Attention-Seeking Personality

August 15, 2011

I quoted this article in my last post, but I think it deserves its own post:

The need for attention

Human beings are social creatures and need social interaction, feedback, and validation of their worth. The emotionally mature person doesn’t need to go hunting for these; they gain it naturally from their daily life, especially from their work and from stable relationships. Daniel Goleman calls emotional maturity emotional intelligence, or EQ; he believes, and I agree, that EQ is a much better indicator of a person’s character and value than intelligence quotient, or IQ.

The emotionally immature person, however, has low levels of self-esteem and self-confidence and consequently feels insecure; to counter these feelings of insecurity they will spend a large proportion of their lives creating situations in which they become the centre of attention. It may be that the need for attention is inversely proportional to emotional maturity, therefore anyone indulging in attention-seeking behaviours is telling you how emotionally immature they are.

Attention-seeking behaviour is surprisingly common. Being the centre of attention alleviates feelings of insecurity and inadequacy but the relief is temporary as the underlying problem remains unaddressed: low self-confidence and low self-esteem, and consequent low levels of self-worth and self-love.

Insecure and emotionally immature people often exhibit bullying behaviours, especially manipulation and deception. These are necessary in order to obtain attention which would not otherwise be forthcoming. Bullies and harassers have the emotional age of a young child and will exhibit temper tantrums, deceit, lying and manipulation to avoid exposure of their true nature and to evade accountability and sanction. This page lists some of the most common tactics bullies and manipulators employ to gain attention for themselves. An attention-seeker may exhibit several of the methods listed below.

Attention seeking methods

Attention-seeking is particularly noticeable with females so I’ve used the pronoun “she”. Males also exhibit attention-seeking behaviour.

Attention seekers commonly exploit the suffering of others to gain attention for themselves. Or they may exploit their own suffering, or alleged suffering. In extreme forms, such as in Munchausen Syndrome By Proxy, the attention-seeker will deliberately cause suffering to others as a means of gaining attention.

The sufferer: this might include feigning or exaggerating illness, playing on an injury, or perhaps causing or inviting injury, in extreme cases going as far as losing a limb. Severe cases may meet the diagnostic criteria for Munchausen Syndrome (also know as Factitious Disorder). The illness or injury becomes a vehicle for gaining sympathy and thus attention. The attention-seeker excels in manipulating people through their emotions, especially that of guilt. It’s very difficult not to feel sorry for someone who relates a plausible tale of suffering in a sob story or “poor me” drama.

The saviour: in attention-seeking personality disorders like Munchausen Syndrome By Proxy (MSBP, also known as Factitious Disorder By Proxy) the person, usually female, creates opportunities to be centre of attention by intentionally causing harm to others and then being their saviour, by saving their life, and by being such a caring, compassionate person. Few people realise the injury was deliberate. The MSBP mother or nurse may kill several babies before suspicions are aroused. When not in saviour mode, the saviour may be resentful, perhaps even contemptuous, of the person or persons she is saving.

The rescuer: particularly common in family situations, she’s the one who will dash in and “rescue” people whenever the moment is opportune – to herself, that is. She then gains gratification from basking in the glory of her humanitarian actions. She will prey on any person suffering misfortune, infirmity, illness, injury, or anyone who has a vulnerability. The act of rescue and thus the opportunities for gaining attention can be enhanced if others are excluded from the act of rescue; this helps create a dependency relationship between the rescuer and rescued which can be exploited for further acts of rescue (and attention) later. When not in rescue mode, the rescuer may be resentful, perhaps even contemptuous, of the person she is rescuing.

The organiser: she may present herself as the one in charge, the one organising everything, the one who is reliable and dependable, the one people can always turn to. However, the objective is not to help people (this is only a means to an end) but to always be the centre of attention.

The manipulator: she may exploit family relationships, manipulating others with guilt and distorting perceptions; although she may not harm people physically, she causes everyone to suffer emotional injury. Vulnerable family members are favourite targets. A common attention-seeking ploy is to claim she is being persecuted, victimised, excluded, isolated or ignored by another family member or group, perhaps insisting she is the target of a campaign of exclusion or harassment.

The mind-poisoner: adept at poisoning peoples’ minds by manipulating their perceptions of others, especially against the current target.

The drama queen: every incident or opportunity, no matter how insignificant, is exploited, exaggerated and if necessary distorted to become an event of dramatic proportions. Everything is elevated to crisis proportions. Histrionics may be present where the person feels she is not the centre of attention but should be. Inappropriate flirtatious behaviour may also be present.

The busy bee: this individual is the busiest person in the world if her constant retelling of her life is to be believed. Everyday events which are regarded as normal by normal people take on epic proportions as everyone is invited to simultaneously admire and commiserate with this oh-so-busy person who never has a moment to herself, never has time to sit down, etc. She’s never too busy, though, to tell you how busy she is.

The feigner: when called to account and outwitted, the person instinctively uses the denial – counterattack – feigning victimhood strategy to manipulate everyone present, especially bystanders and those in authority. The most effective method of feigning victimhood is to burst into tears, for most people’s instinct is to feel sorry for them, to put their arm round them or offer them a tissue. There’s little more plausible than real tears, although as actresses know, it’s possible to turn these on at will. Feigners are adept at using crocodile tears. From years of practice, attention-seekers often give an Oscar-winning performance in this respect. Feigning victimhood is a favourite tactic of bullies and harassers to evade accountability and sanction. When accused of bullying and harassment, the person immediately turns on the water works and claims they are the one being bullied or harassed – even though there’s been no prior mention of being bullied or harassed. It’s the fact that this claim appears only after and in response to having been called to account that is revealing. Mature adults do not burst into tears when held accountable for their actions.

The false confessor: this person confesses to crimes they haven’t committed in order to gain attention from the police and the media. In some cases people have confessed to being serial killers, even though they cannot provide any substantive evidence of their crimes. Often they will confess to crimes which have just been reported in the media. Some individuals are know to the police as serial confessors. The false confessor is different from a person who make a false confession and admits to a crime of which they are accused because of emotional pressure and inappropriate interrogation tactics.

The abused: a person claims they are the victim of abuse, sexual abuse, rape etc as a way of gaining attention for themselves. Crimes like abuse and rape are difficult to prove at the best of times and their incidence is so common that it is easy to make a plausible claim as a way of gaining attention.

The online victim: this person uses Internet chat rooms and forums to allege that they’ve been the victim of rape, violence, harassment, abuse etc. The alleged crime is never reported to the authorities, for obvious reasons. The facelessness and anonymity of the Internet suits this type of attention seeker. [More]

The victim: she may intentionally create acts of harassment against herself, eg send herself hate mail or damage her own possessions in an attempt to incriminate a fellow employee, a family member, neighbour, etc. Scheming, cunning, devious, deceptive and manipulative, she will identify her “harasser” and produce circumstantial evidence in support of her claim. She will revel in the attention she gains and use her glib charm to plausibly dismiss any suggestion that she herself may be responsible. However, a background check may reveal that this is not the first time she has had this happen to her.

10 Responses to “Attention-Seeking Personality”

  1. savorydish said

    People who were sexual abused at a young age will show signs of arrested emotional development (immaturity) and low self-esteem.

    For this reason, they will also continue to be victimized into their adulthood. There is also the very real possibility that they are looking for attention. Any time a person shows attention-seeking tendencies, it makes that possibility even more real.

    Look into their past and you will see a pattern of attention-seeking behavior. This is your clue.

  2. savorydish said

    A silent abuser will antagonize you and then, when you return fire, she will accuse you of harassment. The crew at Tigerbeatdown have been kind enough to demonstrate this baiting technique for us.

  3. savorydish said

    Everything about my borderline ex was designed to seek attention.

    From the sob stories about her abusive parents to tales of college rape. From mysterious illnesses to risky behavior. From inappropriate flirting to acts of infidelity.

    And then she wonders why no one believes her stories. But something had to have happened to her. Or she wouldn’t be this screwed up.

    The question is what. And when. But when your history is this murky, the answers are not always easy to find. When someone works this hard to cover up their trail, you have to work harder to sort the lies from the truth.

  4. savorydish said

    Seeking-attention is not so much the problem as it is an indication that there is a deeper problem. Narcissists experience profound levels of emptiness. And they often go to extreme lengths to fill that void.

    Warren Jeffs, the Mormon leader who was having sex with his youngest followers, is a perfect example of the extent narcissists will go to satisfy their own needs. Needs that go beyond reason.

    He was willing to lie and manipulate to get what he wanted. He was willing to hurt and to betray people who trusted him. He was able to do harm for many years without detection, moving from one victim to another.

    A selfish narcissist does not stop until they are caught or revealed.

    • savorydish said

      So why are narcissists and histrionics (aka attention whores) so abusive? For one thing, they are incapable of deep emotional attachment. So people are just objects to them. Objects to be used and abused, then tossed away. People are interchangeable and totally replaceable (at a moments notice). There is no loyalty for them. You are their possession, and if you don’t give them attention when THEY want it, they will punish you.

      If you threaten to leave, they will cry. Not because they will miss you or because you mean so much to them. They will cry because they fear abandonment and rejection. They cry to get you back, until such time that they can replace you. Their ego demands that they do the dumping. If the narcissist has turned off the charm and is spending time with “friends”, you can bet the end is near.

      Don’t expect a sentimental good-bye. Don’t expect to stay friends. They need complete and utter emotional detachment to feel safe again.

      • savorydish said

        The point is an attention-seeker is a fragile beast. And whenever there is the threat of emotional pain (ie. abandonment), the beast becomes cold-hearted and ruthless. Whatever love you shared will evaporate into thin air, like it never existed. Because chances are it didn’t. And that’s when the beast becomes vicious and cruel, because you are standing in the way of the attention-seeker and freedom (aka emotional safety). They push you out of the way to get to the exit. If you stand in their way, they will accuse you of “harassment”. Because once you’re out of the scene, they will need a quick replacement. And there is no easier way to sucker people into their drama, then to play the damsel in distress. Now you see why attention-seekers are so abusive.

      • savorydish said

        When an attention-seeker doesn’t get the extraordinary amount of attention they demand, then they go looking elsewhere.

        Before my histrionic ex split she was spending more time dancing and hanging out with new “friends”. She was emotionally detaching and pushing me away. I was getting too close and too wise to her ways. She had fucked me over too many times and she knew she was buying time. She could sense I was keeping my distance, and that was too much to bear. She needed 24/7 attention, and one person can not satisfy a histrionics hunger for attention.

        She is back to her attention-seeking ways and that makes me believe she is once again feeling the threat of abandonment. By now her husband must know something is not right, and that’s when she will start to slide out the door.

  5. savorydish said

    We all seek attention to some degree. But we are looking for someone who goes to unusual extents to seek attention.

    When someone cuts their wrists to cry for help, that is a person who NEEDS help. When someone makes false-allegations just to claim victimhood, then harmless attention-seeking has crossed over into harmful behavior. We aren’t looking for single acts of attention-seeking. We are looking for consistent patterns of behavior.

    Attention-seekers are not subtle (except in their own minds). They leave a trail of drama. If none is to be found, they will create it. If a relationship is going too well, they will look for trouble. They will start fights and pin the blame on you. And when you fight back, they will play the damsel in distress. They will burst into tears. They will play the victim.

    Attention-seekers are incapable of real love or intimacy, so they create addictive co-dependent bonds. They create bonds that are impossible to break because they fear abandonment. They tell sob stories to reel you in. They create tragedy to create sympathy. They will feign suffering, so you will not abandon them. They will convince you that they NEED you. If you do not play their game, you will be shown out the door.

    Attention-seekers don’t just break up with you. They play you like a yo-yo and then toss you in the trash. They tell you to move on, but secretly they love the attention. They antagonize you and demonize you. They misinterpret everything as an insult. For them, it is a fuzzy line between love and hate (signs of lifelong abuse). If their life resembles a soap opera, it is no coincidence.

    These people were designed for chaos and drama. They love to be the center of attention. Not being the center of attention fills them with rage. They love to grandstand. They love pontificate. Their hobbies will include a wide array of attention-seeking activities.

    They will dress to say “Look at me!!!!!”. They maintain “fashion blogs” that are really altars for you to worship them upon. They tweet about all the great injustices that have been done unto them. Their Facebook photos are filled with pictures of them with cartoonish faces, dramatic poses and new looks.

    The only time they are not looking for attention is when they get caught in the act. The fear of being revealed then replaces the fear of being abandoned. Attention-seekers are serial run-aways (see runaway bride). Their shame is so great, they can not deal. They must run away from the scene of the crime. They re-invent themselves, so they can repeat the crime over and over again.

    The attention-seeker is an illusionist. They want you to ooh and ahh at their magic, but they don’t want you to know what’s up their sleeve. They don’t want you to look behind the curtain. They don’t want you to see the trap door. They don’t want you to see their trickery. They will fight tooth and nail to keep their secrets. If you reveal them for a sham, you will see them disappear into thin air. (see Casey Anthony)

  6. […] Man-Haters are almost always attention-seekers. This may include behavior as benign as  fashion blogging and activism. But it can be alarming as false-accusations. […]

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