Confession: I really need attention | Laura Kranz
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Confession: I really need attention

by | Jan 14, 2017 | Thoughts | 8 comments

“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.
“No. Never.”

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.

8 Comments

  1. Ruth Robertson

    This article deserves attention :)
    also – I’m enjoying your mini-art videos, and I just got caught up on Spaceboy. Your blog is a great mix of art, music, and thought.
    Thanks again.

    • Laura Kranz

      Ha! Isn’t Spaceboy fun? And thanks for the encouraging comment, Ruth. :)

  2. Susan Schroeder

    I agree that we all need attention, but I think that the way you tell whether or not it is out of control is whether or not you care who gives it to you. For instance, I remember one night last summer when my bf was really absorbed in a book he was reading. I lost attention in what I was doing (watching TV) and started giving him looks, smiles, funny faces. This escalated to making noises (coughs, sniffs) and to little comments (“I’ll be glad when the sun goes down…”) that called for a response, He just grunted at these last but at least he wasn’t ignoring me. Finally, I lay down on the couch next to him, shoved my head between him and his book and pled, “Pay attention to meeee…” He laughed and put his book up and pinched my nose. I was very happy.
    But when I am like in church discussion group, I try to only speak when I have something to say. If I say something dumb, and everybody laughs, that stays with me, not in a good way. But if I say something smart and the pastor says, :Good point,” I feel happy and satisfied, and that lasts for the rest of the evening.
    And if, say, you left your sketchbook open and somebody you didn’t like said something, whould it have meant the same as if it had been somebody you liked and respected?

    • Laura Kranz

      Totally. There are plenty of people who look at my art all the time … and I don’t care whether they do or not. But sometimes I really want to connect with specific people, and their attention is way more valuable to me.

      It’s also interesting to think about what makes us want attention from certain people and not others—and what makes some people want attention from a broader amount of people, and others, very few.

      There are some people who’d make me happier if they never paid me any attention at all. ;)

  3. Kailee Amanda Lortz DeCarie

    I distinctly remember my mother dismissing my brother acting out by saying, “He just needs attention.” That may have been true, but what is wrong with needing attention? Give him attention and perhaps he won’t act out! Don’t ignore him! That’s the opposite of what you just stated he needs! It taught me the same things about needing attention that you stated above.

    Honestly, I think she saw her own mother and sister seeking attention in unhealthy ways, and so she tried to pendulum swing away from that.

    But you cannot simply cancel out an “undesirable” human need. You meet the need sufficiently, and it will no longer rule you. But she wasn’t taught how to do that, and, thus, neither was I.

    As an expressive creative, attention is essential to success. To consider it dirty to seek out such attention makes your very career path impossible to follow without cringing in shame every time you take a step. And THAT is WAY unhealthy.

    Let yourself live as you naturally are, and share your joy and intellect with the world. This is what I have had to learn to do. It is far less vulnerable to share my art when I practice sharing it, and practice is only possible when shame is banished.

    • Laura Kranz

      Such a good point re: expressive creativity! Totally agree. Thanks for sharing, Kailee.

  4. Jerome Ofm

    Yes, we all need attention, but different amounts; maybe it’s easier to peg how much attention we *desire*. Yes, how we seek attention is as important as the type of attention we seek. There are situations where it is helpful to hide or disguise our desire for attention, but it’s best to be aware of the desire. I think it is more pitiable than despicable when someone pretends their way to attention like the example you give. A school teacher who likes attention might use that desire to motivate reaching out to her students, giving them attention, and teaching them social skills that help them to give and receive attention in a proper manner. So ultimately, our human needs are part of the gift of being human, and God calls us through those needs to find creative ways of sowing his love into the mix.

    • Laura Kranz

      Thanks, Jerome—I like your ideas about the importance of developing more awareness of ones own desires. Easier said than done!

      It’s also inspiring to think of the ways you can use the desire for attention as motivation to make a positive impact on others’ lives. Really good fuel for thought.

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