Attention-seeking behavior is everywhere, and almost all of us have witnessed it at one time or another. You might be familiar with the friend who seems to way too much time on social media, constantly bragging with a seemingly endless need for personal validation. Or, you may have seen the child who has a meltdown while waiting in line at the grocery store, falling on the floor and kicking their legs.
The behaviors of people who seem to be seeking undue amounts of attention are apt to make us uncomfortable, irritated, and embarrassed. They are exactly the kinds of behaviors that seem poised to push our buttons. The question is: When is attention-seeking behavior something we can simply try to ignore, and when it is a problem that might need to be addressed in a more serious way?
Read on for what attention-seeking behavior is, what causes it, when it might be indicative of a serious mental health disorder, and how to cope when you or someone in your life is exhibiting this behavior.
List of Psychological Disorders
What Is Attention-Seeking Behavior?
It is a human instinct to want to be noticed, taken seriously, and loved. So in a certain way, attention-seeking behaviors come from a place that most of us can understand. The problem is that when attention-seeking behaviors are motivated by a feeling of low self-esteem, jealousy, loneliness, or because of a psychiatric condition. In these instances, the behavior can come across as extreme or hysterical.
Moreover, attention-seeking behavior that happens frequently, is manipulative, passive-aggressive, or severe, can push people away, strain relationships, or ruin them altogether. At times, severe attention-seeking behavior—especially when caused by a mental health issue or a personality disorder—can make it difficult for someone to stay employed or be a functioning member of society.
What Is Histrionic Personality Disorder (HPD)?
What Does Attention-Seeking Behavior Look Like?
There are many ways that attention-seeking behaviors can present themselves. Sometimes a behavior is overt, such as when someone makes a confrontational comment. Sometimes the behaviors are more subtle, such as someone who seems to be constantly fishing for compliments.
Examples of Attention-Seeking Behavior
- Posting excessively on social media, seeming to vie for as many “likes” and comments as possible
- Making comments—both online and in-person—that seem calculated to make people feel uncomfortable or cross social boundaries
- Bragging constantly about material wealth, physical appearances, and personal successes
- Seeming to act as though everything that happens to you is a catastrophe, even when it is not
- Engaging in provocative, promiscuous, or exhibitionistic behavior
- Seeming to always want to be the center of attention
- Making frequent self-deprecating comments in an effort to be validated
- Having what might be described as a “dramatic” personality
Histrionic Personality Disorder vs. BPD: What Are the Differences?
Causes of Attention-Seeking Behavior
There are a couple of reasons why someone might be having attention-seeking behaviors. The most common reason why someone might exhibit these behaviors is that they are experiencing low-self esteem.
Low self-esteem often can look like someone who is down on themselves and who is struggling with depression. But sometimes low-self esteem or having a negative view of oneself can lead to aggressive, anti-social, attention-seeking, and even delinquent behaviors.
Other emotional states that might lead to attention-seeking behaviors include loneliness and jealousy. For example, people who are experiencing increasing loneliness as well as social anxiety might turn to social media for validation, and then end up exhibiting attention-seeking behavior in their online interactions with others.
Is Attention-Seeking Behavior Ever Normal?
Again, to some extent we are all wired to want attention and validation, and so it’s important to understand that some attention-seeking behavior can be thought of as an understandable need for validation, or a cry for help.
For example, most attention-seeking behaviors in children, especially young children, shouldn’t be thought of as unhealthy or manipulative. Some of these behaviors are developmentally appropriate, as children are often testing boundaries to understand what appropriate behavior looks like.
Other times, children who act out are really saying that they need help from their parents, or may need psychological help. Some attention-seeking behavior in children may be related to an impulse control or conduct control disorder, such as oppositional defiant disorder or conduct disorder.
Is Attention-Seeking Behavior Part of Mental Illness?
A person who has persistent, extreme, or disturbing attention-seeking behaviors might be experiencing a mental health disorder, or may be someone who has a personality disorder. Some possibilities include:
Histrionic Personality Disorder
Histrionic personality disorder is a personality disorder that’s part of a cluster of personality disorders called “dramatic personality disorders.” One of the primary features of histrionic personality disorder is attention-seeking behavior. In addition, someone who has this disorder may display some of the following characteristics:
- A “dramatic” or theatrical personality
- Always craves the spotlight and needs to be the center of attention
- Makes impulsive decisions
- Is fixated on physical appearance
- Lacks empathy and doesn’t usually show care for others
- Is moody and emotional
- Gets uncomfortable when attention is shifted away from them
- Has a short attention span and is easily bored
- Needs constant stimulation and validation
- May be unable to maintain meaningful relationships
Borderline Personality Disorder
Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is another one of the “dramatic personality disorders” that is characterized by a need for attention and validation. Someone with BPD may be moody and experience low self-esteem. It can be difficult for them to control their behavior and maintain healthy relationships.
Other signs of BPD include:
- A chronic fear of abandonment; feeling as though everyone is “out to get you.”
- Unstable relationships—constantly changing perceptions of who you can trust, and who you can’t
- Very low self-image and self-esteem
- Impulsive and destructive behavior, including spending sprees, reckless sexual behavior, and unsafe driving
- Self-harm and suicidal ideation
- Intense bursts of anger and lashing out
Other Mental Health Disorders
There are several other behavioral and mental health disorders that have attention-seeking behavior as a characteristic. These include:
- Bipolar disorder
- Narcissistic personality disorder
- Oppositional defiant disorder
- Intermittent explosive disorder
11 Signs of Low Self-Esteem
Coping With Attention-Seeking Behavior
If someone in your life is showing an uptick in attention-seeking behavior, feeling upset or turned off is a normal reaction. However, usually people who are exhibiting these behaviors are coming from a place of suffering or are experiencing a mental health disturbance.
So, if possible, the best way to talk to someone who is exhibiting these behaviors is to come from a place of compassion. Remember, often someone who seems to need constant attention is actually experiencing low self-worth.
Try to tell the person matter-of-factly what you are observing, and ask what you can do to help. Ask them what they might be struggling with, and tell them that they are loved and supported. Often, simply having someone in their life who cares is enough for the person to feel better and to decrease some of their attention-seeking behaviors.
If the person is experiencing depression, or may be struggling with something like bipolar disorder, having a friend to talk to might not be enough. In this case, helping your loved one understand that psychological help may be necessary, and helping them find it, is of utmost value.
Unfortunately, treating personality disorders is more complicated because these are considered lifelong disorders, and many people who have personality disorders are resistant to treatment. However, treatment—in the form of psychotherapy, medication, and lifestyle changes—can be very effective at managing a personality disorder.
If you are the person who is exhibiting attention-seeking behavior and you are wondering what to do, just realizing that something is amiss is a wonderful first step. Many people with this behavior are reluctant to admit they are acting inappropriately, and may not seek help.
Therapy or counseling is a great place to start if you are seeking help for this behavior. Importantly, if you are experiencing a bout of very low self-esteem or if you are experiencing self-harm or thoughts of suicide, this is an emergency situation, and you should seek immediate care.
If you or someone you care about is having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911. For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.
How Social Support Contributes to Psychological Health
A Word From Verywell
Most of us look at attention-seeking behavior in a negative light, but that’s because we are focused on the behavior rather than what is motivating the behavior. When looking at attention-seeking behavior through the right lens, we may realize that it’s often a call for help, or a manifestation of a mental health issue.
Either way, it can be helpful not to take the behavior too personally, and to try to take a more compassionate, helpful tone when interacting with someone who is exhibiting this behavior. That being said, if someone is unwilling to change their behavior, seek help for it, or if this behavior is harming you in some way, it’s not something you need to put up with. Your mental health is important too!
If you or a person in your life is showing signs of self-harm or suicidal ideation—even if it seems to be part of a need for extra attention—you should always take this seriously. Help is available and emergency care is warranted.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the symptoms of attention-seeking disorder?
Histrionic personality disorder is often associated with attention-seeking behaviors, which can include moodiness, emotionality, constant need for stimulation, unstable relationships, and a theatrical personality.(Video) Attention Seeking Behavior in BPD
What type of person is an attention seeker?
An attention seeker may have a personality disorder, such as histrionic personality disorder or borderline personality disorder. However, attention-seeking behavior can also be associated with other causes including poor self-esteem, narcissism, and loneliness.
Is attention seeking behavior an ADHD characteristic?
Attention-seeking is often associated with ADHD, although often misunderstood. ADHD characteristics such as impulsivity, inattention, and hyperactivity can lead to behaviors that are frequently misinterpreted as attention-seeking.
Suicide Prevention Tips
What are the reasons for attention-seeking behavior? ›
The causes of attention seeking behavior are varied. Risk factors leading to attention seeking behavior include loneliness, jealousy, low self-esteem, narcissism and self-pity. A desire for validation is theorised as a motivation for attention seeking behavior.How to respond to attention-seeking behavior in the classroom? ›
A response only feeds the student's need for attention. Examples of attention-seeking behaviors: tapping pencils, humming, blurting out, getting out of seat, and rocking chair. If possible, ignore the inappropriate behavior. If the student receives no attention for the behavior, then they may stop.How do you satisfy an attention seeker? ›
- Remove the positive reinforcement for attention-seeking behavior. ...
- Teach how to calm the mind. ...
- Normalize attention-seeking behavior while role-modeling appropriate behavior. ...
- Go deeper. ...
- Help the attention-seeker connect with and develop his or her strengths to pursue a higher goal.
The problem is, ignoring a child's “attention seeking” behaviour doesn't stop their need. In fact ignoring a child's need for attention usually means that they will become more desperate for attention and the behaviour will escalate. They will do what they need to until they get the attention they are looking for.What type of personality is attention-seeking? ›
Histrionic personality disorder is a type of personality disorder that is characterized by attention-seeking behavior. If you have histrionic personality disorder, you may be very suggestible and act in a very dramatic or attention seeking way.Is attention-seeking a mental health? ›
Excessive or maladaptive attention seeking is a central component in certain mental health disorder diagnoses, particularly Histrionic Personality Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder.What is the impact of attention-seeking behaviour? ›
An attention seeker may have a personality disorder, such as histrionic personality disorder or borderline personality disorder. However, attention-seeking behavior can also be associated with other causes including poor self-esteem, narcissism, and loneliness.How do you manage attention-seeking students? ›
The strategy that is most likely to "correct" attention-seeking behavior is planned ignoring. With planned ignoring, you reduce or eliminate the attention a student receives for engaging in misbehavior, while concurrently giving the student frequent attention when he or she is not engaged in misbehavior.How do you discipline an attention-seeking child? ›
One of the best ways to stop attention-seeking behavior in its tracks is to let your child know your expectations and what behaviors they need to avoid. You can do this by creating a rules chart. Have them help you create it, and then hang it at their eye level (the refrigerator is a good place for it).How do you fix attention-seeking behavior in children? ›
Resolving Attention-Seeking Behavior
The best way to resolve this issue is to proactively give undivided attention to the child for a predictable amount of time at a predictable time. For example, parents may want to dedicate 10-15 minutes per day after school and before dinner to playing with their child.
Are attention seekers insecure? ›
Many people who seek negative attention have low self-esteem, and they feel insecure about themselves. They may be afraid that others can't feel genuine love for them or feel inadequate.What mental illness causes attention-seeking? ›
Histrionic personality disorder (HPD) is a mental health condition marked by unstable emotions, a distorted self-image and an overwhelming desire to be noticed. People with HPD often behave dramatically or inappropriately to get attention.What is a word for an attention seeker? ›
braggadocio. dog-and-pony show. flash. grandstanding. humblebrag.Is attention-seeking ADHD? ›
Attention-seeking behavior is a symptom of ADHD. It's often the first clue for parents that their child might have this condition.Are attention seekers introverts? ›
Observing Versus Seeking
It's not that introverts don't want attention; they just don't seek it out like extroverts. Introverts are observers rather than attention seekers, which is very useful in making people feel heard...
The way of grabbing attention varies, with a total of four different styles of seeking attention. These are – extroverted positive overt style, extroverted positive subdued style, extroverted negative overt style, and extroverted negative subdued style.Are narcissists attention seekers? ›
People high in narcissism tend to have a distinct preoccupation with being the center of attention. They are highly skilled at making themselves the star of the show, whether by writing the script themselves or hijacking another person's scene. Grandiosity with expectations of superior treatment from other people.What is the character trait for attention seeker? ›
Histrionic personality disorder is characterized by constant attention-seeking, emotional overreaction, and seductive behavior. People with this condition tend to overdramatize situations, which may impair relationships and lead to depression.What is the difference between narcissism and attention-seeking? ›
A person who seeks attention constantly is not necessarily suffering from narcissism. While attention-seeking is one of the main symptoms of narcissism, it can be caused by other factors as well. Low self-esteem and loneliness are two possible causes of this behavior that do not fall under narcissism.What personality type thinks they are always right? ›
ESTJs have a tendency to think they are always right and that their moral compass is objective, absolute and universal.
What type of personality needs constant attention? ›
Histrionic personality disorder
feel very uncomfortable if you are not the centre of attention. feel that you have to entertain people. constantly seek, or feel dependent on, the approval of others. make rash decisions.
Aspects of attention can be affected in bipolar disorder. These include selective attention, which is the ability to focus on relevant stimuli and ignore irrelevant stimuli. Sustained attention is the ability to maintain a consistent focus.Is attention-seeking a form of autism? ›
Attention Seeking Conducts In Autism
The following conducts are examples of ASB in Autistic children: Being way too loud, screaming, dancing, jumping. Asking for things way too often (If they are verbal) Pretending they can not do something they are perfectly capable of doing.
The first function of behavior is attention. Attention-seeking behavior occurs when someone desires feedback or a responsefrom another person. Crying and throwing tantrums are great examples of childhood attention-seeking habits.How does attention affect the brain? ›
In general, the changes associated with attention are believed to increase the signal-to-noise ratio of the neurons that represent the attended stimulus, however they can also impact communication between brain areas. To this end, attention's effect on neural synchrony is important.How do you manage attention problems? ›
- Take the Mystery Away. ...
- Understand Consistent Inconsistency. ...
- Explore the Option of Medication. ...
- Allow for Movement and Breaks. ...
- Vary Instructional Strategies. ...
- Use Signals. ...
- Leverage Interests. ...
- Minimize Noise and Other Distractions.
Some of the attributes of students motivated by getting attention are: Like to get response from others– They enjoy how their behavior affects others. Like to be the center of attention – They do not like to share the spotlight. They need an audience– It doesn't work them unless someone watching or paying attention.How do you teach attention skills? ›
- Include Physical Activity. Kids who struggle with attention often do better if they are given brief breaks for active play. ...
- Have "Attention Breaks" ...
- Adjust Time Frames. ...
- Remove Visual Distractions. ...
- Play Memory Games. ...
- Rate (and Change) Tasks. ...
- Break Tasks into Pieces.
Why do children get clingy? A child can show clinginess due to a fear of being away from their parents (separation anxiety) or because of stranger anxiety, where the fear is more about being around people the child doesn't know.How does attention-seeking affect child development? ›
Children who attention-seek, i.e. monopolise their primary caregivers' time and who struggle to tolerate your attention being elsewhere, can be an extraordinary challenge. It is not uncommon for these compulsive behaviours and the reactions they elicit to damage relationships between child and carer.
What causes attention problems in children? ›
Many factors can cause lack of concentration in a child. ADHD is often the first disorder associated with inattention, but it's not always the correct diagnosis. Different forms of anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, trauma, stress, or learning disorders may be the culprit.What are examples of negative attention? ›
Negative attention happens when you give your child attention for something you don't like. If your child keeps tugging at your shirt and calling your name, you may tell her to “Stop!” In this example, you have given your child attention.What do you call someone who craves attention? ›
Histrionic personality disorder (HPD) is a mental health condition marked by unstable emotions, a distorted self-image and an overwhelming desire to be noticed. People with HPD often behave dramatically or inappropriately to get attention. Appointments 866.588.2264.How do you handle attention? ›
- Stay focussed on your feelings, what you want and what you don't.
- Treat your unwanted suitor as an adult. ...
- Decide how you'll respond to the attention. ...
- Develop a variety of communication techniques. ...
- Focus on building your self-esteem and self-confidence.
7 Classy Ways to Respond to Bad Behavior towards You ...
- 1 Don't Acknowledge It. ...
- 2 Be Kind Anyways. ...
- 3 Smile at Them when They do It. ...
- 4 Make a Vague Comment. ...
- 5 Keep Your Cool. ...
- 6 Use Confidence.
The goal of attention-seeking behavior is to gain the attention of a nearby adult or another child. For example, a child might whine in order to get attention from their parents. They may also engage in certain behaviors to get others to laugh with them or play with them, or they may just want people to look at them.What type of person is an attention seeker? ›
What type of person is an attention seeker? An attention seeker may have a personality disorder, such as histrionic personality disorder or borderline personality disorder. However, attention-seeking behavior can also be associated with other causes including poor self-esteem, narcissism, and loneliness.Is attention seeker a mental illness? ›
Histrionic personality disorder is a type of psychiatric disorder that features attention-seeking behaviours, seductive behaviour and emotional over-reaction.How can I improve my attention control? ›
- Take frequent breaks. ...
- Plan physical activity during breaks. ...
- Break large tasks into smaller parts. ...
- Test out times for peak attention. ...
- Practice focus in a designated location. ...
- Use visual timers.
- Go to therapy: Speaking to a professional is the best way to deal with insecurities and build confidence. ...
- Keep a journal: Becoming more self-aware of your attention-seeking behavior goes a long way in helping you get over them.
How do I avoid attention? ›
Keep to yourself.
One sure-fire way to avoid attention is to simply avoid interaction with others. There is a fine line, however, between keeping to yourself and being “Comstockian,” which is when people gain attention while trying to avoid it.
stay calm. treat the situation with humour, rather than getting angry. distract their attention, rather than getting confrontational. if other people are present, explain to them that the behaviour is because of an illness and is not personal.How do you resolve behavior? ›
- Be Mindful of Your Own Reaction. A vital component of managing difficult behavior is knowing that your behavior affects the behavior of others. ...
- Maintain Rational Detachment. ...
- Be Attentive. ...
- Use Positive Self-Talk. ...
- Recognize Your Limits. ...
Examples of human behavior include conflict, communication, cooperation, creativity, play, social interaction, tradition, and work.What are the three attention skills behavioral? ›
Sustained Attention: The ability to attend to a stimulus or activity over a long period of time. Selective Attention: The ability to attend to a specific stimulus or activity in the presence of other distracting stimuli. Alternating Attention: The ability to change focus attention between two or more stimuli.Is attention-seeking a symptom of ADHD? ›
Attention-seeking behavior is a symptom of ADHD. It's often the first clue for parents that their child might have this condition.What are the four main functions of attention? ›
Attention involves several developmental tasks, including focused attention, sustained attention, attention shifting, and divided attention.