People aren’t as complicated as you think. Most behaviours that we engage in were developed in childhood to fulfill three basic needs from other people. The difference is the ways in which we try to get these needs met. These are the bad habits we need to abandon and the positive behaviours we must employ to succeed in relationships with others and with ourselves.
Do you know that feeling you get when you’re talking to someone and they’re so absorbed in their phone, you know they didn’t hear a word you just said? We feel hurt and angry when people do this because we want their attention. An essential part of connecting with other people means being heard and being seen. People try to have this need met in both positive and negative ways.
The Attention Seeker
People who make themselves larger or louder in an attempt to be seen or heard is an accurate caricature of the attention seeker. These people tend to stand out and can even be described as obnoxious. If someone has developed this tendency to seek attention, it’s often a behaviour that stemmed from feeling discarded or ignored in their past.
If developmental issues have hard-wired the brain to seek attention, positive behaviours can help with neurological rewiring. Being self-attentive is the act of focusing your attention onto your own needs, rather than looking for outside sources to fulfill these needs. People who are self-attentive feel less inclined to seek attention from others because their sense of fulfillment is met within themselves. These secure people are more likely to connect with individuals who respect and listen to them without having to demand it.
People want validation that their actions and who they are is approved of by others. This stems from evolutionary requirements to fit into groups that allow for survival and social bonding. If people don’t approve of you, you’re ostracized and would consequently die off in the natural world. Nowadays, this approval manifests in social media likes, friend counts, and validation-seeking behaviours.
The People Pleaser
This archetype believes that to be accepted they must bend over backwards to fulfill other people’s expectations of them. These people often feel burnt out because they can’t say no. Common behaviours include: forfeiting their own needs to help others, care-taking, or partnering up with problematic people. These people feel fulfilled when acting as a codependent in a relationship. As a result, they often end up taking care of their partner’s problems.
Creating boundaries is the most important thing for approval-seekers to do. Sticking to boundaries helps prevent manipulation and allow people-pleasers to commit to their own well-being before the well-being of others. After maintaining boundaries, self-esteem begins to build. These people feel most deserving of the respect and love of others only after they show that they respect and love themselves.
In the end, we all want to be accepted. If we find it challenging to accept ourselves we are more inclined to look for acceptance from other people. Every child wants to be loved and accepted by their parental figure. Being rejected or abandoned as a child can spur bad behaviours. Luckily, there are healthy ways to fulfill this need.
Just like the reptile, the human-chameleon will change its colours to fit in with whichever place, group, or expectation they are faced with. A chameleon may bend the truth about their interests when they know another will be impressed or accepting of this contrived answer. This is a subtle form of manipulation used to gain acceptance in every circumstance they are placed in. These people tend to have multiple groups of friends and are perceived as well-liked. However, their interests and personality feels more malleable than authentic.
Being authentic and being vulnerable are two ways to combat fear of acceptance. As Aristotle said, “There is only one way to avoid criticism: do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.” In sum, you can’t please everyone, and trying to be accepted at the expense of your authenticity leads to a hollow victory. Being authentic shows confidence, security, and courage. You have to start by accepting yourself as you are.
Reprogram Bad Habits into Positive Behaviours
Neuroplasticity, also known as brain plasticity and neural plasticity, is the ability of the brain to change throughout an individual’s life, e.g., brain activity associated with a given function can be transferred to a different location, the proportion of grey matter can change, and synapses may strengthen or weaken over time.
This means that we can change our brain by changing our thoughts and behaviours. Since, we began to develop our bad social habits at a young age, it’s normal that we may display one, or even all, of the mentioned habits. We can choose to act differently today, in order to change these habits for good.
Recognize which habits you fall into when trying to gain attention, approval, or acceptance. Catch yourself when engaging in bad habits and use positive behaviours to reprogram these tendencies.