Attention seeking, or seeking attention?
The label of ‘attention seeker’ is one which is thrown around frequently and pejoratively in the modern day. Used to insult, degrade and demean, it can also serve to diminish the importance of what a person may be trying to say or show.
The reputation of ‘attention seeker’ is a hard one to discard too; much like the ‘boy who cried wolf’, a doubting and critical audience will have a hard time sifting through what they believe is fact and fiction, even if to the unwitting person forced into wearing the label, everything they are bringing to the conversation is very much within the realm of what they feel is true to them.
Frustration and exasperation can follow – ‘Why should we care about what this person says? They’re just an attention seeker and if we give them that attention, they’ll just carry on!’
But why is attention seeking seen as such a negative thing? Does it suddenly become positive if we call it ‘seeking attention’ instead? How about if we completely remove the word ‘attention’ and try some different words instead? What if we were to reframe it as ‘seeking love’? Or ‘seeking compassion’? Or ‘seeking anything but loneliness’?
Surely, we are all looking for attention in our lives, one way or another? A life without any attention of any sort would be a lonely place to be, and as humans are social creatures who benefit from companionship or the company of others to thrive. But some find it more difficult to find ways to access these relationships, and instead of looking to extend a compassionate and understanding hand towards them, some sectors of society prefer to denigrate and belittle instead.
Instead of seeing the label and the potential actions which could accompany it, what if we endeavour to consider the ‘why’ behind each act?
Eating disorders, self-harm, even involuntary panic attacks, are all features which can be classed – unfairly and extremely critically – as attention seeking behaviour. But what is the use of throwing scorn and accusations, particularly when we could explore just what it may be which drives a person to such extremes?
In a non-judgemental environment, such as counselling, you will not be called an ‘attention seeker’. You will be a person asking for help, for support, for somebody to listen. You will be given the time and space to hopefully begin to find exactly what it is you may be looking for.
You may be seeking a deep, meaningful, entirely human connection, which includes reciprocal and productive attention. With effective and collaborative counselling, that is precisely what you will receive.
About the author
Rowan Long is a person-centred counsellor. He is currently working in several secondary schools and higher education centres in the South-West of England, as well as volunteering as a child and young person's counsellor with Off The Record. He also works with clients of any age through private practice in a quiet and welcoming village location.
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