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.