Attention is the act or state of attending especially through applying the mind to an object of sense or thought. It’s also a condition of readiness for such attention involving especially a selective narrowing or focusing of consciousness and receptivity.

Understanding Attention

Attention, not unlike any other experience, is basically neutral. Attention has been described variously as beguiling, intimidating, frightening, soothing, calming, nurturing, loving, irritating, and intrusive. Peoples’ interpretations of the attention others give to them represent presently experienced realities and simultaneously point back to internal object relations and their associated affects.

The interaction between attention and inattention becomes a multidimensional matter with perceptual and emotional aspects. For example, we can pay attention to both states of attention and inattention although there is an implicit value skewed toward attention. The value of inattention remains underestimated. Attention and inattention have become polarized and conceptualized as two diametrically opposed points.

Periods of inattention can leave the analyst feeling inadequate or guilty. Another more productive way to think about attention and inattention might be to understand them as two points on one arc of an infinite circle with dimensions beyond our present capacity for perception. In this regard they can be viewed as complementary and interwoven with both diverging and converging qualities rather than as competing states. Clinical experiences demonstrates that nonjudgmental attention to states of inattention, stupor, drowsiness, drifting, or preoccupations with extraneous matters along with associated affects can reveal a wealth of information about an individual’s object world.