Pay attention to me! Attention seeking behaviors and maladaptive patterns


Remember, there are 5 functions of behavior:

  1. Escape or avoidance
  2. To gain something
  3. Attention Seeking – Today’s topic
  4. Signs of Damage
  5. Self-stimulation


“I’ve been so tired lately from working overtime. It’s ridiculous that they haven’t hired anyone yet.”

“Oh, you think a week of overtime is bad? You have no idea! I’ve had insomnia for the past year; I never get any sleep!”




“I was running last week and I pulled a muscle. Nothing has been helping with the pain.”

“Oh pain is horrible. My lower back has been throbbing every day for the past month. I’ve tried everything; creams, painkillers, physical therapy. Nothing helps. I don’t know what to do anymore.”


This is excessive attention seeking behavior; and it tends to turn people away. Often this type of attention seeking stems from low self-esteem and low self-confidence. While these individuals are hurting deeply and in need of sympathy and understanding; this pattern of “one-upping” serves, in the long-term, to further isolate, increase loneliness and reduce support from others.


Attention seeking is another function of behavior that is fairly easy for us to understand. In our daily conversations, we tend to promote a negative connotation to attention seeking behaviors; however, attention seeking is not inherently negative. In fact, humans are social creatures and hardwired to seek attention.


Every Facebook post, Instagram post, blog, text message, phone call, wave, greeting; all of these are attention-seeking behavior.


Maladaptive attention seeking however, can have an extremely negative impact on our lives. This can occur in several ways; for example excessive sympathy seeking, sexual provocativeness, and aggressiveness. When attention seeking becomes maladaptive, people tend to avoid interacting with you.


We often consider attention being negative or positive; but attention is attention. We consider negative attention the “wrong kind of attention”. “Negative attention” is often more easily attained. Think about it: how many times a day do you do positive things that go unrecognized?


It’s 10:00 a.m. and already I have:

Woken up on time,

Eaten breakfast,

Taken a shower

Gotten some paperwork done, and

Am getting my car worked on at the moment.


Not once today has anyone recognized that I accomplished these things on a Monday morning. However, on my way to the mechanic while driving on a donut tire; two people honked at me for driving below the speed limit. We can do everything right, and still get more negative than positive attention. People don’t tend to recognize things that are already expected of us.


This plays a huge role in our relationships. As relationships progress, we stop acknowledging the thoughtful/loving gestures our partners do because we begin to simply expect them… until they don’t do it. Then, we pointedly tell them how they never do anything nice for us anymore. Or, vice versa: we start to believe that we are putting more into the relationship than our partners because they aren’t acknowledging our gestures the way they did 2 years ago.


Various research has proposed that we need more positive attention to negative in order to feel good about ourselves. The ratios have varied from 20:1, 10:1, 3:1. Regardless of the exact ratio; we need more positive than negative in our lives in order to be healthy.


While we cannot control what anyone else in our lives is doing, we can control how we respond to it and how we interact in the world. If you find yourself noticing that you are getting more negative feedback than positive; take a real look at your own patterns. Is your way of gaining attention turning people away? How often in your conversations are you focusing on the negatives?


Again, each and every one of us seeks attention in our own way; there is nothing wrong with attention-seeking itself. It’s when our ways of obtaining attention become maladaptive that we can experience negative consequences in our lives.


Please take the time to share your thoughts. Have you ever met someone with a maladaptive attention seeking style?



Like this post? Let me know! Give me a like; I find them very reinforcing! Don’t forget to follow my blog to continue receiving updates as we journey through how our behavior impacts our well-being.

6 thoughts on “Pay attention to me! Attention seeking behaviors and maladaptive patterns

  1. Quite an informative post. I noticed you didn’t cite any references, my knowledge of these concepts are superficial at best so would really love to explore more on these topics. Great post btw.


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