Tag Archives: anger

It's just attention seeking

Most of us have heard this phrase used in relation to someone one with a mental health condition. When someone self-harms, they’re “just attention seeking”, when someone attempts suicide but doesn’t complete or attends A&E, they’re “just attention seeking”. It is used in a derogative way and has an undertone of “don’t give them attention”, “they’re time wasters” and “make sure they understand how inconvenient they’re being”. I’ve heard it used by many different people including doctors, nurses, police and MPs.

If you actually step back and think about this…when a baby cries, they are asking for their needs to be met, we do not blame a baby for causing a scene, that is the only way they are able to get their needs met…if, at that point, their needs are not met, they are likely to develop other coping strategies – some will scream and cry more or bang their fists on the side of their cot while others will shut up and never expect their needs to be met. The care giver has the control over whether they receiving the attention they need. From the minute babies are born, they seek attention, they need attention. This does not disappear as babies grow into children and then into adults, we learn to satisfy ourselves, yes, but we still need attention in a variety of ways, it’s natural.

If an individual is in emotional distress, anxious, depressed, frightened, paranoid or confused they have a need to decrease the distress – this is a natural human desire. Some people will find it easier than others to manage their emotions. Most people will need to express their emotion and may need support from others. If, for some reason, they are unable to express their emotion appropriately or rationally, or their needs are not heard, they are likely to express the emotion in an unusual way, this can be known as “acting out”, they will seek behaviours that satisfy their natural human needs. Once this happens, is it right that they are then told they should not have attention? Surely the earlier they receive attention, the quicker their needs will be met and the unhelpful behaviour can be altered. These people need support to ensure they are able to express and relieve their emotions in a healthy way – how can this happen if people turn them away and they are told  they are an annoyance or an inconvenience?

At times, when mentally very unwell,  I’ve been distressed by voices in my head shouting hurtful remarks at me, I didn’t have the language or understanding to explain what was happening but I  wanted them to stop (I think this is a reasonable desire!). Having tried every healthy coping mechanism I could think of and nothing having worked, at times I’ve banged my head against a wall with such repeated force I’ve ended up with severe bruising. This would go some way to relieving the voices. But I would then need assessing for concussion, fractures etc. The last thing I wanted was to sit in A&E for hours but there I was left, well past the target waiting time… at the time it made sense to me that I was being punished for my bad behaviour, after all I had done it to myself. The doctor then looked at me with such disdain, I was left with no doubt I was below dirt on his shoe. Being treated with contempt confirmed my belief that I was worthless, pointless and not worth helping.

Often people who self harm or act out in other ways do not want attention for that behaviour, I have always been embarrassed and ashamed and done my best to hide what’s happened. I have not wanted attention but I’ve needed attention (both for the physical injuries and) to understand what was happening so I could learn how to express my needs and emotions in a healthy and understandable way.
Some people worry that giving this “bad behaviour” attention, it will just continue. Believe me, if you’ve reached the point of acting out your emotions, it’s going to continue. Giving the right support and attention will ease the situation not compound it.

The state of the child and adolescent mental health service scares me. Reading this account from the Guardian saddens but does not surprise me. If children are left in mental distress, rates of child suicide will increase and those who do survive will end up in the adult mental health system – a very undesirable place, best avoided!

Next time you here someone say “they’re just attention seeking” with a derogative tone, say “yes, that is because they need attention”. They may not be asking for it in the most healthy way but that doesn’t mean you deny them the help and support they desperately need to work out how best to aviate their distress in the short and the long term.

Thank you anger, thank you anxiety

For a long time I thought anger and anxiety were bad things. Looking back I can see that this negative belief led to me losing sight of appropriate anger and I turned it into sadness. I didn’t understand my emotions, I didn’t know what to do when my body felt a particular way – it felt out of control. Bung puberty and hormones into the mix and my brain didn’t know what to do!
Feeling hot and sweaty, tense and alert with an increased breathing and heart rate etc. we are probably experiencing anger. To most people this is obvious but I didn’t used to understand this; these feelings felt dangerous and I would automatically feel sad and even tearful. I came to understand that tears are more likely to be comforted, angry outbursts were not appreciated by anyone! The numbness that resulted from pushing down my feelings and converting them into others became clinical depression – the anger, dealt with by self-harming. It is common for females to turn their anger inwards… “everything bad that happens is my fault”.
Through a lot of support and therapy I have developed a language to explain (at least to myself) how I feel, I can step back and consider the situation rather than letting my thoughts, emotions and behaviour run away without me!
It’s been a long journey but I can now see that a full range of emotions is ok and even good! I have learnt to recognise anger for what it is…

An appropriate emotion that says “this is important”.

It is appropriate to get angry when someone wrongs you, if you are blamed for something that isn’t your fault or if someone you love has been hurt. I used to think everything was my fault but now I recognise the feeling and I am now able to say “thank you anger, I recognise the importance of this and I want to respond with words” (not actions that will hurt). I have spent 16 months in a job that has damaged my health, I am rightfully angry about this and I am directing this at explaining to my ex-employees what has been going on and asking for an explanation, assertively, not aggressively or threateningly.
My weight has been a great source of anxiety. An appropriate worry/concern/anxiety about our weight is to feel concerned about the risk of heart disease or cancer if we eat too much, don’t exercise and are too heavy. This concern enables people to find the motivation to eat more healthily/eat less and move more. But (put very simplistically) I took this too far and equated weight with everything being ok or not ok! If, when I got on the scales, the number had increased, this was bad, this caused high anxiety and resulted in behaviours to ensure the number went down tomorrow. The double whammy was that if the number went down, it hadn’t gone down enough so weight reduction behaviours followed anyway! I believed an increasing number, or a number that didn’t decrease enough meant that people would stare at me, everyone would think I was greedy, no-one would like me and I would generally fail at everything thing I tried. Of course, a life consumed by eating disordered behaviour is generally a cold and tired one with low confidence, poor concentration and low self-esteem so my fears of general isolation etc. were realised (not by my weight but by my beliefs about my weight).
I have a voice, a girl my age, who tries to protect me, she is called Ana (she represents anorexia). She has been so intense at times she has told me if I walk down certain aisles in the supermarket, I will put on weight. For a long time I just did as she said, I felt anxious and she provided answers to get rid of what I felt was the unbearable, dangerous anxiety. But I have learnt to recognise her, say “thank you”, take a deep breath (to consciously lower the anxiety) and consider the situation rationally. For example…

Day 1 – we choose pizza for dinner – Ana is not pleased, she raises my anxiety levels and tells me I am lazy and will get fat. I do not need to listen to her because pizza is ok once in a while.
Day 2 – we are late in from work, very tired and we choose pizza again. Ana gets angry, saying I am already fat and I’m useless, especially since I did not listen to her the first night. My anxiety rises, I even ask Steve if it’s ok that we’re having pizza again. I take a deep breath, calm the anxiety and decide on balance, pizza is ok.
Day 3 – we have a vet appointment after work and consider pizza again…Ana says “you shouldn’t have had it the 1st night, let alone the 2nd, a 3rd would be unforgivable, you will end up the size of a whale, you won’t get through the doorway and your life will be over…you’re lazy, greedy…” etc!
“Thanks Ana for trying to help me make healthy decisions but I do not need to blindly give in to you…”
Deep breath…do I need to feel this anxious?
“I’ve already eaten pizza for 2 nights therefore I cannot do anything about that…” there is no point in feeling anxious about that…
Deep breath…it is ok to be concerned about my health, it’s important,
“I could have pizza again, but it would probably be a good idea to eat something healthier tonight, a veggie chickpea salad will be just as quick and easy to prepare.”
(”and by the way, 1 more pizza would not make me too fat to fit through the doorway, it doesn’t matter how loudly you shout!”)

Thank you anger, thank you anxiety – you are not bad emotions, I do not need to fear you, I can listen to you, learn from you and respond appropriately and healthily.
I didn’t make it to the cinema but I can’t wait to see Inside Out when it comes out of DVD!