Do You Know the Peek-a-Boo Principle?
Want to make a little toddler laugh? It only takes two hands and a face.
That’s all you need to play peek-a-boo.
- Smile at child
- Cover face with hands
- Uncover face and say the name of the game
- Mission accomplished.
Psychologists say a little child’s brain does not grasp the concept of “object permanence.” Object permanence is the understanding that objects (in the case of the peek-a-boo game – people’s faces) still exist even when you can’t see them.
In other words, when you cup your hands over your face, the mind of a toddler thinks your face (or at least your eyes) simply vanished. POOF!
No wonder they respond with such consternation when you disappear behind a baby blanket… and then with such animated astonishment when you suddenly rematerialize. As far as they’re concerned Scotty beamed you up. And then back again, right before their very eyes.
And even cooler? When they cup their hands over their own eyes, they believe they’ve made themselves invisible to you.
Wait for it…
PEEK A BOO!
How silly is that?
Well, I don’t know. Because I know teens, young adults and even adults my age who clearly understand the concept of object permanence, but struggle with a much deeper misunderstanding. And this misunderstanding is the reason they are so desperate for attention. And why their drive for attention winds up driving others away from them.
Can I ask you a question?
Whenever you lack the attention of the people you love the most (parents, friends, significant other) do you feel like you don’t exist?
Do you feel like you’re invisible?
If we are to truly thrive in life-giving long-term relationships, we must grasp the concept of relationship permanence, the idea that we are always in relationship with the people most important to us. Always. Even when we don’t have their attention.
Some of us may have felt invisible to our workaholic parents, because we never had their attention growing up. But as we grow older (and wiser) we begin to suspect that even in their absence they were (or at least believed they were) working for us. They thought about us, worried about us, maybe even prayed for us.
Others may have grown up with such dysfunctional parents (or no parents at all) that they truly were cheated out of attention they needed. Desperately. If there was anything my wife and I learned from our 5-years in the state foster care system, it’s that neglect leaves scars as terrible as abuse. Because neglect is abuse.
But the implication of relationship permanence is that I don’t have to demand attention all the time, because more attention doesn’t necessarily make a relationship better. Indeed, many seek out negative attention, just so they can feel like they’re actually in a relationship. They get the attention they want, but they make the relationship worse.
It’s hard to love someone you suspect only wants (and yea verily demands) your attention. Meanwhile, the attention-seeker keeps moving onto new relationships, seeking the attention they require, burning bridges with family, wearing out friends, and suffocating significant others.
Sadly, it doesn’t really matter whether the drive for attention is born out of childhood neglect (like my youngest adopted child) or just good old fashioned self-centeredness (like my childhood self). After years of a negative attention cycle, the possibility for healthy intimacy decreases dramatically. The intimacy impostor of attention strikes again!
Maybe you can relate to this? Likely you know someone who could.
Well there’s great encouragement in God’s word for the individual wrestling with the intimacy impostor of attention, truth that could set one on the path to healthy intimate relationships!
We’ll share that next week. For now, grab the attention of a good friend or two and discuss these questions (but don’t hog all the attention, OK?):
- Do I measure the health of a relationship by how much attention I’m getting? Why or why not?
- Have I ruined a relationship by pursuing attention over intimacy? What should I do about that?
- Have I distanced myself from an attention-addicted friend, who really just needs some healthy intimacy? What should I do about that?
- Was I truly denied attention I needed growing up? How can I forgive those who failed to give me that attention?
[This is post is part of a series called Relation^ology(it begins with this post) where we identify the greatest relational need of our heart and then ID the counterfeits we seek out or settle for instead. Relation^ology started out as a discussion series and can be booked for your college, youth or young adults group (or singles group, life group, cell group, community group or whatever they’re calling Bible study these days).]
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The LoveEd study guide series, Beyond Sex & Salvation, will empower you to prepare for relational success when it counts: BEFORE YOU FALL IN LOVE! It’s NOT for couples, but for any wise individual who thinks they might want to get married sometime before they die. Check out the first two 8-lesson study guides in our store. You can walk through it on your own, but it’s more fun with friends, so consider putting together an FMU LoveEd small group study. Even better? And ask a married couple you respect to lead it!