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Pre-2008 Posts

On Doing Things to Get Attention

I am very curious as to how much of most people’s actions are directed at the goal of gaining the attention of or manipulating other people, because the amount I get accused of things like that seems all out of proportion to the amount that I actually do it (which in both cases is probably less than most other people do it, in some cases far less). I’ve encountered a few people who even have read (and believed) some theory that practically everything a person does is designed to get them various units of positive and negative attention (I can’t remember the exact words for this, but there was a whole jargon around it), and I found that a pretty alarming and egotistical-sounding construction of the world, and doubted it could possibly be true. Interactions with such people tend to be frustrating because they take every single thing a person could possibly do and assign bizarre motivations to it. — Ballastexistenz

Ballastexistenz has a very fine, thought-provoking, insightful, as-usual, wonderful post up about this idea people have that others do what they do to “get attention,” whether negative attention or positive attention, from  other people.  For the record, I have never been impressed by this theory and pretty much rejected it years ago, although every so often — usually when someone is behaving in ways I find really hard to understand — I reconsider having rejected it.  I first  rejected the theory decades ago when I observed that so many teachers, care-givers, and parents seemed to be highly and punitively judgmental of children whom they believed were, by the children’s actions,  attempting to “get attention.”  If the child was doing something viewed as socially “good,” but which was also viewed as “trying to get attention,” the child was then adjudged disingenuous or as a suck-up or “goody two-shoes” or too “anxious to please” or “prissy”  or, say, too “obsessed with her personal appearance,” (in the case of a child who took great care with her appearance).  If the child was doing something viewed as negative, it was said of the child that she would “do anything to get attention,” even something that was negative, like, perversely and double-bind-style, not taking care with her appearance, or not “obeying” the teacher or other adult, or whatever.  I always thought all of this was, excuse my French, bullshit.  I think most of the time, both children and adults do what they do for their their own reasons which more often than not have little to nothing to do with what other people might think or how others might react to what they’re doing.  If, as a parent or a caregiver, you actually ask children why they are doing something, and they trust you and you have a good relationship with them, they will tell you why, and you will then find that there are endless numbers of reasons you may have never considered why children (and adults) do what they do which have nothing to do with “wanting [others’]  attention.” 

What most bothers me about this idea that people do what they do to “get attention” is that it can so readily become a handy excuse, in the hands of anyone with power over those persons, to reject or punish them in some way, to dole out some set of “consequences” which are deemed to be just for those guilty of the heinous crime of “attention-seeking behavior,” which, if I’m not mistaken, I’ve seen in lists which purport to describe pathological or psychologically deviant behaviors of various kinds.  In the hands of someone with power over another, virtually any behavior could be described as “attention-seeking,” which is most troublesome of all.

I’m sure there are times when people really do do what they do just for the sake of drawing attention to themselves.  But I don’t think we usually know when those times are if we haven’t asked.  More importantly, I don’t think anything good comes from viewing other people in that particular way.  My deeper concern is, the greater the power differentials in a given relationship, the more serious the implications of this theory of human behavior.  Men justify objectifying and even sexually assaulting girls and women, for example, because the way the girls or women dressed is said to have been an attempt to “get male attention.”  Parents and other caregivers ignore important messages or signals from children, or punish them in various ways, because the child is said to be “just trying to get attention.”  This was the reasoning a woman I was acquainted with years ago used when she ignored her son’s attempts to tell her how sick he was.  The son then died.   Caregivers for the disabled or elderly might ignore or punish people they are caring for using the reasoning that their charges are “just trying to get attention.”   

Ballestexistenz’s post on precisely this subject, “Things not directed at others, but seen to be,” is just a revelation.  Read it.




23 thoughts on “On Doing Things to Get Attention

  1. But also – when people are trying to get attention, it is often because they NEED SOME ATTENTION!!! Especially in the case of children and of those in nursing facilities – these are people who often times need more attention than they are getting at a given moment, and so if they are trying to get attention, that shouldn’t be seen as a bad thing, but as a signal that they need something. Just like if they were thirsty, that would be considered a signal that they needed water. Granted its harder to give attention than water (especially if you’re an overworked nurse in a nursing facility, which I can sympathize with as an ex-nursing assistant). But its still important to acknowledge as a a need.

    That’s always been my main beef with the whole “she’s just doing it for attention” business. Thanks for bringing a new perspective to me.

    Posted by Atalanta0jess | April 26, 2007, 4:38 pm
  2. “I observed that so many teachers, care-givers, and parents seemed to be highly and punitively judgmental of children whom they believed were, by the children’s actions, attempting to “get attention.” If the child was doing something viewed as socially “good,” but which was also viewed as “trying to get attention,” the child was then adjudged disingenuous or as a suck-up or “goody two-shoes” or too “anxious to please” or “prissy” or, say, too “obsessed with her personal appearance,” (in the case of a child who took great care with her appearance). If the child was doing something viewed as negative, it was said of the child that she would “do anything to get attention,””

    As if there was something wrong with children wanting to get attention. It was one of my Dad’s favourite accusations towards me. Now I look back and I think, why shouldn’t I have needed or wanted attention, why do parents regard it as something the child must be ashamed of? Makes me cry just thinking about it.

    Posted by delphyne | April 26, 2007, 4:39 pm
  3. I think getting “attention” has many many nuanced lines. For example, I have to get your attention in order for you to read this. However inciting attention to interact pales in comparison to inciting attention to the far extreme as in narcissism. In order to interact we must all get attention. Having said that, because there are narcissists other forms of interaction (getting attention) are often demonized and dismissed. This demonization says a lot about the one doing the demonizing. Think about it, why the one person is worrying about the other person. I once had a professor tell me that she takes an 80/20 position on conversations. Meaning she thinks what a person says has 80 % to do with their motive and only 20% to do with the listener (her). This can often be true, unless the speaker is a conscious speaker, one who has examined themselves throughouly and are truly speaking specifically about the listener or for the benefit of the listener. What I am trying to say is the listener could easily dismiss anything the speaker says because they will just say it is all about the speaker and not about them. I do not know, I think about the dynamics of communication a lot, the shifting of point of view from speaker to listener, including possible motive. I think communication would be more effective if more people actively did the same instead of jumping to a motive such as “she/he is trying to get attention.” Shrug.

    Posted by chasingmoksha | April 26, 2007, 5:01 pm
  4. You know, I think sometimes we do make private judgments about people that they are just trying to get attention, maybe for good reason, and I almost think those private judgments are unavoidable and not a big deal. What I am thinking about mostly is situations in which there are power disparities, where one person’s judgment of another person as “seeking attention” can really result in that person being hurt because we’re dismissing them as “attention seeking.”

    Thinking more in light of your comment, cm, I think we almost have to consider what another’s motives might be if, for example, that person has hurt us in the past and we gave them the benefit of the doubt by not considering they might want to hurt us! But again, there are the considerations around power. It doesn’t really matter, it seems to me, that we might be making a judgment about what someone’s motives might be if we aren’t in a position to, or would not, out of our own ethics, punish them on the basis of our judgment. If someone is in a position to hurt another person, has power over that person, based on how they evaluate a person’s motives and the way they then act , then I think it’s different thing.

    So true, AtalantaJess. Sometimes people are seeking attention because they need attention! :/


    Posted by womensspace | April 26, 2007, 5:30 pm
  5. Delphyne, so true, what you say. On the one hand children are punished for “seeking attention;” on the other hand they are expected to “speak up” and “get someone’s attention” if someone feels unsafe to them. How are they supposed to parse that out? And that’s just one of a million similar examples I could think of.


    Posted by womensspace | April 26, 2007, 5:31 pm
  6. Heart, I need to think through each line of what you are saying. My “feeling” is that we are thinking along the same lines. By all means I think a person should be on their guard, especially in situations when the other may have a motive, have had a motive in the past, and/or in a position of power, collective or personal. By all means.

    Posted by chasingmoksha | April 26, 2007, 5:53 pm
  7. I personally hate this accusation. People do things for reasons. Mostly because they think it is right. Because they think it is a good thing to do. Because it feels good to do it or because they want to make a statement or to influence other people. To make them happy or to make them mad, or to make them do something, but rarely (if ever) to get “attention.” It’s a very belittling accusation, and clearly shows the intent of the person accusing to belittle, to negate, to make into a trivial thing.

    People will often do things for approval, as is usually the case with fashion. People will do things to be attractive, of course, to be beautiful. This is different than doing something for attention. Sometimes some people will do things for a shock factor. It’s to make a statement or because they genuinely like making people feel certain things, whether fear, horror, or shock, or terror, or hilarity.

    ONE THING is true however. People who are insecure, or just people in general tend to get jealous when other people are getting attention, especially if they feel that the person getting attention does not deserve the attention they are getting.

    and that is the reason why women and little girls are most often accused of trying to get attention. It’s really because of the general idea, or unwelcomeness of women getting attention, of women being heard and valued.

    Posted by Kiuku | April 26, 2007, 8:43 pm
  8. Can I post a funny face, in a hilarious parody of “seeking attention”?

    Posted by Branjor | April 26, 2007, 9:16 pm
  9. Good post and I’m glad someone is talking about this! I think this accusation is a way to discount totally legitimate and reasonable requests for attention to issues that in fact need attention. I think it is also a male fantasy – “she just wants my attention.” Women/children/the poor/etc. are weak and dependent and need validation/’attention.’ It is, indeed, a very belittling accusation.

    What I said at Ballasexistenz:

    I am accused of “wanting attention” when I am raising an issue the other person does not want to address. Main people:

    My mother, when I was a child. Me: I’m cold. Mom: You can’t be, as it is not in my opinion cold. You just want attention. OK. Let’s play ball. Me: But I’m cold! Mom: Stop complaining! I’m giving you the attention you want – we’re playing ball!

    A shrink I saw in my thirties. Me: I am not satisfied with what is going on here. Shrink: You just want attention. OK, tell me your dissatisfactions, I will listen, you will get your attention. Me: I want actual, focused attention on my concerns, and I want something done about them. Shrink: That is impossible. You would have to be older or a man not to be suffering from hysteria. Therefore, I will assume that any concern you have is mere hysteria. I will listen to you, but I will not address any of the issues you raise, because that would be to indulge you too far.

    An X. Me: I am unhappy in this relationship. We will either have to make some changes, or I will leave. X: You are just trying to get attention, and I will not indulge that. Me: Good-bye, then. X: Don’t you dare! You do not have my permission! You are just trying to get attention! Me: … X: It is unfair! You do not want my attention! You are trying to get my attention by acting as though you do not want my attention! I need and demand access to you! You need my attention, you really do!

    Posted by profacero | April 26, 2007, 10:26 pm
  10. Profacero, did your shrink actually *say* that? He might have been thinking it but it is hard to believe he would actually say it. Most shrinks are too smart to say what they are actually thinking.

    Posted by Branjor | April 26, 2007, 11:24 pm
  11. Yes! That is exactly what an X used to say to me, profacero! The same language, a la “I refuse to indulge your hysterics.” I couldn’t believe how much my (then) beloved was misunderstanding me. I think Kiuku is right on when she says it’s really all about silencing women. Very important topic.

    Hey, Heart, lighten up on us mean teachers who sternly withhold attention from the needy children we are locking up in boring prisons! 🙂

    You ARE right about some teachers and the school system in general. But like all of us feminists here struggling to do the best we can in a misogynist world, many teachers are trying our best to serve children and families in an imperfect school system.

    I lavish attention on my kids, especially the needy ones, and it’s amazing how much it helps their behavior. I’m good at working with very tough teens, and my secret is so simple: I ask, “What’s wrong?” and I really care about the answer.

    I don’t want to romanticize though. The real problem is that when they tell you what’s wrong, nobody can help them fix it. We have abused children living in war zones in this country and they have nowhere to turn. That’s the reality. The boring prison of school is the safest, most supportive place many children have. But I digress.

    Sorry if I’m mixing up themes from other threads here. (Am I just trying to get attention?)

    Posted by roamaround | April 27, 2007, 1:16 am
  12. Silencing women, yes.

    Yes my shrink actually did say that! I got it out of him because I teach:
    that means I lead class discussion and discuss thesis topics for papers. I draw people out. “Do you mean…?” “That sounds like [X], am I following you…?” So I got it out of him. Fortunately – it was what made me see I should quit!

    And, all X’s of a certain type say that, as I have discovered by reading this very website!

    Posted by profacero | April 27, 2007, 3:39 am
  13. Aaaah, I was going to say something else and then totally forgot because you’ve all struck such a chord with me here about the ex thing…I once had an ex who didn’t directly accuse me of trying to get attention because, well, he’s not a direct sort of person, but after we broke up he said that I “put a lot on him” and “dumped my problems and issues” on him because I ONCE told him I’d been having a lot of nightmares. The truth was, he’d been telling me all about how depressed he was about living at home and having trouble finding a job, and I know that when I tell my problems to people I feel like a chump if they don’t reciprocate and tell me theirs. In fact, I remember sitting in front of my computer trying to think of whiny things I could tell him so his misery could have some company. But, like Heart wrote, he attributed these stupid, simplistic motives to me that revolved around me wanting attention, which you would have thought he’d know was nothing like anything I’d do, having dated me and all.

    Oh! I think I just remembered what I was going to say. I think saying somebody is just “trying to get attention” is a cop-out for people who are too lazy or selfish themselves to want to help another person. Even if they don’t admit it to themselves or realize why they’re doing it, it’s a way to get themselves off the hook.

    Posted by mekhit | April 27, 2007, 5:55 am
  14. roamaround: Hey, Heart, lighten up on us mean teachers who sternly withhold attention from the needy children we are locking up in boring prisons!

    HA!! Of course all teachers here are severely exempted from my rants and raves. 😛

    Seriously, I know there are some great teachers out there and I have had a couple and so have my kids. I just think stacking humans in rows in rooms and lining teachers up in front of them is, mostly, a setup for, if not disaster, exceeding boredom! Given that not all teachers are like the ones in here, roamaround. 🙂

    Yes, to everything everyone has said about x’es saying they wanted attention. Another way of saying that, of course, is describing someone as a “drama queen,” a term I hate like no other, because it is USUALLY used the same way “she wants attention” is used, to dismiss actual issues and concerns.


    Posted by womensspace | April 28, 2007, 2:33 am
  15. It certainly is about silencing women, and your posts/experiences have enlightened me to the truth of this issue even further. The idea of someone “wanting attention” suggests that there is actually no real issue, no real problem, and no real need and no real message. This has very negative and very real consequences for women. There is no importance and so there should be no value. It suggests that there is no importance in the accused, however there is tons of importance in the accuser. In the case of accusing someone of wanting attention, it’s the other person that is viewed as important or who views themselves as the important one. The parent. The boyfriend, The counsellor, The teacher whos attention the accused allegedly wants/needs. “I’m the important one here.” is what they are saying, among other things.

    “You just want attention” says:

    1. You are not important.
    2. What you have to say is actually irrelevant.
    3. I’m important.

    It’s negative ramifications are that the accused discovers that “wanting attention” is a bad thing, and further that getting attention is an undesirable thing and should not engage in activities that “get attention”.

    And the believe that women “want attention”, especially want/need men’s attention, has very negative fatal consequences for women and young girls. If you ever wonder why women can’t get taken seriously when they go to a doctor with valid complaints, and instead are given any number of psychotropic medications to alleviate their “anxiety” or “hysteria” or why women cannot be taken seriously when suffering from heart attacks in intensive care units, when women who have serious heart problems are given psychotropic medications for their “hysteria”, this is why.

    Because women are not supposed to have problems. If they did they would be human. Because women are not supposed to get sick. They are not supposed to feel pain. Men have a serious problem with relationships, with the idea of intimacy, because intimacy suggests an emotional depth to women, of which men are oblivious, because if they were to recognize the humanity of women, they could not please themselves sexually, and that is what they have “relationships” for. That is what you are there for, in a relationship. In ancient times, ancient Greece for example, it was enough to deny women educations, and through this lack of education, it was enough to deem women to stupid and “simple minded” for conversation with their husband. Therefore the men would have “conversations” with eachother, and love eachother. Nowadays, it is enough for men to blame their biology, saying that they cannot biologically engage in conversation, as I’m sure we’ve all heard at one point or another, but it so happens to be the case that this biological restraint only applies to conversations with women, especially “significant” others.

    It is obvious that if women are being anything other than cum dumps, they are seeking attention. The “Attention” that men have and women need.

    Posted by Kiuku | April 28, 2007, 4:30 pm
  16. I have to apologize for the numerous typos. This particular subject makes me quite irate. It’s just so belittling and trivializing while at the same time aggrandizing the accuser, generally male as it is a generally male propogated belief, whether women are at times doing the accusing or not. It’s hard to think of men wanting attention, yet it is so easy to think of women wanting attention, not because they do it, but because it is a programmed social belief. And it bothers me that even in my own mind, my own attempts to view society in an objective way, this exists there.

    When I look on the cover of a psychiatric magazine and I see a woman, it reminds me. The “schizophrenic” model of the religious woman reminds me. The “Bi Polar” model of the happy woman, reminds me. The trivialization of women through fashion, through psychiatry, through every imaginable institution, reminds me.

    Posted by Kiuku | April 28, 2007, 4:50 pm
  17. I wonder if..I wonder what would happen if you were to say to your significant other when he wanted sex “Honey, you just want attention and I won’t indulge that.”

    It’s actually more accurate.

    Posted by Kiuku | April 28, 2007, 6:09 pm
  18. Excellent posts Kiuku (and I didn’t notice the typos)!

    Biologically unable to converse: isn’t it an amazing line?!

    I went out on a date once with someone who told me he had gone to a seminar on relationships in which the leader explained how men were cave men and therefore could not have intimacy. They had to be out hunting, and could only sometimes ‘come into the protective cave’ (sic) – and then had to leave again, so as not to get caught in there. I couldn’t keep a straight face, it was such a shame … couldn’t believe I was *expected* to take this seriously. However what shocks me about it is that it was the doctrine of some sort of therapist.

    Posted by profacero | May 2, 2007, 1:15 am
  19. ^ The “therapist’s” doctorate came from a correspondance school that also gives, evidently, ph. ds in country line dancing.

    Posted by Rich | May 2, 2007, 1:29 am
  20. Wow, Rich! That is incredible! 🙂 Incredible that the book Mars/Venus exists (and obviously it must be the book in question) and that such a good rebuttal also exists! And yes – I saw that about the 61 page dissertation (I believe) in country line dancing. 😉

    Posted by profacero | May 2, 2007, 2:45 pm
  21. P.S. I’ve got another phrase like this: “You’re taking yourself too seriously.” What does it mean? My mother used it to mean, “You should accept abuse, it is not serious if it happens to you.” What else does it mean?

    Posted by profacero | May 3, 2007, 12:07 am
  22. Wow Profacero. “You’re taking yourself too seriously” says to me “Why do you think you’re so important?” among other things, and used in the context you described is especially abusive. It’s ok to think that kind of thing to yourself that maybe you’re taking a situation too seriously or you don’t know how to take a joke, but wow that’s just wrong.

    Look what I found on the site Rich posted. These are the usual “defenses” this woman gets from John Gray’s readers:

    7. Your web page is just an awful attempt to receive attention.

    6. Life is too short to “bitch about everything.”

    4. You are “full of anger and spite.”

    the solution of which is to

    3. You need to spend a little time with a man and get laid.

    and gotta love #1

    1. You’re just jealous.

    Posted by Kiuku | May 3, 2007, 10:39 pm
  23. “I went out on a date once with someone who told me he had gone to a seminar on relationships in which the leader explained how men were cave men and therefore could not have intimacy. They had to be out hunting, and could only sometimes ‘come into the protective cave’ (sic) – and then had to leave again, so as not to get caught in there. I couldn’t keep a straight face, it was such a shame … couldn’t believe I was *expected* to take this seriously. However what shocks me about it is that it was the doctrine of some sort of therapist”

    Wow it’s the same BS instinct “cave man” line no matter how it is argued whether the cave is a source of protection or a source of escape for the man, as in John Gray’s analogy. Whatever men do not want to do they are not instinctively capable of doing.

    Never mind that plenty “Cave man” societies were matriarchal and religious.

    I am especially bothered by John Gray’s assessment of women’s emotions as a source of their lack of control. John Gray never talks about men’s emotions as a source of a potential lack of control or something they “Fall” into like a well. No they decide everything they feel, and if they are sad, happy, or angry they are never out of control. Instead they are “fighting”, being “aggressive”, and it’s completely instinctual and will solve their problems.

    I never read that book and I am glad I did not. I didn’t realize it could be so stupid, though. Wow

    Posted by Kiuku | May 3, 2007, 10:59 pm

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