Are You Guilty Of Attention Seeking Behavior?
By Sarah Fader
Updated June 12, 2019
Reviewer 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 a true suicidal desire. 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 to feel like 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 and caring for you may diminish as they get tired of this manipulative behavior. And yes, it is 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.
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 is 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 does.
Some people, however, feel deep insecurity about who they are. Often, insecurity leads to trying to buff up your self-esteem by trying to point out your good qualities to someone else rather than letting them notice 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 is a problem, however, when you need to hear from someone else that something about you is "good" to feel good about yourself.
Sympathy seeking is an extremely common form of looking for attention. Unfortunately, it's also a form of negative attention because rather than receiving 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 knowing that you will likely cause harm to yourself. The result may look like an accident, and you may even convince yourself that it was not preventable. But if deep down you know that you consciously chose to take a risk, then you may be looking for sympathy.
Feigning Lack Ability
This behavior is often seen in children, but sometimes adults will also try to use this to their advantage when they feel neglected. Feigning a lack of ability means asking others to perform tasks for you because you tell them, or have convinced yourself to believe that, you can't.
Attention Seeking Behavior In Adults
Many cries for attention are common to children. Adults, however, can also exhibit attention seeking behaviors in many ways. Always complaining or being the victim are ways that adults may look for attention from others. They hope to gain sympathy in this way, to validate themselves as deserving of care.
Causing lots of arguments and fights is another common behavior pattern in attention-seeking adults. Stirring up drama on social media is also an attention seeking pattern, as is exaggerated expressions, lying, promiscuous sexual behavior, and self-injury or substance abuse.
When Parents Seek Attention From Their Children
There is a specific mental illness in which parents seek attention not through themselves, but through their children. It is called Munchausen by proxy syndrome. These parents make up false symptoms and illnesses so that they can reap the sympathy given to them on their children's behalf.
If you suspect that you or someone you know has Munchausen by proxy syndrome, you should seek help or guide them towards getting help. The behaviors associated with this mental illness are, in fact, child abuse.
Attention Seeking Older Adults
Everyone requires attention, and elderly adults are no exception. It is possible that previously well-balanced individuals may exhibit attention seeking behaviors in their later years. Part of the reason may be that they are experiencing a reduced social circle and activities, so their need for attention is not being met like it once was. When this happens, adult children and caretakers may find the older adult's behavior difficult to deal with.
It's important to pay attention to other behaviors and symptoms when an older adult is seeking negative attention. It's possible that the behavior is related to another health problem, such as dementia.
Attention Seeking Disorder
Attention seeking can be a part of a personality disorder. Personality disorders that are often associated with the seeking of attention include histrionic personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, and narcissistic 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.
They also tend to have poor impulse control and seek out instant gratification, making it difficult for their circumstances or relationships to keep them satisfied for long.
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 manipulate 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.
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 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 with drama may grow tired of the game and stop giving attention altogether.
Possible Causes Of Chronic Attention Seeking
There are multiple reasons why a particular person may seek out negative attention. At the minor end of the spectrum, a person could exhibit these behaviors out of simple jealousy. In that case, the behaviors may be temporary. 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, and
- Putting a lot of stock in material possessions.
Other potential causes of chronic attention seeking include:
- Bipolar disorder
- Other mental illness
Does Social Media Increase Attention Seeking Issues?
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.
How Attention Seeking Behavior Affects Relationships
Being manipulated by this kind of behavior can be exhausting to a romantic partner. Although your behaviors are begging for attention, the way you go about it can make your partner less likely to respond to you. When this happens, your behaviors may escalate, and your partner may drift further away.
As the situation worsens, you end up with lack of communication and loss of trust and respect in the relationship, and potentially loss of the relationship itself.
Interventions For Attention Seeking Behavior
When you notice that someone you care about is engaging in attention-seeking behavior, you can help them to move away from this destructive pattern. 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.
Reducing Your Attention Seeking Behaviors
If you notice that you are engaging in attention-seeking behaviors, you can take action to heal yourself. 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.