Some people always want to be the center of attention. They want to be seen, be noticed, be admired, and cared for immensely. While some people can be attention-seeking moderately, people who actively participate in attention-seeking behavior can fall into a dangerous pattern of destruction. Attention-seeking behavior from a psychological standpoint is a pattern of behavior that seeks positive attention or negative attention by actions.
What Is Attention-Seeking Behavior?
Attention-seeking behavior is a way that a person can act to gain attention. Typically, those who have these behaviors need validation from others; they get an internal sense of joy or relief by gaining attention.
Attention-seeking behavior can be either positive or negative actions. While the person is not after the actual benefit or harm to themselves or others, they are motivated to draw attention for internal gratification. Someone getting hurt in the process is irrelevant to them.
It is as though a person’s self-consciousness drives attention-seeking behavior. The actions they take are an external reaction to an internal mindset.
Attention-seeking behavior is considered a personality disorder.
Sometimes seeking attention from others is socially acceptable. However, the situation and how attention-seeking happens are taken into account.
Here are two examples:
A child wants the attention of their parents while they are at a carnival. The child wants to go on some rides, and they want their parents to buy tickets. The children’s parents stop to talk to some friends they ran into at the carnival. Meanwhile, the child is dancing, twirling, jumping up and down, and yelling, “I want to go on the rides!” over and over.
This child is seeking attention from their parents and is not getting it. The child decides to throw himself on the ground and spin in circles. He has escalated his behavior. While it is socially acceptable for a child to want to go on rides and beg their parents, throwing himself on the ground and spinning in circles is typically not normal.
A teenager is in love with a girl at school. He is shy and doesn’t always know how to act around her. The boy has been trying to talk to her, but he gets nervous when her friends are around and cannot manage more than a “hey” when he walks by her. One day the boy decides he cannot take it anymore and needs to gain her attention. The teenager decides to climb on the roof of the school during an outdoor assemble. The teenager threatens to jump off the building if the girl does not agree to prom with him. This type of negative behavior is attention-seeking. While he knows that he would not actually jump off the roof, he hopes to seek attention.
Both boys are desperate for attention and use manipulative behavior to get it. Since negative attention is still attention, they will do whatever it takes to get what they are after.
Cause Of Attention Seeking Behavior
When someone is jealous, it can invoke attention-seeking emotional behavior. While most people would feel jealous inside and eventually move on, those with attention-seeking personality disorder crave attention.
Lack Of Self-Esteem
People who feel that they have never been noticed and that people do not pay attention to them may eventually get to a point where they act bizarrely in an appearance to draw attention. Just because they have low self-esteem does not mean that they do not want attention. They feel that they do not deserve it. People with low self-esteem may get to a point in their life where they think the only solution is to gain back lost attention. This type of person may draw attention in peculiar ways, such as the boy noted above, in example two.
Lonely people tend to get to a point where they are tired of being sad and left out. They want to be liked or loved. While they do not desire constant attention, they are desperate for attention in some manner.
Lonely people typically do not want disrespectful behaviors; however, they may take attention-seeking steps to gain some friends and get away from an isolated lifestyle.
Narcissists are attention seekers. Their whole world revolves around attention-seeking behavior so that people know how great they are as an individual. Attention-seeking narcissists strive to be seen and recognized. They will often go out of their way to be extra kind, gain time in the spotlight, and any other tactics that give them the attention they crave.
If a narcissist cannot gain positive attention, they may take negative actions to gain attention. Narcissists typically do not care if they are getting positive or negative attention; they want people to see them, whether it is as a hero or through self-pity tactics.
Munchausen syndrome is a psychological disorder that uses attention-seeking behavior. Those with Munchausen repeatedly and deliberately act as if they are ill when they are not. They exaggerate their fictitious symptoms, such as stomach aches, chest pain, and headaches, as an attention seeker.
Munchausen patients lie or fake their symptoms, hurt themselves to create fake or real symptoms, and may go as far as altering tests so that the results show that something is wrong with them.
Warning signs of attention-seeking Munchausen include:
Dramatic and lengthy medical history that can sometimes be inconsistent
Symptoms that are not controllable or that change when medical treatment is started. Symptoms may become more severe after treatment has begun to continue attention-seeking.
Extensive knowledge of medical terminology, hospitals, and descriptions of illnesses as though they were a doctor. However, the goal of having this knowledge is to use it in their favor for their attention-seeking tactics.
Eagerness to have medical tests conducted, procedures, or operations so that they get more attention from new people
Problems with identity and self-esteem. Munchausen patients thrive when they notice you change your behavior to accommodate their attention-seeking.
Attention Seeking Behavior In Adults
While it is not uncommon for attention-seeking behavior to exist in children and adolescents, most people grow out of attention seekers. However, some people continue to have behaviors that may be severe in adulthood. These people may benefit from talking with a counselor or therapist to see how they can break the cycle of dramatic attention-seeking behaviors.
Here are several examples of attention-seeking behavior in adults.
Playing The Victim
Sometimes people play the victim of a situation. They exaggerate what happened and make it out to be that they were wronged in some fashion.
When this first happens to a friend or family member, you feel bad for the person and make them feel better. You may even take action to make sure the people that supposedly hurt your friend know that what they did was wrong.
If the person who is playing the victim blames you for a wrongdoing, you may feel uncomfortable since you do not know what you did wrong in the first place. This will not stop the victim, however. Not taking accountability for your accused actions makes the victim even madder.
People who play the victim typically do not care who they hurt in their destructive path. At some point, every person they cross has supposedly hurt them in some fashion. All of these tactics revolve around attention-seeking.
You are talking with a friend and having a pleasant conversation. Suddenly, your friend bursts into tears and is inconsolable. You think that you did something wrong and immediately start begging her to tell you what is wrong and who you can help her to feel better.
When there is no practical reason for her hysteria, it is most likely cause by attention-seeking behavior.
In addition to the examples of attention-seeking behavior in adults noted above, being indispensable is a third.
An attention seeker needs to be needed. They crave it. If you know someone who forces themselves into your daily routine, continually offers to help with projects at work even when they are not qualified or needed, or trying to claim that an idea was there’s and should be given credit, they are trying to prove that they are indispensable.
These people want to be in the middle of everything. If something is done without them, they act hurt and make negative comments about not being cared about. These attention-seeking behaviors are self-destructive. Eventually, no one will want the attention seeker around for fear of unwanted or unnecessary backlash.
People with attention-seeking behaviors often hurt others to feel better about themselves. While it is challenging to get attention seekers to go to counseling, as they do not think that anything is wrong with them, therapy can significantly benefit them.
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 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.
Though you might not see this behavior in the classroom for adults, grown individuals can actually have a more challenging time managing these emotions because they may feel less able to access the attention and approval they crave.
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, including applied behavior analysis, 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. If they are acting ‘off’ in any way, or perhaps they are too reluctant to share any other personal details in their life, they could be using an attention-seeking persona to hide feelings they do not want to feel.
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.
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