Cookie Vidal asks: Hi I’m an 11-year-old and I have a 7-month-old brother and everyone gives him the attention that I want and I feel low at my house. I’m not like some people who, when they feel rejected, don’t play with their younger siblings. I just want people to at least know that I’m still alive. How do I let myself look visible?
Hi Cookie Vidal –
This is a very common problem, for lots of people (and dogs!). You have a very specific situation, with a baby in the house. But it can happen with older siblings, or even classmates. So I first want to show you a piece I wrote for someone who was jealous of someone at school getting everyone’s attention all the time. But then I’ll come back to your actual issue:
It sounds to me like you’re dealing with a very odd concept called Charisma. Some people have tons of it, and others have little or none. Charisma is that quality that makes someone exciting, attractive, and super-relevant to others. All successful politicians have it; most movie and singing stars have it; and super-popular kids in school definitely have it.
What causes Charisma? Well, good looks help, but some charismatic people aren’t wildly beautiful. Intelligence, strength, and accomplishment help as well, but also aren’t absolutely necessary. It really seems to be a mixture of a number of qualities.
But I do think there’s one quality that Charismatic people always have, which is a healthy (or unhealthy) level of something called Narcissism. A Narcissist is a person who views the whole world as being about them. They aren’t necessarily conceited; they might not even like themselves. But they truly believe they are the most important person there is. (One great example about this – babies and toddlers always have charisma. And when a human is that young, their brain hasn’t developed enough to understand any point of view than theirs about themselves, so they’re always seeing the world as being about them. We animals also tend to have a lot of charisma; even if a dog is super-caring about others, we still work from a place of thinking of the world all on our own terms, centered on ourselves).
Now again, I’m not saying some Narcissism is always bad. Gandhi had it, Mandela has it, Gorbachev has it, Bono and Angelina Jolie have it; hey if Taylor Swift and Adele didn’t have it, they’d never have won the world’s hearts over through their songs of lament about their bad relationships! The trick seems to be that a certain amount of Narcissism creates a self-fulfilling energy that makes people say “That person thinks they’re very important, so I should think they are too!”
(On the other hand, it’s not always good either! Hitler, Stalin, bin Laden, serial killers – they’re all cases of too much of it. Besides, Narcissists often tend to be very miserable people, unable to feel empathy for others or feel others’ empathy for them. And in that, they’re the opposite of happy dogs and kids!)
So what can you do, to make your life better around this guy? Well, the easiest answer I could give is “Stop focusing on him, and start seeing the world as being a little about you, and you’ll be a bit more charismatic.” But that’s way easier said than done – and I’m not sure I want you becoming more self-centered; you might not be as wonderful as you are!
But what you can do is to try to more actively pursue what you want from people. Do you notice how easy that is for him? If he feels like treating someone a certain way, he does it right away (as he’s done to you), with no hesitation or self-doubt. Well, I’m sure you could do more of that. Would you like to take a particular friend to a movie? Ask them. Now. Would you like to tell a friend how much you like them? Do so. Now. Is there a friend you spend more time with than you’d like to? Then give yourself the right to put more of a boundary on the time you spend with them.
And when you’re with some friends, and wondering what to do that night, be the one who speaks up and says “Let’s go see that movie,” instead of asking “well, if you guys want to, I’ve been wanting to see that movie, but I understand if you’d rather do something else.” You’re really saying the same thing, but you’re saying it with a positive energy. They can always say no, that they’d rather do something else. But you have just given yourself the right to some Charisma. (And most of the time, they’ll probably agree to go to the movie you want!).
And if you do that, I think that, bit by bit, you’ll start getting some of that energy around you that he’s getting so much of now. And if you do it without being a jerk (which it seems he is, at least part of the time), you might find yourself getting a good amount of the friendship and attention that he’s been getting, all to yourself!
Okay, Cookie Vidal, I hope you noticed one thing I said in there – the bit about babies? That they have no choice in the matter, that they don’t yet even know how to think about others. Your little brother won’t start to understand that for a few years yet. So you’re not going to get him to help you get attention. Nor are you going to be as new or as changing, or as needy, as he is for a long time.
So what can you do? Well, there are a few things, which are really the same things I said above. But you also have to understand that there’s no way the people can give you the same attention they’re giving him. Simply because no one has to worry about changing your diaper, or feeding you every time you’re hungry, or any of that other baby stuff!
What you can do is be very very interesting. You can talk about things that the adults like to talk about, such as the other children or news or movies. You can train yourself to do something that brings you attention, like story-writing or acting or singing or playing a musical instrument. You can be helpful (which I know from another letter is something you do naturally).
But you also need to do something else, which is a little painful: You need to give up, and get attention from other people, in other ways. Don’t worry, you’re at just the age where this is going to come naturally to you, and you’ll want the attention of friends and schoolmates more than your family very soon. But this does mean that you’re losing something that meant a lot to you, and I know that hurts.
When Handsome gets involved in a big project, at first I feel very slighted and ignored. But eventually I start focusing on other things – like what’s going on in the neighborhood, and trying to catch more animals in the yard, and how clean I can make my toenails. But eventually, his project ends, and he comes back around, and wants my attention again. And I’m happy to give it to him… eventually! (For the first day or two, I let him feel what it’s like to be ignored. I love him, but he deserves it!)
And that’s what will happen with you, I’m sure. Once that baby’s able to take more care of himself, you’re going to be the kid who’s the most interesting to talk with, who has the most depth and understanding of adult issues, the calmer temper, and the coolest taste. The adults will actually prefer having you around, a lot of the time. (And most likely, the huge attention issue in the home will be that that little boy falls madly in love with you and is following you around everywhere, and never leaving you alone!)
What you need, till then, is just to find ways to deal with their attention being focused so much on your brother. Once you get through this, though, I promise it’ll be all right.