Getting Some Attention

Getting Some Attention

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“They’re just after attention”. If you are of my generation, and from an anglo-saxon settled country, you may recall this phrase from your childhood,.

I’ve just spent a week with a 5 year old and and 8 year old and their single mother. Children certainly do want attention. They hate being ignored – and can be quite vocal in letting you know this.

The question is: if they are after attention, why not give it to them?

Behind this attitude I think is a morality. This morality is that it is wrong to ‘indulge’ children, or ourselves. This is a morality focused on disciplining (which usually means punishing) ourselves. The thought is that children will be ‘spoiled’ if they are given what they want. And that adults will succumb to all manner of dubious practices if they are ‘just allowed to do what they want’.

This was the attitude that prevailed in my house. It was also at the heart of the evangelical Christianity that I grew up with. And so I am inclined to rebel against it and reject it. And I am convinced that it is wrong.

It seems to me that a joyous life is one where our needs are satisfied. If our needs are not met this leads to stunted lives. If we are denied food our vitality is diminished. If we are denied attention we will seek it, if we are denied touch we will crave it.

I think children are spoiled when they are given things instead of love. However, I am not a parent and I have no desire to add to the parent guilt industry. This post is more about our attitude to our own needs that bringing up children.

When we ‘discipline’ ourselves there can be unfortunate consequences.
1. We don’t get to know what we need. When we suppress our impulses the danger is that we become insensitive to our own (and consequently others’) needs.

2. Our joy is diminished. The inhibited and tight bodies so characteristic of anglo-saxons testify to this morality of self-control. It turns the world a uniform grey.

3. We become unable to express our feelings well or listen to the emotions of others. With awful consequences for our relationships.

It is better I think to listen to our desires. We need to learn what our needs are. This doesn’t mean ‘giving in’ to every impulse. It does mean listening to them. If we are scared there may be good reasons for it (and ignoring them would be foolish). If we feel the need to be touched giving a hug to friends may well be appropriate. To learn how to love and be loved seems like a good project to devote our life to, not something to be suppressed.

Here are a couple of ways to start learning about your needs:
*Take a moment every now and then throughout the day to tune in to your body.

*Imagine your perfect holiday. What would you be doing? Does this reveal a need unmet in your current way of living? If so, do you have a way to get at least a little of this?

Are you aware of wanting attention? Do you feel it is a need you have or maybe being ignored doesn’t bother you at all. Let me know in the comments. I’d love to hear your experience.

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14 Comments to “They Are After Attention (and so are we)”

  1. Oh, yes. I hate being ignored. On the other hand, I don’t want to be “needy”, requiring attention from others to be happy. So I’ve learned to give myself all the attention I need, through journal-writing, positive self-talk, etc.

    One of my favorite phrases is “Yea, Jean!” I used that a lot this past week as I worked on a reasonably sophisticated problem hooking up some electronic equipment. I definitely do better when I get encouragement, and who better to give it than myself. My loved ones also profit from this approach. They don’t have to worry about me being happy.

    Thank you for asking.

  2. Evan says:

    Hi Jean,

    Knowing that we can give attention to ourselves is liberating I think. It makes for more happiness for everyone in my experience.

    Thanks for your comment.

  3. sarah luczaj says:

    As parent every time I hear “she just wants attention!” my head flips. Frankly I start to wonder if this person is insane! Someone wants attention, and that *in itself* is a reason not to give it to them?!

    Very very telling about our culture. I agree.

    And as a parent I can maybe stick my neck out and say that the first step to being a good parent to kids is being a good parent to ourselves.

    Good post!

  4. Eugene says:

    Now everyone is talking about the American economy and eclections, nice to read something different. Eugene

  5. Certainly, I’m looking forward for attention. But I think over the years, I’m learning more of suppressing the need rather than requesting them… Mmm, you woke me up.

    But, am I right to say that you need to earn the attention, rather than ask them.

    What’s your opinion?

    Thanks for the insights!

  6. Evan says:

    Hi Sarah,

    I really like what you say about the first step in being in good parent is being a good parent to ourselves.

  7. Evan says:

    Thanks Eugene. I think we can get so caught up in current affairs that we lose a sense of perspective sometimes.

    Thanks for your comment.

  8. Evan says:

    Hi Robert,

    I’m not sure that we need to earn the attention. I think we are entitled to acknowledgement and respect just because we are people.

    After this people will want acknowledgement of achievements. This can be tricky I think. If we were acknowledged as people we maybe wouldn’t want to get recognition for achievements so much (sometimes it’s a substitute I think).

    Hope this makes sense. Please ask or comment more if you would like to.

    Thanks for your comment – I think you raise a very important issue.

  9. Kellen says:

    As a child and family therapist I cannot tell you how much I agree with your point about children needing attention. They are crying for it. But, like you, I don’t want to put all the blame on the parents. Our culture in the U.S. has interesting priorities. We value objects over people, work over family. We are all working so hard to keep up with the Joneses that we don’t have time for our families. As a result our children are crying out for attention.

    Unfortunately, it’s not just limited to children. Adults are crying out for attention too. So many people I work with come to me simply because no one else in their lives will listen to them, really listen.

    Thank you for a great article and for bringing up this issue.

  10. Evan says:

    Thanks for a great comment Kellen. Our society in Australia sounds much like yours (unfortunately).

  11. Evan, I have the opportunity to test this give-attention/don’t give attention theory nearly every morning trying to get my daughter out of bed and off to school without WW3 breaking out. Without exception, if I engage with her, from a pleasant, “Hey pretty girl – the sun is up and waiting for you!” to “I love you, have a great day, see you after school”, we get through the process with a minimum of drama. If I expect her to get herself ready and stay on task throughout, invariably, I’m yelling “You’re late! Let’s go!” and she’s digging in her heels, stalling every step of the way.

    She’s 9, and already she’s able to get herself up and going when it’s something SHE really wants to do, and some days, that even includes school. But most days, it’s a battle unless I lead the way with positive attention and reinforcement.

    But, as the mom, isn’t that kinda my role in this? 🙂

  12. Nancy Boyd says:

    Ah! Isn’t identifying — and taking responsibility for — one’s own needs the same as self-mastery?

    It’s more than self-knowing, because once I know what need I am experiencing, then it’s on to how to get that need met.

    If I am constantly expecting that some outside force/being/person/place/thing is going to handle it for me, then how will I know my own strength? How will I experience myself as a manifestor?

    On the other hand, if I refuse to rely on others in any way, shape or form, then I am deliberately choosing to cut myself off from a wealth of social, economic, and community resources that will enrich me deeply.

    There has to be a balance. And this is why I believe the answer about personal needs (and how we get them met) is a path to self-mastery.

    Oh, and then once we have become that self-mastered soul? PERHAPS we can share what we know with others. Perhaps. If anyone should care to listen.

    Just a thought.

    I love your blog!


  13. Evan says:

    Hi Nancy,

    Thanks for you thoughtful comment.

    I agree with what you say but prefer to avoid the term ‘mastery’. For me it conveys feelings of punishment and superiority. So I prefer other terms.

    Like you I think that we take responsibility for meeting our needs and are also enriched by community resources. I think we fundamentally agree but maybe just use different words.

    I’m glad you like my blog. Thanks for visiting.

  14. Evan says:

    Hi Suzanne,

    It sounds like you have found a very positive role for yourself as mom. Keep it up!

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