Attention Seeking or Visibility Seeking?

Sometimes, when children act up or adults become emotionally distraught, the question arises: Are they just doing it for attention?

I would say yes, this is often true. But the issue isn’t ‘attention’ so much as visibility.

People have an objective need to feel that their lives are important. Part of the way to do this is to feel visible to others: Spouse, children, parents, friends, or perhaps people in general.

Visibility is a perfectly reasonable, necessary need. But it cannot become an end in itself. When it does, it ends up as an attempt to almost fake achievement, fulfillment or success. And it can’t be done.

This is because visibility is what happens as the end result of something. An author achieves visibility because she convinces readers that she has something valuable to say. A sports hero achieves visibility because he demonstrates talent on the playing field consistently. A business hero achieves visibility because he makes a big profit, by creating and selling a product or service of great value to many.

You can’t ‘seek attention’ or seek visibility without first focusing on the means that would make visibility possible. And the means of achievement or fulfillment have to be the ends in themselves—not the visibility.

The failure to get the visibility one wants, in the absence of actually earning it, will often lead to heightened anxiety. In extreme cases the anxiety converts to desperation. When people develop emotional disorders or maladies as a bid for ‘attention,’ it doesn’t mean they’re deliberately faking it. While this is possible and perhaps sometimes true, it’s not usually true.

What’s usually happening is the person has become anxious and desperate. Or perhaps is starting to despair. He or she fails to realize, or perhaps is actively evading, the fact that the satisfaction of being visible will only come over time, from a continuous policy of achievement.

I am talking of ‘achievement’ in a business or a career sense, but only in part. There are achievements in character or personality, as well. You don’t obtain visibility in personal relationships primarily through career achievement. Somebody becomes friends with you, or marries you, more for your personal traits and qualities than anything else (at least hopefully). If you haven’t tended to these qualities in a rational, principled and thoughtful way over time, you won’t obtain the desired result: attention or visibility with someone who reflects the ideals you already practice daily. You might end up with friends or a spouse in name only, but you still will not be satisfied—because the truth is, you never really satisfied yourself.

Psychotherapists and the like encourage people to get caught up in childhood factors. ‘You didn’t get what you needed as a child. You must now work through that as an adult.’ ‘Work through’ is never concretely defined, and hundreds of psychotherapy sessions, if you attempt working with such a therapist, will not give you any better understanding of what ‘work through’ means, either. This is because the phrase ‘work through’ does not describe a correction of your most basic error. It doesn’t really describe anything. The error most people with emotional maladies or disorders have made is failing to tend to the self, including development of the self in a way that pleases oneself—and, as a consequence, others.

To make matters worse, ethicists and moralists throughout society (and throughout history) have emphasized what they consider the virtue of selflessness. So we end up with millions of conscientious, thoughtful people—the ones with the greatest potential for earned visibility—trying to become the opposite of what they require. They’re taught to tend to others, and never to self, as the ideal. And then they wonder why they suffer from depression, anxiety and other manifestations of low self-esteem.

If you want to feel good, it’s necessary to pursue the only course which can make that possible. This course includes self-interest, self-nurturing and recognition of the same in others. This life course cannot just be sometimes, or even often. It must always be your course. When you find others you value or care about, encourage the same in them. Stop condemning others as selfish and therefore bad when they’re seeking their own happiness, and stop holding yourself to that same rotten standard. Drop the idea that selflessness is the ideal or even possible, or necessary, to any human being.

No human being will ever experience happiness without a strong sense of an individual self. If self-esteem is really as important as many now encourage us to believe, then it’s time to embrace the tools and ideals which will make it possible.


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