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Do you hate attention?

Have you ever vowed not to make a fuss, or uttered the words ‘I’m fine, really’ when you weren’t? You could be one of a rising number of attention deflectors, and it may be preventing you from getting help when you need it

Have you ever vowed not to make a fuss, or uttered the words ‘I’m fine, really’ when you weren’t? You could be one of a rising number of attention deflectors, and it may be preventing you from getting help when you need it

Attention-seeking is an incredibly irritating phenomenon; take the frustration of hearing someone with a sniffle and a weak cough stating with satisfied resignation, ‘Oh yes, I have the flu.’ Rattled by endless moaning over seemingly minor ailments or circumstances, we vow never to be similarly over-dramatic, and so we play down our own difficult circumstances. But in doing so, some of us swing just a little bit too far in the opposite direction, denying our stresses, struggles and strains to the degree that we risk missing out on help we desperately need. Some of us become, in fact, attention deflectors.

As Brits, we’re at a particular disadvantage when it comes to deflecting attention. It’s a cultural thing after all: ‘Me? I’m fine’, ‘Mustn’t grumble’, ‘Don’t mind me’.

I think I’ve been this way all my life, but it came as something of an epiphany to me not all that many months ago, as I sat having a coffee with a friend. I’d been going through a rough time, and she’d noticed – despite my best efforts at making light of the situation with clever deflecting phrases like ‘Oh, I’m just a bit overtired’ (read: I want to go to sleep and never wake up).

Despite the fact that I’ve known plenty of people with depression – including close family members – it took a kind but firm friend to point out that perhaps it might not be such a bad idea to go and see someone about how I was feeling. And when i did, surprise, surprise, I started to feel better.

Why did it take so long to admit I was struggling? After all, I consider myself to be relatively self-aware. But that may well be one of the problems, according to Dr Lucy Atcheson, a Harley Street chartered counselling psychologist. ‘The more self-aware and socially aware you are, the more you can see the people who are making a big fuss, and so you’re more likely to be a deflector,’ she says. ‘Lots of people are so keen not to seek attention that they deflect, but what happens is they can feel lonely or isolated. People are inherently busy, so if you never flag up that you need support, you’ll never get support.’

Does this sound like you?

  • When someone asks, ‘How are you?’ is your standard response, ‘I’m fine’, even if you’re not?
  • Do you put off going to the doctor, thinking, ‘I’ll be fine in a couple of days’?
  • Do you tend to be the person everyone else goes to with their issues?
  • Would you say you generally like to be in control, or to be the ‘rescuer’ who looks after other people?
  • Do you struggle to ask for help?

Try noting down each time you find yourself playing down a problem. Then try asking for help with at least one of them.

Dr Lucy Atcheson is the author of Your Relationships (Hay House, £7.99)

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