An Honest Talk About Attention + Validation

An unexpected insight came up in a therapy session a few weeks back. I was talking about the attention that naturally comes with performing and showcasing my essence and vulnerability on a stage. People take notice, approach you to talk about your set – buy you a drink, even. Mostly guys.

I said to my counsellor that in that moment, when a guy is giving me his undivided attention and relating to me as if I’m interesting – in that moment I feel as if I’m enough. I started to tear up, saying: “I don’t know why I’m getting emotional”. It’s just that I rarely feel like that. It means the world to me when someone wants to engage with me.

A few weeks ago, at an open mic, I had what I thought was some form of connection with this guy. He shared a joint with me outside, twice, and actually gave me what was left of his weed because he wanted to be sharp for work that week. When we went back inside, he bought me a cranberry juice without asking me – he noticed what I was drinking. I thought that was such a sweet gesture – I was really touched.

I gave him my number. The weeks passed and no contact.

I saw him again this week at the open mic. A couple of hours passed and he hadn’t approached me. Whether it was intentional or not, the whole “hard to get” thing is an absolute bitch. After my set, I went over to speak to him and felt weak to do so. I felt like a little kid looking for validation. He complimented me on my set – I think he might’ve actually used the word fabulous or something.

There had been a mixup with my number. When I initially gave it to him a few weeks ago, I accidentally gave him the wrong one, so I corrected it. Apparently this one also didn’t work, but when I checked – it was right. So God knows what happened – I think there’s something wrong with his phone.

There was something different about this time that I saw him. Things didn’t necessarily flow the way they did before. When he asked me if I wanted to come out to smoke with him, I complied with embarrassing ease. When I followed him out, I felt slightly dissociated. I looked to the orange streetlights and the way they reflected on the cobbled alley and felt something in the pit of my stomach.

Something about not wanting to be so pliable.

He has a lot to say for himself. Talking about concepts and things which interest him comes easily. He’s interested in child psychology, which also piques my interest. So a conversation along these lines should be easy. But it’s not. I don’t know what it is but when I’m around him, I feel like I have to force myself to sound interesting.

This is crazy. I write songs. I produce. I write a blog and never seem to run out of ideas for it. I have an interesting job. But around him, I feel like the most boring person in the world. He brings out this shy, quiet, unsure person in me. A shadow of myself. A person that I rarely am around guys.

And you know what? I stayed later than I wanted to that night in order to get the same bus home as him. Even though, in actuality, the exchanges we were having didn’t really make me feel all that good about myself. If anything, I started to feel a little insecure that night.

And on the bus home, it was the same. Him having tons of interesting things to say – me listening almost in awe at his insights. Then he said: “What about you?” “What about me?” I replied. I couldn’t do that long monologue thing he was doing. I felt like all of a sudden I was under a spotlight and hadn’t prepared anything. I ended up talking about my hopes and dreams. Fucking hell, I ended up talking about my Dad. Maybe if he saw my vulnerability, he’d be more interested in me – even if only from a psychological point of view. Guys love a broken doll.

Towards the end of the bus journey, I got anxious about us being unable to have contact and said I’d check the number I gave him. What a loser. Honestly, I am NOT usually like this. It’s because he was so complacent and unbothered about everything, it stirred this chaos in my soul.

I wrote this song a few years ago about a crush that I had and this was one of the lines: “You’re so bored and complacent – I can’t look away”. It still rings true. And what is that appeal?? Why are so many of us drawn to those that leave us guessing? What is the appeal of following someone around like a dog and jumping when someone snaps their fingers? There’s certainly a sexual appeal to it, if you’re that way inclined; but you don’t want that bleeding into the rest of your life. Or at least, don’t.

I think it probably goes back to: a) the fundamental law of wanting something more when you feel like you can’t have it; and b) the archetype of the emotionally unavailable father. My Dad was a weird mix of being overly affectionate and smothering whilst also having the cruel tendency to suddenly become cold and callous and habitually ignoring of me. Both of these feel like home to me.

I think that’s why so many of us are drawn to those with whom it probably won’t actually work out. Because it feels like home. Even if home was sometimes emotionally chaotic, difficult, lonely, isolating and volatile. It was still home.

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Traumatic bonding occurs when episodes of abuse alternate with positive experiences. _____ We learn to adjust to our environment as newborns. It’s part of our wiring to adapt + survive. Each time we are exposed to a threatening stimuli, the brain learns to metabolize and is quickly ready for more. A person who is forced to metabolize threatening stimuli on a consistent basis eventually begins to (unconsciously) seek out this feeling because it’s familiar. The source of the pain stimuli isn’t necessarily as important as our response to it, with an understanding that a desire to return that source supersedes the desire not to. ______ Often this pain can begin to feel pleasing. Over time, the efficient brain sets the bar higher and higher, making it harder for the original feeling to be obtained. But the search continues regardless. Studies have shown that returning to a similar painful experience signals to the brain a sort of “sigh of relief.” The adaptation to survive has now become a source of living. Without it, individuals begin to feel withdrawals, bored, lost + empty. (That is, until we acknowledge this pattern of addiction to chaos + learn to rewire our brain’s response.) . ______ It can be confusing. People get stuck in its vicious cycle. They protect and defend abusers. They deny the abuse. They work harder to please the abuser. They feel guilty trying to leave + believe it’s their job to keep the abuser happy. They have moments of rage followed by moments of guilt and sadness. They stick around with the hope + anticipation that a good day is just on the horizon. _____ As outsiders, it’s easy to judge + criticize. However if you can start to understand the brain, you’ll begin to empathize. Those who experience trauma + abuse return to the pain because it’s familiar + pleasing. It’s what they know as “home.” And so they continue, until they *create* a new home + a new outlet for real pleasure that isn’t rooted in pain. This is the process of healing. _____ #trauma #healing #abused #ptsd #brain #psychology #psych #bonding #learn #selfhealing #conscious #brainwork #rewire #feelings #narcissist #mentalhealth #abuse #survivor #addictedtochaos #addiction

A post shared by Courtney Burg (@_mombojombo_) on

The above post brilliantly illustrates and explains the returning of victims of abuse to patterns which feel familiar. As a disclaimer, I am in no way insinuating that this guy I was speaking to is abusive – I am exploring my own tendency to move towards situations which are not emotionally healthy or nurturing for me. The reality is that we’re probably not romantically compatible – that doesn’t make him a bad person. Me being drawn to someone who ultimately does not make me feel validated or secure is a sign of trying to repeat childhood traumatic relationships in order to heal from them. But here’s a positive I took from it.

The next day after that open mic when I was alone in my room, I had a realisation: “This is what I don’t want.” I don’t want to be left second guessing or unsure of myself. I don’t want to jump when someone snaps their fingers. I don’t want to chase that feeling, that high of validation, for me to come crashing down later when I realise it was not as authentic as I wanted it to be. I think this situation taught me to remember my worth. So here’s to that. 🥂

Below is another brilliant post which expands on what I’ve been talking about.

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Not all relationships are created equally, although the healthiest relationships strive for equity, open communication, and reciprocity. ⠀ 💜⠀ Often, when someone has experienced attachment-based or developmental trauma, they are unaware of how to navigate healthy connections with others. Since they either had to shrink or parent themselves in order to survive their childhood, they may find that they are in inequitable relationships in adulthood as they were not taught how to take up relational space.⠀ 💜⠀ When someone has internalized that they have to shift and change in order to either keep people happy, or keep them around, they may find themselves in a pattern of chasing after people in order to keep relationships afloat. They may find that they are so busy attending to the needs of others that they aren't able to take the time to learn about their own needs.⠀ 💜⠀ Part of healing is learning to set healthy boundaries, and part of boundary setting is eliminating the relationships where equity and reciprocity cannot be established. Now hear this, you are worthy, just as you are, and anyone who makes you chase them, or their needs, doesn't deserve a spot in your life.⠀ 💜⠀ To those of you finding your people, healing your wounds, learning about your needs, and setting boundaries for the first time, I see you. Stand still and see who is left, those are the ones you can count on.⠀ .⠀ .⠀ .⠀ .⠀ #iseeyou #boundaries #healing #heal #toheal #healthy #healthyrelationships #connections #healthypatterns #relational #friendship #partnership #families #growth #attachment #turntowards #developmentaltrauma #ptsd #cptsd #trauma #traumainformed #traumasurvivor #traumarecovery #traumatherapist #traumatherapy #complextrauma #worthy #empower #dallastx #theempoweredtherapist

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Thanks so much for reading.

– SMUT. ❤ xxxx

7 thoughts on “An Honest Talk About Attention + Validation

  1. Rachel Hill says:

    Hi, great post. It’s great when we have those flashes of insight. Why am I doing this, I’m not enjoying this, this isn’t good for me. There’s a high that comes with the chase, but really solid relationships aren’t necessarily built like that.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. meditativeowl says:

    This is so relatable – I’ve met a number of guys who put me into that very small and quiet place, and whilst on some sexual level it can feel very nice – to be small, to be ‘taken care of’, to feel like you don’t really have really have anything important to say, but thats ok because they are more interested in themselves anyway! Its kind of like a little escape, for me anyway, but afterwards it leaves me feeling low and small in a negative way. Its never healthy and it stirs up a lot of past traumas where I was belittled and unseen and unheard.

    Thank you for sharing. I look forward to seeing what else you post 🙂 x

    Liked by 1 person

    • smutandselfesteem says:

      Yeah you hit the nail on the head! Totally relate to it feeling nice on some level in the moment but then there’s almost like a comedown or something later when you stop to think about it. There’s plenty of guys who are more interested in themselves – it’s like you don’t get a chance to be yourself around them honestly. And it confirms a preconceived notion they have that girls are only interesting on a surface level I feel like. Thanks for your comment! Means a lot to know someone can relate. x

      Like

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