Are You Guilty Of Attention Seeking Behavior?
By: Stephanie Kirby
Updated July 17, 2020
Medically Reviewed By: Audrey Kelly, LMFT
Have you ever made a statement to someone just to see their reaction? Maybe you've told a parent, friend, or partner, "Everyone would be better off if I killed myself." Often, statements like these are a call for attention rather than an indication of a true suicidal desire or mental health problem. You might say this to them in order to get a reaction that makes you feel like someone else is paying attention to you. And even if their response is negative or angry, it feels good to be noticed.
The problem is that this is a very dramatic and unhealthy way of getting attention from people who you care about, and who presumably you would like to care about you. People learn these behaviors out of fear. In fact, you may not even realize that what you are doing is attention seeking behavior.
We all need attention and want to feel that our friends and family care about us. Why is attention-seeking behavior such a poor choice in handling your need for attention? It's because this behavior puts a strain on the other people in your life. You may get more attention in the short-term, but in the long-term, their feelings of love for you may diminish, as they may get tired of this manipulative behavior. And yes, this can be considered a form of manipulation.
Fortunately, by reading this article, you can learn whether you are engaging in attention-seeking behavior, and learn how to find better methods of meeting your own emotional needs. Attention-seeking behavior is quite simply doing things that are likely to get others to notice you. In this article, we will cover this information in further detail.
Defining Attention-Seeking Behavior
The first step to knowing whether you engage in attention seeking behavior is to know precisely what it means. Attention seeking behavior is quite simply doing things that are likely to get others to notice you. Any number of behaviors could fall under this category.
Examples Of Attention-Seeking Behavior
Let's take a look at some examples of types of attention seeking activities to understand better what it entails.
"Fishing" For Compliments
True compliments are the kind that are given without being asked for, and if you feel confident about yourself and put effort into your work, relationships, and self, you're likely to get true compliments- as often as anyone else. Some people, however, feel guilty or deeply insecure about who they are. Often, insecurity leads to trying to buff up your self-esteem by trying forcing others to point out your good qualities- rather than letting them notice them on their own. Most of us fish for compliments at some point or another, and it's not always a sign of low self-esteem. It becomes a problem, however, when you need to hear how good you are from other people on a constant basis in order to feel good about yourself. If you find yourself relying on others' opinions of you, do not be too hard on yourself. You are worthy of love and acceptance as you are. A good first step is to start building confidence in your self-worth. A licensed therapist can also help you develop a healthy sense of confidence.
Sympathy seeking is an extremely common form of attention-seeking behavior. Unfortunately, it's also a form of negative attention, because rather than receiving attention and praise for your good qualities, you're receiving sympathy- or even pity- for your misfortunes. This is not to say that sympathy is a bad thing, but it is unhealthy to attempt to gain sympathy from others purposefully. Intentionally looking for sympathy may play out as engaging in risky behaviors and can even lead to you causing harm to yourself. The result may look like an accident, and you may even convince yourself that it was an accident. But this can be extremely dangerous and risky, as the unintended consequences could be bigger than you're prepared for.
Feigning Lack of Ability
This behavior is often seen in young children, but sometimes adults will also try to use this to their advantage when they feel neglected. Feigning a lack of ability means you ask others to perform tasks for you because you tell them that you can't. By pretending to be inadequate in certain areas, you gain the attention of others and have someone holding your hand through things- even at the risk of making yourself seem inadequate and annoying those around you.
Why People Exhibit Attention-Seeking Behavior
There are many different reasons why you might be tempted to seek out attention, including low self-esteem. A person could exhibit these attention-seeking behaviors out of simple jealousy. In that case, the behaviors may be temporary. In other cases, it becomes a person's lifestyle. Here are some of the common causes of chronic attention-seeking.
Many people who seek negative attention have low self-esteem, and they feel insecure about themselves. Because they do not love themselves, they are afraid that no one else will either. Signs of low self-esteem include:
- Being easily bossed around
- Being excessively timid or aggressive
- Showing a false self to others
- Being indecisive and uncomfortable with making decisions
- Rebelling for no apparent reason
- Putting a lot of stock in material possessions.
Attention-seeking can be a part of a personality disorder. Personality disorders that are often associated with attention-seeking include narcissistic personality disorder, histrionic personality disorder, and borderline personality disorder. All three of these personality disorders are part of a cluster known as the dramatic personality disorders, or cluster B personality disorders.
Histrionic Personality Disorder
In addition to constantly seeking attention, individuals with this particular personality disorder display extreme emotional behavior. They make every effort to put themselves at the center of attention. Often, people with histrionic personality disorder utilize their sexuality to get attention and may seem to be flirtatious with many people. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, they also tend to have poor impulse control and seek out instant gratification, making it difficult for them to remain satisfied with their current circumstances or relationships.
Borderline Personality Disorder
People with borderline personality disorder tend to feel empty. They fear being abandoned and are often paranoid about what others think about them. They may continuously read into other people's behaviors, thinking that they are silently judged. Because of this, they may act out with manipulative or attention-seeking behaviors.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder
Those with narcissistic personality disorder tend to think highly of themselves and make grand plans. They have trouble empathizing with others but react strongly to criticism against themselves. They often act with a sense of entitlement. Individuals with a narcissistic personality disorder can be very manipulative of others and seek admiration and compliments.
It's important to note that symptoms from all three of these disorders can drastically improve with the help of a licensed therapist.
Experiencing and creating drama can release hormones that make you feel good. The thing is that there are plenty of other activities that release the very same hormones. You don't need drama to feel good, and it can, in fact, damage your social life.
Drama, however, can be addicting, especially if it gets you the attention you are craving. The brain is wired to become stuck on behaviors that bring emotional rewards. Unfortunately, most people soon discover that the attention drama brings is short-lived. They have to go to greater lengths and cause more drama to get the same amount of attention. And eventually, the people they are manipulating may grow tired of the game and stop giving attention altogether.
Other potential causes of chronic attention seeking include:
- Bipolar disorder
- Other mental disorders
Does Social Media Increase Attention-Seeking Issues and Mental Health Problems?
Social media is not necessarily a cause of attention-seeking, but it does provide additional outlets for people prone to seeking out negative attention. Because social media puts you in front of a larger audience than you would encounter face-to-face on a given day, it increases the likelihood that someone will pay attention to your drama. If you find yourself making vague posts on social media just to get someone to message you, then you should find more positive ways to connect with your friends.
Treatment For Attention-Seeking Behavior
People tend to learn these attention-seeking behaviors out of fear. In fact, you may not even realize that what you are doing is attention-seeking behavior. If you crave attention and fall into using unhealthy behaviors to get it, you can get help. You don't have to rely on others for your confidence and self-esteem. In fact, the best source of self-esteem is feeling confident about yourself. You have to love yourself first. Otherwise, the love of others may never feel sincere to you.
On the other hand, when you notice that someone you care about is engaging in this toxic behavior, you can help them to move away from this destructive pattern of attention seeking. The best route is to avoid getting angry or lashing out at them for their behavior. Instead, approach them to express concern and reassure them that you are there for them. If they are receptive, direct them to a mental health professional with experience treating the causes of attention-seeking. Because some dramatic individuals can be manipulative and abusive, you should also make sure that you are not getting into a situation that allows them to damage your mental or physical health. Below are things you can do for yourself or help someone close to you to learn healthy behaviors for acceptance.
Acknowledge Your Behavior
If you want to change your behavior, the first thing you need to do is learn to acknowledge it. Focus on identifying times when you're engaging in these behaviors and look for the underlying reason of why you do it. Journaling or keeping a written record can help you do just that.
Build Your Self-Esteem
Growing your confidence and self-esteem can help you learn to build yourself up, so you won't try to look to others to do it for you. An easy way to start improving your confidence is to start tracking the success that you're having on a regular basis. Start by celebrating really small tasks and then build up to bigger ones. When you start to see the success that you're having it will grow even more and boost your self-esteem.
Do More Listening Than Talking
If you're used to seeking attention there's a good chance that you do a lot more talking than listening. Start working on putting the focus on others- instead of trying to have it all for yourself. This might feel uncomfortable to you at first because you aren't used to it, but as you continue to do it, it will get easier.
Give Therapy a Try
Talking with a therapist is also an effective way to work on changing your behavior. A therapist, like those at BetterHelp, can work with you to help you identify where your craving for attention is coming from, and what changes you can make to stop engaging in these behaviors. You can read reviews of our therapists below, from people experiencing similar issues.
"Kristi is a fantastic counselor who can pull on a variety of experiences and resources to present patients with illustrative guides on how to best tackle problems. She is also great at reinforcing positive behavior while also pointing out where errors have been made. Great overall!"
"Nancy is a professional, intelligent, and personable therapist and was a pleasure to work with. I would absolutely recommend her to anyone interested in challenging their negative thoughts."
Attention is good- if you're getting it in healthy ways. If you're not, making changes and even going to therapy can help improve many areas of your life. You can build your self-esteem, develop healthier habits, and enjoy fulfilling, rewarding relationships. Take the first step today.
How can you tell if someone is engaging attention seeking tactics?
There are many ways to tell if someone is being an attention seeker. Those who seek attention tend to do the following:
- They're always the victim in their stories. Everyone is the bad guy, and they are perfect and can do no wrong. While most people try to put themselves in the best life possible, attention seekers tend to make their life straight out of a drama film.
- They always want validation. They may fish for compliments and tell people they're ugly. While a little bit of reassurance is good when you're feeling low, attention seekers will ask for validation every other day.
- They're always on social media. They upload every selfie they can, and they may project a little bit by condemning others for using too much social media. You may see them making provocative posts, then playing the victim when they get backlash.
- They may start some trouble to get attention. From spreading gossip to committing a petty crime, they'll do anything to get the limelight on them.
What are some attention seeking behaviors?
Here are some more examples of attention seeking behaviors in adults.
- An attention seeker will always complain. Nothing is ever right or good enough for them. While some people can have their negative moments, an attention seeker never has anything positive to say.
- They always have to brag on social media, be it showing off their new possessions or showing off their vacation. Nothing is wrong with occasionally showing something positive happening to you, but an attention seeker will throw it in your face.
- Someone who is an attention seeker could be promiscuous and is always open about it. While nothing is wrong with casual, safe sex, it's another case where it feels like someone is seeking constant attention by bragging.
- The attention seeker will not care about others, or if they do so, it's to push themselves up. They may brag about doing good deeds, or say opinions that most people will agree with, but it's not out of goodness or talking about how they feel. Instead, it's designed to seek attention.
Is a strong desire for attention a mental illness?
Attention seeking itself is not a mental illness, but it can be the symptom of some mental illnesses, such as narcissism or histrionic personality disorder. If someone you know is an attention seeker, it's important that you be mindful of their behaviors and see if it matches up to any of those mental illnesses.
What causes attention seeking?
Attention seeking can have many causes. As we said before, it may be a sign of a mental illness, but not always Here are some reasons why someone may be desperate for attention.
- They have low self-esteem. This is a big reason why some people who attention seek may do so by fishing for compliments and validation. However, the validation is only a temporary relief in most cases.
- They may be jealous of someone else, be it a friend, family member, or coworker. They may do more outlandish things to get people's eyes off the person and to themselves.
- It may be because of some form of trauma. People who were not given enough attention as young children may act out as adults in order to compensate.
- It could be due to social media addiction. Every like, comment, or share they get gives them a feeling of pleasure, and when they're not getting it, they'll do more things to seek attention.
How do you deal with an attention seeker?
The best way to deal with an attention seeker is not to enable them. In other words, you ignore them whenever possible, or set up some boundaries they must not cross. The attention seeker may end up seeking someone else to get their attention, or they may knock it off.
Another good way is to give them attention when they are doing a behavior that's desired or not attention seeking. This is one way you can get them to stop their problematic behaviors.
How do you stop attention seeking behavior in the classroom?
If you have an attention seeking student, you may want to lash out on them and send them to the principal's office. While you should discipline the student when appropriate, the best way you can handle this student is to give them positive attention.
What do we mean by this? Simply put, you should ignore them when they are doing an undesirable behavior, and instead focus on the other students. When the problematic student does something you want, then talk to them. Discuss these boundaries beforehand and monitor the progress. Any negative behavior should be ignored, and positivity should not.
Is excessive talking a sign of mental illness?
By excessive talking, we aren't referring to someone who is naturally extraverted and who speaks much more than someone who is introverted. We're referring to people who will literally not stop talking. They keep talking during a movie, in the library, or anywhere else. It can drive others around them bonkers. It may be a sign of ADHD, or another mental illness. It's important the excessive talker seeks help if possible.
What is a histrionic narcissistic person?
This is better known as histrionic personality disorder (HPD), and it involves people who are always seeking attention. When they can't seek attention, they may feel uncomfortable.
Someone who has HPD may always display negative behavior. Their emotions are always overreactive, and they may seek out constant gratification for their appearance. Their appearance to draw attention does not stop when they are validated.
People with HPD may seek out positive or negative attention or even both types of attention. To them, attention is still attention. They will display the common examples of attention seeking behaviors in adults that you may expect, and they're also quite seductive. Women are more likely to have it, and the people with HPD can be controlling with all relationships they have.
What causes attention seeking behavior? A number of factors can cause someone to act out for attention, such as loneliness, low self-esteem, jealousy, or a mental health disorder. According to the American Psychiatric Association, attention seeking is a common symptom of histrionic personality disorder.
What is a cluster B personality disorder? A cluster B personality disorder is characterized by unpredictable and overdramatic behavior. This cluster includes antisocial personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, histrionic personality disorder, and narcissistic personality disorder.
Are hypochondriacs attention seekers? People who experience anxiety, panic and other negative emotions from believing they have a serious illness are referred to as hypochondriacs. However, hypochondriacs are not attention seekers, as they genuinely believe that they are suffering from an illness.
Does ignoring bad behavior work for assisting child development? Sometimes, ignoring your child when they act out can dissuade them from performing it again. However, violent actions such as physically hurting others or destroying objects should not be ignored.
Why do some adults seek attention so much? Some adults suffer from histrionic personality disorder or a childhood full of being ignored. However, some people mistake genuine actions and calls for help as attention seeking behaviors. For instance, some people believe that people who struggle with substance abuse or obsessive compulsive disorders are simply seeking attention. But that is not the case.
What is positive attention? Positive attention, such as praise or a smile, is used to encourage a behavior performed by someone else. Giving your child positive attention is important for reducing negative behavior problems and forming a strong relationship with them.
Why do kids want negative attention? Kids and teenagers typically act out when their basic needs are not being met. Sometimes they are tired or hungry. They may even feel like they are not spending enough quality time with their parents. Rather than assuming your children are acting out to make your life harder, try to consider what they are trying to express.
How do you deal with severe human behavior problems in the classroom? Getting to the root of severe behavioral problems will require more than just a week in detention. Not only will understanding what is causing your student’s bad behavior give you important context on their actions, but it can also help you learn how you can better fit their needs in the classroom. Until you can get to the bottom of this behavior, it is important to learn how to anticipate the behavior and remain calm when it occurs.
How do I know if someone with a past problem with behavior no longer engages in attention seeking actions? Decreasing attention seeking behavior does not occur overnight. It can be difficult to beat these bad habits. But as you continue to work on them, you will notice an improvement in your relationships. Knowing whether or not someone has fully recovered from their attention seeking ways can be difficult. But as you rebuild this relationship with this person, it is important to pay attention to any change, or lack of change, they are showing.