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Attention-Seeking Behavior: What It Is And How To Deal

by eharmony Editorial Team - November 22, 2023

We’ve all met that person; the one who can’t listen to a story someone else is telling without making it about them; the one who posts pictures that are just this side of too raunchy for the attention; the one who apparently thinks a daily serving of drama is as important as getting your fruits and veggies in. While it might be tempting to dismiss attention-seeking behavior as just that, it’s a little more complicated than it seems. In this article, we’ll define what attention-seeking is, look at why someone might think seeking attention from others while in a relationship is a good idea, and what it’s like dating an attention-seeker. We’ll also look at how not to fall into the trap yourself.

What is attention-seeking behavior?

Don’t misunderstand us; there’s nothing wrong, in and of itself, with wanting attention. It’s a basic human desire to want approval and validation, either from the people close to you or from strangers. Where attention-seeking behavior crosses a line is when you base your entire self-worth on the opinions of others, or believe, and act, like you’re the only one deserving of any.

Attention-seeking behavior in a relationship can look like constant fishing for compliments from your partner, fits of jealousy regardless of whether there’s any reason for it, or not wanting your partner to pay attention to anyone but you. It can also involve posting thirst traps on social media specifically for attention, flirting with people not your partner just to prove you’re still attractive, or creating drama in your circles.

Why do some people want attention so badly?

There are many reasons why someone might engage in attention-seeking behavior. Some people are simply lonely and desperate for attention; to their way of thinking, any attention is better than none, even if it’s the negative kind. They may also have issues with their self-esteem, and seeking validation is one way of combating that. Signs of attention-seeking in adults may also have their roots in childhood trauma – someone who was neglected or abused as a child may simply not have been able to develop healthy relationships or coping mechanisms as an adult. Social media also plays a part – the ‘likes’ you receive on photos are an easy dopamine hit, meaning it’s easy for people already predisposed to wanting a quick shot of validation to become addicted. Finally, mental health is also a factor – disorders like histrionic personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, and narcissistic personality disorder all list attention-seeking behavior as a symptom.

Dealing with attention seeking while looking for love online

When it comes to online dating, it can be very tempting to try and stand out from the crowd by going bigger and bigger, posting flashier photos or making more controversial posts than you might otherwise just to attract attention. While it may get you more attention in the short term, the likelihood you’ll find someone who wants a serious, long-term relationship isn’t high. You might have to put in more effort and resign yourself to fewer likes, but the payoff is much more likely to be worth it.

Recognizing attention-seeking actions in your dating partners

Attention-seeking behavior is pretty common in the early stages of a relationship – you want your crush to notice, after all! However, some behaviors cross the line into dating red flags:

  • Not wanting you to talk to other people, especially if they’re good-looking
  • Embellishing stories or outright lying to sound more sympathetic
  • Pretending to be helpless so you’ll do it for them, or teach them how

If the interest is genuine, you’ll find the other person doesn’t always expect to be getting the attention – they’ll listen to your stories and offer you help when you’re stuck, too.

How attention-seeking behavior affects relationships

Dating an attention seeker can be exhausting, between the mood swings, the constant need to reassure them, and never knowing whether you’re getting the whole truth. If, on the other hand, you’re the one with attention-seeking behavior, it can be hard to feel like you’re getting enough validation from your partner. Proper communication can help both sides feel heard and accepted. Additionally, if you haven’t read it before, Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages talks about the different ways people like to give and receive affection and reading it together can help you and your partner figure out how to communicate better.

How to deal with attention-seeking adults

So you’ve decided that dating an attention-seeking adult is worth it, or you’ve realized you’re one yourself.

How to deal with an attention-seeking adult when you’re dating

Try and gently point out your partner’s tendency to seek attention and help them figure out why. Once they have a handle on that, help them figure out how to ask for attention and appreciation in healthy ways rather than seeking attention any way they can. You can also stop providing them positive reinforcement by engaging when they cause drama.

How to deal with an attention-seeking adult in a relationship

Good boundaries are key to making a relationship work when your partner has attention-seeking behavior. Work with your partner to set and maintain boundaries, and practice communicating with them about what works and doesn’t. You can also suggest they get professional help to deal with any underlying trauma. It may be that their behavior stems from unresolved trauma, or an undiagnosed mental illness, in which case it’s best to get professional help.

How to deal with attention-seeking behaviors in yourself

Luckily, you’re not doomed to a life of forever chasing social media likes. There are several ways you can deal with any attention-seeking tendencies you might have. Journaling can help you figure out exactly how much attention seeking you’re doing and identify any patterns. You can also practice active listening, especially with people you’re close to. It will help you focus on them rather than you and help build genuine connections. Another way to reduce your attention seeking is to identify your triggers – say, Instagram – and work to reduce or eliminate them. You could find an offline hobby that requires you to put your phone aside, thus reducing the temptation to engage in attention seeking behaviors. Finally, if it’s something that’s an option for you, therapy can help you figure out the causes of your attention-seeking behavior and find ways to deal with them, as well as suggest ways for you to cope in the present.

Dating an attention-seeker can be a roller-coaster ride

Attention-seeking behavior is often dismissed as simply being an ‘attention whore’ when the reality is a lot more complex than that. Luckily, there are tools to help you deal, whether it’s your partner or you that’s exhibiting signs of attention seeking in adults. However, sometimes a relationship with an attention seeker is just too much to handle, and that’s okay. It’s perfectly acceptable to trust your instincts and decide that enough is enough. You deserve a healthy and fulfilling relationship that satisfies your needs, too. (And if you’re looking for one? There’s always eharmony.)

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