Attention-seeking behaviors are attempts to become the center of attention. The motivation behind this behavior is usually ego-driven, where the attention serves as validation of some kind. While everyone has the occasional need for attention, going out of your way to employ these attention seeking behaviors to gain recognition from others is an issue, and can be indicative of deeper problems.
What Is Attention Seeking Behavior?
Attention seeking behavior is typically extreme and dramatic, and the methods usually are very unhealthy and can be indicative of other mental health issues. Long term, attention seeking behaviors can ruin friendships and relationships because others may start to feel manipulated, even if the person seeking attention isn’t aware they are acting this way.1
There is a line between attention seeking behavior and craving a normal amount of attention. Attention makes us feel understood, loved, and even acknowledged for what is being validated by the attention. Attention seeking behaviors, however, put others in uncomfortable situations because they may feel obligated to give attention as opposed to wanting to give genuine attention without being provoked to do so.
Attention Seeking Behavior In Adults
Attention seeking behavior in adults looks different than typical, healthy need for connection. It can look like:2
- Causing a panic in a meeting or even at the grocery store
- Seeking out conflict in a group
- Posting luxurious vacation photos on social media to see how many “likes” they can get
- Posting a fancy outfit with the goal of getting others to compliment them
Attention Seeking Behavior In Children
Attention seeking behavior in children can be easily misconstrued. A child who is seeking attention may ask for help doing something they are capable of doing and have demonstrated before. Or, a child who keeps interrupting their parent who is on the phone while knowing they are on the phone. It’s possible to work to resolve these behaviors in children and ensure they can learn better ways to cope, and by giving children structure with expectations of when the children will have their parent’s undivided attention.3
Examples of Attention Seeking Behavior
Vying for attention can take on many forms. Some people may be looking for positive attention wherever they can get it, whereas others may enjoy stirring up conflict to get the attention back on themselves.
Here are nine examples of attention seeking behavior:
- Fishing for compliments: An individual looking for praise instead of being organically complimented is a red flag that the individual is attention seeking.
- Exaggerating a story: Embellishing a story and over-dramatizing what actually happened is also a sign.
- Purposefully being argumentative to cause a scene: This is classic attention seeking behavior because a big scene will place the individual in the center of the group.
- Seeking sympathy: Getting sympathy from others isn’t always a negative thing. When we lose a loved one, we often get sympathy from others. For attention seekers, sympathy seeking involves purposefully doing certain things or embellishing stories to be portrayed as a victim. Attention seekers also seek sympathy by complaining often for things large and small, hoping one of these things will provoke sympathy in others.
- Pretending to not know how to do something so someone will help: People may pretend to have more needs than they actually have because they want someone around to just give them undivided attention.
- Pretending to be able to do something no one else can: Some may want people to look at what they can do and praise them.
- Obsessively taking photos for the sole purpose to post on social media: Posting for the purpose for others to view and praise is a red flag of attention seeking behavior if someone has gone out of their way drastically to capture the photo, and if this is done often.
- Constantly taking over the conversation: Diverting a story to talk about oneself is a clear sign of attention seeking behavior.
- Being opportunistic at someone else’s expense or circumstance: Similar to seeking sympathy or taking over a conversation, being opportunistic diverts attention to you for something that is unrelated to you so the focus can stay on you.
Causes of Attention Seeking Behavior
There are many reasons why people act out and seek attention. These behaviors are usually a symptom of something else or a need that is not being met. Attention seekers usually have general fears around their relationships or insecurities including feelings of jealousy.
Potential causes of attention seeking behavior in adults include:4
- Low self-esteem
- Histrionic personality disorder
- Narcissistic personality disorder
- Borderline personality disorder
- Fixation on drama
- Unresolved trauma
- Bipolar disorder
How to Stop Someone’s Attention Seeking Behavior
It can be difficult to know how to navigate a situation where someone is hogging all the attention. Depending on the context and how well you know the person, it’s helpful to clearly communicate boundaries and make sure you’re also giving the person undivided attention when it’s appropriate to do so—especially if it’s a child who appears to be acting out.
Here are seven strategies on how to stop attention seeking behavior:
- Reframe attention seeking to connection seeking: Remembering most people are looking for comfort and security can help you feel less annoyed by the behavior and feel more compassion for the individual acting out.
- Don’t give them positive reinforcement: When someone is acting out, don’t give in and reinforce that behavior.
- Encourage them to seek therapy: Help them understand that therapy can help address the underlying issues contributing to this behavior.
- Give honest communication without shame or judgement: Be loving in sharing how the attention seeking behavior is impacting you and your relationship.
- Teach them how to calm their mind: Help them understand what is going on by inviting them to yoga with you or sharing in a guided meditation.
- Set expectations and boundaries: Be clear and firm about your boundaries and expectations of your time and availability.
- Set time for undivided attention: Make sure you have enough time for undivided attention so attention seeking behavior doesn’t feel justified.
Whether you’re unsure of how to help someone else or you struggle with needing attention yourself, a therapist will have a new perspective for how to navigate this issue.
For Someone Wanting to Limit Their Attention Seeking Behaviors
Seeking professional help may be a great way to start your process of healing from these behaviors, especially if there is an underlying issue like a personality disorder, anxiety, depression, or unresolved trauma. Signs that you may want to speak with a therapist or counselor include general insecurities being exacerbated, anxiety, depression, anger, rage and jealousy.
For Someone Dealing With a Loved One
Talking to a therapist is a great way to cope if you are dealing with a loved one who often exhibits attention seeking behavior. Working to understand where these may come from and how to respond can be helpful to ensuring the relationship doesn’t deteriorate. Couples therapy or family therapy may also be helpful so that everyone is on the same page. A therapist can help to make sense of where these behaviors come from and how to change them. You can search an online online therapist directory to find a therapist who can assist you with these attention seeking behaviors.
Needing attention from time to time is typical for everyone, but going out of your way to get that attention and placing your loved ones, friends, or coworkers in uncomfortable situations for your own benefit is a red flag. Attention seeking behavior can be a sign of a more serious disorder, so keep that in mind the next time you experience or witness these behaviors.