Attention seeking behaviour is to act in a way that is likely to elicit attention, usually to elicit validation from others. People are thought to engage in both positive and negative attention-seeking behaviour independent of the actual benefit or harm to health.
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 behaviours out of fear. In fact, you may not even realize that what you are doing is attention-seeking behaviour.
We all need attention and want to feel that our friends and family care about us. Why is attention-seeking behaviour 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 behaviour. And yes, this can be considered a form of manipulation.
The first step to knowing whether you engage in attention-seeking behaviour is to know precisely what it means. Attention seeking behaviour is quite simply doing things that are likely to get others to notice you.
Examples of Attention-Seeking Behavior
“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. Some people, however, feel 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 behaviour. 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 behaviours 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 behaviour 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 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 behaviours out of simple jealousy. In that case, the behaviours 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 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 behaviour. They make every effort to put themselves at the centre 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 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 behaviours, thinking that they are silently judged. Because of this, they may act out with manipulative or attention-seeking behaviours.
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 in behaviours 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 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.
Treatment for Attention-Seeking Behavior
People tend to learn these attention-seeking behaviours out of fear. In fact, you may not even realize that what you are doing is attention-seeking behaviour. If you crave attention and fall into using unhealthy behaviours 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 you. 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 attention-seeking behaviour, 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 behaviour. 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 behaviours for acceptance.
Acknowledge Your Behavior
If you want to change your behaviour, the first thing you need to do is learn to acknowledge it. Focus on identifying times when you’re engaging in these behaviours 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 you. 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 behaviour. A therapist, like those at Better Help, 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 behaviours. You can read reviews of our therapists below, from people experiencing similar issues.