Tips for Attention Seekers
Attention can be a hard subject for abuse survivors. It's a basic human need, like food and water, but during abuse attention often resulted in pain. We want to be noticed, but we're scared of getting hurt; we want to rely on others, but we're afraid of rejection; we want to reach out, but we don't know how to do it constructively. Some people seem to get by with very little attention: they view it as a valuable resource, are frugal with it, and spend it wisely, only asking for the exact type of attention that they need. Others can't seem to get enough, asking for any type of attention they can get, which frustrates everyone around them and drowns them in negative backlash, destroying their self-esteem. Getting the right type of attention is a skill like any other, it takes trial and error, and a lot of practice. This page lists a few basic tips on how to make it work.
Narrow down the problem
When friends call you an attention-seeking drama queen and stop returning your calls - it's a huge blow to self-esteem. You feel like you're a bad person overall, can never do anything right, everybody hates you, etc. Panic causes even more behaviors that annoy others, and the issue snowballs further and further. It's important to stop this spiral. You're more than your method of getting attention; other aspects of your character are probably fine. You don't have to change your entire personality in order for people to like you, only a few behaviors that get on their nerves.
Value other people's time
Often what annoys people is just the sheer amount of contact you're initiating. The time/attention they can spend on you is not unlimited, they have their own lives too. When you sense annoyance - cut down on the time you spend talking, number of texts you send, length of emails, etc. Count these things if you have to at first, the habit to value other people's time will form pretty soon. Attention-seeking is a catch 22: you aren't getting the attention you need, ask for more the wrong way, get the wrong type of attention, and don't value what you're getting because it's not what you wanted. The way out of this cycle is to reboot the system and start from a clean slate. When a resource is limited, you'll use it more productively.
Use a journal
When you need to vent, whine, rant, rave - use a journal. Unload everything you've got to say, get it off your chest, let off the steam - and only then talk to people, if you still need to. Keeping an online blog rather than a paper journal gives you the option to make it public, so that people who are interested in your raw vents can go ahead and read them. The goal is to separate your stream of conscience into two parts: things that don't need a response and things that do. Other people can't and won't always read/hear everything you have to say, help them figure out which parts they should read and respond to, and which are OK to skip.
Be clear and honest
When you ask for something non-specific (e.g. post "I give up..." on Facebook), others don't know what do you need. You hope that they'll respond with various kinds of attention, and you'll pick out what you like and discard the rest. However, that's not really fair: it's you who needs something, not them, so you should be the one making an effort. For example, if your "I give up..." post was prompted by someone's comment about your weight, rephrase it to "I hate it when people comment on my weight" instead. Being specific, clear, and honest gives others a chance to support you voluntarily, instead of tricking them into it, so you'll get less of eyeroll type of responses, and more of "I agree, comments on weight are rude," which is what you probably wanted. Worst case scenario they'll tell you why they don't sympathize with your position, e.g. "yesterday you called me a fat pig and now you want my hugs?" It's unpleasant, but helps you understand why you aren't getting the attention you want, so it's helpful in the long run too.
Never ignore attention
Whether you asked for attention or not, you need to acknowledge it when you receive it, even if it wasn't what you were looking for. Someone spent a few seconds of their life on you - ignoring that is a sure way to not get attention from them ever again. The very minimum you need to do is say "thank you" - so that they would know that you noticed their input and have manners. And if there's anything at all that you appreciated about this interaction, it's a very good idea to elaborate: "Thanks for randomly emailing me to ask how I was doing, it's great to hear from you!" "Thanks for showing me where the post office is, you saved me at least a half an hour of driving around searching for it!" This lets others better understand what specifically you liked and why, so they'll be motivated to give you some attention again.
Pay attention to others
People quickly lose interest if you're only focused on yourself because relationships are a two-way street; if you're ignoring others - why should they pay attention to you? Being genuinely interested in other people is the only way to make and keep friends, so you need to notice their news, congratulate them on their successes, empathize with their misfortunes, read up on their hobbies, etc. Reciprocity isn't the only goal here - you're likely to learn something new and exciting, expand your horizons, develop broader interests, and make more meaningful social connections as a result. Another technique is simply reframing your issue so that it's relevant for others as well. For example, instead of saying "I'm so ugly," say something like "Do you guys sometimes feel insecure, needing reassurance that you're likeable?" This way you're starting a conversation, inviting other people to share how they cope with these feelings, and everyone gets validation and hopefully some constructive ideas too. That's a lot more interesting to others than repeatedly reassuring you that you aren't ugly.
Prioritize your needs
Friends support each other, but everyone has limits, and you have to respect that. Abuse often causes mental health problems that are beyond the scope of regular friendship, they require support of a paid mental health professional. Your friends are under no obligation to tiptoe around your triggers, memorize names of your alters, use complicated pronouns, etc. You can ask them to accommodate you, but you need to accept "no" for an answer. Otherwise they might eventually lose interest and walk away simply because you're too high maintenance. If you sense than the issue is becoming a deal breaker, think of your priorities: would you rather have a friend who isn't interested in your mental health quirks, or no friend at all? Both options are valid, but you need to make a choice, or else you (ex) friend will make it for you.
Don't place all of your eggs in one basket
If you cling to just one person and expect them to fulfill all of your needs as they come - that person gets burnt out sooner or later and stops returning your calls. That's why it's important to have a few friends: if one of them is busy when you need something, you can reach out to another. No one person can be perfect for every need, everyone has their strengths and weaknesses. One can be a great outdoors companion but impossible to watch movies with, another can be great at movies but not much use for deep philosophical conversations, yet another can be amazing at those but unreliable financially. If your friend doesn't want to go shopping with you, it doesn't mean that they are a bad friend and you need to cut them off. It just means that you need an additional friend who would enjoy shopping together.
~ Helen Keller
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