We’ve all got that one friend who seeks validation through social media or comes off as needy. You know who they are. They label themselves as drama queens to create normalcy and acceptance for their behavior, masking a host of issues you may perceive as simply who they are and not what they’ve become. It could be your friend, child, or even parent. What drives them to act like this, and when do you intervene? Learn how to cope, prevent, and work through attention-seeking behavior with our expert medical advice.

What is the root cause of attention-seeking behavior?

“It’s always good to look at it from biological and psychological perspectives,” says Marcos Quiñones, a clinical social worker and founder of Fidi Therapy. “When someone seeks attention, they are doing so to satisfy an insecurity.” It can be genetic or a mood disorder, or brought on by experiential traumas. However, the heart of the issue always leads back to anxiety. Anxiety is a normal feeling we all experience, but if it’s weaponized to control and manipulate others, we have a very different issue on our hands.

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What personality type is attention seeking?

Be wary of people who have self-deprecating traits and seek validation or ask questions that always reflect attention to them. They may also brag incessantly about their physical appearance, wealth, or latest relationship, or have a flair for theatrics and drama 24-7. Their actions provoke you to focus on them, and they may not even recognize their manipulative behavior because it’s so ingrained.

Is attention seeking a trauma response?

There is always the possibility of unresolved trauma at the core of an issue; it could also be a response developed over time to soothe anxiety. Traumatic experiences are stored in the body, putting it into fight-or-flight mode. Quiñones explains, “It could be because their parents didn’t give them consistent attention as they were being raised, known as ambivalent attachment, so they crave attention. Or it could be a general discomfort with themselves, and therefore they need to focus on someone or something other than themselves. Either way, the condition has a root in anxiety.”

How should I deal with someone’s attention-seeking behavior?

When a person is seeking attention, they are seeking validation. Waiting for their desired response causes great anticipation, which sets off anxiety. That anxiety is soothed only after receiving their desired response; once it’s received, they begin all over again—a dangerous cyclical chain reaction. “The way to deal with attention-seeking behavior is not to reinforce it. By not reinforcing any behavior, the behavior can be extinguished,” says Quiñones. Reinforce good behavior by sharing positive attention with them unsolicited by their acting out and through ways that encourage them to quit their unhealthy patterns. This can help foster change down the line. If it continues to get worse, encourage them to seek medical help from a therapist or psychologist to understand the root of the problem better. Everyone deserves to be happy in this life—including you, the friend who lends their ear.

Emma Sutton-Williams
Contributing Writer

Emma is a New York-based writer focused on beauty, lifestyle, and fashion. When she's not scribbling novel ideas (pun intended), she's off performing on Broadway and recording movie scores as a Juilliard-trained violinist. Her bylines have appeared in Rolling Stone, Parents, InStyle, The Everygirl, and well, you get the idea.