“She’s only after the attention!”

“She’s only after the attention!”

I bought a new chair a few weeks ago.

Bravo, you might say and then look puzzled. A new chair? Yes. Very nice. But why are you telling us about it?

Bear with me a moment. It’s a chair I’ve wanted to buy for about ten years but we never had anywhere to put it so it was never bought. It’s that classic design from Ikea, rejoicing in the delightful name Poang. You might know it; it also has a matching footstool. Neither are expensive and so I put one in our trolley on our last Ikea visit.

Poang armchair

Poang armchair

Poang armchair

When you sit in it, this chair seems to be tailored to fit your contours perfectly. Put your feet up and it’s even better. But the slightest movement results in a gentle, soothing rocking motion that is supremely relaxing as long as you’re not prone to sea-sickness. Once the chair was assembled, I sat in it and found myself rocking automatically, and I pulled a blanket over me and felt safe. The phrase “self-soothing” sprang to mind. Babies and small children are difficult sometimes to persuade that bed and sleep are good things, and part of what parents are expected to teach them is a process of self-soothing whereby the children can just go to bed and get themselves off to sleep without the endless round of rocking, cuddling, holding, bottle(or breast), music and so on. It’s part of the process of encouraging our off-spring to be independent beings who don’t need us for their security and sense of safety and comfort.

What bothers me is that it seems to begin at birth. No sooner is the babe out of the womb than we’re encouraged to shove them in a cot or pram and expect the poor little things to cope with it. Imagine: your whole existence up till this point, you have been cocooned and held in warmth and have your every (albeit basic) needs met without having to seek it. Now you’re out in a world where you have to scream to be fed and held, and nothing feels right. You’ve never been alone before. No wonder babies scream so much.

As parents (if you’ve been lucky enough to have kids, that is) you have little or no preparation for this, and if you are like me, you have no one around you to advise except mid-wives, health visitors, and a few friends in the same boat, trying to figure it out and get sufficient sleep. You’re often bombarded by conflicting advice from relatives and from books and TV and websites(when mine was born, the internet per se did not exist) and the most common advice is that you bend the infant to your will, to your way of living. Don’t give in to this miniature tyrant who bosses you around and makes you do their bidding, is the general opinion, and you are told you will “spoil” your baby if you do.

I remember a close friend who had a daughter a bit older than mine, being told by another young mum that the child who was having a tantrum was “only doing it for attention.” My wise friend retorted coolly, “Then I had better give her some attention.”

Fast forward to the present day.

With the internet, cries for attention pepper the time-lines of Twitter, the pages of Facebook and are the staple of blogging. Indeed, to some, blogging itself is regarded as the most vile of attention seeking. I recall TV presenter Andrew Marr saying something of the sort.

A baby that does not have its emotional needs met in infancy usually is damaged by the experience. Bodies can thrive and grow but the spirit can be stunted and scarred by lack of attention. It’s a fundamental human need to be of value & importance to those around us, and when it is lacking, however much notional love is present in a family, there remains a void in the centre of a person’s soul.

I belong to the generation whose mothers were told to feed Baby and put them in the garden in their pram to watch washing blowing on the line and ignore their cries until it is time for the next feed. A friend of my mother’s used to put the pram at the bottom of the orchard, a considerable distance from the house, so she could not hear the baby crying. I was myself kidnapped as a ten day old baby. Obviously I don’t remember it but I do sometimes feel sure that the impact on me at the time has resonance to this day. My generation were not cuddled and coddled and the worst thing you could be as a child was an “attention seeker”, especially if you were a girl. The truth is that there’s a good chance that much of what is going hopelessly wrong with the Western world has its roots in children who grew up craving attention but seldom getting it in ways that fed the soul. To learn to self-soothe is still encouraged by popular psychology that dictates that no one cane truly help you except yourself. I disagree. We are a tribal people whether we accept it or not; we are not built to be totally emotionally and physically isolated. John Donne’s famous words, No man is an island, are true to this day.

So the next time you see someone attention-seeking, whether online or in “real life”, perhaps it is worth considering why they might be behaving this way and what deep need is being exhibited. Compassion for the self and for others might well be the best first step towards healing generations of people damaged by the myths of strength and independence that have filled our national identities and characters and have damaged the souls of so many.

Kindness and compassion. It’s a good place to start.

18 thoughts on ““She’s only after the attention!”

  1. Kindness and compassion – always the best place to start, you’re right. And this really resonated with me. I’ve discovered as I write more, that all my fiction, no matter what the story, is basically exploring this need, and perhaps all fiction is filling that void?

  2. Lovely piece. I learned, at Penny Brohn Cancer Care last week, that to be kind and compassionate to oneself is the place to start the healing. I love the chair – enjoy xxxx

  3. Ignore the traditionalists who say, “s/he is only looking for attention”. What is wrong with that, anyway? Attention satisfied leads to happy kids, to happy adults and to secure futures. xx :-))

  4. I spent my early years in an orphanage – half a century later I still can’t accept soothing or nurturing. My son got attention whenevr he needed it, and has grown into a wonderful young man. Kindness and compassion are never wasted!

  5. That was a really interesting read. Isn’t ‘attention’ or love from others one of our most primal needs? That’s why they say, don’t they, that children will get attention one way or the other, so if they don’t get attention for being good, they will settle for getting attention by being bad. It’s a sad fact.

  6. My middle child screamed for 2 months. If I’d have ignored her I’d never have figured out that she was in pain. A friend encouraged me to take her to a gentle chiropractor. He determined that she had sustained a neck injury during the birthing process. I handed him a screaming tense child and he handed me back a cooing little angel. I felt like I met her at 2 months. She had to beg for help until I listened.

    Self love seems to be the hardest lesson. Until you get there, you don’t care enough about yourself to self soothe so you drown in destructive habits intended to suppress suffering. Isn’t the real message for the crying baby “You Matter, I Love You”? It’s the one they are waiting for. Your heart wants to give it!

  7. OK, I’m busy so I’ll admit I skipped past the chair bit, but the premise of the rest of it is spot on. When people say children starve themselves into anorexia for attention, attempt suicide, or the like, it seems to me, so sad that they are allowed to becomes so sad, lonely and desperate in the first place. When these are the lengths an individual has to go to, to get anyone to notice they exist at all, there’s something fundamentally wrong with our society. I was absolutely fascinated to hear that I wasn’t the old baby left to cry at the bottom of the garden. I thought it was cruel, and set a bit of a precedent for things to come… but if that was normal in the 70s, hmmm. Thank goodness lots has changed. Perhaps we are becoming a more caring society after all.

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