Asking for Attention (Parents Determined Conditions of Worth)
Asking for attention is something that our entire world seems to be doing right now. We have a deep need to be seen and that need is not being met in a healthy way
Before you start thinking this post isn’t for you because you aren’t asking for attention from anybody or you think that you don’t need or want attention, please bear with me. You may not be conscious of the ways you are asking for attention, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t still doing it.
Not only that but asking for attention is not a negative thing. It’s how we go about getting attention that can be troublesome. If you’ll get really honest with yourself, I think you’ll see that many of your life struggles come from a need to be seen.
Asking for Attention and Being “Needy”
If you had asked me several years ago if I was asking for attention from others, I would’ve been incredibly offended. To me, I thought if you were asking for attention, then you were needy.
It took a lot of deep, hard work for me to see that I was not just asking for attention, but I was begging for it. For many years, I was what society labeled as “needy.”
I learned that the reason I was so “needy” was because my emotional needs weren’t met as a child. I had to learn that it wasn’t my fault that I was asking for attention in unhealthy ways, while at the same time it also was my responsibility to learn how to do it in a healthy way.
Everybody knows somebody who is “needy,” but are you willing to admit that you might also be “needy?” If so, I think my post Emotionally Needy” (Emotional Needs of Children Aren’t Met) would give you some insight into where that came from and how to heal from it.
Our Parents’ Issues Being Dumped on Us
We all have comments that our parents or others made to us that have replayed in our minds for many years after they were made. For me, one of those is related to my asking for attention.
I can’t remember exactly how old I was when my mother made the comment, what I was wearing, or what else was going on in my life then. I just know that I was young and that it really affected me.
“You don’t have to make yourself known every time you walk into a room.” When my mom said that I can remember being very confused. All I did was walk into the room at church. I didn’t say a word or do anything.
My mom was talking to a group of ladies. When I walked into the room, they all stopped talking with her and turned their attention towards me. At the time, I didn’t think anything about it. I just politely waved and went about my business.
The rest of my day I was puzzled at my mom’s irritation towards me. Everything I did was wrong in her eyes, and she let me know.
Like many of my childhood days, I just went to my room to avoid getting into trouble for something. I thought I couldn’t get on my mom’s nerves if I wasn’t around her, even though I was so desperately needing attention from her.
She came into my room that night and made the comment that I can still remember so vividly now. “You don’t have to make yourself known every time you walk into a room.” I asked her what I did wrong.
Her exact answer isn’t something I remember, but overall, she just told me that everywhere I go, I have to have attention from everybody. I remember asking her what I did wrong because all I did was walk into the room quietly. She didn’t have a response. The truth was that I took attention away from her.
Exploring the Need for Attention
That, among many other things from my childhood, is where my negative self-talk was created. That day I was not asking for attention from the ladies my mom was talking to, but I often was asking for attention from my mom.
As a child, I got a lot of attention everywhere I went. Being a little girl with curly red hair and blue eyes gets a lot of attention because it’s not common. I see that now being the mother of a beautiful little boy with curly red hair and blue eyes. He too, gets loads of attention everywhere we go!
Now, I can see that my mom was always asking for attention from others in covert ways because of her own needs that probably weren’t met by her mother. So, when I would get attention, it would infuriate her because it meant she wasn’t getting attention.
When others are asking for attention that often annoys most people. As a psychotherapist, I have learned to look deeper into what leads to somebody to asking for attention. As part of my healing journey, I have also looked at the unhealthy ways I spent years asking for attention.
Need to Be Seen
We all have a need to be seen. When that need is not met, one of two things happens. The first is that we try everything we can to be seen by asking for attention, typically in unhealthy ways.
The other thing that happens is that we decide we don’t need or want to be seen. For those of you who fall into that camp, I want you to know that you’re wrong. We ALL have a need to be seen whether you acknowledge it or not.
This is something that my husband and I have talked about many times. In this regard, he and I are very different. As I mentioned earlier, I wanted to be seen by my mom. I also wanted to be seen by my dad, but the bulk of my childhood he was either emotionally or physical not present due to his alcoholism.
There have been times in my marriage when I would revert back to my unhealthy ways of asking for attention because my need to be seen was present. I have learned to ask my husband for attention and validation when I need it.
I know there are and will still be times when I will revert back to unhealthy ways of asking for attention, but I’ve learned not to shame myself when that happens.
Our Parents Shape Our Perceived Needs
Now, back to how my husband and I are different when it comes to our need to be seen. Last week we were driving home from our son’s t-ball game. We were praising him for playing.
My husband was talking about how he never, and still doesn’t, get that kind of praise from his father. I’m sure there are times when my husband gets annoyed at being married to a therapist, but that day was not one of them.
He was able to see that since he didn’t get that as a child, that he falsely learned that he didn’t need it. I explained that was the reason that he gets so triggered by me when I am asking for attention in a healthy way. He doesn’t think I should need it.
As our son was smiling from us bragging to him about how far he hit the ball, something shifted for my husband. I think he saw that my son was feeling validated and his need to be seen was met.
In that moment, my husband was able to see that he had those same needs as a little boy. Those needs weren’t met by his father. Even though he’s uncomfortable with attention, he still needs it.
Asking for attention isn’t something my husband is going to start doing by any means. However, he was able to see that it’s okay to do it.
Also, I think he is doing some inner child healing by giving our son the attention he needs and deserves that he didn’t get from his father. That is one of the most beautiful things about parenting.
Conditions of Worth Based on Our Parents
Feeling validated by being a good parent and giving our children what we needed and didn’t get as a child can help us heal. Our conditions of worth are based on what we got or didn’t get from our parents and caregivers.
Carl Rogers work on Conditions of Worth explains the reasons we are asking for attention. He believed that one of the ways we base our worth is related to our external factors, like parents and caregivers.
If a child is rejected because somebody says he or she is not good enough at something, then that becomes internalized. That child’s conditions of worth for every aspect of his or her life often turns into Not Good Enough Stuff.
Let’s look at an example of how conditions of worth can play out for a child. As you’re reading this example, I bet you will have experiences from your own childhood popping back up.
A few weekends ago, we were watching our son play soccer. There was a little boy on his team who was having a really rough time. When he wasn’t running the fastest or missed the soccer goal, he would start crying and getting really angry at himself.
Several times after not playing the way he believed he should, he would come running over to his parents and say things like, “I’m not the fastest,” “I’ll never be good,” “I’m so stupid.” It broke my heart to hear a four-year old saying this to himself.
When Parents Dump Their Struggles on Their Child
What broke my heart even more was the response he got from his father. His father was yelling at him and saying, “I’m so sick of this. Why are you such a screw up? What’s wrong with you.”
Halfway through the game, his dad pulled him away from everyone and spanked him for not playing well enough. This truly broke my heart. I wanted to grab that little boy up and tell him how amazing he was and just hold him.
His conditions of worth were based on his father’s expectations that he be the best at all times and to not ever make a mistake. Again, this child was four years old. The only thing he should’ve been worried about was having fun at soccer.
That game was the last game of the season. At the end of the game, all of the kids got medals. That little boy’s father told him that he shouldn’t even get a medal because he wasn’t a winner and criers are always losers.
I could tell that the little boy’s mother was embarrassed at her husband’s behavior. She saw the shock and sadness on my face. She said, “You’d think that we never praise him. I think he was just born with low self-esteem.”
On the ride home, I told my husband what she said. His response was, “I’m not even a therapist and that didn’t take me two seconds to see where his low self-esteem came from. That father caused every bit of that.”
My guess is that the father’s conditions of worth were based on his own parents’ beliefs that he was a failure as well, if he wasn’t always the best. Sadly, he just continued what was taught to him.
That sweet little boy will probably grow up asking for attention from everyone he encounters. When he doesn’t get it or if he doesn’t get it in the way he needs, it will confirm his false, negative belief that he is not good enough.
Positive Conditions of Worth
Now, let’s look at the flip side of conditions of worth being based on a positive experience. Last night, my son had a t-ball game.
Each player gets to hit the ball twice each game. My son, Fitz, was first to bat. I go with him to the tee to help him get his stance and remind him how to hold the bat. He hit the ball and took off running to first base as my husband and I cheered him on.
That was the extent of his playing t-ball for that game. He didn’t want to play in the field when the other team was batting, and he didn’t want to hit the ball the second time.
We tried to get him to go out and play in the field with his team and to hit the ball the second time. He didn’t want to do either. Guess what? That was perfectly fine with us!
On the way home, we praised him for how well he hit the ball and ran the bases. We didn’t shame him for not playing in the field or not hitting the second time.
His conditions of worth were based on us just wanting him to have fun. He had fun. Now, he might tell you that he had more fun collecting rocks while his team was playing, but we’re okay with that too.
My husband and I don’t get everything right by any means, but last night we sure did get that right at t-ball and on the way home. Our son was feeling validated for having fun and for hitting the ball and running the bases.
So, if you recognize that you have a history of asking for attention or you think you don’t need to be seen, think back to your own childhood. What were your conditions of worth based on? Were you praised in the way you deserved? How has that played out in your life?
If you are still struggling with believing you are good enough, keep in mind that you have probably defined good enough on your parents’ and society’s definitions of good enough. Typically, those definitions are unachievable.
Not only that, but if they are achieved what did the person sacrifice to get there? What did it do that person who achieved it throughout the process of achieving it? Some things may be worth it, but if you are always striving to do more and more with no feeling that you are ever good enough, then it’s time to re-evaluate your conditions of worth.
This site is only intended for people who are truly willing to look at themselves with an open mind and have the ability to truly be vulnerable with themselves and others. Please understand that this site is in NO WAY THERAPEUTIC ADVICE. However, this site can be very beneficial in learning the causes of your Not Good Enough Stuff. This site is not intended to provide or replace medical or psychiatric treatment. Mary Beth HIGHLY RECOMMENDS finding a licensed therapist to help you process the information from this site and all that you learn about yourself. Visit Psychology Today to find a licensed therapist in your area.