Our theme this month is loneliness, and last week we looked at how loneliness can affect us mentally and physically. This week we are going to look closer at the companion of loneliness – seeking attention. It is very common when one feels isolated that they try to seek attention for multiple reasons, which are usually related to their reason for feeling lonely. For example, if one has just lost a dear family member or close friend, then they may focus on their relationship with other close individuals in their life to fill that gap. In another thread, when someone feels threatened by another person who takes all the attention, then they may feel jealous and attempt to seek attention. Additionally, if someone is the victim of abuse in the form of neglect, then they may feel the need to seek attention to find healing or comfort from feeling neglected. Alternatively, if somebody’s reason for feeling lonely is that they lack confidence in themselves or feel unworthy of other’s attention, then they may seek out attention in other places or change themselves to feel accepted and worthy.
Often, these changes are detrimental rather than productive. Often, these places are destructive rather than constructive.
As humans, we are psychologically or mentally wired to live in a social sphere; to build social relationships and then maintain social contact. However, just like in the examples above, when our social strata is lacking in some way then we feel emotionally and cognitively distressed. This distress is called loneliness, and in attempting to cope with this loneliness, we try to fill up our social lives in other ways. At times, it is difficult to understand why somebody hangs out with that wrong crowd or remains in that unhealthy relationship, but that is exactly what loneliness or feeling misunderstood can do to an individual. Professor Cacioppo word’s it aptly, when he says, “Much like the threat of physical pain, loneliness protects your social body. It lets you know when social connections start to fray, and causes the brain to go on alert for social threats.” (Gammon, 2012).
As human beings, we can go to great lengths to attain social validation – because this is our nature.
It is by no means wrong for us to seek attention and obtain social validation, but it is closely intertwined with negative behaviours and outcomes. Imagine wasting time and effort to be accepted by someone with a high social status or someone who is considered ‘cool’, or someone you have a crush on. It could result in you changing yourself to obtain their attention or acceptance or ‘forcing’ or ‘compelling’ them to accept you when they otherwise would not. Is that worth it? Will that really be a genuine relationship or social contact? Will it eventually lead us to become less lonely in the long-run?
The Holy Prophet ﷺ has said:
“…Be mindful of Allah, and He will take care of you. Be mindful of Him, and you shall find Him at your side. If you ask, ask of Allah. If you need help, seek it from Allah. Know that if the whole world were to gather together in order to help you, they would not be able to help you except if He had written so. And if the whole world were to gather together in order to harm you, they would not harm you except if Allah had written so. The pens have been lifted, and the pages are dry.”
It is true that when we experience loneliness we have to work on our social life in order to heal, but this ‘work’ is part of a 3-step process:
- Accepting and experiencing the full range and depth of our emotions, that we may have not been able to as a child or when we are still in the shock of our experience.
- Coming to terms with our “broken” experiences and what we perceive as social threats – it’s part of life to have these experiences and admitting them is one step closer to healing.
- Trusting in ourselves and in the validity of our own experience, even when another person’s opinion contradicts it.
This third step is by far the most difficult because it involves seeing things objectively. This means not falling prey to self-deceiving yourself about a particular experience or blindly believing that somebody else’s version of events is accurate. For example, someone who is lonely because of being in an unhealthy relationship may not have a chance to accept their strong emotions by being in shock that they’re partner would treat them badly. Furthermore, they may remain in denial for a long time about their experiences being broken and detrimental. Finally, they may lose trust in themselves and their judgement by believing their partner’s version of events, which may be skewed. So, if their partner would blame them for being the reason for treating them badly, then they may believe them instead of viewing their experience objectively.
Therefore, let us try to practice healing from loneliness in healthy and positive ways, and let us endeavour to seek attention and trust in the best source of all:
“If Allah helps you, none can overcome you. But, if He forsakes you, who if there then that can help you after that? And on Allah should the believers rely.”
~ Qur’an 3:160
For all the parents, teachers and adults out there: it’s easy to take the redundant approach when we observe this behaviour, by saying ‘Oh! I give up on that person’, or continually reprimanding or neglecting the behaviour of these individuals. However, these approaches are not healthy and will never solve the problem for the simple fact that the reasoning behind this behaviour is not unknown. Remember: you can’t address or solve what you don’t know.