Attention Seeking or Connection Seeking?

“Oh she’s just attention seeking”. “That’s attention seeking behaviour”. How often have you heard phrases like this? I heard someone say this just the other day, and it got me thinking. So often we dismiss others by labelling their actions as “attention seeking”. But is it really attention that is being sought, or is it connection?

I have become increasingly convinced that we as human beings are wired to need connection, and we will often do whatever we can to make a connection, any connection, with another person. So children might act up in order to make a connection with a distracted or busy parent; adults may resort to dramatic actions in order to feel connected to someone else. Drs John and Julie Gottman talk about the “bids for connection” that partners make in couple relationships. Dr. Sue Johnson’s work focuses on connections (see the link I posted recently).

What difference does it make whether we call it attention seeking or connection seeking? In my experience “attention seeking” is used as a negative label. We dismiss bids for attention, seeing them as selfish or demanding. This allows us to feel like we are in a “one-up” position, maybe a bit superior. This is the opposite of the relational connection or partnership that nurses like me should be aiming for. It’s the antithesis of the secure attachment that family members need.

Connection seeking, on the other hand, is understandable. We all seek connection daily – witness the popularity of social media.

By reframing someone’s behaviour, we change our perception of it and ultimately our response. If we can see someone’s actions as bids for connection, we can be more able to respond in a constructive way. We can promote positive connection seeking behaviours, and find more empathy within ourselves.

Let’s connect. What are your thoughts on this?

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