What Are The Dangers Of Attention-Seeking Behavior?

Updated August 16, 2023by Regain Editorial Team

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.

Learn More About Attention-Seeking Behavior

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:

Low Self-Esteem

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

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

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.

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Narcissism

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

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.

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Learn More About Attention-Seeking Behavior

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 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.

Takeaway

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. 

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