Attention-Seeking Behaviour in Adults


We all want to be noticed and appreciated. But for some adults, the desire for validation, concern, or simple attention becomes extreme and disruptive. The compulsion to attract eyeballs can manifest in troubling ways – from manipulating friends to faking disabilities to seducing colleagues. Behind the histrionic headlines often lurk wounded pasts now hungry for the spotlight.

Attention-seeking individuals can’t resist repeatedly asking, “How do I look?” They crave endless praise and compliments to soothe their profound self-doubt. Partners and friends grow weary of the constant reassurance seeking. They pepper conversations with far-fetched name-dropping and “sat next to a celebrity” bogus anecdotes. Their insecurity drives them to exaggerate accomplishments as they compete for awe and acclaim.

Read More: What is Schema Therapy?

Common Manifestations

There are various ways that attention-seeking tendencies manifest in adults. Some examples include:

  • Excessive reassurance seeking.
  • Blatant lying or embellishing stories to seem more interesting or accomplished (Sutcliffe et al., 2022).
  • Using medical fabrications or factitious disorders to gain medical attention and concern (Turner et al., 2015).
  • Provocative appearance or sexualized behaviour to attract notice (Uzieblo et al., 2010).
  • Intentionally creating drama or crises to be the centre of focus (Bennett & Stirling, 1998).
  • Risk-taking behaviours, self-harm threats or gestures, or suicide attempts to prompt reactions (Links et al., 2003).
What Drives Such Desperation for Spotlight?

Severe attention-seeking usually signals inner fragility and early attachment gaps that leave emotional needs unmet in childhood. Preoccupied, dismissive, or neglectful parenting can create an enduring craving for notice. Trauma and chaotic homes also inflict deep wounds, planting seeds for future acting out. In adulthood, this suppressed distress erupts as bids for reactions to fill the void. Personality disorders often accompany the compulsions, particularly borderline, narcissistic, and histrionic types. Here, the regulation of emotions, impulses, identity and relationships remains stalled in very immature functioning. Dangerous judgment, instability in work and home life, and strained social connections abound unless treatment teaches self-management tools.

Read More: 7 Positive Psychology Habits for Everyday Life

Motivators of Attention-Seeking

Certain environments and situations can worsen attention addiction by rewarding extreme behaviours:

  • Childhoods where parents reinforced tantrums, helplessness, or provocation due to their own issues. These early lessons were imprinted deeply.
  • Partners, friends or bosses who tiptoe around the attention seeker, enabling neediness due to caretaking tendencies or conflict avoidance. Their passive response perpetuates dependency.
  • Social groups that idolize rebellion and risk-taking as daring life choices rather than signs of turmoil. Peer influence here further normalizes self-sabotage.
  • Stressors like financial hardship, job changes, illness, or relationship struggles. In times of uncertainty, neglected inner wounds reawaken hungrily demanding soothing balm. Healthy coping abilities cannot be drawn upon as they were never developed.
  • Early childhood attachment disruptions or inadequate caregiving can drive attention needs later in life (Ma, 2006).
  • Personality disorders, such as histrionic, borderline, narcissistic, or antisocial tendencies (American Psychiatric Association, 2013).
  • Low self-esteem, inner emptiness, or lack of identity seeking to define oneself through others’ reactions (Uzieblo et al., 2010).
  • Secondary gains from being ill, playing the victim, or assumed dependencies (Feldman, 2004).
  • Manipulative efforts to control relationships or environments by causing drama (Bennett & Stirling, 1998).
The Effect

Ploys for attention inevitably inflict collateral damage across all facets of life:

  1. Friends and family experience emotional fatigue and distrust from the drama rollercoaster. They mourn the loss of intimacy as they must always brace for the next shoe to drop.
  2. Employers face absenteeism, missed deadlines, friction with colleagues, and even sexual harassment complaints due to erratic behaviours. The bottom line suffers.
  3. First responders shoulder the toll of repeated emergency calls for fim hypochondriacal illnesses or drug overdoses. Preventable risks also endanger the greater public.
  4. Worst of all, the attention seeker’s mental health and self-image slowly erode under the weight of so much turmoil. Inner peace remains elusive as quiet reflection never develops to nurture self-understanding.
    • Relationship damage due to manipulation, betrayal of trust, or emotional volatility (Bennett & Stirling, 1998).
    • Distress on family members, partners, friends, and colleagues (James & Farnham, 2003).
    • Disruptions to work, school, or financial stability (Links et al., 2003).
    • Legal problems due to extreme risk-taking behaviours (Evren et al., 2012).
    • Hospitalizations, disabilities from factitious disorders, or injuries from self-harm acts or suicide attempts (Turner et al., 2015).

Various psychosocial treatment approaches may help address attention-seeking behaviour in adults:

  • Psychotherapy to uncover and resolve root causes like childhood trauma, insecure attachments, or personality conditions (Ma, 2006).
  • Mentalization-based therapy to develop self-awareness and understand the impact on others (Hartmann et al., 2015).
  • Dialectical behaviour therapy to build distress tolerance, emotion regulation, and interpersonal skills (Links et al., 2003).
  • Family therapy to improve communication and set boundaries (Uzieblo et al., 2010).
  • Support groups to reduce feelings of isolation and provide positive attention (Feldman, 2004).

Treatment should be tailored to the individual’s symptoms, motivations, and enabling factors. A combination of psychotherapy, group support, and building self-soothing skills may provide the most comprehensive approach to reducing attention-seeking actions. Improved coping abilities and healthy relationship patterns can alleviate the need for inappropriate attention fulfilment over time.

Summing Up

Attention-seeking behaviour in adults encompasses a range of maladaptive actions aimed at gaining others’ notice, concern, validation, or admiration. The inappropriate attempts to elicit attention often violate social norms and have an adverse impact on relationships and overall functioning. There are frequently underlying psychological wounds or personality disorders driving the conspicuous behaviours. Treatment requires uncovering root motivations and building skills to establish more healthy means of getting attention needs met. Comprehensive psychosocial interventions can help adults increase self-awareness, manage difficult emotions, and cultivate secure, mutual relationships.

Exit mobile version