Faith Wood knows how to resolve conflict. Her years in front-line law enforcement taught her how to effectively de-escalate any situation to a successful conclusion. Faith will use her knowledge of conflict management to guide you through the often stressful experiences you may encounter in your personal or professional life. Her Conflict Coach column appears every two weeks.
Question: I have a co-worker who seems to constantly be in some kind of crisis. I feel compassion, but I’m starting to get tired of all of it. How do you know when to give attention or to simply ignore them? I don’t want to cause conflict but I’m curious to know if this is a destructive attention-seeking issue?
Answer: Most of us have a friend who’s always looking for attention. If you can’t think of a friend like that, you might be the attention seeker of your group.
No matter how you look at it, attention-seeking behaviour is a sign of a dysfunctional individual and should be avoided. Below are four common examples of these toxic behaviours:
Searching for compliments
Real compliments are those you receive without asking for them. Someone who’s seeking compliments will constantly put themselves down in front of others in order to hear the people around them say good things about them.
An example would be the girl who says, “I’m so fat,” even when she knows she’s not in order to hear her friends reply with compliments about how skinny she is.
While doing this once may not be an issue, it becomes a problem when the individual engaging in these behaviours comes to pin their self-worth on the compliments of others. The minute the compliments stop, they’ll feel just as low as they did before.
Looking for sympathy
Seeking sympathy is the most common attention-seeking behaviour. This is where someone will talk about something bad that happened or how bad their day was to elicit sympathy from others.
Although almost everyone does this to a degree, it becomes a problem when someone is so focused on it that they lose all sense of everything else.
Looking for sympathy can escalate to a dangerous level, where individuals may start hurting themselves on purpose to gain more sympathy. Sympathy seekers also engage in one-up behaviour. Their life always has to be worse than that of everyone around them. If something bad happens to someone else, they will immediately come up with a worse event that has happened in their life.
Feigning illness or injury
Feigning illness or injury is another common attention-seeking behaviour. An individual may pretend to be sick or hurt to gain sympathy or help from friends.
This is common when someone who was legitimately injured or sick got used to help and gifts from people, so they falsely continue symptoms after the illness is over to keep getting the same attention.
This can go even deeper, to a dangerous level. People suffering from Munchausen syndrome by proxy will hurt themselves, or make others in their care ill, to receive the attention that comes with it. An example of this would be a parent purposefully feeding their child something they are allergic to, thus having to rush their child to the emergency room.
Dramatic statements or hysterical behaviour
Constantly making dramatic statements or descending into hysterics are clear attention-seeking behaviour. This is when someone who may have had something small go wrong in their life overdramatizes the situation in order to get attention. This can quickly escalate into hysterical behaviour such as crying, yelling and anger.
These outbursts can lead to the individual damaging property or hurting themselves during their fits. This is perhaps the most direct manner of receiving attention.
Flying off the handle in a social situation will quickly get everyone in the room to look at the individual throwing the fit. This also applies to statements made on social media simply to elicit responses.
These are just a few dysfunctional behaviours people engage in to seek attention. If you see yourself in any of these, it’s time to make a change and stop engaging in these dangerous behaviours. They aren’t good for you, nor will they lead to a positive future.
If you’re the recipient of this attention-seeking, restrict the amount of attention you provide.
Faith Wood is a novelist and professional speaker who focuses on helping groups and individuals navigate conflict, shift perceptions and improve communications. For interview requests, click here.
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