We All Need Attention

Monday 8 September, 2014

We yearn for attention because we need it. As social animals, attention, acknowledgment and physical contact are fundamental to our development and continued health. Yet most of us have no idea how important our need is, nor how strongly it affects us. Studies of people’s brains in fMRI scanners have shown that (social) rejection affects the same part of the brain associated with physical pain, which is why solitary confinement in prisons is such a bleak and damaging punishment. It hurts to be excluded and ignored, and we are likely to do whatever is necessary to make sure it doesn’t happen.

Unfortunately, this simple and inescapable fact of life, combined with a lack of awareness, means we unconsciously manipulate situations in order to satisfy our need, rather than be straight about it and simply ask. We play games with each other to ensure we get the attention we need; we create dramas to draw people’s focus onto us; and, like small children, we even misbehave in order to elicit negative attention, which is better than no attention at all.

Look at the feeling you get when someone likes whatever you post on facebook. More interestingly, examine how you feel when nobody responds. You begin to doubt yourself, question what you have posted; even experience some insecurity about what others think of you. Some people bypass the risk of not getting any ‘likes’ by deliberately prompting questions. They post cryptic messages or tempting scraps of information such as: ‘I don’t believe it!’ or ‘It’s happened again!’  They offer no further information, forcing a response from those curious enough to play their game, who ask: ‘What’s happened?’ or ‘Is everything okay?’ Such a tactic almost guarantees attention (to begin with, at least). It is manipulative and is another example of the game playing highlighted in the post ‘The Karpman Drama Triangle’.

A lack of attention can even have fatal consequences. Robert Sapolsky, the acclaimed neurobiologist, in his 1998 essay, ‘How The Other Half Heals’, points out that in the early part of last century, many pediatricians prescribed incubation for certain sick infants, instructing medical staff and parents alike that the children be left alone and denied all human touch. This lead to a wasting away of the child, a weakening of their immune system and eventual death. Death by emotional deprivation; preventable by simple and regular physical contact.

In TA theory, the attention we crave so much is referred to as strokes, of which there are two basic types – positive and negative (see related posts below). Next time you feel lonely, or in need of attention, support, acknowledgment or physical contact, just ask for it. Seek out those you love, or trust, or who you know can give you what you want, and be straight with them. Don’t resort to manipulation or game-playing. Acknowledge your need, know that it is a healthy one, and pursue it with the same clarity and understanding with which you pursue all of your goals.

Related posts: 20 Minutes in 20 Years | Training Day: Ego States & Strokes

2 Responses to “We All Need Attention”

  1. chuhr nijjar Says:

    Jonathan, great post. I have gotten back into vipassana meditation and have been re-reading the Art of Living. In there Goenka talks about the 3 different reactions we all make in life. He explains how the mind works, that it becomes aware, perceives and judges, feels and then reacts. For example it sees something, a facebook page, perceives what is written understands it and then judges whether it is positive or negative. If perceived as positive good sensations arise and the mind craves more, if judged as negative bad sensations arise and the minds wants these to stop (aversion). If the judgment is neutral then neutral sensations arise. Strokes as you know can be negative or positive and to my mind Goenka’s explanation of sensations and cravings explains why we play games to generate such sensations. Vipassana meditation increases awareness of how the mind works and also trains the mind not to react but observe sensations without reaction (so that the sensations gradually evaporate) and we can then act (rationally) without reaction. I am going through an interesting stage in my meditation, having discovered maps which show me what stage I am at has helped me to understand what I am going through. Basically my body is shaking usually the stomach area but also base and throat chakras, breath is forced out and I have little control over these happenings. Time distortions where my body seems to melt into itself and energy moving around my body. Then the occurences will stop and there will be peace and bliss. This is but a stage calles arising and passing and the idea is to observe what is happening even though the phenomena can be very pleasurable and exciting. Hope you are well.
    Ok enough said time to meditate.

  2. Jonathan Lewis Says:

    Hi Chuhr,
    That’s great to hear that you are getting back to the Vipassana. And it sounds like you are progressing very well with it. I like what you have written about how
    “…we play games to generate such sensations. Vipassana meditation increases awareness of how the mind works and also trains the mind not to react but observe sensations without reaction (so that the sensations gradually evaporate) and we can then act (rationally) without reaction.”
    Thanks for that and keep up the good work

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