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The need for attention | Attention seeking methods
Attention seeking and narcissism
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.
In many cases the attention-seeker is a serial bully whose behaviour contains many of the characteristics listed under the profile of a serial bully, especially the Attention-Seeker. The page on Narcissistic Personality Disorder may also be enlightening, as may be the page on bullies in the family.
Feigning victimhood is common to serial bullies and this aspect comes to the fore in most cases once the bully has been held accountable and he or she cannot escape or rely on their support network. The tactic of denial followed by immediate counterattack followed by feigning victimhood is described on the serial bully page.
Attention seeking and narcissism
Like most personality disorders, narcissism occurs to different degrees in different people and reveals itself in many ways. Many business leaders exhibit narcissism, although when present in excess, the short-term benefits are outweighed by long-term unsustainability which can, and often does, lead to disaster.
The need for attention is paramount to the person with narcissistic personality disorder, and he or she will do anything to obtain that attention. Over the last two years, the fastest growing sector for calls to the UK National Workplace Bullying Advice Line has been from the charity / voluntary / not-for-profit sector. In most (although not all) cases, the identified serial bully is a female whose objective is to demonstrate to the world what a wonderful, kind, caring, compassionate person she is. Bold pronouncements, a prominent position, gushing empathy, sitting on many committees for good causes, etc all feature regularly. However, staff turnover is high and morale low amongst those doing the work and interacting with clients. In each case, the relief of other people's suffering changes from an objective and instead becomes a vehicle for gaining attention for oneself. In some situations, more money is spent on dealing with the consequences of the serial bully's behaviour (investigations, grievance procedures, legal action, staff turnover, sickness absence etc) than is spent on clients. See case histories #1 and #3 and #10 for typical examples, also a news item on Children in Scotland.
Lynne Forrest's article The Faces of Victim about the drama triangle (persecutor, rescuer, victim) makes excellent reading.
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