Common Signs And Causes Of Attention-Seeking Behavior And How To Address Them

Medically reviewed by Melissa Guarnaccia, LCSW
Updated February 29, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

The desire to get attention from people in your life is natural: We’re hard-wired to prioritize connection for survival, and social support has been linked to many health benefits and even longevity. However, there are both healthy and unhealthy ways to receive attention and/or validation from others. Unhealthy attention-seeking behaviors can damage relationships by exhausting the recipient(s) of the behaviors and making the connection feel inauthentic. Plus, they may be signs of a personality disorder that could benefit from treatment. In this article, we’ll talk about what unhealthy attention-seeking behaviors can look like, why people may engage in them, and what you can do if you notice these in yourself.

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Looking to curb disruptive or troubling behaviors?
iStock/PeopleImages
Looking to curb disruptive or troubling behaviors?

Addressing attention-seeking behavior

If you’ve realized you commonly engage in attention-seeking behavior as a way to cope with loneliness or low self-esteem, or if you feel that it’s hurting your relationships and/or may be a sign of a mental health condition, there are strategies you can try to address it.

Recognizing these impulses when they occur can be an important first step. One example of a way to catalog these behaviors is to keep a journal. You can use this journal to document when and why these impulses arise so you can get to the root cause of the issue. Next, you can engage in intentional, active listening when around others. It can help you focus your attention on people and relationships instead of yourself, and it can lay the groundwork for more authentic connections where you can feel safe and cared for instead of constantly seeking attention out of fear. 

Finally, you might also consider meeting with a therapist to address the underlying causes of this type of behavior. If it’s due to low self-esteem or insecurity, they can help you heal from any related past trauma and practice strategies for building your confidence. If it’s because of loneliness, they can assist you in strengthening the social skills you may need to expand your circle of connections. If they feel you may be exhibiting symptoms of a personality disorder, or another disorder like depression, they can help you address them and may offer a treatment plan.

If you are experiencing trauma, support is available. Please see our Get Help Now page for more resources.

Not everyone is able to get in-person mental health care, such as those who live in rural areas or who have trouble leaving the house regularly. Online therapy represents a viable alternative for people in situations like these. With a virtual therapy platform like BetterHelp, you can get matched with a licensed therapist who you can meet with via phone, video call, and/or in-app messaging to address the challenges you may be facing. Research suggests that virtual therapy is “no less efficacious” than traditional, in-person methods, so you can typically choose the format that works best for you. See below for client reviews of BetterHelp counselors.

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Takeaway

There are various reasons a person may engage in attention-seeking behaviors, from insecurity or loneliness to a personality disorder. Becoming aware of these behaviors is usually the first step in changing them; meeting with a therapist to discuss these challenges may also be helpful.
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