Confession: I really need attention
“OK, I gotta get this off my chest.” I caught pace with a college buddy as we left class.
“Uh, all right. What’s up?”
I jumped right in. “Right before I left my desk during break, I turned to a page in my notebook with the most interesting sketch I’d made, and left it open there until I got back. Face-up.”
“I’m listening …”
“And I know why I did this. It’s really stupid—I hate to even say it. It’s because I wanted people to recognize that I’m an interesting person. I do stuff like this sometimes, and it grosses me out. It’s just so … needy.”
There was an awkward pause. So I asked, “Do you ever do anything like that?”
My friend looked at me sidelong, and gave me a raised eyebrow in disgust.
And that was the end of the conversation.
In retrospect, I’m certain that her response was a lie (whether or not she knew it). But I believed her. I believed that she didn’t need attention, and that I was a weaker human being for wanting to be recognized.
Is it disgusting to want attention?
Many of us have been culturally conditioned to believe that it’s just despicable to want attention. Here are some of the things I’ve been taught.
1. Seeking attention is for the emotionally needy.
Clingy, insecure people need attention. They need it because all their self-worth comes from external sources, not any internalized moral compass or sense of meaning. This makes them pretty weak—not the kind of person you want to be if you can help it.
2. Shallow people desire attention.
Attention is for counterfeit people. You know: dolled-up barbie girls, ladder-climbing yes men, hipsters with painstakingly chosen mismatched socks to make a statement about how little they care about their socks, glamour-fanatics who want 47 Lamborghinis in their Lamborghini account.
Vapid people embody the desire for attention.
3. You can’t respect anyone who wants attention.
Anyone who seeks out attention is not to be taken seriously. So you’d better not want attention, because if you do, you’re just setting yourself up so that nobody—including yourself—can respect you.
Clearly not everyone picks up on this message. But in a culture full of counterfeit people living counterfeit lives, many of us are sensitive to messaging that drives us to watch ourselves and keep our need for attention in check. And in many cases, to overcompensate.
It’s problematic, because all those beliefs point to a completely unsustainable frame of mind.
Attention is a basic human need
If you don’t get attention from other people, you live an isolated and alienated life. You need attention—at least a reasonable amount.
And attention doesn’t just magically flow to everyone. A lot of times, you have to work for it.
Seriously—how are you supposed to build relationships if nobody knows you exist? This is something I failed to recognize as I adopted beliefs about the disgusting nature of attention-seeking.
Getting people to pay attention to you is fundamental to building a meaningful life. Yes, you can take attention-seeking too far. But if you’re the type of person who’s taking it too far you’re probably checking your Snapchat follower–count and not reading an article somebody other than you wrote.
We don’t deal with this well. At all.
You can try to drive out your need for attention (like I did), but you probably won’t succeed (like I didn’t). And when you don’t succeed, you might find yourself in a situation similar to mine was, where you think of yourself as a weaker sort of human being who needs to whip yourself into shape, because you just can’t seem to starve that gnawing hunger into disappearing. (Joke’s on you, that’s not how hunger works. Unless you die of starvation.)
That’s pretty bad. But as awful as that approach to life is, a lot of people end up dealing with this in what I think is an even worse way. It’s completely disingenuous to themselves and everyone around them. It’s—I actually believe this—even worse than the overt attention gluttony we find so abhorrent.
Here’s what happens. People don’t try to drive out their need for attention—they just try to paint over it. People start pretending like their cries for attention are actually just some natural behavior that doesn’t have anything to do with attention.
It is despicable to disguise your need for attention
You’ve probably seen this behavior a lot.
People pretend like they’re behaving the way they would if nobody else was in the room—but it’s clear they’re putting something on.
We see this in many social situations—not the least of which is social media. People stage situations that “accidentally” make them look good.
For example, let’s say I had pretended my sketchbook just fell open to that page I wanted everyone to see by accident … and pretended that I didn’t even notice it was open. If someone walked by and said, “that’s an interesting concept,” I might reply with something like, “Oh, woops! Didn’t know that was open.” *sheepish giggle*
That’s not what happened … but we’ve all had these kinds of interactions.
Or how about those times when someone says their kid “accidentally” took a glamorous photo of them, and somehow (whoops!) it ended up on instagram with a caption explaining the whole accidental process.
Or how about that person who makes sure to tell you that they “just woke up like this” when you compliment them on their looks. Or when someone posts a selfie in which he looks awesome, and says he posted it because “someone told me I needed to post more selfies.”
You get the picture.
This type of behavior is completely dishonest, and promotes fake relationships and interactions.
Just own up to your need for attention
Seriously. You need attention, I need attention … we all need attention. And that’s OK.
It’s pretty much impossible—but more than that, really unhealthy—to entirely suppress your need for attention. It’s good to keep it in check, but killing it off completely is a great way to alienate yourself from society.
And come on. People see through others’ attempts to make grabs for attention look “authentic.” It’s just gross.
Pretending you don’t want attention when you clearly do just makes you look even more needy—and fake at the same time. You’re probably tricking yourself more than you’re tricking the people around you.
It’s good to seek a balance when it comes to your need for attention; needing it doesn’t make you a diva.
Don’t deny yourself a healthy dose, and don’t pretend you’re above it, either.