting and entertaining things to take up my time than such ponderings, including a great interest in what she actually said. Apologies for my digression onto one of my bugbears!
I feel that social media has extended this to include many more people and they lure friends, followers in by ‘guess what I’ve done’, ‘I have great news’, ‘you’ll never guess’. However, they hold short of actually telling you what they have done, what the news entails in order for others to re-inforce their attention seeking by actually asking. How I wish people would just simply tell it as it is and not annoy their curious (aka nosey) friends until they receive the question that opens the door to the story they are obviously wanting to tell.
This is attention seeking behaviour, of which many are guilty. It could be as a result of low self-esteem, low self-confidence, with the posted questions and requests to tell providing, a somewhat temporary, boost to this by them becoming the focus of attention. How much better to develop a positive self-concept in order to feel that they can simply say what you want to say in the first place – that is if it was really something that needed to be shared. They may envy the attention that others have been receiving, so feel that this is a way to draw people to show an interest in THEM. Of course, there is always the person who just has to have the attention and thinks only of themselves and their needs in a somewhat narcissistic way. I will make no further comments on the current use of Twitter in this way by a person of whom many of us are far too aware!
Now this takes attention demanding to a whole new level and is actually considered a mental disorder. The person’s way of attention seeking is by being a frequent flyer at the doctor’s surgery, or at A&E, presenting with reported symptoms, problems which are imaginary be they physical, psychological or actual problems caused by trying to get ill for example by ‘encouraging’ a cut to become infected. They can become more and more manipulative and have been known to move to live in a new area where they begin with a fresh slate, though I am unsure of how our computerised medical records affect this, as surely, if medics were suspicious, these suspicions would have been recorded.
Taking a different slant on this, it can happen by proxy, when, usually the mother takes along a child or a carer takes an aged parent or dependent adult to the doctor seeking medication, often antibiotics, for the slightest sniffle or twinge, for a fabricated or induced physical or mental illness. Yes, as a parent we do have to be vigilant and in UK, I am sure that GP’s would not overprescribe antibiotics these days. However, I observed this behaviour overseas where parents had private medical cover. When the children had the slightest of symptoms, mum bemoaned how sick they were to anyone that would listen, and took the children straight to the doctor. If said doctor did not prescribe medication, they moved on to another, until they got some. I often wonder if this went on as the children grew and worried how they may cope if antibiotics were needed for a serious illness in the future.
As my feline friends are now demanding attention via their food bowls, I will leave you in the hope that you receive the positive attention you desire, without being over-demanding in its pursuit. Please feel free to leave a comment, or get in touch if I can be of help with more information on face to face or distance (via Skype) therapy, or checkout my Facebook page.