Symptoms of attention seeking behavior

Attention Seeking Behavior in Adults: Causes, Other Symptoms, More

For adults, attention-seeking behavior is a conscious or unconscious attempt to become the center of attention, sometimes to gain validation or admiration.

Attention-seeking behavior can include saying or doing something with the goal of getting the attention of a person or a group of people.

Examples of this behavior include:

  • fishing for compliments by pointing out achievements and seeking validation
  • being controversial to provoke a reaction
  • exaggerating and embellishing stories to gain praise or sympathy
  • pretending to be unable to do something so someone will teach, help, or watch the attempt to do it

Attention-seeking behavior may be driven by:

  • jealousy
  • low self-esteem
  • loneliness

Sometimes attention-seeking behavior is the result of cluster B personality disorders, such as:

  • histrionic personality disorder
  • borderline personality disorder
  • narcissistic personality disorder


Jealousy may come about when someone feels threatened by another person currently getting all the attention.

This, in turn, can lead to attention-seeking behavior to change the focus.


Self-esteem is a broad term covering a variety of complex mental states involving how you view yourself.

When some people believe that they’re being overlooked, bringing back the lost attention is may feel like the only way to restore their balance.

The attention that they get from this behavior may help provide them with the feeling of reassurance that they are worthy.


According to the Health Resources and Services Administration, 1 in 5 Americans say they feel lonely or socially isolated.

Loneliness can result in an urge to seek attention, even in people who don’t normally exhibit attention-seeking behavior.

Histrionic personality disorder

According to the National Library of Medicine, histrionic personality disorder is characterized by feeling underappreciated when not the center of attention.

For someone to receive a diagnosis of histrionic personality disorder, they need to meet at least 5 of the following criteria:

  • uncomfortable when not the center of attention
  • provocative or seductive behavior
  • shallow and shifting emotions
  • using appearance to draw attention
  • vague or impressionistic speech
  • exaggerated or dramatic emotions
  • is suggestible
  • treating relationships as more intimate than they are

Borderline personality disorder

Borderline personality disorder is a continuing pattern of instability in self-image, interpersonal relationships, emotion, and impulsivity.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, for someone to receive a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder, they need to display at least 5 of the following criteria:

  • frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment
  • a pattern of intense and unstable interpersonal relationships with extremes between devaluation and idealization
  • a decidedly or persistently unstable self-image or sense of self
  • engaging in potentially self-damaging, impulsive behavior
  • recurring self-harm or suicidal behavior, including threats or gestures
  • emotionally instability in daily reactions, such as through irritability, anxiety, or intense sadness
  • chronic feelings of emptiness
  • inappropriately intense anger that’s often difficult to control
  • transient, stress-related paranoia or disassociation

Narcissistic personality disorder

Those with narcissistic personality disorder typically have a need for admiration with a lack of empathy.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, for someone to receive a diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder, they need to display at least 5 of the following criteria:

  • a grandiose sense of self-importance
  • a preoccupation with fantasies of power, unlimited success, brilliance, ideal love, beauty
  • a belief in their own uniqueness, especially that they should only associate with, and will only be understood by, high-status institutions and high-status people
  • demand for excessive admiration
  • a sense of entitlement and unreasonable expectation of favorable treatment or automatic compliance with their expectations
  • taking advantage of others to achieve their own ends
  • unwillingness to identify with or recognize the needs and feelings of others
  • envy of others and belief that others are envious of them
  • haughty, arrogant attitudes or behaviors

If you notice this behavior is constantly recurring, it’s probably best for the person display the behavior to visit an experienced mental health professional.

If left unchecked, attention-seeking behavior can often become manipulative or otherwise harmful.

Attention-seeking behavior may stem from jealousy, low self-esteem, loneliness, or as a result of a personality disorder.

If you notice this behavior in you or someone else, a mental health professional can provide diagnosis and treatment options.

Attention-Seeking Behavior as a Symptom of Psychological Distress – Bridges to Recovery

December 29, 2015, Elisabet KvarnstromBridges to Recovery

“Attention seeking” is generally considered a bad thing. Used as a pejorative to describe the child who throws a tantrum, the Facebook friend who posts a picture of their new BMW, or the co-worker whose recounting of their recent cold rivals the most vivid descriptions of the bubonic plague, the phrase suggests something trivial, selfish, and a bit hysterical. In many cases, attention seeking is merely a minor social faux pas, a small and temporary annoyance. But attention seeking isn’t inherently bad, nor is it necessarily inconsequential; rather, attention-seeking behavior exists on a spectrum that ranges from an expression of our most natural desire for human contact to extreme manifestations of psychological suffering, and recognizing when it becomes a cry for help is critical to supporting people in serious distress. If you are concerned about your loved one’s attention seeking, understanding the potential underpinnings of their behavior can be the first step toward helping them on the journey toward healing.

Hard-Wired for Attention

Humans are naturally wired for attention. From our earliest childhood experiences to our ongoing well-being, we depend on the attention of others to fulfill both practical and emotional needs central to our survival and our psychological health. As Oliver Burkeman points out, “we need attention almost as desperately as food and warmth.” In fact, many of our everyday behaviors are subconsciously driven by the desire for attention:

In a business negotiation, you might think your only motive is to win; in an argument with a spouse, you might believe your primary goal is to get the other person to change. Yet in both cases you might really be motivated by trying to satisfy your unmet need for attention.

The craving we have to be recognized, heard, and understood is so deeply embedded within our psyches that the absence of these experiences can have devastating consequences. While the damaging effects of being ignored by caretakers as children are now widely recognized and correctly identified as a form of neglect, research indicates that a lack of adequate attention in our daily adult lives can also have a destructive impact on our emotional wellness. A study published last year, for example, found that being ignored at work was even more psychologically damaging than being actively harassed. Other research has found that social exclusion “increases anger, depression, jealousy, and sadness,” while simultaneously compromising sleep quality and immune function. As highly adaptable social creatures, we guard against the psychological and physical damage of isolation and neglect by seeking out attention from those around us to ensure that our primal needs are being met.

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Attention Seeking as an Articulation of Pain

Sometimes, however, our natural propensity for attention seeking shifts from a place of healthy sociability and self-care to a symptom of serious psychological distress. In these cases, attention seeking can take the form of behaving in a loud, dramatic, or inappropriate manner, exhibitionism, exaggerating behaviors and emotions, sexual provocation or promiscuity, and engaging in blatant self-destructive acts like substance abuse or even self-injury. Too often, maladaptive attention-seeking behaviors are discounted as character flaws, a dramatic personality, or manipulation. However, these behaviors typically arise as a response to deeply painful trauma or psychological disturbance and reflect a desperate attempt to cope with overwhelming emotional turmoil. Rather than minimizing, trivializing, or ascribing malicious intent to these acts, it is vital that we search for meaning and understanding to help someone who is crying out in pain.

Excessive or maladaptive attention seeking is a central component in certain mental health disorder diagnoses, particularly Histrionic Personality Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder. However, people with all types of psychiatric illnesses and histories of trauma may exhibit what could be identified as attention-seeking behaviors driven by a variety of complex causes. Hypersexuality, for example, may be a sign that someone is experiencing a manic episode within the context of bipolar disorder or acting out as the result of past sexual violation. Exaggerated tales of medical ailments may point to a factitious disorder that drives the person to seek out love, validation, and affection through invented illnesses. Self-injury undertaken in the depths of depression may be a very real and powerful coping mechanism, but it can also be a way of creating physical evidence of crushing despair and hoping that someone will recognize their pain. In other cases, attention seeking is “a brain wiring response to early developmental trauma caused by neglect,” causing people with formative experiences of emotional and physical neglect to continuously seek the nurturing and safety they were denied as children. Because a diagnosis cannot be made through a single symptom, diagnostic clarity can only be achieved after thoughtful evaluation by an experienced psychiatrist.

Guiding Your Loved One Toward Treatment

If someone you love is exhibiting excessive or troubling attention-seeking behavior, talk to them about what they are experiencing. Speak from a place of love, without judgment or anger, to invite open and honest communication. Tell them that you see them, hear them, and are offering your support to help them break free from their pain. If your loved one is open to it, direct them toward mental health treatment resources that will provide comprehensive psychological assessments to determine the exact nature of their distress and develop a holistic, personalized treatment plan to address the full scope of their unique needs. If you need help determining what kind of treatment program is best, the staff at Bridges to Recovery is always available to talk through your options and help you make the best recommendations possible. Together, we can work to ensure that your loved one receives the care and compassion they need to alleviate suffering and rejuvenate their spirits.

Bridges to Recovery offers comprehensive residential mental health treatment for people suffering from all forms of mental illness. Contact us to learn more about our program or to discuss the needs of you or your loved one.

Day of awareness of self-injurious behavior

Scientific and Practical Psychoneurological Center
named after. Z.P. Solovieva

Department of Health of the City of Moscow
Scientific and Practical Psychoneurological Center. Z.P. Solovieva

Department of Health of the City of Moscow
Scientific and Practical Psychoneurological Center. Z.P. Solovyov

Moscow State Budgetary Institution of Healthcare
"Scientific and Practical Psychoneurological Center named after Z.P. Solovyov"
Moscow Department of Health

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Dear patients!

We would like to inform you about the sanitary and epidemiological regime introduced in the GBUZ SPC im. Solovyov DZM.

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Self-injury Awareness Day (SIAD) is an annual global campaign held on March 1 around the world. On this day and the weeks leading up to it, some people who are prone to self-harm decide to openly declare their problem and ask for help, and organizations hold special events aimed at raising public awareness of the problem of self-harm. Its purpose is to draw attention to the problem of non-suicidal self-injurious behavior. The official symbol for Self-Harming Behavior Awareness Day is an orange ribbon or an orange bracelet. Public awareness of the causes of self-injurious behavior should contribute to the formation of an atmosphere of understanding and tolerance for people with self-injurious behavior.

In our center there are specialists who deal with this problem and are able to provide qualified assistance to those in need, so we decided to hold a popular science meeting with everyone. Let's try to understand what non-suicidal self-harm is. This refers to actions that cause physical pain, performed by a person in relation to himself and the purpose of which is to alleviate the emotional state. The most common methods include self-cutting, burning, scratching, and sticking needles into the body, but other methods can also be used.

The formation of a tolerant attitude is hindered by the existence of prejudices and myths, some of which we will discuss below.

Myth 1 Self-harm is common mainly in women.

In fact, both sexes practice non-suicidal injuries with approximately the same frequency. The impression of female dominance is created by the fact that women are more likely to seek help and are willing to publicly discuss their inability to control their emotional state in another way. In addition, self-injurious behavior is often associated with self-cutting, which indeed occurs more often in women. If we take into account such “masculine” options as cigarette burns and hitting objects or walls, then the ratio between the sexes is evened out.

Myth 2 Self-harm is an imitation of suicide and serves to attract attention.

This is incorrect. In most cases, self-harm is done alone, and the consequences are hidden even from loved ones. For this, “closed” places hidden by clothing are often chosen, for example, hips, a bikini area. In addition, often both the sites of application and methods, such as cigarette burns, do not pose a threat to life.

Myth 3. Self-harm sooner or later leads to suicide.

The very name NON-SUICIDAL self-injurious behavior suggests it is distinct from self-destructive behavior. At the same time, the relationship of these forms of self-damaging behavior is quite complex. Simplifying, we can say that people with self-injurious behavior are at risk of developing suicidal thoughts and attempts, especially if non-suicidal self-injurious behavior is combined with mental disorders.

Myth 4. Self-injurious behavior is a symptom of a mental disorder.

In the DSM Classification of Mental Disorders 5, non-suicidal self-injurious behavior is a separate rubric in Section III - Conditions Recommended for Further Study. Studies have shown that non-suicidal self-injurious behavior is quite widespread in the population, and according to some data, up to 20% of people born after 1980 at least once in their lives inflicted self-harm. Self-injurious behavior peaks during adolescence and early adulthood. Of course, most of these people do not develop any signs of a mental disorder in the future, and NSSP is replaced by more "mature" ways of coping with emotions. At the same time, NSSPs are common in some psychiatric disorders, such as borderline personality disorder, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, and substance dependence.

Myth 5. People who self-harm are mostly masochists who enjoy it.

This is incorrect. Hedonic motivation for self-harm is extremely rare. The most common explanations for self-harm include "getting rid of painful emotions" such as anger or guilt, "switching from mental pain to physical pain," "coming out of a stupor," the need to "feel at least something even pain, instead of painful emptiness." Non-suicidal self-injurious behavior does NOT include practices aimed at increasing sexual arousal, including masochistic ones. Also, NSSP does not include subculturally conditioned practices such as scarring, piercing, tattooing and other body modifications.

What should be done to help people with NSDP.

The first and probably the most important step should be to abandon the blaming attitude towards people who resort to NSSP. Judgment and the call to "pull yourself together" reinforce the already destructive feelings of guilt and shame, the goal of getting rid of which, often, is NSSP. Overcoming the evaluative attitude could create an atmosphere of tolerance in which a person can speak openly about their emotional difficulties and the inability to cope with their experiences in a different way.

The second step would be to support such a person in his desire to receive professional help. It is important to conduct a comprehensive examination to rule out potentially progressive mental disorders.

On the basis of the crisis departments of the Scientific and Practical Center for Psychoneurology named after Z.P. Solovyov provides free consulting and medical assistance to people with self-damaging behavior. The examination is carried out by psychiatrists trained in this field. A comprehensive psychological and laboratory examination is mandatory, as well as, if necessary, a consultation with researchers. All this helps to correctly assess the patient's condition and, together with him, plan the most effective therapeutic program. Along with drug treatment, psychotherapeutic correction is carried out, aimed at developing new mechanisms for coping with negative emotions.

For those who have a similar problem, but are not yet ready to sign up for a consultation with a psychiatrist, there are fears and anxieties about such treatment, and we organize an Open House Day. In an anonymous and non-binding environment, the doctor will talk about the possibilities of medical care and answer your questions.

We are waiting for everyone on March 1 at 13.00 in the conference hall of building 4.

"He just pisses me off!" How to deal with disobedient students?

Photos: Depositphotos / Illustrations: Julia Zamzhitskaya

There are children who seem to deliberately wake up the "beast" in the teacher: they are daring, swearing, not reacting to remarks. They say about such people: "uncontrollable". Are there medical explanations for difficult behavior? How to organize work and not lose control over yourself if there is such a child in the class? We deal with Russian and Western experts on children's behavioral problems.

Any reason?

Pupils who don't put teachers in anything are not uncommon not only in Russia, but also abroad. Bronwyn Harris, a longtime teacher from Oakland, California, has worked with many troubled students, but nonetheless she was not ready to meet one of them, third grader Antonio:

“Sometimes he would say no before I had even finished asking a question,” recalls Harris. - Once I said: "Hey, you don't even know what I wanted to ask you." He replied, “It doesn't matter. Not!" Another time, the child simply patted him on the shoulder, and Antonio turned around and attacked him, waving his fists.”

Bronwyn Harris contacted the boy's family and learned that he had been diagnosed with Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) - ed. ). According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, OAD is "a pattern of rebellious, hostile, and defiant behavior directed at authority figures." Children with this diagnosis refuse to cooperate, are defiant and hostile towards their peers, parents, teachers.

“One of my charges went to a special school for the sole reason that he couldn't control himself. Only in the first grade, he was already expelled from two schools. The child did not obey the teacher, was aggressive with peers, hostile to other adults. He ran out of the classroom, sent “three letters”, flipped desks, put up fights - ignoring the rules was habitual behavior for him, ”says Maria Buryka, a child clinical psychologist, a specialist in working with children with behavioral difficulties.

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Where does OVR come from?

The causes of the diagnosis of Oppositional Defiant Disorder are not fully understood. Researchers put forward two theories:

  1. Developmental theory , according to which problems begin when children are still in infancy. Perhaps children and adolescents with ODD were emotionally attached to a parent or other significant adult and had difficulty learning to be independent of them.
  2. Learning theory which suggests that the negative symptoms of ODD are learned attitudes. Parents and other people in authority over the child use negative reinforcement methods—in short, punishment—to eliminate the unwanted behavior. At the same time, only unwanted behavior allows the child to get what he wants: attention and reaction from parents or other people.

In both cases, these are children who have received psychological trauma in the early stages of development. Like many of her colleagues, Bronwyn Harris had never heard of OID before, but after studying this diagnosis, she understood why, communicating with Antonio, she felt so exhausted and helpless.

“The difficult behavior of a child with ODD is not a reflection of a personal attitude towards us. This should be treated as a cry for help. These are the children whom adults could not help to cope with themselves, find their place in life, integrate into society. The feelings that arise when interacting with them are sometimes difficult and traumatic, but these experiences are a reflection of what the child himself feels - anger, powerlessness, deep sadness. There are probably no children who would need our acceptance, understanding and help more than others,” Maria Buryka explains.

Few have heard of such a diagnosis in Russia either. Although children who potentially have it are quite common. Experts say that it affects between 1 and 16 percent of students, and many of them remain undiagnosed. Despite the fact that most teachers have never worked with children with confirmed ODD, they note that in practice they constantly encounter opposition and disobedience from individual students.

What should a teacher do?

Here are some strategies to help keep the classroom healthy and not lash out at your child.

Set realistic goals.

Let's say you have a student who refuses to sit at a desk and instead makes a row and leaves the class. First determine what behavior you would like to see. Be realistic: if a child is used to leaving the classroom, then just staying in your place is already a big step for him.

Then collect the original data. How often does the child behave in the desired way? Zero percent of the time? Twenty percent?

"Baseline data will help you set smart goals and track growth," says David Anderson, senior director of the Child Brain Institute's Center for ADHD and Destructive Behavioral Disorders. - Work to achieve the desired behavior using a combination of positive reinforcement and the predictable consequences of breaking the rules. Don't expect magic. Behavior change is slow and requires constant effort.”

Praise good behavior.

Children who exhibit challenging behavior receive a lot of negative attention. Turn your attention to the positive by giving specific feedback when you notice that the child is doing what you expect from him.

“But be aware that some of them are so accustomed to negative feedback that positive feedback can make them feel insecure. Be careful not to suddenly put them in the spotlight, as this can provoke a defensive reaction in the form of aggression. It may be better to compliment the student in a whisper or talk to him in private,” advises Rachel Lohmann, school counselor at Wake Young Men’s Leadership Academy (Raleigh, North Carolina).

Wait before reacting.

Sometimes teachers unwittingly create the conditions for disobedience by assuming the worst about a child.

“We can be so worried that a child will misbehave that we end up provoking him. But in many cases, he may not be going to misbehave. So take a deep breath and don't interfere unnecessarily. You may be able to avoid power struggles altogether, and you will be pleasantly surprised by the good behavior of the child, which can be praised, ”says David Anderson.

Talk to the class.

One student's challenging behavior affects the entire class, so it's important to discuss what's going on.

“One day, when Antonio was out of school, I talked to the class about how some people have more control over their feelings than others,” says Bronwyn Harris. “The students responded very well and were able to ignore his antics later on.”

Remember that students may not be as sensitive to destructive behavior as adults. David Anderson suggests that teachers address children with these words: “We all have moments when we lose our temper or have difficulty following directions. This is what we are working on as a class, and our task is to help each other.”

Call for help.

Ask a school psychologist for help. He can unobtrusively observe the student's behavior and his interaction with the teacher, as well as give useful advice on how to level the problem.

“Often these children just lose their temper, not understanding what exactly led to the outburst of anger. I teach them to identify triggers and tell them what to do when they get angry,” says Rachel Lohmann.

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Perhaps the psychologist will be able to work with the student individually or recommend a good specialist to his parents, to whom they can turn. It is worth noting that mothers and fathers are not always ready to cooperate with a teacher and a psychologist: they are so overwhelmed and exhausted by their own problems that they perceive with hostility any "interference" from the outside.

Create an emotional communication system.

Work with students to develop a communication system that allows them to communicate when they are at their emotional limits. You can use a scale from 1 to 10, where 10 means "everything is great" and 1 means "everything is very bad." Students can write numbers on cards and give them to the teacher before the lesson without showing them to classmates.

On days when a student is reporting a high level of stress, you can allow him to work at his own pace without drawing too much attention to him.

Conclude a contract.

A "behavioral contract" can be made with high school students. It needs to define the behavior you want to see, as well as rewards and consequences for violating the terms of the "contract". At the same time, it is important not to make too high demands.

“If a student does not do his homework, he is more likely to start doing it partially than completely. You can draw the children's attention to the fact that they can ask for help with homework at a designated time.

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