The Need To Seek Attention & Validation – An Addiction of its Own Kind, and Ways To Overcome It - Part I
Have you or someone you know, ever exaggerated a situation in order to gain someone’s sympathy or their time? Does some you know or you prone to attention-seeking, probably know it deep down, but are choosing not to admit because it gets you what you want, eventually making you happy? We all just know when someone behaves in such a way- it doesn’t require a psychometric test to establish it, and it is nothing less than exasperating or frustrating. Loved ones or even care-givers will put up with it for a while, until they do not get saturated dealing with it, because they have to chose their own ways of coping with these behaviors from others and not succumbing to the pressure, eventually compelling them to draw boundary around the toxic behavior. There is a strong line that separates a healthy desire for interaction from unhealthy attention-seeking.
There are all kinds of reasons that an adult might seek attention. It might be rooted in something way back in their childhood, or it might be the result of a more recent event. Some people go through short periods of craving attention when they’re experiencing a rough patch and are searching for validation. Acceptance that things can happen to us at any time that can alter our course of life is important. Developing a need for constant attention is something we ought to be particularly wary of if we want to maintain healthy relationships with loved ones, friends, or even at work.
Excessive attention seeking behavior is a personality disorder of its own known as the Histrionic Personality Disorder – a long standing pattern and addiction of seeking attention with extreme emotionality and dramatic tantrums and behaviors. While they might often be lively, and dramatic, they may also indulge in provocative behaviors to draw the attention in order to seek the love that they miss from within themselves, insisting it only comes from outside ; or constantly choosing or craving to be in a particular emotional state because that behavior seems comfortable enough to get what you want or have been getting through out their childhood – validation and attention. These people get uncomfortable if the attention is not provided from a group or an individual. As children, many have grown up either being the center of attention in their, every waking moment of their time, or the other extreme, barely getting any of it, making them feel severely rejected and looking it for it in sometimes non-conducive way from others they choose to look up to as parental figures.
This kind of behavior of seeking and needing constant attention, in more ways than one, is a form of mental, emotional and sometimes even physical manipulation, and below are some of the traits:
Hysterical/ Histrionic Behavior -The person often has overly exaggerated and sometimes melodramatic, that can be really loud. They go flying off the handle and the slimmest of sight of a potential trigger, unintentionally in most cases, and will often behave in inappropriate ways in social situations. This, stemming from a childhood need for attention and validation does exactly what it did back then – focuses everyone’s attention on them. You will often see them calming down almost instantly as it happens.
Playing the victim card – They will constantly keep cursing their “luck” for the smallest of things that go wrong or happen- could be as simple as a low battery or food with less salt. They may have experienced no traumatic life event, nor a mental or physical disorder, yet constantly chooses to play a scapegoat to make themselves feel superior to others. Keeping tendencies such as psychosis and schizophrenia aside, giving everything a negative experience believing that only they have been targeted on purpose makes them choose to be in that space. Blaming everything outside of themselves has become a soft comfort zone, which they are very happy not changing. Why? Because their emotional needs of attention and external love is being met. You will often find them expecting another problem to crop up, as soon as one is over, because that is how they are comfortable conditioning themselves with. Now you might wonder, how this would help. A person who chooses to use this route, enjoy the sympathy and draining other people’s energy, in order to not show their flaws and their authentic side. .
Being a friend that is ALWAYS available– these love being indispensable, and love the high it gives when glory is basked upon them. In many cases, the more this happens, the more the other friend starts leaning on towards this person, giving them the chance to look for more such opportunities. The friend at the receiving end gets completed depleted, and if at all he manages to free himself from the grip, you often find the person inflicting the behavior being arrogant, disrespectful, and toxic. This way of manipulation helps the person seeking attention to be the “most important” person in the room.
Using illness as a yardstick – this is one of the most common ways of seeking attention and validation. This kind of a person sometimes goes to the extreme of feigning an illness, or using an already existing one as a yardstick to misbehave, disrespect and not look towards a solution based approach to change. I have personally been through this where a friend used his depression as way of being disrespectful to say that no matter what I will have to take it because I am the stronger one and he is the weaker one. There is a strong reason to such kind of a behavior. As children, when we fall sick or hurt ourselves while playing, our parents or people around us immediately rush with first aid, soothing them mentally and emotionally in the bargaining. Sometimes, many parents seem to do over catastrophe a simple flu or a scratch, aggressively choosing to take care and rush around to various doctors, even when they know and have heard medically it is nothing. Many adults are still used to such kind of attention, and in some cases it can be a very subconscious mechanism. Gaining unnecessary sympathy is quite similar to getting attention.
Inability to take in real feedback – Achievements are not just over exaggerated, even if it means choosing to work on a relationship that seemingly wasn’t working out too well. This is done only to gain reassurance from the outside, because getting that constant appreciation is as potent as an recreational drug. Asking for suggestions and compliments once in a while on a hair cut or a new office is not wrong. But doing things consistently only for that is a warning sign of a dis-empowering behavioral pattern. If the expected praise doesn’t come and there’s criticism in its place, this can be crippling for most, especially when it comes to social media. Whilst some people who need attention will take negative attention over none at all, for those who are particularly attached to praise, criticism can be very hard to cope with.
Zero Consideration About another’s Life or Challenges – these is also very common, yet often ignored because it has subtle traits. This person loves having the upper hand to dominate, sometimes in the name of getting constant advice or sympathy, at odd hours or even after knowing that the other person is going through challenges of their own. The entire world revolves and should only revolve around them. A simple conversation also cannot be two-sided.
Enjoying indulging in or putting out controversial content on Social Media – we all know how common this is. Trolling is also second nature to them, and they love throwing our dark sarcasm, because it validates them, bring them attention. Their posts and words are filled with toxic, validating a potential behavior and problem, and by doing this, they choose to stay in the problem. Again, story of comfort zones. They love the reactions that come that way, not to also mention the dopamine like high they get when they gain very like minded followers. This also includes constantly posting questions about what to do about your intimate life and also only sharing all your problems, asking for advice but taking zero action to work towards it.
Constantly Engaging in Sexual activity with different partners – this is a pure sign of a lack of self-esteem. They hope no one gets close to them emotionally and mentally, whereas subconsciously that is precisely what they want, and also require.
Constant Engagement in Gossiping, Negative Judgments – This we all know, and is all too company. While a healthy round of catch-up on whats happening hurt no one, living for it is another ball game all together. They love having ALL the gossip and sharing because it focuses everyone’s attention on them.
Constantly Complaining – This is a truth bomb, and a viscous cycle too. These will have a need to find fault not just in other’s but themselves too, and accuse themselves and others of being complacent, rude, not good enough, guilty, and it usually comes in an over exaggerate form. They will choose to refuse the possibility that something better could exist because the cushioning that complaining gives will no longer be available, pushing them to take responsibility of themselves. These people also love thriving on arguments, and do whatever it takes to prove themselves right because it gives an ego boost of being perfect and right.
Doing Everything to Hear Appreciation from a loved one – this one is also common, especially when a need to prove yourself as a child/spouse or partner is involved. One inevitably goes out of their way to impress and do things just to hear a ,”Ah! So nice of you.”, and it usually doesn’t happen, making the person feel lower than before, yet also motivating them to do more and better next time. Truth be told, this is a never ending cycle coming from a space of low-self esteem, and insisting it will and should only come from the outside, because the person is entitled to do so given the relationship with you.
Repeatedly Threatening or Attempting Suicide and or inflicting similar life threatening behaviors, for the smallest of reasons – does this really require more explanation?
Excessive attention seeking is a brain wiring response to early developmental trauma caused by neglect and rejection as a child. The brain wires itself to survive in that world that it assumes will give it similar experiences like that it has already experienced. Newborns are completely dependent on getting their mother’s attention for survival, and if it intentionally or unintentionally doesn’t happen during a child’s developmental years, the more the child equates getting attention with survival and safety. This then helps the child build a belief system to do whatever it takes to get attention. Brains wired to equate lack of attention as dangerous and unsafe, automatically respond to it as threat in a part of the brain known as the amygdala. Additionally, throwing tantrums in order to get attention causes the pituitary gland and hypothalamus to secrete endorphins – the pain-suppressing and pleasure-inducing chemicals, the same way any other drugs like heroin do. Hence, constant drama eases the anxiety of wanting more attention than one receives. This behavior than very organically becomes an addiction, since it uses the same mechanisms, and just like any other addiction, one builds a tolerance level, and eventually craves for more of the same, that causes the same neuro-chemical effect in the brain. The more the drama, the attention and adulation, the more the thrill it gives.
How does one overcome this, or help someone else with it? Read Part II for the solutions..