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Why Do People Crave Attention?

By Lily Ruha
Updated Feb 10, 2024
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People crave attention for a variety of reasons, including normal emotional development, low self-esteem and, in some extreme cases, the presence of personality disorders. Emotional, social and physical reasons typically are behind a child's attention-seeking behaviors. Distinguishing between normal emotional development and attention deficit disorders is a factor in some children. People who are dealing with self-esteem issues sometimes engage in attention-seeking behavior to feel better about themselves. A significant need for attention also exists in people who have certain personality disorders.

Children often crave attention as they develop emotionally, physically and socially. An attention-seeking child might worry that he or she is not loved or wanted, purposefully attracting attention to gain parental validation. Physical issues such as hunger, thirst or tiredness often are behind a young child's cries or complaints. A child also might crave greater amounts of attention when feeling fearful or trying new things. Some children demand attention in social situations, such as at school or on the playground, to feel that they belong and matter to others.

An extensive need for attention also exists in some children who are undergoing difficult circumstances. A challenging or disturbing event in a child's life, such as the death of a parent or entering a new school, might create an increase in neediness. Excessive attention seeking in children, such as persistent disobedience or rebellious behavior, can arise from a variety of issues, ranging from insecurity to attention deficit disorders. Understanding why children crave attention is important for meeting their needs. Excessive attention seeking typically is treatable through psychotherapy, whereas attention deficit disorders might require medical intervention.

Some adults who have emotional and social challenges also want attention. Perpetual feelings of inadequacy or insecurity in adults sometimes stem from unstable or abusive childhoods. A person who has low self-esteem, for example, might interpret social rejection as a lack of personal worth. Attention seeking in these situations often involves attempts to feel better through eliciting praise or demanding other people's time and focus. Behaviors might range from gaining recognition in positive ways, such as serving in a community, to negative strategies such as telling lies to gain sympathy.

People who have certain personality disorders also crave attention. Histrionic personality disorder, for example, is characterized by excessive patterns of attention seeking. People who have this disorder often ignore social norms and persistently seek out attention, feeling uncomfortable when not receiving it. Being visible and drawing attention to one's self is often achieved through exaggerated speech, heightened emotions, provocative actions and/or changes to physical appearance.

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Discussion Comments
By anon1005100 — On Jun 23, 2021

Always being an outsider doesn't help matters much -- just over-trying to be part of the group.

By irontoenail — On Jan 12, 2013

The thing to remember is that it's normal to want a bit of attention sometimes. It's just when it becomes an overwhelming attribute that it's a problem.

If you really feel like you need a bit more attention in your life, why not try joining a band, or taking up slam poetry or something that will get you out onto the stage every now and then?

Almost every town over a certain size has got a theater group and they often welcome new comers. People often feel like they are entitled to attention for no other reason than because they exist. But the world just doesn't work that way. You have to be someone worth paying attention to if you really want to have a chance to grab the spotlight.

By bythewell — On Jan 11, 2013

@Iluviaporos - I guess I just really prefer the idea of understanding where a problem comes from in the first place. I know when I feel like I'm craving attention that it's probably because I didn't get a lot of positive attention when I was a kid.

Knowing that, and being able to understand why my brain is reacting the way it is, really helps me to change my behavior.

By lluviaporos — On Jan 11, 2013

I've been reading a very interesting book recently that tries to address some of the common emotional problems people might have from the perspective of the Buddhist faith.

One of the things I've liked about it is the idea that most modern psychotherapy tries to get rid of your problems and bring you back to a "zero" or a clean slate. They do this by trying to figure out where your emotional problems, like craving attention too much, come from so that you can understand them.

According to this theory, it's better to figure out how to change the problems, than try to understand them. You shouldn't just be trying to get rid of bad habits, but to be replacing them with good habits. So, instead of trying to understand why you crave attention, you can try to replace that emotion with a more positive one when it arises.

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