Americans are bombarded with manipulative signals from the media on a daily basis. It started generations ago with sexy billboard models, magazines and ad campaigns playing on our insecurities. With the recent rise of reality television, talent-less pop stars, cosplay and the instant gratification of social media, attention seeking behavior has become disturbingly common. Even if you were sheltered from such influences as a child, you probably grew up with a long list of insecurities. This is what the economy and society is built on. The source may be outside of your control, but you still get to decide how actively you want to participate. Attention seeking behavior is unhealthy and it might be destroying your relationships as we speak. Here are a few pointers on how to stop being the center of attention.

Admit Your Problem

The first step to any big behavioral change is to address the problem. Attention seeking behavior is often a source of gratification and positive reinforcement. This means it is unlikely you will modify these behaviors before they have resulted in a level of misfortune to equal or outnumber your positive experiences. Some people never get to this point. If you know yourself well enough to be reading this, you are on the right track. Here are a few questions you should ask before you decide to make a change:

  • Do you feel threatened when other people are in the spotlight instead of you?
  • Do a lot of people seem to dislike you for unknown reasons?
  • Do you have trouble working with others without being in a position of authority?
  • Do you respond negatively to the success of others?
  • Do you interrupt or talk over people in conversations?
  • How often do you feel jealous? Be honest.
  • Do you require photos to be displayed of everything you do?
  • Would you describe yourself as an exhibitionist?
  • Have you ever been called things like dominant, alpha, or diva?

In answering these questions with unabashed honesty, you should be able to determine if your attention seeking behavior has reached problematic levels. Most people will answer yes to a few of these. If you answer yes to more than half, you might want to keep reading.

Take Inventory of Your Insecurities

Attention seeking behavior is quite often indicative of deep seated insecurities. Start by making a list of the things you are insecure about. Think about where these insecurities came from and why you feel this way. From there, list all the ways in which you are acting out to overcompensate for these supposed shortcomings. Ask yourself whether or not the attention you get from acting out is really doing anything to make you feel more secure or confident in yourself. Then try to think of other, more effective ways you might be able to work on these insecurities. It helps to keep a daily journal of reflections and general observations throughout this process.

center of attention

Observe Your Behavior

Once you have done some writing and meditated from a distance, try to catch yourself acting out in real time. You will find your motivations are a bit easier to pinpoint from inside the moment. Don’t try to stop yourself at first, just pay attention to what is happening and where it is coming from. Note how the attention makes you feel and what drives you to seek it out. Then, pay attention to the consequences. Did you step on anyone’s toes on your way to the spotlight? Did people praise your performance? How did this praise make you feel? Did anyone seem to be put off by your actions? Why do you think that might be? You should write about these observations in detail to allow for thorough analysis. If you are having trouble getting started, try thinking back every evening to a time when you actively sought out rewards or attention that day. Then write about it in retrospect. If you do this every day for a while, it should get easier for you to catch yourself and think about things in the moment. Try to maintain this mindful presence as constantly as possible once you get the hang of it.

Stop Trying to Influence Others

Many people who seek attention on a grand scale have issues related to control. They have a hard time controlling themselves, yet they are highly motivated to control others. Since others are more heavily influenced by example than intentions, attention seekers spend a lot of time getting frustrated when things do not go according to their plans or wishes. News flash: you cannot expect other people to do what you want them to. You cannot control anyone else, and the more you expect from others the more you will be disappointed. Turn your energy inward and make yourself into a better example of what you want to see in others. Even if nobody else follows suit, at least you will know you are doing your part to make things happen the way you want them to. When you focus on controlling the only thing you truly can – which is yourself – you will be surprised at how much more correctly things get done. In doing this, you are creating a sustainable source of the validation you have always sought from others, and I promise, you will find that it is the real way to increase confidence and eliminate insecurities.

Understand That Progress Will Take Time

Once you have addressed a problem like this and made a commitment to working on it, the most important part is following through. This means changing a lot of really bad habits. It is going to be difficult since you are not going to see the changes you are shooting for overnight. Epiphanies take time to sink in. Compulsive behavior often takes years to fully change. While there are many milestones of progress along the way, also know there will be a lot of failure. It is important to take accountability for your foul-ups without punishing yourself too hard or giving up the fight. This is extremely difficult but totally worth it.

Seek Therapy

Only you can trace all the connections between your deepest motivations and the resulting behaviors; however, it helps to have guidance from someone who has studied psychology and is experienced at helping others through such things. There is no way to predict what epiphanies will lead to or result from our most important psychological progress. For you, addressing a compulsive need for attention might only be scratching the surface of much deeper issues. Such is the journey of lifelong learning and self-improvement. Fortunately you do not have to do this alone. Many types of counseling and therapy are available to people who are committed to changing their behavior. The more honest you are with yourself and the more you are able to take criticism constructively, the more effective therapy will be.

I should conclude by saying that not all attention seeking behavior is negative. It can be very destructive to progress and relationships if it becomes a compulsive obsession, but nobody should seek to do all work from behind the scenes with no recognition. You deserve to see the benefits of your labors. Like with so many other things there is a balance to be sought here. Sometimes you have to experience both extremes before you can find middle ground. Just keep in mind that a confident and secure person isn’t focused on credit or recognition for what he does. He has motivations related to the welfare of others and will give his all with or without getting a medal for it. He is easier for others to relate to because he does not seek constant validation for his accomplishments. In choosing to be less demanding of attention and control, you are increasing your capacity for cooperation with others.

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Featured photo credit: Siebbivia Flickr, Peter G Trimmingvia Flickr

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