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Attention vs. Affection

Attention and affection are both very important needs, but they are different. It’s important to be clear as to which you are seeking and why.

Attention is a big deal. It is in the giving and receiving of attention that we become equal in one another’s eyes. If I pay attention to you or you to me, that means we have decided that this person is worth the time, effort, and acknowledgment that attention provides. Nothing drives people up a wall faster than being ignored.

We all want and seek attention because it provides validation. In our current world, it seems like everyone is seeking to stand out and garner – and in many cases monetize – attention, recognition, and validation via social media. Conversely, others of us (mostly us introverts) don’t like being in the spotlight. But regardless of whether you are a person who actively seeks attention, welcomes it in limited quantities on occasion, or does your best to avoid it, it’s always useful to look at what you pay attention to in your life. The things you feed your attention to tend to grow, and what we withhold attention from tends to wither and fall away.

Do you only give attention to the pursuit of attention, or do you give attention, for example, to things like the important relationships in your life? Do you give attention to what makes you feel safe and secure in life – physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually? Do you give attention to generating a real sense of self-esteem from within, or do you get caught in the insatiable and impossible task of seeking it from others?  Do you pay attention to your need to be creative, or do you just pump out content to stay relevant on social media? Do you give attention to creating and producing substantive accomplishments, or are you relying on whatever captures your attention at the time?

The things we pay attention to are often what we manifest in our lives. So, it’s useful to inventory and review the things we feed with our attention. The things we feed with our attention often become habituated. Do you feed your hope or your cynicism? Do you you’re your competitiveness, jealousies, grudges, or feelings of being unappreciated? Or do you feed joy, love, friendship, and fun?

Attention-seeking is also a way to try to staunch the pain, frustration and even despair of loneliness. As connected as we all are, many of us still experience loneliness, even in a loving relationship or when surrounded by friends.

The need for attention and the desire to staunch the howl of loneliness often overshadows, for many, the real need for affection. The withdrawal and absence of affection from those we love threatens to leave us lonely and alone, causing us real mental, emotional and spiritual pain. As the Dalai Lama said, “We can live without religion and meditation, but we cannot survive without human affection.”

We all need affection, and that need for genuine affection is something worth paying attention to. There are all kinds of ways to express or give affection. Words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time, and physical touch are commonly associated with ways affection is shown or given.

Too often in our current world people substitute and settle for attention – any kind of attention, any port in a storm – rather than seek and cultivate real affection from themselves and from others. Attention is valuable and essential in our lives, but it will not replace the genuine need for affection. Affection, like trust, is something that grows and is earned over time. There is no easy or quick fix to meeting that need. So, by all means, grab all the attention you feel you need, but be careful about assuming it will meet the deeper and more important need of genuine affection.

Living Skills offers positive psychology counseling, spiritual counseling and life coaching services in Atlanta, and Online, including the LGBTQ community. Sessions available by Skype. Please email us at or visit Podcast: “The Problem with Humans” now available on Apple Podcasts, Buzzsprout, Google Podcast, and Spotify, as well as on my site. Follow us on Twitter.