Why it Should be Okay to be an “Attention Seeker”

"Why it should be okay to be an Attention Seeker" with three women sitting on a bench on a pier

In all types of writing (except technical) we are told to use an “attention grabber” or a “hook.” These are generally the title of a piece of writing or the very first sentence the audience reads (or hears in oral presentations). We are not only told to do this, we are taught how to do this. We are told to use “shocking” statements, tell the reader something they don’t know, or say something controversial.

Why is it okay to seek attention in our writing, but not for ourselves?

I have heard these two phrases all my life from so many people, “Wow, they must need a lot of attention”, and “They are just an attention seeker.”

Why is being an attention seeker perceived as a negative thing? Why can I be an attention seeker in my writing but not in my life? Why do we shame and resent people who need more or a different kind of attention than we do?

Humans are social animals and we need attention. Those of us that don’t get enough or haven’t gotten enough, crave or seek it out, maybe even from strangers.

The problem with using the term “attention seeker” negatively is that

it invalidates everyone’s needs for attention because you don’t like the way someone else is getting theirs.

Often when someone is seeking attention from strangers, it’s because they aren’t getting the kind of attention they need or want from their loved ones. Sometimes they just need more attention than someone else might. Sometimes it’s a cry for help.

The worst thing you can do is perceive someone’s cry for help as attention seeking.

We all do things to get attention, some people might not realize it. Some dress up, others tell stories loudly, others make scenes. Seeking attention is not a bad thing, unless it is done at someone else’s expense. If someone has to suffer emotional or physical pain, then the attention seeking is abusive. If it results in minor annoyance or irritation, just let it go. It’s none of your business how someone gets the attention they need.

When I see someone who is seeking attention from strangers, I think nothing of it. If they need attention, then who am I to make them feel badly about their need? Especially when they might not be receiving the attention they need from loved ones at home.

Some of us need more attention than others. That’s not a bad thing. Some people need very little.

Some people need to feel seen, some people need to feel accepted, some people need to feel heard, some people only need love. These are all forms of attention (and only a few) and they are all equally valid.

I don’t think needing and seeking attention is negative. I think it’s our way of knowing (consciously or subconsciously) what we need and then getting it in the ways we know how.

I see a parallels with treating my depression with medication. There is nothing wrong with me using store bought chemicals to help me produce and maintain the chemicals someone else’s brain makes naturally. We all need serotonin, we just might get it differently.

There is nothing wrong with someone dyeing their hair or talking loudly to get attention, just like there is nothing wrong with seeking attention exclusively from your partner. We all need attention, we just might get it differently.

Additionally, I don’t think people who dress or appear outside of what many consider normal are seeking attention for the way they look and dress. Saying they are is like saying “anyone who doesn’t meet my expectations of beauty and “normal” appearances are trying to get noticed for being different.” Essentially, anyone who doesn’t look and act like me is doing it wrong.

In reality, they have probably accepted that they don’t meet everyone’s expectations for appearances and have chosen to reject them rather than change who they are to fit them. I don’t see anything negative about that. In fact I think it’s beautiful for someone to embrace their non-conventional appearance or personality. How many people don’t and are miserable for it?

How many people need attention but don’t seek it out because they don’t want to be branded as an “attention seeker.” Or they do seek it out, but it doesn’t meet the “acceptable” forms of getting attention and they still don’t get what they need in the end because someone brushed them off as an attention seeker?

The negative association around attention seekers and people who are labeled as so, is that it tells everyone that it’s bad to look like “someone who needs attention” (AKA not whitebread normal) and to say anything about yourself that might not meet social norms (like talking about mental illness).

This is exactly what kept me from telling anyone about my depression. I had been conditioned through mental illness stigma to believe that people who talk about their illnesses are attention seekers. Then I used to think that people who I had labeled as attention seekers that talked about their illnesses a lot were the reason I waited and suffered so long. In reality, it had nothing to do with them. It had everything to do with the “seeking attention in any way is bad” narrative.

The danger of writing someone off as an attention seeker when they talk about their illness or symptoms of mental illness, is that you are invalidating their experience and ignoring their need for help. Help is a form of attention. Who are we to determine if someone’s need for help is worthy or not? How dare we tell someone who is in pain that their pain is just them being an attention seeker.

We need to stop shitting on other people because they make choices we wouldn’t make. Especially when it comes to attention. We all need attention, we just get it in different ways. Who am I to judge another person’s method? Especially if they aren’t hurting anyone in the process. Even more so, if they are hurting and I am ignoring it.

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