Most people would agree describing another a person as an “Attention Seeker” has negative implications. More than likely this would refer to a person who is showing off, being vain, and demanding focus on themselves because they don’t have it, a narcissist or a number of other possible behaviours most of us don’t like.
I agree that these may be negative behaviours but there are two problems with us viewing it simply as that.
Why is that person seeking attention which is likely to have a negative response, and maybe even enjoying negative attention from others? More than likely they have a deficit in their lives and are trying to fill it.
And, everyone seeks and needs attention.
Let’s look at the latter first. Seeking attention isn’t inherently bad, it is in fact completely normal. It’s one of the first things we learn to do when we are born. Babies cry to get fed, they are seeking their mothers attention because they are hungry. They will do the same for comfort, affection, fun and other reasons. As you grow up you don’t stop needing attention, you need and want to make friends, you want relationships, and you need your teacher to notice you in school so you put your hand up. These are things taught to us very young, particularly at school. Without seeking attention you can’t get permission to go to the toilet. Without seeking attention you won’t make any friends.
We’re told we need to seek it, but then told it is bad when we are older.
The idea of Peacocking is someone who dresses in a flashy way and parades about to get the attention of others. A peacock like many other animals have evolved a way of gaining the attention of mates, by having a beautiful plumage. Many species have calls, or colouring or behaviours designed to do this, so why is it bad when we do it? Wearing make up, nice clothes, having tattoo’s or big muscles are other ways we may do it, bragging about our jobs or how much money we have and even doing something nice for another may be described as Attention Seeking, and it often is.
Humans have just developed different ways to gain attention to either appear attractive, or seek help, get fed and the many other things we need to do in our lives. All perfectly normal. We have developed an incredibly complex array of communication tools purely to get the attention of others, but socially speaking this will be seen as a bad thing, being egoistical.
Hate to break it to you, we’re all ego centric, that’s just survival. You may be caring and generous and helpful but you still spend most of your time thinking about yourself, then your children. This again, isn’t bad, it’s normal.
If you disagree with the above, stop reading now because I’m now going to make you feel bad about judging people who do seek attention.
Attention seeking is just another strand of communication behaviour, we use whatever techniques in our arsenal to get others to notice, care, love, feed, fuck and give to us. That doesn’t mean we won’t give back, but you would agree those are all basic human needs.
Why would someone seek attention regardless of the response from others or for no obvious reason? It is more than likely that person is or was starved of positive attention in some way. Often children who display bad behaviour are described as “acting out”, acting what out? For what reason? Often the case is a child is not receiving positive input from family or even being abused and are showing this by presenting behaviours that others consider “bad”. Should we think the child a brat or a bully for this reason? Or should we address this with a non-aversive approach?
For example. A child is presenting with angry disruptive behaviours at school, damaging property, saying mean things to other children, maybe bullying. If we ignore them and label as attention seekers they will continue and maybe get worse. If we punish them they are still not getting any positive attention, just more negative attention, how are they going to react? Imagine your life is negative at home and negative at school? The two environments children see the most. Many adults continue this except it’s the workplace rather than school.
There are many ways that this can play out but one is that the child will carry on as it’s their normal state, or get worse. If we approach the behaviour in a different way, show some empathy and understanding you may be able to reduce and prevent that.
That’s a child who might not be able to articulate their feelings, what about an adult who seeks attention whatever the outcome? The principals are the same, if they have no attention at all, they will continue, if their only understanding of interaction is negative they will continue. If we view that person as having a deficit like the child at school, it may be they start changing.
With the advent of social media, many people show off continuously only publishing the glamour and fun of their lives, they are seeking validation of their status. That status may be a lie, but they are missing something and need that gap filled. Like the above examples, this is normal. It’s a normal way for a person to respond. Some people don’t appear to seek status recognition, but will often go on about how they don’t need recognition which is just the same as seeking it. Many people are content and don’t seek additional attention, because they are getting the right amount of positive attention and this is variable for each person.
Often people who Peacock and make a big deal out of appearance, or those who do seek attention through other behaviours are labelled as narcissists. To be clear Narcissism comes from the myth of Narcissus. There are various versions of the story but the most well-known is that he was so beautiful that he fell in love with his own reflection. The mental health condition of Narcissism is much darker, and it’s classed as a personality disorder. Narcissists don’t only love themselves but in fact believe others to be wrong, and they are never to blame for what happens to them and if they don’t get attention from people it is the other people’s fault. Failure is blamed on others and success is all themselves. It is much more complex than that, and you can read up on it easily enough but it is a condition that ruins lives, makes people deeply unhappy and unsatisfied. When throwing the term around think about two things. Narcissism is horrible and a real and damaging mental health problem and secondly, are you sure you want to call someone that if they are just seeking attention, which is normal.
You could easily argue that my writing and publishing this is attention seeking and it is. I want your attention to read this and hopefully see this behaviour differently, just remember that all behaviour has a cause and a purpose.
Someone making a point about gaining attention is normal, and may be a sign of unhappiness, or may be a sign of lacking the right attention but we all do it to different degrees. It is normal and seeking attention isn’t specifically about a problematic deficit, but a typical way of meeting others, or having your say or getting fed.