Callous hurts more than Malice

Children love attention. They feel both safe and energised when they are seen, heard and held by parents and other trusted adults. Not all attention is equal. Kids prefer attention which makes them feel special, wanted, contained and protected. This is positive attention. Giving the right kind of positive attention helps the child navigate through their current problem. If they are feeling unsafe, protective attention (like a big hug) helps them through. When feeling not good enough, attention that highlights their specialness to the care-giver (like 1:1 time and individualised praise) helps.

Second best, after positive attention, is negative attention. Being yelled at or chastised or at worst, abused, might not seem fun, but children will often act in ways that are seemingly designed to get negative attention. This is because worst of all is no attention at all. Being ignored, neglected, abandoned feel the most unsafe and uncomfortable for children, and many will do anything to avoid these states.
So, there is an order of preference:

Positive attention is most preferred

Negative attention is second best

No attention is least preferred

Inside of every adult is an emotional core, our inner child. Each adult, therefore, craves attention. We have the urge to be recognised and loved and respected and admired. When we don’t receive enough attention, our inner child rebels. We may switch from seeking good attention to seeking bad attention. And sometimes, when we don’t believe we are good enough for positive attention in the first place – negative attention is better than none.

Many people act in ways that will put themselves in harm’s way. Many people will remain in destructive relationships and exploitative jobs. They will persist with toxic friendships. They do this because callous hurts more than malice. Receiving no attention feels like being ignored, that is being treated callously. And being hurt with negative attention, that is being treated with malice, feels more preferable that no attention at all.

Some adults never received sufficient childhood attention, or the right type of attention. They carry the scar of feeling unwanted or unprotected or unworthy or uncontained. These wounds occurred during childhood, but the scar remains in the form of a Schema. These adults will act as if the trauma of childhood were recurring. They will accept bad attention because of the old wounds.

Holding onto negative attention makes the receipt of positive attention less likely. If you are persisting with negative attention from others, the first question is to ask – what scars do I carry? Dealing with this wound can give you the bravery to relinquish the negative attention trap you are in and dare to dream of attention that better meets your needs.

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