For the past few months, since my husband’s death, I have been under a deluge of administration issues that come with the end of a life. I was warned that the system was unfriendly, time-consuming, frustrating and arduous, but until I stepped into it, I really didn’t have any idea of quite how bad it would be.
While we are recovering from traumatic loss and going through the process of grieving, we are also being processed by the financial, legal, policing, medical and mobile phone systems and companies, constantly having to prove we are who we say we are and that my husband is really DEAD. I have this constant feeling that the people we are dealing with (from clerks to call center operators, lawyers, insurers and more) are not allowed to be human but are just following a script. That they don’t see me, they don’t hear me and quite frankly, they really don’t care.
Our children’s unabridged birth certificates are no longer good enough where claims are concerned, our marriage certificate is no longer sufficient, I’ve had to prove I was not an accessory to my husband’s murder, and so it goes on. I realise we live is a world that is rife with fraud and this is one of the reasons we are dealt with with so much suspicion.
We are living in rented accommodation without fibre, with no landline and no cellphone signal. Our cellphones were suspended because lawyers write in incomprehensible legalese and clerks on the receiving end just see the word deceased and suspend your account before reading the second sentence for instructions. For three and half months – since mid-January, we have barely been able to make outgoing calls on our cellphones because it has taken our cellphone service provider that long to transfer accounts into my name and more.
This experience has brought the issue of validating and acknowledging other human beings into sharp focus. It’s a fundamental human need, and when you are cast aside you just want to scream and jump up and down. Adults and children are no different from each other, and I have shared this insight thousands of times over the years with parents, teachers and business people: that every day both adults and children, sub-consciously and non-verbally ask three questions of each other:
- Do you see me?
- Do you hear me?
- Am I important to you?
If we get a yes answer to every one of these, our emotional cups are filled. If not, just watch how the negative attention-seeking behaviour begins. We all have negative attention seeking strategies that kick in from time-to-time too when we are feeling short of attention, here are some of them with which you may be familiar:
- We scream
- We undress
- We over-work
- We have affairs
- We cook something wonderful
- We starve our partners
- We ignore each other
- We sulk
- We get tearful
- We get irritable
- We pick a fight
- We dress up
When it comes to children, believe you me, I have seen and heard it all from parents over the years. Children have attention-grabbing strategies too when they are feeling invisible to their parents:
- They cry
- They get cheeky
- They throw a tantrum or a hissy fit
- They stop eating
- They over-eat
- They don’t want to go to sleep
- They just want to sleep all day and are difficult to wake up
- They withdraw
- They get loud
- They get ill
- They regress with their toilet training (if they are little)
- They are clingy
- They ignore you – you are dead meat
- They embarrass you in public
- They throw a sports match or play like they don’t care, on purpose
- They show bad sportsmanship
I can count on one hand how many times I have actually lost my temper in my life, but in the past few weeks I have actually found myself screaming down the phone on occasion, when I feel I have not been heard. The script goes something like this:
Me: “Hi, we have an extended car warranty with you for my vehicle. It is in my husband’s name. He has passed away and I need to have it transferred into my name and change the banking details so that you get paid every month. Can you advise what needs to be done?”
Them: “Unfortunately we cannot make any changes without speaking to your husband.”
Me: “What did you not hear? I told you he is dead…..”, and so it goes on.
There’s so much more I could list here, but you get the point. Adults should be able to verbalise their needs and not act them out (sometimes this is not easy for us, either). Children, on the other hand, may be too young to put them in to words. You need to learn how to read between the lines. Observe their behavior and learn how to tune in and be really present when you are with them.
The same applies to people at work. Just watch next time you are with your colleagues and you will see the negative attention seeking strategies at play all the time, and when that person gets the right kind of attention, the behavior ceases almost immediately.
Next time you really want to connect with anyone, slow down, switch off your devices, unplug for a while and make face-to-face contact. Play, eat, talk and listen together. You will be amazed at how their happiness quotient™ will soar when you give them the gift of your focused, positive attention.
Let’s be human again,