The drive to seek attention is one of the primordial forces that drives all of human nature. Our bids for attention make our lives easier as we share resources and receive comfort.
Listen in this week to unpack the pull you might feel to shut down attention-seeking behavior (yours OR his) and settle into doling out your attention in a purposeful way that feels exactly right for YOU.
Mentioned in this Episode
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‘s Up, Bees?!
You might have heard me say that before I became a coach, I wore lots of other helping professional type hats – one of which was school counselor in the public school system.
I worked at multiple schools at various grade levels – sometimes with students in mainstream school settings, other times with students working in alternative programs.
Regardless of school set up, I continually ran into one complaint that always struck me as strange.
It came from teachers, from parents… sometimes from students themselves.
Always came with a tone of derision and disgust as well.
What was it?
Some version of “That kid’s just trying to get attention.”
People would roll their eyes and shake their heads as they said this to me.
They always seemed to expect I’d commiserate and join them in their condemnation.
“Attention-Seeking” is so obviously something to squash after all.
Humans are a social species. OF COURSE we want attention from each other.
That desire is one of the primordial forces that drives all of human nature.
So I never quite got why the school system was so bent on stamping it out.
I actually don’t think it’s possible (or desireable) to stamp out attention seeking behavior because humans are WIRED to bid for each other’s attention.
We’re programmed to collaborate and share resources so it’s easier to stay alive.
Our souls thrive on connection, acceptance and social reinforcement.
In fact, the human species would actually cease to exist if no one ever tried to grab anyone else’s attention – because an attention grab of some kind is the very first step down the road to creating a new baby.
You with me?
Then why are many of us so bugged when the people around us want our attention?
I’ve thought about this a lot over my career and I’ve come to believe it’s always one of two things:
1 – Most of us are unconsciously playing a zero sum game when it comes to attention, meaning that, on some level, we believe that there’s a finite amount of attention and also not enough to go around.
If we give attention somewhere then it means there’s less for us or less for other things that matter to us.
Thoughts like that turn attention into a scare commodity.
Our brains instinctively protect and conserve scare commodities which can come out as us trying to shut down other people’s attention seeking behavior.
If they get attention, we won’t.
And since we are a social species that thrives on attention from others, our brains aren’t having any of that. Our brains won’t let us give away something that they see as precious and limited.
Because the brain’s job is to keep us alive.
2 – On some level, many of us believe we have to give attention whenever someone makes a bid. This is another version of my thought from last episode: “Someone else’s choices can limit yours.”
In particular, women often get social messages that suggest they MUST be in service of others at all times, in all things and in all places without personal choice or exception.
Women are taught – sometimes indirectly, sometimes to their faces – that their value comes from the service they offer to others, so it makes sense if, on some level, a request for attention feels more like a command than an option.
Great news is, left to its own devices, the human brain gets things wrong a fair amount of the time. The brain moves quickly and sometimes assumes things are true when there’s actually room for interpretation, remember?
So if you find yourself bugged by your husband’s “attention seeking” behavior, check in with yourself to see if you’re believing that:
There’s not enough attention to go around
You HAVE to give attention whenever he asks for it
If those rules are rattling around in your head, it makes a lot of sense that you’re bugged.
No one wants to go without their share and no one likes their choices to be taken away.
More great news – those “rules” are really just suggestions your brain is offering as it’s trying to make sense of the world and help you navigate your relationships effectively.
Your brain is just tossing up ideas – How bout this? Would that work?
Then the HUMAN part of you has the opportunity to purposefully sort through all of that and decide which rules to live by.
Maybe there’s plenty of attention to go around.
Maybe you’re totally capable of getting all the attention you need.
Maybe you don’t have to give your attention anytime it’s asked for.
Maybe you can decide where to place your focus – all day every day.
Maybe everyone will get what they need when you do.
How does it feel to hear me say all of that?
If you’re breathing deeper and more freely now – that’s pretty common.
How nice for you that you gave yourself the gift of slowing down your brain long enough to see where there’s opportunity to give you some more room in your life.
Most people don’t know that there’s plenty of attention to go around or that THEY are fully in charge of where to spend their attention.
As we already discussed, most people unconsciously think that there’s a finite amount of attention in the world and most people (especially women) believe that they have to give their attention whenever it’s bid for.
None of which is true
That’s why “attention-seeking” behavior gets such a bad rap.
It’s why the school system tends to try to shut it down.
You probably know where I’m going with this – and yep – we don’t just do it at school.
I often see wives try to shut down their husband’s “attention seeking” behavior.
AND many women try to shut down their OWN desire for attention as well.
It happens all over the place AND it doesn’t really work.
Because humans aren’t wired to live solitary lives. We just aren’t.
So, if you want your husband to leave you alone while you’re working or reading or trying to sleep – consider telling him so with love and purposefully identifying times when you ARE willing to give him attention.
And if you aren’t willing to give him attention, that’s your chance to get super curious about why.
You probably have a very good reason.
And you probably aren’t letting yourself listen to it because you might have internalized the “rule” that you’re supposed to give attention when it’s asked for.
This dynamic might show up most obviously in the bedroom – but I’m not just talking sexual attention here.
This concept applies in EVERY room of the house and every space on the planet.
Your attention is yours to give. Or not.
And when you try that idea on, it’ll probably seem a little less urgent for him to stop wanting your attention.
When you can truly say yes OR no – when you give yourself that permission… his asking is no longer a problem.
And if he stopped asking all together… let’s be honest, Bees. That’s just a different – and probably more dire – kind of problem.
Take me and my husband again.
He loves talking politics.
I used to hate that he wanted to talk about his podcasts and news stories all the time.
Now I think it’s kinda cute.
What’s the difference?
I now know I can opt in or out to those conversations WITHOUT making the length of the conversation mean ANYTHING about me, him or our relationship.
Of course he wants to share his interests with me.
I’m very cool and I have insightful things to say.
And, sometimes I just don’t wanna.
In those moments, I say something like: “I want to talk to you, but not right now. Can we pick this up at dinner?”
“I have a hard stop in 10 mins. You’re welcome to talk to me about this until then.”
I say both things with love and I smile (because I’m not thinking he shouldn’t ask for my attention) and then I follow through.
I say no for now and pick it up at dinner.
OR I cut him off – as promised – at the 10 min mark.
This wasn’t always easy.
It was actually pretty stressful when I first started doing it.
Felt weird to me AND to husband.
But feels so much more honest now.
I want him to want my attention. Especially when I know I can give it – or not – without consequence.
He chooses me for connection in ALL the ways.
I choose when and how I’m willing to reciprocate.
He does the same.
I seek his attention because I care about him and I want him in my life.
But sometimes he doesn’t text back right away.
Sometimes he’s too tired to talk or he’s really distracted by work.
Sometimes he says, “Not now, babe.”
That stung at first – because of what I made it mean: “I wasn’t important. He was losing interest.”
But none of that was actually true.
He’s just a human deciding where to assign his attention. He’s doing his best to communicate with me about when he’s available and when another time would be better.
I don’t call myself needy or clingy if I feel sad when he does that.
Of course I want him to pay attention to me.
He’s my husband. That’s the gig.
And when he’s got other things happening – I remind myself that I am still totally capable of getting the attention I want. I’ve got friends. My journal. God. My family.
So many options.
I’m a human wired to seek attention. So is husband. Nothing wrong with that.
When he pouts and complains, which he might, I can offer understanding – I want him to want my attention AND it can’t happen right now. That sucks.
Makes sense why he’s disappointed. I’m awesome.
And I’ll always come back around to him after carpool or coaching or whatever else is important to me at that exact moment.
Same goes in reverse – of course I want him to pay attention to me.
It’d be weird if I didn’t care about connecting with him.
So I make bids all day without calling myself unkind names OR making it mean anything when he can’t give me all the attention I want in that moment.
Attention ebbs and flows.
Doesn’t have to be a problem unless you make it one.
Of course you want attention and it’s my opinion that you should get it.
As often as you want.
To be clear, I’m definitely not saying that either of you should be allowed to run amok pulling attention toward yourself in way that detracts from the other person’s needs or safety.
That’s not it at all.
I’m just saying that it’s most effective to acknowledge the human need for attention as valid, then figure out how you two can give and receive it in adaptive ways.
Our bids for attention only become maladaptive when we’ve starved ourselves or others from getting what we really need.
Possibly because we’ve been believing that attention is limited or we’ve been believing we absolutely have to give it – even when we don’t want to.
Good think both of those things are lies.
Let’s wrap up here with some other lies we tell ourselves or each other about the totally normal human need for attention. include comments like:
Oh grow up
Stop being so sensitive
She’s such a drama queen
All of those comments are aimed at shaming people (or ourselves) for wanting to be seen.
Which makes no sense because of course we all want to be seen.
Because human brains are WIRED that way. No point in fighting biology.
Yours or his.
So try out answering pouting with patience. Moodiness with mildness. Curtness with curiosity.
What need isn’t being met here?
How can you pay attention to what’s going on instead of tossing out some shame (on you or toward him) and hoping the need will go away.
Cuz it probably won’t.
Human beings need attention.
You can – for sure – figure out how to give BOTH of you the kind of attention that feels nurturing and healing for you BOTH.
I’ve seen it happen over and over. I know you can make it happen too.
Choose courage, Bee. And keep on flying!