Why "They Just Want Attention" is No Excuse - FROM THE ARCHIVES

[originally posted on March 6, 2015]


There are a lot of things that make me righteously indignant in life. People who don't signal when they turn left, racism, churches that favor talent over righteous living (that's a post for another day, but it's still worth noting).

However, very few things get me quite as instantly worked up as the phrase, "oh, they're probably just doing it for the attention." 

"Why is that so frustrating?" you might ask.

Most of the time, this phrase is used to explain why someone doesn't really need help, or that they are not in any actual danger. It is often used in reference to people who engage in self-harm, drugs, or even promiscuity. It is a safe response, one that says that a person engaging in these things is "just doing it for attention" and that we, as the responsible, currently uninvolved people we are, should ignore either the person or the behavior entirely. 

This logic makes no sense. Here. Let me prove it with a proof. 

1. [activity] is dangerous or addictive (given)

2. [name] is engaging in [activity].

3. [name] is an attention-seeker.

4. Therefore, [name] is safe from the danger of [activity]. 

What? When you look at it closely, it doesn't make sense. Now, I am not claiming that everyone who engages in something dangerous is actually doing it for attention consciously - it very well may be a coping mechanism and meant to be either hidden or ignored, neither of which are healthy - or the cry for attention might be a survival instinct and not intentional. Either way, there is nothing inherently wrong with crying for attention. Let me repeat that: 

There is nothing inherently wrong with crying for attention. Here are three reasons why. 


1. No one sets out to become an alcoholic.

People don't sit down with their first drink planning on ruining their future marriage or their health. They drink for fun or because of peer pressure (usually). Now, it's very true that not everyone who drinks is an alcoholic, and I'm not making some "anti-alcohol" statement. What I am saying is that the reason someone is engaging in a highly addictive activity, such as cutting, is in danger of becoming an addict NO MATTER WHY THEY ARE DOING IT. That's just a fact. In that sense, a person's reasons don't matter. Their chosen mode of coping or attention-seeking is in itself dangerous. Let's say a six year old kid climbs onto their roof, and starts yelling for a parent. No parent in their right mind is going to walk away once they see what their child is doing, shrugging and saying, "it's just a grab for attention." NO. You help your kid. In that same way, as soon as you see someone engaging in a dangerous activity, you do whatever you can to help them get out of danger. 


2. Drowning people are attention seekers. 

Imagine the scene: Someone is in the ocean, screaming and thrashing and making a fit. Instantly, a lifeguard facepalms. "Stupid little attention seeking teenagers," he says, as he applies sunscreen to his nose and repositions his sunglasses. "They just want to see your reaction." 

That is never, ever what happens. A lifeguard rushes into the water and does everything they can to save the drowning person. This should be obvious, but somehow it isn't the obvious reaction when someone is having an internal emergency. If a person is doing something to cope with their pain, they might, in fact, be doing it for attention, just like a drowning person splashes and screams for help. With mental and emotional problems, people are often robbed of the words they need to ask for help, so they resort to some extreme something so they can be seen. Basically, if they are cutting for attention, they need it. They might need medical, emotional, or psychological attention, but they certainly need love and attention. Seriously, open your eyes to the possibility that someone is drowning on the inside, and they need you. They need your attention and your help. If you see the cries for attention, do something! Find a counselor, tell parents, do what you have to, and love whomever needs you. Be there. You are needed. 


3. "It is not good for a man to be alone." 

This point is actually directly Biblical. God Himself makes a perfect, sinless world, and it wasn't good for the only human to be the only human, he needed companionship. Seriously, in a perfect world, people needed other people. Now, this is a beautiful world, but it is broken, and the people in it are broken. If someone is or feels alone in a world like this, how can you expect anything but cries for attention and companionship? If the normative calls are failing, such as broken friendships or a cold household, a person might get desperate. Now, I am not advocating that a person dive into the breach to "save" anyone alone (see above point). I am saying that the need for attention is part of being a human. As a human being, I feel obligated to my fellow humans. If someone in my proximity is lonely, broken, sick, whatever, it is a part of my job as a person to bring them into the circle. There no exceptions to this obligation. Period. 


So now what? / A sum-up of my story

Do what you can to love on your fellow humans and to be the most loyal and kindest person the hurting person has ever met. This does not mean you should carry their secrets all alone. There are professionals who have trained for years to capably offer counseling. However, you can be the loving influence who does not abandon a drowning person. I know I was not abandoned, years ago, when I was at my worst. When I was in my darkest places, I was certainly acting out for attention. Yes, the conscious reason was to cope, and there were things out of my control. However, I could have done more to cover up what was going on and what I was doing to cope, and where I was breaking down. That would have a been terrible mistake. I needed the attention I got (and before someone jumps on a high horse, a lot of the attention I needed was medical). I know that now, though I would not have seen it then. But here's the thing: I really and truly needed the help I got. If I hadn't been seen, if I hadn't put up some red flags, I would be dead. I don't write that for shock value; I mean "dead" in the literal sense of the word. Things are different now for me now, and have been for a long time, but this stigma on acting out hasn't changed. I challenge you, the reader, to reconsider the idea of asking for attention, and to not turn a blind eye or use this excuse. 

Yes, be wise about how you go about helping someone. 

Yes, call in back-up when needed. 

Just don't look away for a reason like this. It's not a good one. 


And to those who saw me and didn't use this excuse: 

Thank you, thank you from the bottom of my heart. I know what I owe you, and I am doing my best to pass it forward. I can give very little back except for my gratitude and my prayers. So thank you. Always, always, thank you.