Steven Topper, LCPC

In recent years, a common and basic human behavior has come under scrutiny: attention seeking behavior. We hear this in many contexts, almost always negative: Oh, she’s just doing that for attention. People that engage in attention seeking behavior are often ostracized and told to knock it off. It could be beneficial for us to dive deeper into what this phrase truly means. We may be demonizing something that is fundamental to us humans, and as a result reinforcing unhealthy coping strategies.

Have you ever made a phone call? Have you ever posted to social media, or texted someone? Have you ever gone on a date? If you answered “Yes’ to any of these questions, then you’ve engaged in attention seeking behavior! And of course we know there’s absolutely nothing wrong with those behaviors. In essence we are communal creatures and evolutionarily programmed to form bonds and connections with others. It would be difficult to imagine anyone living a life totally bereft of attention seeking. Often times eye contact is attention seeking! And so it appears that this type of thing is everywhere. Yet we still hold rigid maxims about what is and is not acceptable.

There are certain types of behaviors that we as a culture have deemed unacceptable with regard to Attention Seeking Behavior. Someone posting about their mental illness on social media, someone lying or embellishing in hopes to garner sympathy may be harshly judged. Other forms that bother us could be one-upping, taking a martyr stance, and even general loudness. If we look closely at each of these, we may see that there’s something else that bothers us. Often it’s deception, or can feel like pandering (if we look even deeper, we may see that thing unsettling to our society is desperation. If desperation is cringe-worthy, then we are telling all those in desperate need of help to keep it to themselves). Yet getting away from the notion that the problem is attention seeking could help us move toward more acceptance of people asking for help. The levels of depression and suicide are climnbing in the US, and it may be that instead of responding with anger to these acts, we can respond with openness to encourage people to seek and find healthy support.

Often we chastize others for these behaviors because we deem them as desperate or contrived. What if, instead, we allow ourselves to see that behind something that can feel cringe-inducing is someone asking to be noticed. Have you ever wanted to be noticed? We could all work toward going to that place more frequently. This may lead us to destigmatizing the act of reaching out and asking for help. In fact, many of us point to pre-teens and teenagers as the guiltiest of attention seeking behavior. Could it be that is because our society has not taught these kids how to ask for help, how to ask for attention? Where there is judgment, what if we brought acceptance? We may see that it’s not just okay to desire attention, it’s what makes us human.

If you or someone you know is struggling to know how to ask for help, it may be useful to try counseling. Contact Symmetry Counseling at 312-578-9990 to set up an appointment with one of our very skilled therapists today!