What Are The Dangers Of Attention-Seeking Behavior?
While many of us desire to be seen, noticed, validated, or admired, some people feel the need to be the “center of attention” all the time. Attention-seeking behavior can draw either negative or positive attention, which a person who craves being noticed might find reinforcing or validating. Regardless of how it makes one feel, complications that arise from attention-seeking behavior can be so detrimental as to affect a person’s life in unintended ways negatively.
Attention-seeking behavior refers to a way that a person acts, consciously or unconsciously, 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 so others will pay attention to help or teach them.
Attention-seeking behavior does not necessarily indicate a mental illness, though it can be a symptom or sign of some mental illnesses. Those labeled attention seekers may operate without regard for others’ feelings and experiences, but they’re not always mean or selfish. Still, they may also exhibit potential behavior problems that can sometimes damage relationships or start a conflict.
Typical dangers of attention-seeking behavior include:
Problems working productively with others, creating an unstable work environment.
Unhealthy intimate relationships.
Risk-taking behavior, including practicing unsafe sex, drug and alcohol abuse, and engaging in dangerous physical activities.
Physical injury due to conflict with others.
Comorbidity with anxiety and depressive disorders.
Eventual alienation and loneliness.
Possible Reasons For Attention-Seeking Behavior
The reasons why some people exhibit attention-seeking behavior may vary and depend largely upon the individual’s unique situation and personality. For some, a combination of reasons may be at play, making the behavior more difficult to alter. Examples include:
People with low self-esteem typically lack confidence in themselves, their abilities, and their strengths. 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 think they’re doing in the present rather than having steady confidence in themselves. They may seek attention to boost their feelings in the present rather than being confident at their core.
Self-esteem can evolve throughout life. The individual's image 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 affection when a person is young and developing can contribute to healthy self-esteem.
Jealousy can evoke attention-seeking emotional behavior. Jealousy typically occurs when someone is seeking attention or a relationship with another person whose attention is 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 they fear “losing.” (Jealousy is not the same as envy, which usually involves longing for what someone else has.)
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 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 feelings of isolation.
Narcissism can be described as 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 that someone exhibits or can be part of a more significant personality disorder: narcissistic personality disorder.
A person exhibiting narcissistic traits may seek attention to feed their ego. Their actions and desires may revolve around getting the praise and validation they need to reinforce their sense of self-importance. People who are narcissistic and seek attention might strive to be seen and recognized. They may go out of their way to seem extra kind or important or to gain time in the spotlight- tactics that could get them the attention and admiration they crave.
A narcissistic person may also take negative actions to gain attention. They may seek pity or “require rescue” to remain the center of attention.
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 or purposefully getting sick. 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. They may go so far as to alter tests so that the results show that something is wrong with them.
Signs of factitious disorder may include:
A varied and lengthy medical history that can appear to be inconsistent.
Symptoms that become more severe after the initiation of treatment to maintain and draw more attention.
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 called “dramatic personality disorder” and is part of “Cluster B” personality disorders.
These 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 with this personality disorder typically show unstable, intense, excessive emotions. They’re often compelled to be noticed, so they frequently engage in attention-seeking behavior, even when it is considered inappropriate for the time or place. Their self-esteem may come from the attention of others instead of from their sense of worth.
Symptoms of histrionic personality disorder include:
Needing to be the center of attention.
Exaggerating actions or speech to get attention.
Becoming bored quickly and seeking excitement.
Extreme emotions and mood swings.
Acting in sexually provocative ways to gain attention.
Showing a pattern of manipulative behaviors.
Examples Of Attention-Seeking Behavior In Adults
While it is common for children and adolescents to exhibit attention-seeking behaviors, most people grow out of the need or urge to seek attention as they age. 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 victim of certain situations 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 imply something 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.
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 result from a person’s desire for attention.
Needing To Feel Indispensable
A person with attention-seeking tendencies may find validation by making themselves seem indispensable. They may need to be needed and crave the attention that comes with being important and at the center of everything.
Frequently Fishing For Compliments
A person who seeks attention may brag, boast, or try to promote themselves to get compliments or positive feedback from others. People with narcissistic traits may feel they deserve this validation but give little or no thought to others around them.
Sparking Controversy To Provoke A Reaction
A person who seeks attention may try to instigate controversy to engage others. This can include bringing up controversial topics or acting in ways that may be considered provocative to get attention.
The dangers of attention-seeking behavior can vary depending on what is causing it 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 to gain attention for medical issues.
If you or a loved one are experiencing attention-seeking behaviors and urges, connecting with a licensed mental health provider through Regain can be a healthy first step toward healing.
The experienced therapists at Regain know how to provide proper, individualized treatment to help you manage complicated feelings related to self-esteem, loneliness, and other concerns—all from the comfort of your home. And research indicates that virtual therapeutic options, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), are as effective as traditional therapy for treating various mental health disorders, such as anxiety, depression, and certain personality disorders that cite attention-seeking behavior as a symptom.
You may schedule online sessions with your therapist at your convenience via text, phone, video chat, and online messaging. Regain therapists are also available to return messages in between sessions if needed.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Is attention-seeking a mental illness?
On its own, attention-seeking behavior is not necessarily indicative of a mental illness. Though attention-seeking behavior can be a symptom or sign of some mental illnesses, it can also result from other factors, like low self-esteem or difficulty communicating with others.
In most cases, when someone wants to seek either positive attention or negative attention, it’s not malicious. Individuals may present a vulnerable appearance to draw attention to themselves, but not always for selfish reasons.
Whether positive or negative, examples of attention-seeking are often the results of a conscious or unconscious desire to receive admiration or approval from others.
The desire to request constant attention may stem from people wanting their friends, family, and even strangers to notice their accomplishments, pay attention to them when they are sick or injured, or otherwise care for an individual.
It is human nature to avoid loneliness. Those labeled as attention seekers are not always mean or selfish people. Still, they may also exhibit potential behavior problems that sometimes can damage relationships or start a conflict.
As mentioned above, sometimes attention-seeking behaviors do go hand-in-hand with some types of mental illness. For example, an individual’s attention-seeking behavior could be a symptom of a histrionic personality disorder (also known colloquially as a dramatic personality disorder, though this term is not used for official diagnoses and can come off as dismissive).
People with a histrionic personality disorder may feel underappreciated when others are not focusing on them. Those with a histrionic personality disorder might be attention seekers in response to their symptoms.
Anxiety disorders, depression, and a myriad of other mental illnesses can contribute to attention-seeking behaviors. Histrionic personality disorder, alongside other conditions, though, is less widely known and understood.
For a person to meet the requirements for a diagnosis of histrionic personality disorder, they must meet at least five criteria:
- Shallow and changing emotions
- Exaggerated and dramatic feelings
- Seductive or provocative behavior
- Prone to suggestible behavior
- Impressionistic or vague speech
How do you deal with an attention seeker?
If you have a friend, loved one, or another individual in your life who exhibits attention-seeking behaviors, you’re not in the wrong (and certainly not alone) for wondering how to manage and respond to them. Fortunately, there are some methods you can utilize to keep both yourself and others you care about happy and communicating healthily.
Those seeking attention or those labeled as attention seekers may feel deterred or distressed if they feel ignored, rejected, or shut out. Negative attention and positive attention alike can make someone feel important again.
Sometimes attention-seeking behaviors can be hard to identify, and they can be even harder to address without seeming confrontational. Examples of attention-seeking behavior might include:
- Putting oneself down in front of others.
- Acting emotionally vulnerable.
- Utilizing manipulation tactics to convince others to spend time with themselves.
Here are some general tips that might help you out:
- Give yourself the space you need when you need it. If you feel overwhelmed or stressed out, there’s no shame in taking some time to focus on your own well-being before trying to help others.
- Try and identify what may be inspiring the attention-seeking behavior. Are things tough at home? Has your friend or loved one frequently experienced rejection or trauma?
- Create boundaries for you and the attention seeker and maintain them by letting them know if they cross the line.
- Validate your loved one’s emotions by reassuring them that you do indeed care for them. You can also gently mention how attention-seeking behaviors may influence your relationship (if you feel comfortable).
How do adults deal with attention-seeking behavior?
Whether it be an adult or an adolescent, an attention seeker might be exhibiting attention-seeking behaviors because there is something personally troubling them.
You can help loved ones and close friends with attention-seeking behaviors by first talking to them about their experiences. Please do not force them to open up about their reasons for seeking attention; instead, let them see that you are open and honest, and they, in turn, will likely open up to you about their feelings.
If you personally are experiencing attention-seeking behaviors and urges, seeking out the help of a mental health professional is a significant first step toward personal growth. Multiple therapeutic options, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and more are available as potential treatment methods.
Being honest with your loved ones about how you feel is also imperative, especially if maintaining good relationships is essential to you.
Is attention-seeking a character trait?
A person who wants to seek attention is not necessarily doing it because it’s inherently embedded in who they are or their character.
An attention seeker may try to garner the focus of others because they are struggling inside. An individual may try to cope with conflict or stress by seeking out attention, especially if these behaviors have been successful for them in the past.
Some people might want to be attention seekers because they enjoy their time in the figurative spotlight. Some individuals indeed enjoy being the center of attention more than others. Still, these personality traits aren’t quite what we’re referring to when we discuss attention-seeking behaviors in the context of mental health.
If you know someone others consider to be an attention seeker, you might find it helpful to pay attention to their behavior.
No matter what the case may be, approaching those labeled as attention seekers with empathy and a desire to understand where they’re coming from is key.
What is attention-seeking a symptom of?
Whether for positive attention or negative attention, attention-seeking can be a symptom of some mental illnesses, including histrionic personality disorder. Histrionic personality disorder (HPD) is when individuals are constantly vying for attention through extreme emotions.
Approximately 2 percent of the United States population has HPD. Out of the 2 percent, HPD is seemingly more prevalent in women than in men.
Those with HPD may have trouble keeping close relationships. A partner in a romantic relationship may switch from being dependent to behaving in a controlling, somewhat intense manner.
Attention-seeking behaviors can also result from feelings of anxiety, stress, depression, and distress. When we feel alone or otherwise upset, the approval and love of others can feel like an ice pack on a sore wound.
Don’t beat yourself up if you tend to seek attention; understanding where your feelings come from is usually the first step toward addressing and remedying them. Try and be patient with yourself and with others.
What you should know about attention-seeking behavior?
How can you prevent or replace attention-seeking behavior?
How do you satisfy an attention seeker?
What causes the attention-seeking disorder?
What trauma causes attention-seeking?
How can loneliness cause someone to become attention-seeking?
What are some ways you can help students are who attention seekers?
How can you prevent your children to develop attention-seeking behavior?
How can you seek attention in a healthy way?
- Previous Article
- Next Article