A few weeks ago, I went to an elementary boy’s basketball game because my friend is a coach for one of the teams. It wasn’t the NBA but it was entertaining and we had a good time. There was a little guy on one of the teams that was really struggling. He tried really hard but he didn’t seem to have the same skills as the other boys. He rarely touched the ball and he fell down quite a bit. Not the kind of kid to receive much applause from the crowd.
At one point, this little guy ran into another boy and he fell, hitting his head on the floor. It wasn’t a real hard hit but the crowd got really quiet for a couple of seconds. Finally, he got up and then the crowd clapped for him, glad that He was OK. At that moment, the little boy had an epiphany. For the first time in his brief basketball career, people were actually cheering for him. It was a proud moment. He got a huge smile on his face and acknowledged the crowd, his adoring fans. The bump on the head was a small price to pay for being honored with applause.
I was a little concerned that he may, in an effort to gain more approval, hit his head again on “accident”. He didn’t and his team won the game.
I thought about a few people that I know who gain attention from “hitting their head”. The only way that they can get people to notice them is by doing some kind of damage. They are looking for affirmation so they create some activity. The response they get from others is the equivalent of the applause of the crowd to the little basketball player. I am not talking about those who threaten to harm themselves or someone else, this is a much more serious issue. Those I am referring to get others to look at them by doing or saying things that bring attention to themselves. Many times, the things they do and say are odd or out of place. Even if the attention is negative, they are nonetheless getting attention. Any attention is good attention. It is sad but true that this is how some garner notice from others.
I have seen this in the church. It is a distressing thing to watch someone so desperate to be noticed that their behavior becomes self-destructive. People sabotaging relationships, saying foolish things, making lots of noise about minor issues. Lots of times, these things are simply an effort to be recognized.
I’m not quite sure what to do about this. Do you let people go when they are acting up? Do you ignore them with hopes that they will get tired of it? There isn’t a pat answer. It certainly doesn’t seem very productive to just let these people terrorize others so they can be noticed. Surely we can do better than that.
There is a time to confront this behavior. We care too much about these people to allow them to continue on this counter-productive path. For the good of these people and those around them, we may need to lovingly but firmly address the issue.
One solution is simply to stop cheering. I think after a while, they wear down from all of the head banging. Then maybe we can help build their self esteem in healthy, less painful ways.
Just a little college sophomore psychology.