Change your perspective
How many times have you described someone as an “attention seeker”? How many times have you heard someone describe someone making suicidal statements as “only wanting attention”? How many times have you heard people say about a child, “we ignore such behaviors because he/she only wants our attention”?
I saw something that really resonated with me and really got me to change my view on attention seekers. Change “attention” to “connection”. Now, describe that child as seeking connections and describe that person making suicidal statements as wanting someone’s connection. That changes things doesn’t it? It did for me.
It is true that when we describe attention-seeking behaviors we become annoyed. The repetitive, in your face, driving me crazy behaviors that you are sure this person can control but only does in order to get you to pay attention to him. Attention which generally is given negatively. When we describe the same behaviors as connection seeking, that isn’t as annoying. The result probably may even be more positive. This person wants a connection with us and wants our time with them.
Think of a child, acting out constantly and only receiving negative attention but continuing to act out in order to continue to receive that attention, as negative as it may be. If we give that child our time positively, our connection in doing something or even better yet ask “what can I do for you right now, what do you need to feel better, to feel safe” we may get a quicker result in this child settling down.
Think of the person struggling with suicidal ideation and not feeling they have anyone that really cares. They threaten self-harm repeatedly to people with no real result. Instead of seeing that as attention-seeking behavior and more connection seeking behavior we may change our response to this person and we may assist this person get help, feel safe and begin to learn how to ask for time with someone without it having to be by making self-harm statements.
Children don’t always know how to communicate with words to get us to be involved with them but they do know that negative behaviors get adults to drop what they are doing. People struggling with internal crises (depression, anxiety, loneliness, trauma) don’t always know how to tell someone what they are struggling with but they know the trigger words to use to get someone to be right there. We need to pay attention when someone is trying to get connected with us.
We live in a very fast-paced instant gratification world. We need to slow down. We need to listen. We need to observe. We need to be patient. We need to be less judgmental. We need to put the phones and gadgets down. We need to look people in the eye and talk to them about their day, their life, their plans. We need to connect and feel connected. Then and only then will our perspectives about situations and people begin to change. The busier we are, the more crowded our lives become, the less patience and compassion we show and the quicker we are to jump to negative conclusions about people, children, situations, and circumstances. The next time someone is trying to get your attention, remember they may just want to be connected with you, disconnect from what is distracting you and connect with that person. You may change a life and who knows, you may even save one.
Kari Swanson is a Master’s level clinician with 25 years of working in the mental health field. She is the founder of CORE–Choosing Openness Regarding Experiences which is a non-profit organization with the mission to provide mental health awareness and suicide prevention education to Warren County.