What Are The Dangers Of Attention-Seeking Behavior?

By ReGain Editorial Team|Updated June 16, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Wendy Boring-Bray, DBH, LPC

Some people want to be the center of attention. They may have a desire to be seen, noticed, validated, or admired. Attention-seeking behavior can draw either negative or positive attention, both of which a person who craves being noticed might find reinforcing or validating.

What Is Attention-Seeking Behavior?

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Attention-seeking behavior is a way that a person acts to gain attention. Those seeking attention may behave in various ways to catch the attention of an individual or group. For instance, they may do or say something controversial to provoke reactions from others. They may exaggerate stories, accomplishments, or experiences to gain praise, admiration, or sympathy. They may pretend not to know how to do certain things in order to have others help or teach them. In most cases, they tend to be thinking of themselves, not in the interest of others.

Possible Reasons For Attention-Seeking Behavior

Attention-seeking behavior may be the result of lowself-esteem, a personality disorder, aneed or love for drama or intense emotions, or other causes. Examples include:

Low Self-Esteem

A person with low self-esteem typically lacks confidence in themself, who they are, and what their strengths are. Without self-confidence, they may seek the attention of others to help them feel validated. People with low self-esteem may judge themselves on how they feel they’re doing in the moment rather than having a steady confidence in themselves. They may seek attention to boost how they feel in the present rather than being confident at their core.

Self-esteem can evolve throughout life. The image an individual develops of themselves may be shaped through experiences, including interactions with others. Successes, failures, and relationships may all play a role in self-esteem.

Experiences and relationships in childhood can influence self-esteem in some cases. For instance, getting appropriate, healthy attention and affectionwhen a person is young and developing can contribute to healthy self-esteem.

Jealousy

Jealousy can evoke attention-seeking emotional behavior. Jealousy typically occurs when someone is seeking the attention or a relationship with another person whose attentions are instead focused on someone else. Jealousy can lead to feelings of betrayal or a sense of loss. A jealous person may use attention-seeking behaviors to stay connected to the person whom they fear they are losing. (Jealousy is not the same as envy, which usually involves longing for what someone else has.)

Loneliness

Loneliness has been described as a gap between the social connections, relationships, and experiences a person would like to have and those they feel they’re actually experiencing.

In some cases, a person exhibiting attention-seeking behavior may be lonely. They may take attention-seeking steps to engage others and escape their own feelings of isolation.

Narcissism

Narcissismcan be described as an intense self-involvement. It is typically so intense that a person with narcissistic behaviors may ignore the needs of those around them. Narcissism exists on a spectrum. It can be a trait or traits that someone exhibits or can be part of larger personality disorder: narcissistic personality disorder.

A person who exhibits narcissistic traits may engage in attention-seeking behaviors to feed their ego. Their actionsand desires may revolve around getting the praise and validation they need to reinforce their own sense of self-importance. People who are narcissistic and seek attentionmight strive to be seen and recognized. They may go out of their way to come across as extra kind or important or to gain time in the spotlight, tactics that could get them the attention and admiration they crave.

A person who is narcissistic may also take negative action to gain attention. They may seek pity or rescuing as a way of remaining the center of attention.

Factitious Disorder

Factitious disorder was previously referred to as Munchausen syndrome. It is a mental health disorder in which a healthy person deceives others by trying to appear sick, purposefully getting sick, or causing self-injury. They may go so far as to alter tests so that the results show that something is wrong with them.

Like many mental health disorders, it exists on a spectrum. A person may slightly exaggerate their symptoms or health status or might do so more severely and persistently.

If you or a loved one are experiencing suicidal thoughts, reach out for help immediately. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255 and is available 24/7.

 

Signs of factitious disorder may include:

  • A varied and lengthy medical history that can sometimes be inconsistent.
  • Symptoms that become more severe after treatment has begun in order to maintain and draw more attention.
  • Extensive knowledge of medical terminology, hospitals, and descriptions of illnesses.
  • Eagerness to have medical tests or procedures conducted.
  • Problems with identity and self-esteem. They may thrive if they notice others’ behavior changes to accommodate their attention-seeking. This is likely happening because their identity is being validated and their self-esteem is being boosted.

Histrionic Personality Disorder

The main characteristics of histrionic personality disorder are feeling the intense need to be the center of attention and engaging in behaviors to get that attention. Histrionic personality disorder is sometimes referred to as “dramatic personality disorder” and is part of what are called “Cluster B” personality disorders. These types of personality disorders are mainly characterized by excessive dramatic, emotional, or erratic behavior. The causes of histrionic personality disorder may be environmental, genetic, or both.

People who are living with this type of personality disorder typically show unstable, intense, excessive emotions. They often feel compelled to be noticed, and so they frequently engage in attention-seeking behavior, even when such behavior is considered inappropriate for the time or place. Their self-esteem may come from the attention of others instead of from their own sense of worth.

Symptoms of histrionic personality disorder include:

  • Needing to be the center of attention.
  • Exaggerating actions or speech in order to get attention.
  • Becoming bored quickly and seeking excitement.
  • Extreme emotions and mood swings.
  • Acting in sexually provocative ways with the goal of gaining attention.
  • Showing a pattern of manipulative behaviors.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, treatment may include therapy. A physician may also prescribe medication. In addition, self-care can be helpful. Below are a few self-care techniques:

  • Physical activity.
  • Avoiding drugs and alcohol.
  • Connecting with a support group.
  • Writing in a journal.
  • Actively practicing relaxation and stress management.
  • Staying connected with friends and family.

Examples Of Attention-Seeking Behavior In Adults

While it is not uncommon for children and adolescents to exhibit attention-seeking behaviors, most people grow out of the need or urge to seek attention. However, others continue to seek attention into adulthood. The attention-seeking behavior may be conscious and carefully planned or, in some cases, more spontaneous. Examples of attention-seeking behavior in adults include:

Playing The Victim

Sometimes people who seek attention make themselves out to be the victimsofcertainsituations or actions. They may exaggerate circumstances or events to show that they were wronged in some fashion.

They may try to invoke guilt in those around them. They might say or implysomething like, “It’s fine. I’ll just stay here alone,” or, “Everything bad always happens to me.” These are common attention-seeking tactics. In more intense circumstances (such as factitious disorder) they may play the victim of illness.

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Hysteria

Hysteria refers to being overwhelmingly or excessively emotional. A pattern of overly dramatic or out-of-proportion emotional outbursts in those who seek attention may be the result of a person’s desire for attention.

Needing To Feel Indispensable

A person with attention-seeking tendencies may find validation by making themselves seem indispensable.Theymay need to be needed and crave the attention that comes with being important and at the center of everything.

Fishing For Compliments

A person who seeks attention may brag, boast, or try to promote themselves to get compliments or positive feedback from others. A person with narcissistic traits may feel they deserve this validation but give little or no thought to others around them.

Sparking Controversy In Order To Provoke A Reaction

A person who tends to seek attention may try to instigate controversy in order to engage others. Thiscaninclude bringing up controversial topics or acting in ways that may be considered provocative in order to get attention.

Attention-Seeking Behavior: Dangers, Help, And Hope

The dangers of attention-seeking behavior can vary depending on what is causing the behavior and how persistent or excessive it is. For instance, factitious disorder can be physically dangerous if a person purposefully injures themselves or exposes themselves to illness in order to gain attention for medical issues.

If you or a loved one is affected by attention-seeking behavior or has any other mental health concerns, consider reaching out for help. Connecting with a license mental health providerthrough ReGaincan be a healthy step. The experienced therapists at ReGain know how toprovideuseful, individualized treatmentto help you manage complicated feelings related to self-esteem, loneliness, and a variety of other concerns—all from the comfort of your home.

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